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Hamlet without Us


Lee Edelman’s “Against Survival” poses a challenge to pedagogy, describing a regressive, melancholic futurism entrenched both in Hamlet and in our recursive fidelity to the play. In this response, I consider the tyranny of inheritance, not as it creates an inescapable problem for Hamlet but as it confers an irrefusable privilege on us. Edelman’s reading suggests that our professional practices instantiate, again and again, the present moment in which the past lays its hand on the future. My response meditates on the seductive entombments of “us” and “our.” How has an assimilated situation of utterance, a docile yet willful subsumption under the sign of “we,” perpetuated canonicity across the sharp critiques that shape the recent history of our discipline? What apparitional force, what drive to survive, proscribes or engulfs the “I” who would say “no”? These questions press at the symbiosis of naturalized value and motivated conservation. Some loss (but what loss?) attends the refusal of transcendence, and infuses familiar, well-worked alternatives with an odd flavor of risk: Hamlet is a historical artifact; Hamlet plays a generic part; “to be or not to be” is not a question at all. Even in this bare form, such propositions—at once obvious and alienated—interrupt the pious sameness of coercive bequests. With a stutter in the line of transmission, Hamlet might speak less to “us.”

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