Academic journal article Criticism

Macbeths Martlets: Shakespearean Phenomenologies of Hospitality

Academic journal article Criticism

Macbeths Martlets: Shakespearean Phenomenologies of Hospitality

Article excerpt

Phenomenology and Hospitality

Phenomenology is the science of appearances.1 The appearance, however, of what? On the one hand, phenomenology attends to how the world of things manifests itself in a single flow of emergent and continuous processes that dissolve (human) subjects and (nonhuman) objects in shared fields of causation, movement, ambience, intentionality, and perception. In this tradition, the phenomenology of the earlier twentieth century bears fruit in the cognitive science and environmental psychology of more recent decades, as well as in the radical Heideggerianism pursued in the object-oriented ontology of Graham Harman and the actor-network theory of Bruno Latour. In Shakespeare studies, Bruce Smith's Phenomenal Shakespeare (2010) sets the standard for this line of inquiry, as does Evelyn Tribble's work on distributive cognition in theatrical practice and the object and science writing of Jonathan Gil Harris, Henry Turner, and Julian Yates.2 In these inquiries, phenomenology entails grasping how we intuit and inhabit the environments in which we live, move, act, and think, including the very special media environments of the printed page and the built stage, as well as the cognitive taskscapes and memory theaters of the kitchen, the street, the dock, and the farmyard.

If phenomenology in this first tradition spreads out towards objects, networks and assemblages, leading from human consciousness into questions of the nonhuman and the posthuman, the phénoménologies of Hannah Arendt, Emmanuel Lévinas, Jacques Derrida, and Jean-Luc Marion focus instead on the conditions of specifically human appearing; in these inquiries, how I approach the other person, and how I myself become a person in that approach, eclipse considerations of embodied perception and worldly cognition.3 For Hannah Arendt, human action concerns those substantial speech acts that set into motion a sequence of events that cannot be predicted or managed by the agent and that reveal who the speaker is, casting up a daemon or image of self visible only to others in the spectral space of publicity. For Arendt, acting in the political sense flows into acting in the dramatic sense, zoning theater as that distinctive scene of appearing, that special form of publicity (Öffentlichkeit) established above all by the assembly of an audience in the clearing of performance.4

Whereas the worlds of Smith, Harris, Yates, and Tribble are flush with the key of green, the effusions of gunpowder, the sociability of sheep, and the informatics of stage doors, drama in Arendt's account need not engage objects or environments at all. What Arendt says of the scene of politics - "Wherever you go, you will be a polis"5 - is also true of her account of theater: wherever persons are acting and witnesses are assembled, there is drama, whether we have gathered in a formal playhouse, a court of law, a classroom, a subway station, or a street corner. Yet Arendt, too, is doing phenomenology insofar as appearing - how significant affects, images, and actions manifest themselves for those who engage with them - is what is at stake in a political philosophy that is also a philosophy of drama.6 Writing in this vein, Paul Kottman argues that the theatrum mundi motif describes the "literal phenomenological horizon of actors and witnesses on the scene"; the world-stage metaphor both acknowledges the ephemerality of human life as transient appearance and affirms the dramatic significance of human action on both formal and informal stages.7 In related work, Bryan Lowrance asks that we step back from topical readings of Macbeth in order to attend to its ontological preoccupations, "the poetic and philosophical grandeur of the play's presentation of the problematic of action."8 In its humanist strain, phenomenology is affiliated with drama insofar as both the science of appearances and the art of appearances make the company of others into a condition of action in its double senses. …

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