Marjorie Garber's plenary at SAA 2012, an instance of repressive desublimation
Today at the Plenary Presentation of the 40th Annual Meeting of the Shakespeare Association of America, Majorie Garber read a paper titled "Occupy Shakespeare". The word occupy is obviously lifted from the name of the anti-capitalist movement Occupy Wall Street and its comrade groupings around the globe. In those groups, to occupy means to critique capitalism and to become a presence, inspired by that critique, that opposes capitalism. However, Garber's paper was not a critique of capitalism. It was a discussion of the history of Shakespeare Studies in the humanities. Both Shakespeare Studies and the humanities could have easily led Garber to a critique of capitalism, but her talk was empty of any of that radical content. She did cheaply throw in a line from Love's Labour's Lost, "Let us devise some entertainment for them in their tents", but Garber's talk stayed far away from the message of the Occupy tents.
Garber used the word occupy merely to adorn her talk. Out of context, but in fashion, it performed not much more work in her paper than to be a cool graphic on her powerpoint presentation. In this talk, for which Garber was most certainly paid and which was, as plenary, intended to draw punters to the meeting, the word occupy became a commodity, empty of radical meaning but filled with contemporary catchiness. This talk is another instance of a growing list of opportunistic uses of the word occupy. Garber joins the culture industry in its project of making the word cliche. It is an instance of repressive desublimation, whereby radical imagery is used as a commodity for non-radical purposes and, ultimately, rendered unuseable for social change. As such, Garber's talk works in favour of capitalism. This is most certainly not the sort of event that shoud be headlining a Shakespeare conference. Shakespeare, who according to Karl Marx knew the evils of the money economy better than the theorising petty bourgeois, deserves better.