Friday, March 25, 2005

To think therefore to imagine

Schools of Thought: The Madness of Consensus
by Carra Leah Hood

"In response to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern’s assertion that Denmark is not a prison, Hamlet remarks:

Why, then 'tis none to you, for there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.

Hamlet [describes] a sort of relativism. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern have their point of view, and Hamlet has his. Hamlet labels neither point of view good or bad here. So why does he introduce the language of morality at all? Why doesn't he say, 'Why, then, 'tis none to you: to me it is a prison,' instead, omitting the fragment that comprises the epigraph entirely? What function does the epigraphic fragment perform? ...

Hamlet, unable to imagine Denmark as anything but a prison, takes on an historical burden, transferred to him by his father's ghost, that requires a break with convention, and with the rhetorical expectations of someone occupying his role, hence his presumed madness. While to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, economic survival requires preserving consensual thinking; according to Hamlet, it will lead to the end of his life, to the demise of Denmark, to the conclusion of Danish history. It is Hamlet's duty, then, and that of all contemporary intellectuals, to think therefore to imagine, at risk of being thought mad, beyond consensus to sustain the production of ideas and history, the moral ingredient of thoughtful exchange, and to prevent the alternative, that is, the fate of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern ...

Ideas have power in Hamlet's world, no less chaotic, violent, and presumptively immoral than the world in 2005. It is a bad idea, a sort of madness actually, to act, then as now, as if language primarily functions bureaucratically, for the connected purposes of enforcing consensus, or canonicity, as a morally good idea, and of consolidating personal gain, as the sole measure of ethical conduct."

from M/C Journal, Feb 2005


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