(May 2003 - March 2007.) Tama's thoughts on the blogosphere, podcasting, popular culture, digital media and citizen journalism posted from a laptop computer somewhere in Perth's isolated, miniature, urban jungle ...

Greer, Shakespeare and Sexuality!

Tuesday, September 07, 2004
Germaine Greer was at UWA last night and gave a lecture on Shakespeare and Sexuality which I sadly was unable to attend. However, this gives rise to the unprecedented first guest post in this blog. So, without further ado, I'm pleased to present Kate Riley's take on the joy of Germaine:

Germaine Greer let her laughter burble across the applauding audience at the conclusion of her speech last night, smiling and relishing the obvious approval of this first performance in her 'Shakespeare and Sexuality' lecture tour of Australian universities. The overt expression of delight was in keeping with the candid and gregarious nature of her whole presentation. Her show of satisfaction was as gratifying for those watching as it seemed pleasurable for her. I was glad that she chose not to act the composed and aloof sage, nor to adopt the sham humility that is another pose favoured by intellectuals. Instead she seemed warm and engaged, 'human' , just as she had seemed when letting herself get carried away in the gorgeous passages she recited from the plays and sharing stories from her experiences as a young person and later teacher and observer of young people to which anyone present could easily relate.

Without suggesting for a moment that Greer was being disingenuous, I rather think that I was meant to be glad, moved to like this astute and energetic woman. For Greer's lecture was unselfconsciously a performance. Well-accustomed to the scrutineer's gaze and the veteran of (even sustained by) a turbulent but ultimately symbiotic relationship with the media, Greer gave the people what they paid to see, fulfilling her role in the dramatic economy that unites public academics and their faithful following of well-heeled devotees and detractors. Nor did she avoid referring to the commercial nature of what she was doing. Greer is a consummate performer, but artful rather than contrived. The formal rigour underlying her presentation was evident in her controlled use of gesture. The careful articulation of each finger of an outstretched, expressive hand adding emphasis to her words revealed her very manipulation and guidance of audience and subject matter. But it was a generous performance, stimulating and free of condescension. Greer excels, indeed I believe revels, in the art of communication. Last night she demonstrated at least three important qualities in this regard: first as a skilful mediator of ideas, both her own and those of others, she was a great teacher; second, she modelled beautifully the capacity of the individual consumer of culture to savour creative texts and draw nuanced interpretations from them; and finally, she fulfilled the audience's desire to experience at first hand the 'Germaine Greerness' in which her celebrity inheres, adding enough of herself to the mix to ensure that the listeners weren't disappointed by an evening of 'authorless' readings of Shakespeare by a competent but invisible scholar.

In response her openhandedness, I want to note some of the positive points that I drew from what she presented, forgetting criticism for a while, and without reference to my/your/anyone's freestanding opinions of Greer and her work.

The lecture was most of all enormously hopeful - hope-filled. Greer's path through sexuality in Shakespeare and her inferences about the liberating fluidity of notions of gender in the England of his time are valuable listening for us in the developed world, carrying into another millennium our obsessive, anxious preoccupation with sex difference/s and the gender roles that we think ought to correspond with it/them. Even if historians choose to dispute her interpretation of gender in seventeenth-century England, the fact that the study of Shakespeare and his era (not some monolithic society or world of course) provided the spur for this sort of imagining, giving rise to her ideas, is validation enough. There was hope for Australia in the explication of the 'crazy' ideas in Whitefella Jump Up (alongside the silence over whether European expatriation might be the best option for those white Australians who couldn't manage to learn what they needed to from the indigenous people). There was hope for a rediscovery of the sensual, by renegotiating our blurring of sensuality into sexuality, and for a general recognition of that which is beautiful. There was plenty of beauty, and pleasure, in the language of the plays and poems and in Greer's shrewd and sympathetic command of the words, once again wondrously animated in her delivery. She added to my conviction that hearing a great reader is an experience that unlocks doorways into literature, an invaluable and simple fact that is sometimes a casualty of new (and often very valuable) pedagogical priorities that rightly urge the active participation of students in lessons in schools and universities. Just listening to scholars with the experience and breadth of reference that Greer displays, whatever the subject matter, offers a chance to consider the perspectives developed in a career (not that it's over!); no-one is forcing you to agree.

The speech was a great vindication of the study of the humanities altogether, highlighting the rich products that can issue from thinking through the filters of an understanding of elements of history (present does not equal correct is a useful start!), literature, art, language, of human activity and culture, enhanced even more by the ability to span multiple disciplines. Greer celebrated the populism of Shakespeare's theatre and presented her own ideas accordingly in a way that was insightful and accessible, to employ a much-abused term. A couple of audience questions looked pretentious and toadying by comparison. She blithely discussed David Beckham at length too, not levelling a sneer at popular or contemporary culture. There were gaps, of course; things unsaid; for some things unpalatable or difficult to agree with. But listening to her was enjoyable. It made you happy and it made you think.


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