Influential critics such as Jonathan Dollimore, Michael Hattaway, and Richard Wilson have identified a tendency in Marlowe's plays to arrest dramatic development in what appear to be surface expressions of an original impasse — of desire, despair, or failed authority. On this view, an impasse of origination would account for the claustrophobic logic of limits that Marlovian drama presumably embodies and interrogates. While this article agrees that impasse is ubiquitous in Marlowe's plays, it takes issue with the metaphysical implications of the critical idiom employed to describe it. In particular, it questions the widespread tendency to adapt the metaphysical polarity subject-object to the interpretation of plays that, while making ample use of it, encourage readers and playgoers to dismiss such polarity as existentially ineffective. Only by tentatively adhering to a post-metaphysical scenario focused on presentation rather than representation and on truth as propitious event rather than individual property can we grasp the limitations of a metaphysical paradigm that writers like Marlowe unwittingly helped consolidate. Today, this scenario is best promoted by Badiou, a reluctant heir to Heidegger. Approaching Marlovian drama from the perspective of Badiou's meta-ontology of truth-procedures sheds new light on the etiology of dramatic impasse. This perspective exacts the subtraction of a “subject of truth” from every community and from received metaphysical notions of individualism. This manifestly challenges both the heuristic intimations of pre-social — whether libidinal or creaturely — subjectivity and the emancipatory ethos attached to community-oriented agendas in much contemporary Marlowe criticism (Greenblatt, Belsey, Dollimore, Sinfield, and Lupton). Through the use of a Badiou perspective five major points are advanced: in Marlovian drama 1) there is little room for the “inconsistent multiplicity” of the ontological that is nonetheless implied in it; 2) there are no subjects and no truths, but only abject individuals and self-destructive communities, which are ultimately indistinct; 3) there is a radical absence of genuine events; 4) impasse is contingent on epistemic failure — lack of truths — itself a consequence of the absence of events and the multiple confusion of truth-procedures like art, science, politics, and love; 5) there is no position of philosophical exteriority. This reading openly opposes the view of Marlowe's plays as productively subversive, incipiently emancipatory, or committed to whatever modality — whether sexual or civic — of communal Utopia.
Julián Jiménez Heffernan; Impasse in Marlovian Drama. A Badiou Perspective. Comparative Literature 1 March 2014; 66 (1): 71–94. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00104124-2414941
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