Memento Mori woodcut - Remember to die. It is appointed for all men once to dye therefore think upon eternity ...

Episode 13 Transcript

Ben Binversie:

Out, out, brief candle. Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

This is All Things Grinnell. I'm your host, Ben Binversie. [00:00:30] On this episode, it's about to get literary. We're talking with John Garrison, associate professor of English here at the college, about Shakespeare and the afterlife. Then we'll talk with his Dutch colleague and collaborator, Jan Frans van Dijkhuizen, associate professor of English literature at Leiden University in the Netherlands, about the literary history of reconciliation. This week's show is coming up next after a word from Grinnell College.

The information and opinions expressed in this podcast are solely those [00:01:00] of the individuals involved and do not represent the views of Grinnell College.

John Garrison was teaching a course on how different cultures approach the question of what happens after death. As a devoted Shakespeare scholar, Garrison then turned to the Bard for answers to this age-old question. But no matter how advanced we get technologically, the question still eludes us. What happens when we die? Many people have offered their opinions on the question, but none as far as I know have answered it satisfactorily. [00:01:30] If it is unknowable, then why the heck are we talking about it? John had a few ideas.

John Garrison:

The way a culture thinks about the afterlife, whether there's a heaven, whether there's a hell, whether people are rewarded, whether people are punished, whether people return, whether nothing happens, tells us a lot about the culture itself. In other words, cultures project onto the afterlife their values. So what people are punished or rewarded for in the afterlife as imagined by a culture tells [00:02:00] us what that culture values. Although we can't really know what happens after death, I think what we can know is that what people imagine happens after death tells us a lot about those people themselves.

Ben Binversie:

Yeah. And it impacts the way that we choose to live our lives in a way as well.

John Garrison:

Yeah. Many of us, if we think that at some point we're going to be judged, assessed, evaluated and that's going to determine what happens to us really for an eternity after we die, that puts a lot of pressure on the decision whether or not to report all your earnings on your tax return, [00:02:30] which I do by the way.

Ben Binversie:

A while back I talked with your colleague, Jan Frans van Dijkhuizen.

John Garrison:

Well-said.

Ben Binversie:

Thank you. He will be proud. Who has written on such grim topics before as death and he was also a delightful man, as are you by all indications.

John Garrison:

He is. I agree. One of my favorite people in the Netherlands.

Ben Binversie:

How did you gravitate towards this subject, which can be a little morbid at times?

John Garrison:

[00:03:00] Well, Jan's work focuses on reconciliation and forgiveness between people. One of the sites that takes place for him is the deathbed, where family members come together and reconcile or one reconciles themselves to God or the sins they've committed. Because of that, there's a lot of intersection between Jan and my work in the sense that I was very interested in the deathbed as a site where one is sort of coming very close to the threshold of the afterlife.

I think if our confrontation with the afterlife is a confrontation with the unknowable and if talking about the afterlife admits [00:03:30] that death could come at any moment, then I think to some extent there's no reason not to be funny and not to look at the world humorously. I mean, at it's most basic level, it's a coping mechanism. But I think knowing that death is always around the corner, then it's that much more important to think that life is less consequential.

I mean I think we see this in the speech by Macbeth where he likens life to a shadow. So in other words, [00:04:00] we add a certain lightness to life and we can joke about life, knowing that death itself looms on the horizon for it.

Ben Binversie:

Yeah. You talk a lot about death in the book, but it's called Shakespeare and the Afterlife, not Shakespeare and Death.

John Garrison:

It's true.

Ben Binversie:

What are you trying to do with the book, and why are you looking at how Shakespeare deals with these complex questions?

John Garrison:

Well, on the one hand, I think that Shakespeare has always been someone who people have gone to when they're wrestling [00:04:30] with the big questions, what to do with one's life, what is ethical? What is justice? How should we treat each other? What does it mean to fall in love? These are questions that, I think, for the past 400 years you can find people going to Shakespeare to answer either through examples of characters who act out in certain ways that seem true to us, or in Shakespeare's deeper meditations on the very complexities of those questions themselves.

So I feel like the afterlife is one of these topics that in [00:05:00] one way or another all of us wrestle with. Whatever beliefs we have now I think there was a point at which we wondered what happens after death and took different kinds of information and tried to assess it. So why not go to Shakespeare? But another reason that I went to Shakespeare for the book is that one would think that Shakespeare coming from this highly Protestant, highly regulated society in terms of his Christian beliefs, Shakespeare lived in a time where you'd be fined for not going to church. You would think that he would [00:05:30] have one singular view across his plays and poems about what happens after death and that view would very closely match the predominant Christian views.

What's been surprising to me in my own study of Shakespeare is that there are a wide array of views about what happens after death. In fact, it's hard to really pin down any agreed-upon conception of what happens in the afterlife. That very diversity was really intriguing to me and it really pointed out to me the degree to which Shakespeare's truly [00:06:00] an iconoclast, both because he's going against many of the preconceptions of his culture but also refusing to give us any singular answer.

Ben Binversie:

Yeah, you found that for the most part his characters' ideas of death are particular to the characters themselves in their lives and the context in which the play occurs. How does Shakespeare use that freedom to play with these different ideas about death?

John Garrison:

A great example of this is Hamlet's encounter with the ghost of his father. [00:06:30] In what is probably the most famous speech in all of Shakespeare's work and, in fact, in all of English literature is Shakespeare's To Be or Not To Be speech. In that speech, he describes death or the afterlife as the undiscovered country from which no traveler returns. On the one hand, that strikes us as true, that no one comes back from death. Most of us have never spoken with ghosts. In fact, in the early modern period, in Shakespeare's period, it [00:07:00] was widely believed that ghosts were not real, that they were a figment of the Catholic imagination and Catholic beliefs were excised with the coming of Protestantism.

This all seems well and good that Hamlet will say, "Well, there's no such thing as ghosts and no one's ever spoken with anyone who's died." But of course, we realize that one of the most famous moments in all of Shakespeare and perhaps in all of English literature is Hamlet's encounter with his father that takes place. Shortly beforehand, Hamlet meets the ghost of his father and the ghost of his father tells him [00:07:30] to get revenge on his uncle, spoiler alert, who killed his father. Even there we can see that the very action of the play where audience members and Hamlet have seen a ghost where the ghost's demands are what's driving the narrative of the play and in fact helping Hamlet know what to do with his life, is in direct opposition to what Hamlet tells us is the truth of the world or the truth of the afterlife, which is that no one returns.

Ben Binversie:

How do the characters make [00:08:00] sense of death using their own experiences? Because a lot of ways it's projecting your life onto another life that will come possibly.

John Garrison:

Quite often in Shakespeare, both in the tragedies and in the comedies, we find characters who are coming very close to death, either in the example of King Lear who reconciles with his daughter, Cordelia, because he senses that his own death is coming shortly. [00:08:30] In the example of Romeo and Juliet who, as we recall, wake briefly and imagine the other has died. Another great example of this is Claudio in Measure For Measure is someone who has been thrown into prison and sentenced to death because he has impregnated a woman before they were legally married. When he imagines death, he remarks that he'll greet death as a bride. So he imagines that death itself will [00:09:00] be this dark female figure who will embrace him in a romantic embrace.

While we might think at first that's a very comfortable way to imagine encountering death, when we think about the situation that puts him in danger of being killed, we realize that his vision of death is that very act that is, coupling with a woman, that very act that sentenced him to death is the way that he expects to die. We see this really across Shakespeare, that people are making sense of why [00:09:30] they are dying, what death will look like, what life will look like after death, is very closely related to the reason they've come to this moment in the play where they're about to die.

Ben Binversie:

Yeah.

John Garrison:

Yeah.

Ben Binversie:

Yeah. There's a lot of death in Shakespeare's plays, a lot of the plays end up with more than half the cast gone by the end of the play.

John Garrison:

Littered across the-

Ben Binversie:

Across the stage and in the audience. Is that a function of the theater itself [00:10:00] or is he particularly interested in the theme of death?

John Garrison:

I think another way to ask that question is-

Ben Binversie:

No. You don't get to choose how I ...

John Garrison:

This is what I do. I ask the questions. I'm a professor of English. I think the many bodies that litter Shakespeare's plays relate to the function of the theater itself. In other words, Shakespeare's not obsessed with death, but rather Shakespeare is using death in such a way to help us think about how the theater operates. So one way we can think of the theater is as a resurrection machine. We can think of the [00:10:30] theater as a space where people do actually come back to life, where we actually can encounter ghosts. This is true in the history plays where early modern audiences or even contemporary audiences can go and they can see a play where Henry V walks across the stage or Julius Caesar makes a famous speech.

This is a way in which the theater itself is capable of bringing long-dead figures back to life even if we're going to see them be killed again that night. But it's also true of the fictional characters [00:11:00] that Shakespeare creates even in the comedies, for example. If a character dies at the end of the play, we still know that character's going to come back to life the next night when the actor reappears as that character. So I think there's something about going to the theater and experiencing death that is counterintuitively really reassuring for us. In other words, we get to see that people who have died, whether long ago on in the moment, actually will come back, [00:11:30] will be resurrected.

I think maybe one thing we can think about is that one of our fears of dying is that we won't see our loved ones again. One of our big questions about the afterlife is will we reunite? Will these people who have passed before us or will pass after us, will we all get back together again in heaven and be able to be together? I think the theater gives us, just for a moment, the fulfillment of this fantasy that people who die will come back, that people who we miss might actually revisit us even for a brief period [00:12:00] of time. I think we see this again and again in Shakespeare's theater.

Ben Binversie:

I want to turn to Shakespeare's personal beliefs about the afterlife. I know that's not the main thrust of your book, but you do acknowledge a little bit that the closest we come possibly is in Hamlet. I remember learning in high school English class that Shakespeare's son, Hamnet, which is just a horrible name, died-

John Garrison:

No judgments, first of all.

Ben Binversie:

... died young. Is there any evidence for a more personal connection or [00:12:30] special insights to Shakespeare's beliefs about death in that play?

John Garrison:

Well, we can think about a couple different things with Hamlet. First of all, yes, the name Hamnet sounds strange to us today. It sounds like it's a type of sandwich that one might order at a wifi café in the 1980s in an episode of Punky Brewster. But Hamnet and Hamlet are actually alternative spellings for the same name. So it is entirely possible that Shakespeare's son, Hamnet, [00:13:00] could be referred to as that name we seem to prefer pronouncing, Hamlet.

So on the one hand we can think about that play that's about the separation of a father and son, the trauma of that. We can think about that play as a way of his working through the loss of his son. But another way to think about that play in terms of Shakespeare's own belief is that Shakespeare, of course, lost a father as Hamlet does. If ghosts themselves are reflections of Catholic [00:13:30] beliefs in Shakespeare's England, we can think about the fact that the previous generation before Shakespeare would have been Catholic. Major scholar in my field, Steven Greenblatt, points out that this ghost of Hamlet's father is also in some ways the ghost of Shakespeare's father in the sense of it's the ghost of Catholicism revisiting the Renaissance stage. But it's also this ghostly Catholic figure in the sense that it's a ghost, which Catholics believed [00:14:00] in and Protestants didn't particularly believe in, but it's also the ghost of this Catholic figure which would have been Shakespeare's father.

Ben Binversie:

You're asking a lot of different questions in this book.

John Garrison:

But not in the interview.

Ben Binversie:

No. I get to do that. They all center around the basic question of what happens after death. But how did you then decide to structure the book?

John Garrison:

The question of how to structure a book is always a really tough one. The first way I thought about structuring the book was around figures. I was going to do a chapter on ghosts, a chapter [00:14:30] on witches, a chapter on people giving funeral orations. But then it occurred to me that all of our personal journeys towards death and towards the understanding of the afterlife can be understood somewhat spatially. For all of us, there's the moment where we realize that we are going to die whether imminently or abstractly or there's the moment where we're close to someone who is also dying.

There's the moment where we're in the room grieving the person who has just died. [00:15:00] There's the moment when one enters the afterlife, whether in the imagination of those who have survived or if people actually do that. And there's the moment where, at least in Shakespeare's plays and in other kinds of popular culture, where the person who's entered the afterlife returns. So I feel like the structure of the book, to move through an awareness of death to a closeness of death to death itself and then the return from the dead, really links to this way in which we experience people dying, which is a fear that they will, an experience of them dying, and then a real [00:15:30] missing or mourning them.

Ben Binversie:

Yeah. The book itself takes you on a little journey of-

John Garrison:

It is a journey. Take my hand, gentle reader and I will take you-

Ben Binversie:

And let me kill you.

John Garrison:

... to a dark place, exactly.

Ben Binversie:

Speaking of spaces though, I want to talk about the physical separation of the living and the dead often represented through tombs or cemeteries. In Shakespeare's time, how firm were those barriers between the living and the dead?

John Garrison:

One incredibly helpful book for me writing this book was a book [00:16:00] by my colleague, Karla Erickson, in sociology called How We Die Now. It's a sociological study of how different kinds of families experienced having a loved one dying. As I've been citing throughout this interview, she invokes this really crucial image of the threshold. That is, we can imagine death as a sort of doorway where the living and the dying are on one side of the doorway and the doorway looms and at some point the dying pass through the threshold into the arena of death and then [00:16:30] the living feel separated from this person they imagine on the other side of the threshold.

That kind of stark difference between the living and the dead was less evident in Shakespeare's time. Not so much because some people in Shakespeare's time imagined ghosts as being real or because people went to the theater and saw dead figures brought back to life, but rather because the cemetery was a more frequent space of sociality than we associate it with today. [00:17:00] The space of the cemetery we think of today as being a space that's outside the town or outside the city, a place that one goes to on special occasions. There's a long drive. There are gates around it.

Cemeteries in Shakespeare's time were much more intermixed with the social life of the city or the town. We can understand this for two different reasons. One is that in the early towns, the very center of a city was the church and its cemetery. [00:17:30] The city was completely organized around that space at its center. In the medieval period, in the Middle Ages, the dead were actually at the very center of the lived life and much of the commonality or much of the sociality of the town would involve going back and forth to the church and that would involve encountering the dead in the form of tombs.

Another way to think about this is that the expansion of cities also incorporated the dead into lived [00:18:00] experience. Even in those cities where the dead might be buried outside of the city to really separate the dead from the living, cities were expanding very quickly during Shakespeare's time. So people who once had an experience of thinking the dead were very outside their lived experience all of a sudden found that neighborhoods and businesses were opening all around the spaces where the dead were buried. Because of this, the dead were very much present in Shakespeare's time for people living in Renaissance England in simply a way that they aren't now, which [00:18:30] is that one was always walking by and entering tombstones and graveyards and evidence of the fact that people died much more readily than we are today.

I think that we have graveyards and crematoriums and other kinds of places outside of cities today because we want to put the dead out of our minds in certain ways that simply wasn't the norm in Shakespeare's time nor was it actually possible because of the way the cities themselves grew.

Ben Binversie:

A little more daily recognition [00:19:00] of our own mortality. With this book, you managed to make his work insightful, funny, and serious but, mostly importantly I think, engaging to everyone, not just the people who are Shakespeare buffs like yourself. In writing this book and in your work as a professor teaching texts like these, how do you make them accessible to broader audiences or first-year college students?

John Garrison:

Well, I think this is one of the funny things about Shakespeare is that now in the 21st century, and this has been [00:19:30] true for a while, Shakespeare becomes associated with very highbrow culture. In other words, we think of Shakespeare as this very refined writer who performed in court and has this very complex language. Perhaps most of that is true. But what is also true of Shakespeare is that Shakespeare during his period was simply popular culture. That is, when you had a Saturday to kill time you might go to a Shakespeare play [00:20:00] or you might go to bear baiting next door and watch a bear fight a dog to the death-

Ben Binversie:

Woohoo.

John Garrison:

... which is sort of like monster truck festival nowadays. Really Shakespeare was everyone's culture, but it was a particularly lowbrow culture in the early modern period. This is one of the things that I stress to students in classes is that part of what's interesting about Shakespeare is this cachet that's being created for him. But that very cachet can be intimidating in certain [00:20:30] kinds of ways that prohibit us from really understanding the plays.

There's both a completist culture around Shakespeare where people want to see every play, read every play, perform in lots of plays. There's a geek culture around Shakespeare where people want to know all the ins and outs and want to know about all the adaptations and whatnot. That can make it hard to dive in. But with my students, I always start with really the closest possible analysis [00:21:00] of the text. That takes it away from them needing to know about Shakespeare's life or needing to know about early modern culture. We really just start with the language and just start with the page and the single line of text. That's a way for them to really get into what is the richness of Shakespeare, which is the nuance of the language that, by the way, Shakespeare was able to do with an elementary school education.

Shakespeare was neither highbrow culture, nor was he himself, particularly highbrow in the sense of his [00:21:30] schooling. He didn't go to university.

Ben Binversie:

Didn't go to Grinnell College.

John Garrison:

He didn't go to Grinnell College. Few do.

Ben Binversie:

How could he possibly produce such works?

John Garrison:

It's true. It's a real question actually. I think we're looking at an honorary degree for him, but I'll have to check in with the higher ups about that.

Ben Binversie:

Okay. Has writing this book helped you process your own thoughts on the afterlife?

John Garrison:

Writing this book hasn't particularly changed the way I think about what happens after death, but it has really helped me understand more clearly [00:22:00] why certain people have certain kinds of beliefs. I think my younger self, my undergraduate self, when he encountered people who had other kinds of beliefs than I had, sort of got in that trap of, well, there must be a right or wrong answer. They must be wrong or mine is more right or something. I think the more I've learned about the unknowability of the afterlife has allowed me to let go of feeling like even if we can't know what it is, there has to be one singular answer.

[00:22:30] But I think also to listen really carefully to people's stories about what they believe, what their family believes or their parents believe or what they're telling their children, what their church believes, I think this has really helped me understand what is important to them, about their lives as they tell me what's going to happen after their lives or where they think their deceased loved ones are. It tells me a little bit about their relationship to people they care about. My dad's last book came out from Oxford University Press and [00:23:00] this book came out from Oxford University Press. My dad didn't know I was going to write this book.

I think that on the one hand, for me personally, it's this important lifeline or tether to my dad who's died, that we both published at the same press. It's a way that I feel connected to him. I don't, in any way, believe that my dad somehow knows this in some way, but nonetheless, it feels like it's a way. It's partially sort of an afterlife for him and it's partially a way that maybe I'm continuing on [00:23:30] his legacy. But I know that my mom recently remarked to me, "I'm sure your dad is so proud to know that you published this book." I think we hear that belief a lot that people think that people who have passed on are watching over us or aware of-

Ben Binversie:

Smiling.

John Garrison:

They're smiling down on us when we win the lacrosse game or whatever. I think this notion that people are watching over us, smiling down on us, keeping an eye on us, keeping us safe, [00:24:00] I'm not saying that that isn't true because I have no idea because none of us know. But I do think that that expresses a certain kind of relationship we want to have with people who have died or a way to assuage our sadness about people dying or the fears that those people aren't in our life any more, that our parents aren't around or that our grandparents aren't around or something. A way to deal with that anxiety or that fear is to imagine that they are still around in a certain kind of way in the sense that they're watching over us or in the room with [00:24:30] us.

On the one hand, that doesn't necessarily mean that you believe in ghosts. It can mean you just believe that their presence is there inside of you or in the spirit of what you're doing. But I think a lot of people embody that by saying, well, they think that person was there with them when they walked across the stage at the beauty contest.

Ben Binversie:

Yeah. That's kind of cheating death in a sense, that living on after death whether it's in people's memories or other ways. I find it alluring [00:25:00] that Shakespeare may have cheated death himself because here we are talking about him centuries later.

John Garrison:

We are indeed, and will be talking about him for centuries. Shakespeare shows up quite a bit in, for example, Star Trek. Star Trek: The Next Generation has lots of Shakespeare in it. The implication there, I think, is that, A) people will be reading Shakespeare 400 years from now, 1000 years from now. Because of that, we ourselves should keep reading Shakespeare because Jean-Luc Picard and Data and all those people are going to be performing Shakespeare. [00:25:30] But the ghost of Shakespeare shows up quite a bit in popular culture. I think part of that's about the fantasy of who do we most like to have dinner with or who do we want to have a conversation with. Shakespeare always comes up.

We fantasize if we could know what his actual thoughts were, what his intents were. But I think the reappearance of Shakespeare's ghost in popular culture quite frequently signals this way in which we know that Shakespeare is still with us. That doesn't mean he's smiling down on us and that doesn't mean that he himself is [00:26:00] taking the hand when you're writing the great American novel and putting his plume through your pen. But rather that means that there's just a way in which he's on our minds even if we're not thinking about him actively.

Ben Binversie:

Yeah. You ask a lot of insightful questions in this book and Shakespeare's work offers us a peek into how we make sense of this whole living and dying thing. But even after interviewing you, I don't know what happens after I die. I have to say, I'm a little disappointed. I expected more from you.

John Garrison:

I'm going to show you [00:26:30] a card right now and that card's going to tell you exactly what's going to happen to you after you die.

Ben Binversie:

Okay. I mean hey, I'm happy as long as I know. But when you do figure out that answer, you have to promise to come back on the podcast.

John Garrison:

You got it.

Ben Binversie:

Then we can really talk.

John Garrison:

I'll see you then or I'll see you in the afterlife.

Ben Binversie:

Ooh. Okay. Thank you John.

John Garrison:

Thank you.

Ben Binversie:

John Garrison is an associate professor of English here at Grinnell. His recently published book, Shakespeare and the Afterlife, is available [00:27:00] now. You can find a link to it on our website, grinnell.edu/podcast.

While working at the Folger Shakespeare Library in DC in the spring of 2016, John met Jan Frans van Dijkhuizen. They were both working as research fellows and they became friends quickly. Garrison encouraged Jan to pursue his book idea, A Literary History of Reconciliation. They collaborated on the book proposal. Jan's previous books include subjects as uplifting as Pain and Compassion and Devil [00:27:30] Theater: Demonic Possession and Exorcism. I was curious what made him turn to the seemingly wholesome topic of reconciliation.

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

Well, I like to think that was partly because of the sheer darkness of the earlier topics. I guess that part of me wanted to turn to a more upbeat topic after a whole book on early modern attitudes towards pain. It seemed nice to turn to something lighter. Reconciliation seemed to fit the bill. It seemed perfect, the idea of writing a [00:28:00] book about how people resolve their conflicts, how they make up, and what literary texts have to say about that. I guess I was vaguely hoping to be able to say something uplifting about that. But unfortunately, the book became darker as the research progressed and I came to realize more and more that reconciliation often is not a particularly happy affair.

So I ended up gravitating [00:28:30] towards the darkness, I guess. There is this black hole that just keeps pulling me in.

Ben Binversie:

Yeah. Do you think that was a natural phenomenon or do you think that's something about you and your interests as a scholar that directs you towards those things?

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

Well, in this particular case, I like to think that it was the source materials that I was working with that made me change course as it were, that made me adjust my argument.

Ben Binversie:

What did you discover writing this latest [00:29:00] book about reconciliation, that it was not as hopeful as you had perhaps imagined?

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

Yeah, well, one thing that became increasingly clear to me is that especially in my pre-20th century case studies, reconciliation often serves to reconfirm, to reinscribe dominant hierarchies, hierarchies in terms of class, social class, in terms of gender, in terms of race, intergenerational hierarchies too. [00:29:30] What's interesting is that conflict often emerges from a problem in precisely those areas, certainly in the literary texts that I've looked at. So conflict emerges from the dysfunctionality of male power, patriarchal power. And then conflict resolution could then take the form of an undermining of male power.

[00:30:00] Okay, we've seen that male power is actually what causes all the conflict. Maybe we should get rid of male power or reform it in such a way that it is no longer destructive. That is a real problem. For instance, Dickens, Charles Dickens is very acutely aware of how patriarchal power has generated conflict. At the same time, he kind of shies away from the idea that conflict resolution then should mean, should entail a dismantling of male power. [00:30:30] The idea that maybe we should get rid of male power because it causes so much conflict just goes too far. It's too unsettling. It's too subversive. So he finds an alternative route in which conflicts are resolved in such a way that ultimately, for instance, male power, patriarchal power remains intact.

It's interesting to look at what that requires. That means, for instance, there's a classic pattern that I've found in Shakespeare, [00:31:00] in John Milton, in Dickens, in which a figure of male power will acknowledge that they wronged someone, but only after a female character has first humiliated themselves before him. So that creates a safe space in which a male character can acknowledge that they've wronged someone without jeopardizing their status as a figure of power. [00:31:30] Another thing is that this is something that I'm working on with John Garrison right now. Reconciliation often requires an acceptance of injustice, an acceptance on the part of the downtrodden, on the part of the oppressed, on the part of the powerless, of the forms of injustice that gave rise to conflict in the first place.

There's an amazing study by David Blight of [00:32:00] the Civil War in American memory and he shows how after the Civil War there was an urge to reconcile between the North and the South, as it were. He then shows how in order for that reconciliation to be feasible, what had to be suppressed was what the Civil War had been about, the racial dimension of the Civil War, because that's something you can't really compromise about. How can you reconcile about slavery? [00:32:30] You're either for it or you're against it. But then if that's what you do, if you remain committed to that belief, a belief in racial justice, that really gets in the way of a different kind of reconciliation.

So there's a terrible, tragic choice between allowing conflict to exist or resolving it, but at the expense of the ideals that you're committed to. So it's very much [00:33:00] a topic that's relevant for the modern-day world and certainly for the United States right now.

Ben Binversie:

I was going to ask you about the Civil War and other examples of truth and reconciliation and things like that and how the findings from your book maybe apply outside of the pages of the book.

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

Yeah. That's a great question. Well, I've come away from writing this book with an intensified skepticism of [00:33:30] reconciliation and especially of the language of forgiveness. In the book I use reconciliation as a general term for conflict resolution, the settling of differences. But the way in which we reconcile differ sometimes radically over history and between different cultures. So one really dominant template for thinking about conflict resolution in [00:34:00] our culture is the language of Christian forgiveness. I've come away with a certain skepticism of that.

I can cite an example of that that's fairly recent and I think puts the issues on the table, the infamous Access Hollywood tapes and the evangelical response. I shouldn't say evangelical response, but the response by certain prominent evangelical leaders to that. [00:34:30] What they would say, for instance, Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University said, "We should forgive Donald Trump. Our theology revolves around forgiveness." Because evangelicals know that we are all sinful. We're all in need of forgiveness, so we should be forgiving of Donald Trump as well. That sounds beautiful, right? That sounds generous.

Ben Binversie:

Right.

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

It sounds like a moral ... something to [00:35:00] aspire to morally. But hang on. There's a couple of catches here. First of all, this kind of spontaneous forgiveness tends to be offered with, let's say, special enthusiasm to powerful, white, wealthy, heterosexual men. The views entertained by those evangelical leaders on, say, on female sexual purity or [00:35:30] on gay marriage are often considerably less forgiving. In fact, behind that beautiful language of forgivingness lurk all kinds of assumptions about who's wrongdoing should be forgiven.

There's a whole moral code behind that that is not politically neutral. Also the idea that we're all sinful and therefore we should be forgiving towards each other [00:36:00] flattens out any idea of wrongdoing. It implies, wrongly I think, that there are no gradations of wrongdoing. If we're all equally sinful then nobody is. That too is, I think, a language, a narrative about wrongdoing and reconciliation that has to be treated with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Ben Binversie:

Yeah. Can you give a notable example of reconciliation from one of the [00:36:30] books that you studied and explain how the power structures play a role in the process?

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

Yeah. John Garrison and I, for instance, are now looking at Shakespeare's late plays, which have often been read as revolving around forgiveness. He moves on from tragedy and examines forgiveness in the late plays. But for instance, there's a moment at the end of The Tempest at which Prospero, the wronged [00:37:00] Duke of Milan, attempts to forgive his brother, Antonio, who usurped his dukedom. Antonio is now in his power. He says, I quote off the top of my head so there might be-

Ben Binversie:

I'll double check it for you.

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

Maybe we should double check it. There might be a couple mistakes in there. But he says, "For you, most wicked sir, whom to call brother would even infect my mouth. I do forgive thy rankest fault, all of them, [00:37:30] and require my dukedom of thee, which I know thou must but force restore." Is that generous forgiveness? Is that a forgiveness in which you let go of resentment? I don't think so. I mean he's just reminded him that he's not going to call him brother. In fact, that would infest his mouth. He does not re-acknowledge him as his brother. There's no renewal of the fraternal relationship. I don't think we can be bros even now.

Also Prospero reminds Antonio [00:38:00] of the power he has over him. I want my dukedom back and I'm afraid you have no choice but to return it because you're now in my power. And interestingly, that moment has often been celebrated as a moment of beautiful forgiveness, as uplifting. I think-

Ben Binversie:

Skeptical again.

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

I'm skeptical of that or to read that moment in those terms requires that we suppress a whole lot of details about that.

Ben Binversie:

It seems like a lot of the reconciliation [00:38:30] that you're talking about is tied up with Christianity and different notions of-

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

Absolutely.

Ben Binversie:

... divine forgiveness.

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

Absolutely. It's fascinating how we model the way in which we understand reconciliation between people on the language of divine forgiveness in which God forgives sinful human beings. Applying that to interpersonal reconciliation is actually a really fraught thing to do.

Ben Binversie:

Yeah. I can imagine. In [00:39:00] the books that you talk about in your book, is it mainly Christian theology that we're talking about? Does it differ? I mean because you're looking at texts from various centuries. How does it maybe change not just the religious aspect, but the idea of reconciliation?

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

Yeah. That's a great question. What I've noted in 20th century literature especially is an attempt to move away from Christian theological notions of forgiveness or [00:39:30] an attempt to define reconciliation between people in other ways, ways that are not modeled on divine forgiveness of sinful human beings. There's an amazing example of that in James Joyce's Ulysses in which Leopold Bloom forgives, if that's the right term, his wife, Molly, for her adultery. The question is, why does he do so? There's the extraordinary chapter, Ithaca, in [00:40:00] which you'll ... It's a famous chapter in which there is an anonymous catechist, right? That's how it's pronounced?

Ben Binversie:

Yep.

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

Who asks some other anonymous narrative voice, "Why did Leopold Bloom forgive his wife? Why did he end up feeling equanimity?" He feels anger at first and then he feels equanimity. There's a long answer and it's a pseudo-scientific, impersonal language. [00:40:30] It ends with, well, why did he feel equanimity? He meditated on the lethargy of nescient matter, the apathy of the stars. Why does he forgive? Because he meditates on the apathy of the stars. It's like a cosmic indifference. If the stars don't care about my puny little human conflicts-

Ben Binversie:

Why should I?

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

Why should I? Maybe I should adopt some of the indifference, some of the apathy of the stars, some of the apathy [00:41:00] that stars feel or don't feel. That, of course, is a fascinatingly different model of reconciliation. It's also, I think, exposed in Ulysses as ultimately falling short because Ulysses also addresses a whole history of colonial violence. The one question which that novel raises is, can we [00:41:30] reconcile after colonial conflict, after colonial injustice and violence in this manner by adopting the apathy of the stars, or do we need something else?

What about righteous anger? Does righteous anger have a place? If so, what kind of place? That's very much an open question. That's an interesting example, I think, a fascinating example of a novel that tries to move away from reconciliation [00:42:00] as modeled on divine forgiveness. Very famously in a novel by J.M. Coetzee from I think it's 1999, Disgrace.

Ben Binversie:

Yep.

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

There is an examination of what forms reconciliation can take in post-Apartheid South Africa and more broadly, I think, in post-traumatic societies. The term, post- [00:42:30] traumatic, in itself is problematic. Is a society ever post-traumatic? When does that start? That novel also examines and ultimately rejects, I think, the idea that theological language can serve as a template for understanding reconciliation between people, especially in this kind of fraught, political context. What I argue in the book is that Disgrace suggests that reconciliation in [00:43:00] post-Apartheid South Africa can really only start if a white male character comes to know, comes to experience what it is, what it feels like to be vulnerable and marginalized and excluded and powerless.

He does so by identifying with stray dogs that are euthanized. So he comes to experience a total [00:43:30] sense of fragility and vulnerability and only when that happens can reconciliation begin. That is a pretty pessimistic view, right, isn't it? I think it makes a lot of sense, but it's also a bleak view.

Ben Binversie:

Yeah, because how many people are going to want to force themselves to feel that way?

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

Exactly. Exactly. That requires a complete shedding of any sort of power or status. [00:44:00] At the same time, it is a powerful notion to entertain. It raises that question of to what extent can we feel the pain of others, to return to my earlier book, Pain and Compassion. That's a question that a lot of literary texts that I've looked at keep reexamining. Can we feel the pain of others and what does that mean? What does that require?

Ben Binversie:

Are there any notable examples that you found where the power dynamics [00:44:30] of reconciliation or forgiveness are more balanced or optimistic I guess?

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

Well, I wish I could say yes. I mean I'm an optimistic person in spite of everything. But I've not found a single case study in which that happens in any kind of unqualified and problematic manner. Reconciliation without power or reconciliation [00:45:00] as serving a progressive cause is imagined often in the works that I've looked at is taking place in some kind of postponed future beyond the confines of the novel itself. So there's no-

Ben Binversie:

You'll have to write-

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

... purely affirmative answer to this.

Ben Binversie:

You'll have to write that book, I guess.

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

Yeah. This is the happy sequel.

Ben Binversie:

So you've been in Grinnell for the past few days and you've been helping teach and visiting with classes with [00:45:30] Professor John Garrison in the English Department. What have you found Grinnellians to be particularly interested in in the work that you've been talking about?

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

One thing that's really struck me in all of the seminars is how much they revolve around open-ended debate and a commitment to open-ended debate and an acceptance of the loose ends that may come with that, an acceptance [00:46:00] of the idea that at the end of a seminar, there may be all these questions still hovering in the air and not quite resolved. It doesn't seem to make anybody nervous. So there's a face that seems that things will work out, that it's good to end on all these unresolved questions and to have all these loose ends because somehow or other that [00:46:30] will yield insights in the slightly longer run that you wouldn't have arrived at otherwise.

This may be partly John Garrison's teaching style. He likes open-ended debate. But I like to think that that's Grinnellian as well. It's good. It's great. This is all about resisting an easy idea, which is that reconciliation is nice and they ran with it.

Ben Binversie:

Great. Well, thank you, Jan, for joining me-

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

[00:47:00] Thank you.

Ben Binversie:

... to talk.

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

Thanks for having me.

Ben Binversie:

Yeah. It's been a great pleasure.

Jan Frans Van Dijkhuizen:

Thank you.

Ben Binversie:

Jan Frans van Dijkhuizen is an associate professor of English literature at Leiden University in the Netherlands. In typical Dutch fashion, Jan showed up for our interview on a bike. He was only visiting for a few days, but of course he got his hands on a bike. From where? I don't know. Maybe he borrowed it. Maybe he stole it from an unassuming first-year student. But I'm sure he reconciled with the student afterwards. Although we might have to investigate the power [00:47:30] dynamics of that situation.

You could find a link to his book, A Literary History of Reconciliation, on our website. There's a chapter in the book specifically about Shakespeare, but it really only scratches the surface. So Jan and John are co-writing a book-length study of reconciliation and Shakespeare together. And when they do, you'll hear about it here on the podcast.

We're really lucky at Grinnell College to be able to enjoy live concerts from artists of all backgrounds, sounds, and styles. A few weeks ago, Grinnell [00:48:00] Concerts hosted Pictoria Vark, Thin Lips, and Camp Cope live in Gardner Lounge. Our music correspondent, Gabriel Shubert class of 2020, snuck into the green room before the show to get a word in with one of the performers.

Gabriel Shubert:

Camp Cope is an independent alternative punk band from Melbourne, Australia. Their music is raw and emotionally provocative but maintains a sound that is pleasing and welcoming for new listeners. For fans of alternative, indie, and punk rock music this is an act I'd recommend listening to. One of the most impressive things Camp [00:48:30] Cope does is vocalize their strong feminist ideologies into an incredibly emotive and powerful package that's wrapped in a casual and accessible sound.

The band's music is political by default as they are an act comprised of all women. I got a chance to speak with the band's drummer and de facto band mom, Sarah Thompson or Thommo about the group's creative process, the Me Too Movement, and the band's future music.

Sarah Thompson:

When we started playing and people started wanting to hear what we had to say and people started talking [00:49:00] at us, it was kind of just happened. It wasn't something we decided to do. Lyrically, we've also been quite political from when we were quite young.

Gabriel Shubert:

Some of their most impassioned songs take aim at the male-dominated culture of the music industry and the world's patriarchy at large. Another power that comes from Camp Cope's music is the fact that these songs are grounded in reality and the lived experiences that these women have had navigating the music industry.

Sarah Thompson:

I'd say a good [00:49:30] 95% of the lyrical content is lived. There's a bit of observational stuff tossed in there, but “The Opener,” for example, pretty much every line in that song is about people from different bands that have told us different things. There were pretty much direct quotes. I remember the first time Georgia sent us just the acoustic phone [00:50:00] recording of the song and I listened to it. I was just, "I can't believe you've managed to rhyme all these literal things." Because there were definitely things we'd talk about and be like, "I can't believe he said that. I can't believe this person said this. And you rhymed it all together. Good job."

Gabriel Shubert:

Historically and continuing to this day, women's stories of sexism and misogyny are often ignored. Camp Cope's music is a loud and aggressive refusal of that norm. The intersection of [00:50:30] music and social discourse is what makes Camp Cope's music so poignant. It is arriving at exactly the right moment. The patriarchy is being dragged out into the light by feminists all over the globe in all industries. Camp Cope is creating a space for women to find solidarity in music. Songs like The Opener are a rallying cry against the sexism that takes place in the music industry. Thommo said it best in our interview.

Sarah Thompson:

If you've got a platform to use you shouldn't really waste it. If you're getting questioned on this stuff, then [00:51:00] you should answer it. You shouldn't just play the fence-sitting card and just I don't want to get involved because then you get in trouble and then you have people on either side where it's like, no, your opinion should matter. People should stand up for what they think they should stand up for.

Gabriel Shubert:

Camp Cope released their second record, How to Socialise and Make Friends, just as the Me Too Movement was picking up steam. The songs, “The Opener” and “The Face of God,” are emblematic of the struggles that women face on [00:51:30] a daily basis, ranging from casual sexism to institutional misogyny and sexual violence. “The Face of God” is the third song on that album and it is a deeply emotional piece that deals with the themes of sexual assault and victim-shaming and blaming. In the chorus, Georgia sings, "Could it be true? You don't seem like that kind of guy. Not you. You've got that one song that I like." And later in the fourth verse, "And I saw it, the face of God. And He turned himself away from me and said, I did something wrong, that somehow what happened to me [00:52:00] was my fault."

Sarah Thompson:

Georgia, in particular, was very nervous about releasing it. We were like, no, it's got to be on the record. She was like, "Yeah, true," kind of thing. We recorded it. She was still had mixed feelings about putting it out because it'd be like, "People are going to start pointing fingers at people and people are going to think that I'm talking about this person or this person." [00:52:30] And then Me Too happened after that and before the record came out. So it was between recording it and the album being released. It was like, well, now I'm really happy that it's out there because people are listening to people's stories and believing them. So it felt good to have it on the record even though it was unintentional as a " [00:53:00] Me Too" song.

Gabriel Shubert:

Camp Cope's music, in addition to being purely enjoyable, is making an important contribution to the conversation surrounding sexual assault and sexual respect. The Face of God captures a complex range of emotions that exist in solidarity with survivors and rage at the tendencies to protect men who commit sexual assault. The message at the end is very clear, end victim blaming.

As the Me Too Movement and other women's rights movements continue to gain traction on a global scale, I'm interested to see where their music goes from here. [00:53:30] Since they've been touring for so long, Thommo speculated on what's coming next for the group.

Sarah Thompson:

I think there will be a bit more going on maybe because we'll actually have some time to think about it and time to record it as opposed to sitting in a room together and playing the songs live twice each and then running away again.

Gabriel Shubert:

Unfortunately, on the night of the concert, Kelly, the group's bassist, was sick and Camp Cope could not perform as the rocking trio we were all hoping for. But Georgia played a solo show of songs new, old, and unreleased. [00:54:00] The atmosphere in Gardner is always pretty intimate, but Georgia's one-woman show was truly special. If you're interested, check out Camp Cope on Spotify or Apple Music and see for yourself what they are all about.

Ben Binversie:

That was Gabriel Shubert, one of the student workers applying their craft here in the Office of Communications. And with that, we'll wrap up this week's episode. Next time we're going to talk to this year's commencement speaker, author Amy Tan. I'm very [00:54:30] excited for that, so I hope you tune in. We'll also chat with the owners of the new bakery in town, Grin City Bakery, which is opening its doors soon. And Ania Chamberlain from the class of 2019 will explain why she sat in the Rosenfield Center's Smith Gallery for five days in a row with a dozen loaves of bread, feeding and drawing people with bread all day.

Music for today's show comes from Podington Bear. If you'd like to contact the show, email us at podcast@grinnell.edu [00:55:00] or check out our website, grinnell.edu/podcast for more information about the guests from today's show. And don't forget to subscribe to the podcast wherever you listen. I'm your host, Ben Binversie. Stay weird, Grinnellians.

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