Tuesday, April 21, 2009

No Time for Shakespeare?

Reflecting on the giddiness of rallies in the 1980's, in which students chanted, "Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, Western Civ has got to go!", Professor Mark Woodhouse (at Georgia State University), a little calmer, wrote in 1996:

An objective evaluation of competing points of view is impossible since all points of view are to some extent biased by race, gender, and culture. All that's left to do is to describe different perspectives, including those formerly considered inconsequential, and attempt to balance past biases - which might entail leaving Plato and Shakespeare out of the curriculum altogether.

Apparently, because we've read too much Shakespeare and Plato for the last hundred years, we should stop reading them now, in an attempt to "balance" perspectives. (The quote comes from his book, Paradigm wars: Worldviews for a New Age). He seems to have an underlying assumption that all texts are of equal value; he seems also to assume that the definitive measure of a text is the race, gender, and culture of its author.

An African woman would presumably want her readers to appreciate her book because it's well-written, and grapples with timeless human questions; she presumably would not want her audience to value her text merely because of her gender, race, and culture.

Yet, analyzing Woodhouse's willingness to toss Shakespeare into the recyclers, Prof. Michael Zimmermann (at Tulane), calls Woodhouse's book "insightful, engaging, and comprehensive," and says that it "is an indispensable guide to new conceptual pathways that may lead to the radical and constructive alterations needed to guide humankind in the 21st century."

We can be thankful that these viewpoints represent a small minority of university-level educators, and that the vast majority are still willing to tolerate Shakespeare and Plato.