Professor presents speech on complex essay.

On Thursday, March 23, Associate Professor of English, Dr. Stephen W. Whitworth, presented a speech as part of a series of lectures in the 2010-2011 Ervene Gulley Department Lecture Series.  Although the lecture was not announced around campus, 38 students managed to attend along with two faculty members.The piece that was being analyzed was originally published in a special issue of the academic journal The Shakespeare Yearbook, and was edited by Douglass Brooks of Texas A&M University.  The Essay is entitled “Sidney, Lacan, and the Perverse Fantasy of Pastoral,” and the book is Lacanian Interpretations of Shakespeare.

To provide a brief summary of the talk, in Sir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia, readers encounter a sonnet spoken by a cross-dressed prince in exile trying to seduce a princess. When reading, readers briefly get to experience what it feels like to have perverse desire. The sonnet from the Arcadia is generally known as “the transformation sonnet.”

The talk about perverse desire does not necessarily reflect the common stereotype of one who is necessarily “sick” in the mind. Rather, the person is the main focal point within their own little universe.  The opposite of the pervert constitutes the neurotic, where the person realizes there’s more to the world then “me, myself, and I.”

To illustrate the perverse versus the neurotic mind, Dr. Whitworth presented his audience with a basic set up called the castration complex.  Two ways of experiencing the castration complex result in either neurosis or perversion. Dr. Whitworth took the elements of a pervert, as well as a neurotic, and compared them to a newborn.  When the baby cries the mother comes running to fulfill the every need of a child, therefore the mother is not only being used as a feminine tool, but also the tool of masculinity, and there’s no separation.  The subject is forever receiving enjoyment with little or no effort of change.  For the neurotic, although there is the deep connection, later on in life there is a separation and a change takes place where desire provides satisfaction in small little pieces.

As Dr. Whitworth read through various parts of the essay, it wasn’t hard to see the complexity of language and interpretations that have baffled and confused many people who have attempted to study the richness of Sir Philip Sidney’s great work.  Some messages and images, however, were easy to interpret, but it was true that one cannot get the true essence of the essay without involving the imagination.  One image that was mentioned included a scene where the prince is clinging to pole of the ship right before they hit shore.  Now, if the reader just glazes over this image there’s nothing to gain, but at a closer glance, the image of a person gripping onto a long phalanx like structure proposes a whole new picture.  This also suggests the deep connection of the object being eternally connected with desire.

Although the subject of discussion was very complex and slightly confusing, Dr. Whitworth was able to present the material in a way that was fairly easy to comprehend.  Many students were able to take his words and formulate well educated questions for discussion at the end of his reading, capturing the essence of the essay and proving that the work is in fact something worth looking at.

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