Response to Jonathan Gil Harris

Linda Charnes


     1. Jonathan Gil Harris's response-essay is a wonderful meditation on the temporal politics of the profession over the last forty-odd years. He shows that Time has come again, and again, and again, as the one referrent in our practice that has always been a Chimera: a touchstone composed of dust. The more we attempt to historicize, the more we uncover things that do not fit our established characterization of how time "proceeds."

     2. Harris is also right that the pragmatic aspects of what he calls "institutional interpellation"-staffing courses, identifying hiring areas, producing graduate students in recognizable "fields--have turned what was at one point (the eighties perhaps) a fresh inquiry about the relationship between texts and history into a dogma about setting limits to meaning within "periods." It is not easy to find ways out of this dilemma, for our research prompts us to find new ways to examine texts even while our pedagogical and professional affiliations require us to reproduce and transmit established methodologies.

     3. However, I would disagree with Harris's contention that "recent work questioning periodicity has had only a small effect on the field" (cf. note 11). In 1998, I directed a Folger Library seminar on "Shakespeare and Postmodernism," in which we read Latour, Serres and Sloterdijk, three very unorthodox theorists of time. The ironies of sitting in a seminar room in the premiere Renaissance archive in the country, whilst discussing such texts, was not lost on anyone in the seminar. But the fact that the seminar was offered nearly ten years ago suggests that challenges to periodicity were being welcomed and embraced even in the most established of institutions.

     4. Questions of periodicity permeate the field, in paper panels, seminars, anthologies and journals, from those who call themselves "presentists" to those who still locate their practice squarely within the "historicist" label. I do not believe that the institutional interpellations Harris points to are nearly as impenetrable as they were throughout the eighties and early nineties. For one thing, scholarship on Shakespeare and film began changing the landscape over ten years ago; and cultural studies, as vague a term as that now is, also contributed to new ways of considering texts and history. Temporality as we understand it (as opposed to Time, the fact of nature that remains impervious to how we talk about it) has always been, and will always be, a discursive politics. It may take institutional mechanisms awhile to catch up with scholarship that works to change a field, but the game is most certainly afoot.



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