We gobbled up the feast of futurity at the Columbia Faculty House yesterday, thanks to the inspired organizational labors of Zoltan Marcus and Ashley Streeter, and the provocative papers of, from morning til afternoon, Mario Di Gangi, Zach Lesser, Alan Stewart, Margaret Litvin, Jean Howard, Ayanna Thompson, W. B. Worthen, and Adam Zucker. Ancillary commentary provided by session chairs, which were Andras Kisery, me, Naomi Leibler, and Tanya Pollard. Plus an amazingly large and engaged audience for a long Friday of talking and thinking!
At day’s end we were all asked to pronounce final thoughts on the future as we see it, in under two minutes. Here’s what I said, ventriloquizing everything I’d heard into a common voice —
These are some things Shakespeareans like (taken out of order):
2. shifting scales
3. “partial” historicism
4. dialectical historicism
5. “unfixed” things
7. Digital Humanities
9. mediated authorship
10. communities of practice
12. porous skins
13. the “social”
14. postprint Shakespeare
17. the word “niddicocke”
18. jokes we can’t quite understand
Plus a shorter list of things we don’t like:
1. passive consumption of social science
2. naive empiricism (though empiricism as such is OK)
4. single authorship
5. Prospero-to-Caliban models of influence
6. evolutionary psychology (mostly)
7. small, homogenous sample sizes
8. textual transcendentalism
9. “perfect mastery”
And one big thing about which opinions are mixed, qualified, and otherwise in flux —
1. Historicism (!)
I especially like that, in my unreliable summary, the future contains twice as many things to like as to dislike. The overwhelming spirit of the event, tangible to me even through the nasty head cold I was fighting all day, was of generosity: if not quite, O brave new future!, than at least with real curiosity and without any desire to trammel up the consequence and skip past any of the narratives beginning to unfold.
I was somewhat struck by the relative absence of some of my own hobby (sea-)horses, especially ecocritical and “new materialist” modes (some of which I’ll talk about on Wednesday at Hofstra), though Mario did start us off with a smart quick engagement with Jane Bennet via affect theory.
No single day or small group of speakers can predict the future, of course, and throwing darts at Shakespeare’s moving image may be a fool’s errand. But the erudition, wit, sympathy, and passion displayed yesterday made me quite optimistic about the next 450 years of Shakespeare studies.