Richard Burt

Richard Burt
Missing Shakespeare's Corpus:
Spectral Media, Mourning, and the Incomplete Works of Material Culture
Sly, slippery, and masked, an intriguer and a card, like
Hermes, he [the god of writing] is neither king nor jack, but
rather a sort of joker, a floating signifier, a wild card, one
who puts play into play.
--Jacques Derrida, “Plato’s Pharmacy” in Dissemination,
“This (therefore) will not have been a book.”
--Jacques Derrida, “Outwork: Prefacing” Dissemination, 3
"Historical materialism sees the work of the past as still
--Walter Benjamin, "Edward Fuchs: Collector and
In a word, we do not believe that there exists, in all rigor, a
Platonic text, closed upon itself, complete with its inside
and its outside. Not that one must then consider that it is
leaking on all sides and can be drowned confusedly in the
undifferentiated generality of its element.
--Jacques Derrida, “Plato’s
Pharmacy” in Dissemination, 130
Greek intellectual culture takes a new form in the
Hellenistic period. . . . Culture becomes a culture of books.
It lives in and by tradition.
E. R. Curtius “The Book as Symbol,” 305
Shakepeare’s Telephony: Did I Hear You Write?
This essay (therefore) will not have happened.
In The Telephone Book, Avital Ronell traces a connection between Hamlet and
Alexander Bell’s invention of the telephone:
"Hamlet was swallowed by telephonics--the father’s umbilical cord couldn't cease
naming itself and its ghostly partner. This perhaps explains why the telephone's most
sacredly repeated declamation before an audience was "to be or not to be . . . there’s the
rub," marking the interstice between ghostly conjuration and the voice of the other."
Ronells’ term “telephonics” and broader conception of telephony defines an ontological
network of an always already technologized, hard-wired model of Being. Strangely,
Hamlet goes missing in the experiment. Even more strangely, Ronell quotes from two
reports by the same witness saying he heard the words “to be or not to be there’s the rub.”
But in the course of it’s repetition part of the quotation goes missing. In the first we see
three periods to indicate an ellipsis. In the second version, however, the periods have
disappeared. What happened? Is the difference due to the witness’s different
transcriptions? If so, why did the necessary ellipsis go missing, producing an inaccurate
quotation of Hamlet’s line? Or did Ronell mistranscribe the second one, forgetting the
ellipsis and misquoting the witness? Or is the missing ellipsis an error uncaught by the
proofreader or introduced by the typesetter? A similar disappearing act is performed in
the index, arranged to look like the yellow pages of a telephone book. The index entries
for Hamlet and Ophelia both miss a number of references to them in Ronell’s book.
Shakespeare’s Unread –ability
Here, Socrates’ standards become
precise and insistent: a speech must
have a beginning and an end, it must
beginning with the beginning and
end with the end.
--Jacques Derrida, ‘Plato’s
Pharmacy,’ (80)
These kinds of errors are commonplace, of course, and usually not considered worthy
of notice or noting. I want to suggest, however, that these commonplace, overlooked
errors may be read as effects of Shakespeare’s untraceable transfer from one medium to
another and, in this case even to another (text to performance through telephone through
report) in order to ask new questions about Shakespeare’s production as a cultural
artefact and icon. A good deal of critical attention has been paid over the last two
decades has to the making of Shakespeare by tracing the publication history of
Shakespeare’s works. Margreta de Grazia’s Shakespeare Verbatim (1991) is a wellknown case in point.i She usefully addresses the mediating function of what she calls the
editorial “apparatus,” singling out Edmund Malone’s 1790 edition because of its
conspicuous apparatus. In this talk, I would like to address the concomitant production of
spectral effects of Shakespeare’s imprinting I will call, by way of echoing de Grazia,
“Shakespeare Re-Verberatin,” or, for short, “Shakespeare Reverbatin.”ii Indeed, I want
to complicate her historicist account of textuality, reading, and politics as well.
According to de Grazia, the apparatus is designed to shape the reader’s response to
deliver the text, but “once the conceptual apparatus is situated in relation to historical
exigency, its conceptual grip begins to weaken. The very act of turning it into a subject
of attention can work only if it appears inert, optional; dispensable even” (13). But, of
course, the weakness of the apparatus here, exercising merely governmental control in the
further dissemination of the text in reading or performance might also be construed as
Malone’s launching of the text itself as faithfully translated object, the subjectile
apparatus falling away like so much spent scaffolding, an exhausted booster rocket
become space litter, as Shakespeare plus readers-cum-Shakespearenauts achieve orbit. In
other words, Shakespeare’s apparatus may be “read otherwise,” allowing one to follow
directions of inquiry that have been discouraged or forestalled or erroneously encouraged
by the apparatus, and indeed, by the politics it has so effectively supported. History and
politics, in de Grazia’s account are typically placed outside the text, “exigency” acting as
a spectral pressure that invisibly puts the apparatus and procedures in place. Indeed, like
so many historicist critics who want to examine early modern textual culture and modern
editing procedures, de Grazia’s account of Shakespeare’s print history in the eighteenth
century becomes metaphysical, even theological, at the moment she talks about the book
in physical terms as object: reading being a delivery or deliverance, a new dispensation,
as it were, for a subject potentially emancipated from a given apparatus that has a twin
temporality of preparation and attending, or waiting.
As my introduction of notions of governmentality and reading as collectivization
signal in my paper today, I want to take up the issue of sovereignty in Shakespeare’s
transmission and the sovereignty in relation to spectrality and political theology by
addressing the mediality of theater—the book as medium, the performance, as a problem
of translation and completion resistant to reattaching of Shakespeare’s body of work to
his body, making of both a single, unified corpus. iii To read the Shakespeare’s work as
media will mean not only raising questions of the book’s materiality as it is defined now
as material culture in the history of the book, as physical matter discursively enclosed by
property laws (copyright) assigning it to an author’s name, but also in relation to the way
Shakespeare’s works are completed, assigned the title of complete and an author, a
corpus that is not exactly buried, so to speak, or buried but retrieved for numerous
autopsies and reanimations in its true form. To examine the completion and
completeness of Shakespeare’s works means examining first the ontology of print media
in relation to writing and its “substrate” or “subjecticle,” the receiver of the written
impression at once a service and a support, the assemblage constituting an impossible
topography of underneath the underneath, of doubling and reversibility, writing as script
and mimetic shape, the impression, and spectrality. What is theater when medium?
What does it mean for paper to stand out as paper, for a book to become recognizable
and intelligible as such when one cannot decide if the text precedes the performance (a
promptbook, a manuscript) or follows (a record, a memory of a performance) or between
editions that may be either the result of recovery of earlier, more authentic and original
versions or emendations added by an editor? What does it mean to read a book that is
both way station and waste station, the product and enabler of transfer and translation to
other media that leaves ripple effects, remainders in the form of losses and additions, cuts
and restorations that put the very intelligibility of the book and it authorship into
question? Thus, the ontology of the book as an object, as a phenomenalization of writing,
retains a formlessness, a yet to be formed-ness, making reading not only the resistance to
reading, as Paul de Man puts it, but a resistance that extends to knowing, recognizing
what is (worth) being read, what remains to be read, the not read yet being loosely
comparable to Monty Python’s “not dead yet.”iv The book may be thought to be alive
and dead, like the spectre, not only because reading matter means accessing a yet to be
formed truth that is concealed and revealed, that even may reveal itself in concealment,
rather than quantifiable data but also because it is a wounded corpus, stained, haunted, by
unintelligibility even before its physical use, or prior to its physical use in the utilitarian
sense of use it is being mainlined, snorted, swallowed as the reader gets hooked and
hooked up to the drug and hooked up to the book as hit delivery device.
This is all to say that what de Grazia calls the textual apparatus of Shakespeare’s works,
is arguably always already a weak power precisely becomes it is not exhausted by is
paragemonal and paratextual phenomenality and hence cannot exercise sovereignty over
the text or reader, decide on the completion of the text before transmitting it. Instead it
suggests optative strategies for further relaying of the text—offering what with
Foucauldian precision we might name a technology of reading—that nevertheless will
have bio-political results or reverberations. The apparatus may not wish to shape the
textual object and its reception but also, precisely because it is so weak, misshape it,
always already effectively producing a monster and monstrous Shakespeare in which
distinctions between authentic and forged Shakespeare, between Shakespeare and some
other unsigned author named “Shakespeare,” are always in some degree of doubt. Some
readings of Shakespeare’s works, whether continuous or discontinuous, will not only
always be forestalled, but also stalled out; indeed, the installation of the apparatus can
even take the paradoxical form of a stall, or, in Avital Ronell’s terms, an unanswered call,
a hang up, a misplaced call (“sorry, wrong number”) as the wiring of the “textual object”
goes haywire, writing becomes writhing, readability becomes unread -ability.
Tuning into Shakespeare Revebatin’ means attending to incomplete and hence
incomprehensible spaces in the works listed under the name Shakespeare, spaces that are
regularly called cruxes. A crux is produced when the text is folded over, as it were; the
crux needs to be read because a surplus or an omission in the text or texts is not readable.
So editors commonly produce widely acceptable and sensible readings and emendations
that may nevertheless always be characterized as missed readings because they can never
be adequate to or exhaust the involutions of the textual fold that they cover over. Indeed,
they cannot, no matter how many times we return to the crux, be entirely sure that there is
anything to be explained, anything missing or even folded over. Rather than see cruxes as
open spaces in need of being closed, as minor obstacles placed in the path of reading, I
want to suggest that cruxes offer a paradigm for conceptualizing the readable per se, of
our knowing for certain when and where reading begins and, even more crucially, when it
stops. To render this paradigm of readability more concretely, I will look at specific
moments of unread -ability inscribed in Shakespeare’s works, none of which has
traditionally been identified by editors as cruxes and all of which involve opening and
closing: the 1623 Folio’s addition of “O, o, o, o” after Hamlet’s last sentence “the rest is
silence” and before “Dyes”; the conflicting references to Prospero’s book and books in
The Tempest; and the casket in Richard II, and its bearing being open or closed has on
Richard’s refusal to “read o’er the articles” in the deposition scene and read himself as a
book instead in the looking glass.
But first I need to take you on what may seem like a guided detour in order to attempt
to comprehend these sometimes incomprehensible moments of turbulent reverberation, a
detour that involves a fuller philosophical examination of Shakespeare’s hauntological,
mediatized works, the uncanny “re-verbatin’s” of what we call Shakespeare across a wide
variety of media across a wide stretch of time that include lost, handwritten manuscripts,
an author’s signature, Shakespeare’s or Sir Francis Bacon’s, hidden in a printed text or
handwritten letter; images of time machines and also of cipher machines with marked up
texts run through them; portraits of someone said to be Shakespeare; the use of carbon
dating and infrared technologies to determine a painting’s or document’s authenticity and
veracity; facsimile covers of gift shop notebooks; and facsimiles of (illustrated) book
pages and diagrams in scholarly articles. This (mis)guided detour of what I will, after
Derrida, call the “Shakespearean impression” means entering the contact zone of the
Shakespearean impression in relation to the physicality of the manuscript and book;
images of open and closed, read and unread book to its reading in paintings; the relation
between mimesis, doubling, the reversibility of media, and dis-figuration; discursive disclosure rather than discursive enclosure; and the singularity of the Shakespearean
impression as a question of a book’s “detach –ability” and “reattach –ability” to itself, to
its author’s signature, and of the author’s signature to itself. v We will thereby arrive at a
way of thinking of thinking sovereignty and political theology in relation to the death of
the sovereign, an after that opens up a future that has yet to arrive but that makes closure
possible; rather than examine the politics of Shakespeare in terms of the shaping power of
endless cultural reappropriations and reproductions of Shakespeare, we will examine how
spectral sovereignty emerges from his bio-bibliographical life support networks, how it
becomes legible as we extend the shelf-life of his books and their performances by
reprocessing, them, reshelving them, from spaces irreducible to the margins of the page,
errata, and the
Ci—phi: Not Yet Reading Shakespeare
Margreta de Grazia
The apparatus has a curious ontological status in de Grazia’s account: it is partly
paratextual “preparation” for reading and partly phenomenological: the apparatus
“prepares the text for the reader by submitting it to certain procedures, and it prepares the
reader for the text by equipping him or her with certain kinds of information. Hence this
preparation shapes both the textual object to be delivered and the cognitive spaces into
which it is received. . . the apparatus, of course, need not be as conspicuous as Malone’s;
once its operations are in place, it can recede from view, absorbed by the texts and its
readers” (12). The apparatus recedes as it becomes unreadable as such, but it is also
always more or less conspicuous: Shakespeare’s texts “have never appeared unattended. .
. not even in editions featuring no apparatus whatsoever.. . . Some mechanism, stated or
unstated, will always prepare the way for reading” (13). De Grazia does not inquire into
the disappearing act that the apparatus performs, what a “textual object” is, or how the
“operations” and “procedures” of the apparatus the deliver the object are “put in place” in
the first place. Her delivery system of textual information implies a model of reading and
textuality as total absorption, a move from precession to recession.
See Samuel Weber, Theatricality as medium (Fordham, 2004)
For a discussion of the philological links between theology and the apparatus, see
Giorgio Agamben, What is an Apparatus? And Other Essays (2009), 8-13. On
“hauntology,” see Derrida, Spectres of Marx and on formal materiality of material with
out matter and inscription as other than physical writing, see Paul de Man, aesthetic
Ideology and “Hypogram and Inscription” The Resistance to Theory. The turn of cultural
studies into material culture as the New New Hisotiricsm has produced a quite uncritical
abjection of “mere spectrality” (andDerrida) in favor of the “hard sciences” of objects.
Why immaterial has no value, no relation to truth, is something that gets lost in he large
for materiality (and non-reading). Everyday life, but no every night life, time of
ghosts,darkness, shadows, haunting, andtruth—Minverva flies at dusk). Two models of
crtique—dialectic of Enlughtenment versus Fcuaulton Kantand into biopoliics—the e end
of man (Word and Thngs) to thebirth of biopolitics.
Impression not only in the sense of pressure and imprinting Derrida assigns in his
analysis of the Freudian impression) but also the impression as impersonation and
impression as form , acst, in Did-Huberman’s sense. Auractic trace. Derrida, Archive
Fever:A Freudian Impression. I will be taking a metacritical approach, reading ways of reading
of Shakespeare’s texts, authorship, image, and signature along with and against reading
Shakespeare. Looking at a certain. Unread –ability means re-stored Shakespeare, a relation
of concealment in revealment, a truth that is revealed in the work of art, beauty,
indirectly, and slowly. Dial ups and hang ups, sorry wrong number. Not only a question
of the hauntology of the object, of the medium, but of its reception, of knowing when
reading begins and when it ends. No just authentic versus forgery but the delivery of truth
as a fake out that is authentic.
Looking at the “no there always already there.” Hauntology of medium specificity
From text to phone call—possibility of phoniness, forgery, crank call.
Static in any hauntological instantiation of Shakespeare in print, theater, photography,
and so on. We are always dealing with a phantasm—a copy of a copy of a copy that
extends from manuscript to authorship to readership, from missing body to missing text.
I want to look at specifc inscriptions of this incompleteness and incomprehension, or
unread -ability in terms of opening and closing in Hamlet—the 1623 Folio’s addition of
“O, o, o, o” after Hamlet’s “The rest is silence” and before “Dyes.”; the conflicting
references to Prospero’s book and his books in The Tempest; and the casket in Richard II,
open or closed, and its bearing on Richard’s refusal to read o’er the articles and read
himself as a book instead in the looking glass. In get there, I first need to take you on a
guided detour that involves a philosophical interrogation of Shakespeare’s hauntology, its
re-verbatin’s” in media from handwritten manuscript, signature in handwriting or in print,
from edition to reader’s annotations. in the archive by way of responding to the call placed by
deconstruction for a double reading of philosophical and literary texts, so that, in dialectical
fashion, concepturalizing Shakespeare’s unread -ability helps us conceptualize Derrida’s and Paul
de Man’s specific kinds of hauntological unread -ability as well vice-versa. Put more concretely,
this will
Slice, dicing, and shrink wrapping—of deciding when to stop reading.
as biblion-preservation, storage, protection—but also sovereignty—to declare the state of
exception to declare shelf life and human life—passport as a book. Biblion as protection also
closes reading.
Overused books versus underused books rather than used and unused books