Session V – Panel A

SESSION V, March 2, 11:00-12:30PM

Panel A: Those Pesky Words
Moderator: Elika Ortega
Room: University College 224A

Anthony Faber (Universite de Montreal) – “Words, words, words:” The Idea of the Absurd as Method in Hamlet

My title, which quotes Hamlet’s response to Polonius’ query, “[w]hat do you read, my lord” (2.2.191-2)? Hamlet: “Words, words, words:” (2.2. 193) is meant not only to convey Hamlet’s sense of the triviality of language; Hamlet’s dull repetition of “[w]ords, words, words” is intended to communicate his understanding of the Absurd. More significantly, Hamlet’s use of the Absurd suggests a methodology, which in turn suggests that Hamlet is engaged in a pedagogical endeavour. Hamlet’s project is not only to inform and instruct his immediate stage characters, but more exceptionally, Hamlet, through his method, offers instruction to his public as to what constitutes as Absurd. Albert Camus, in the Myth of Sisyphus, defines the Absurd as a divorce from reason. The idea of the Absurd stops the mind from ascertaining anything with certainty. In addition to Camus’ definition of the Absurd, I draw on Paul Riccoeur’s view of the role of Fool as found in his text The Symbolism of Evil, where he states that only the Fool in Shakespearian tragedy has “access to a comprehensive vision” of the world due to the conflation of genres, the tragic and the comic. Taking Camus’ definition of the Absurd and Riccoeur’s insight of the Fool, I examine the context of the Absurd and the Fool first in Aristotle’s Poetics, then in Erasmus’ Praise of Folly and lastly in Philip Sidney’s Defence of Poesy. Each writer fosters a sense of the Absurd and the Fool, which I situate in relation to Hamlet. With respect to Hamlet’s method of the Absurd, I draw attention to Hamlet’s role of playing the Fool. Throughout the play, Hamlet is a grieving son; thus, his self-styled role as Fool is designed partly to uncover the true nature of his father’s murder and partly to use laughter as a method with which to keep himself, the stage characters as well as the audience in a state of suspended animation. Hamlet’s experience of grief, which he demonstrates in soliloquies as intense emotional suffering, prevents him from discovering anything other than a sense of meaninglessness to his own existence. However, because of the method of the Absurd, the tragic experience at the conclusion of the play becomes that much more poignant due to the collective loss of self through laughter.

Undergraduate degree Concordia University, Montreal; Honours in English Literature, Major in Philosophy. Masters completion McGill University; focus on medieval and early modern literature; extended research paper, “’Is this the promised end?’ Lear, Scepticism, and Early Modern Literary Ends”, where I examined Shakespeare’s King Lear in relation to philosophical scepticism and early modern forms of pedagogy. Currently I am a first year PhD student at the Université de Montréal with a similar focus on medieval and early modern English literature.

Dru Farro (Western) – A Sparrow with a Machine Gun

At bottom, my presentation is an effort to answer the questions, ‘what is writing?’ and ‘what is reading?’. I approach these questions from the perspective of jokes. Jokes depend on hidden associations or fantastic performances in order to be funny – to be effective as jokes – and my claim in this paper is that both reading and writing depend, as well, on secrets and fantasies.

Reading and writing, as two important modes of language, have done a marvelous job diagnosing themselves as the fictions that they are. Both are structured around a fundamental gap, the infamous gap between signifier and signified. This gap is the catalyst that drives the system of difference upon which Saussurian linguistics is based and which, paradoxically, gives the entire system meaning though it itself is empty. When it comes to engaging with this meaning, then, it really is a matter of engaging with the problem of this emptiness, of engaging with the choice between exposing the emptiness for what is (and therefore bringing the entire battery of signifiers to an awkward halt) or pretending not to notice it. That is, the meaning to be derived from language depends upon our willingness to be duped by it, to be led along, to allow language its secrets and fantasies, which means to allow it to be the joke that it is.

Through an analysis of Lacan’s reading of Poe’s ‘The Purloined Letter’ I try to read, and write, the joke back into language.

Dru Farro is a second-year Ph.D. student at the Centre for the Study of Theory and Criticism. He basically only likes listening to people talk about the things they love.

Nancy Aravecz (New York University) – Take a Look in the Mirror: Borges’ Subversive Erudition

In his foreword to part one of Ficciones, Borges claims that composing books is a “laborious madness and an impoverishing one,” thus calling into question the great human tradition of compiling knowledge, experience, and art into volumes and volumes of mere words (Borges 67). By depicting the project of assembling language and ‘facts’ as intrinsically mad, he exposes the impossibility of glimpsing any objective truth, and with it, as many scholars of his work are quick to point out, the existence of objective reality. However, though most scholarship on Borges focuses on the author’s pet project of destroying the boundary between fiction and reality, there is something even more subversive at work in Ficciones, as hinted by the curious presence of the word “impoverishing.” By creating fictional worlds filled with authentic-seeming authors, fictions, and non-fictions, Borges reveals that reality, as we understand it, is situated on a very flimsy foundation of representational work whose ‘truth’ depends on erudite language and an unseen contractual agreement between reader and writer regarding the hierarchal value of signs. At the heart of Borges’ unreality, expressed in the academic jargon it distrusts, lies the grim and perplexing idea that knowledge–and by extension, accurate perception of the “real” world–is impossibly evasive, fallacious. This fact is conspiratorially (and comedically) concealed beneath the affected, cerebral, and abstruse language that Borges chooses to employ. This paper will first glance at some of the anxieties that Borges’ satire has awakened in academics, and then examine Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius, and Pierre Menard, Author of the Quioxte to demonstrate, through close attention to the subtle way that Borges selects words and directs his narratives, the intricate and scathing irony the author mobilizes to chip away at the delicate pedestal on which academia rests. At the heart of the paper’s argument lies the image of mirror-obsessed Borges, laughing, holding his looking glass up to the follies of erudite representation, thus forcing the academician to face himself and his sophistry.

Nancy Aravecz is a second-year Master’s student of English Language and Literature at New York University. Her concentration is in twentieth-century and contemporary American literature, with special emphasis on metafiction and postmodernism. She received her B.A. from Wagner College, majoring in English with minors in History and Journalism.

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