The Serial Lover

Dear Ernest,

As I read your letter, I fell, almost involuntarily, into a state of thorough introspection, a consideration of my own habits wherein I examined the ramifications of my efficiency, as you described it, and of each particular mannerism that I possess.  I shortly realised that these subconscious habits you mentioned, these mindless expressions of virtues and of vices, could take place in even least conspicuous expressions of morality—in mere thought—and insofar as they were notions arising at random, could provide, escaping all notice and control, some of the most troublesome and unknowable sources of intellectual sin.  Upon realising this, I began examining my thoughts, searching them for whatever may be of ill report, and finding, much to my dismay, that as I so examined, my thoughts contained nothing more than a contemplation of my thoughts themselves, which left me confused and frustrated by the vain attempt.  Needless to say, I soon directed my attention to a cogitation of recursive systems and fractals.

And indeed, this seems to me to be the fundamental shortcoming of the Freudian age.  Psychology is prefaced, unlike all other sciences, by a philosophy of introspection, not of nature.  Here man does not observe the natural universe outside of himself, using the scientific method from the age of reason, but rather, he observes himself and the inner-selfs of those around him, taking his means instead from the romantic and mystical age that followed.  But the romantics, in all their zeal for formless intuition, and in all their commendable appreciation of the complexity of natural phenomena, appear nonetheless to have overlooked an essential issue that, in a simpler fashion, any adherent of formal reasoning and academic proceedings could have never failed to notice: namely, that the scientist always perceives in the third person only, and that a mirror is not the self, but a false image or resemblance.  Consciousness is, like the speed of light, a cosmic limit, always trailing off in front of an observer at the same rate.  Indeed, the moment man considers his own thoughts, he is no longer thinking them.

In your last letter: “[Love] is not a set of scripts we can write to program ourselves to imitate Christ – it is a continuous choice, an expression of our thoughtful, creative self in ways that show love to others and to God.”

In any case, it remains a question for the ages whether Hamlet loves Ophelia when he says ‘get thee to a nunnery’.  Perhaps the to be or not to be speech is really a demonstration not of suicidal gothicism nor of manic depression, but of prudent foresight and planning for a certain fate; for who could ever imagine such treachery as Hamlet’s dread command going unpunished, even with death itself?  How could he ever hope for a better future than ‘that sleep of death’, his only ‘consummation’—perhaps with some dark but revealing allusion to la petite mort?  If this is so, then there is no more passionate expression of love devised in all of English poetry than the scene that follows.  But it is a very strange kind of love.  One not of intimacy and affection, nor of any warm sentiment that would betray the serial-killer illusion under which our Hamlet is so often typified, but it is a love that exists in thoughts, a love that operates, much like the programming of a computer, by systematic planning and calculated proceeding.  This is the kind of love that submits, in the most dire of circumstances, even to surrendering its very object for the sake of her own good.

 

Your servant,

TWM

Shakespeare is Dead

The professor was a strange man; indeed, there is little else about him upon which it can be agreed.  We might hesitate to submit that he was strange in any conventional sense—it wasn’t that his voice was too high or his stature too short or anything of the like—no, it was rather something peculiarly unrelated to any identifiable quality of himself. He was strange in a strange sense. Though upon it, it most certainly may not be agreed, this author might be so bold as to assign him the label of pedantic; for he was dreadfully preoccupied with the ‘rules of proper English’ and had an unchecked phobia of sentences that ended in prepositions bordering on the psychotic, which caused him to go to great lengths to avoid such sentences, and in turn, to produce such clausal absurdities as ‘upon which it can be agreed’ and ‘upon it, it may not be agreed’ and other such cacophonic phrases as cause a terrible illness—much like the psychological illness of the pedant from whom they come forth—to trickle down the aural cavity and bounce around the nerves and guts like the metal object of a pinball game before settling in the stomach, an organ which is left most unsettled.

As to his appearance: he was tall and thin with grey hair. He tended to walk as if the soles of his shoes were covered with sharp pins into which he was perpetually jamming his feet with all his strength, delighting in the sheer misery of it. This unique stride was complemented by a grim visage with a frustrated brow and frowning lips that seemed only to further evidence the supposed nature of his footwear. Today, for whatever reason, he seemed particularly himself as he made his excruciating way down the hallway and into his lecture hall.  By his right side he carried a worn out, leather brief-case that smelled like the remnants of ancient Babylon.  This he jerked backward and forward with each step he made, paralleling the equally rigid choreography of his empty left hand which moved sternly as he walked.  On his chest he wore the plainest tie that has ever come out of a clothing-factory on purpose, and this was covered in a grey, conservative suit that matched the colour of his hair (though we can only assume that this was a happy coincidence, as it is doubtless that the match was not present when he bought the suit almost three decades ago now).  What must be said as to his footwear, we have already mentioned.  In short, he might be said to have borne a countenance very similar to that of a statue predating the classical period but strangely wanting in its archaic smile.

Such was the form that greeted the fifty-some students breathing the air on the other side of the door to forum room 201. But perhaps upon the use of the word greeted in this context it cannot be agreed, for so warm a sentiment seems remote from the manner in which the lifeless artefact, lacking even the animation of classical contrapposto, indifferently slammed open the door and trudged his way to the desk in the centre of the forum upon which he flung his brief-case and jerked it open in a magnificent cloud of dust.

“Welcome to ‘A Neo-Archaic, Contemporary, Historical, and Revolutionary Observation of Nature, Ideas, Society, and Mankind’, abbreviated ‘ANACHRONISM’, course number 217.  In this class, we will be exploring nature, ideas, society, and mankind through some of the most cutting-edge scholarship available on the subject.  I trust you have all downloaded the syllabus on your mac-an-apple i-gadget inter-web machine tablets and will read along with me as I read out loud.”

The professor then spent the next half hour reading a painfully intricate document that would have very much resembled a document of law had it not been for all the ugly linguistic idiosyncrasies previously alluded to.  When both he and his students realised, much to the surprise and disappointment of both parties, that he had reached the end of the document, there was an awkward silence filled only by the sound of the breathing previously mentioned.  This persisted much longer than almost anyone could bear who wasn’t already accustomed to such exercises of self-inflicted pedagogic, podiatric, and pedantic torture as pressing pins into one’s foot. During this silence, the professor stared grimly and unrelentingly at each of the faces in the class.  Finally, he spoke again:

“Who among you knows who Shakespeare was?”

Everyone raised their hands, and one impudent soul shouted, “Isn’t he the idiot responsible for English class?”

“Wrong!” the professor exclaimed, “He is not responsible for English class.  He is dead, so you must use the past tense: He was the idiot responsible for English class.”

With this said, the professor let his brilliant knowledge of grammar fill the room in a moment of silence before beginning again.

“What was Shakespeare famous for?”

This sentence was followed by a silence of equal length, creating a nice little silence sandwich.  Finally, some pedant spoke up.

“Shakespeare has been noted for his revolutionary innovations in English theatre and poetry, which thrust the Anglo-Saxon world into the literary renaissance and the future of the English language itself.  These innovations drew on the works of ancient classical writers, most notably Terence and Plautus, through the use of natural sounding speech in the form of verse, especially iambic pentameter, and similar classical themes.”

The rest of the class was much relieved to hear this, both because it ended the silence, supplying the professor with a satisfactory answer, and because it meant that they didn’t have to make any such innovations, seeing as Shakespeare had already finished innovating the English language for them.

“No! That is not for what Shakespeare has been noted!”  The professor exclaimed, “Don’t listen to her!” (he was referring to the pedant) “Now take this down in your notes:  Recent scholarship has proven that Shakespeare was most famous for three things: (1) being dead, (2) never existing, and (3) being gay. The first of these is probably the most important.  Shakespeare is dead! So don’t talk about him like he’s alive. Shakespeare does not ‘have an influence on poetry’; he has ‘had an influence on poetry’, but now he’s dead.  The second of these is also important.  Recent scholarship has proven that Shakespeare was not a real person.  His plays were composed by a handful of clever men from Oxford and then misattributed to some made up character called ‘Shakespeare’, who doesn’t even know how to spell his own name.  Finally, the third thing is probably that for which he is most famous.  Shakespeare was gay.  Recent scholarship has proven that the most interesting thing about Shakespeare’s writing is it’s gayness.”

The students all furiously took this down verbatim in their notes.

“So one of your essay prompts is going to be as follows:  Was Shakespeare straight?  Explain your reasoning in exactly five paragraphs. Be sure to use concrete examples and cite all sources properly.”

The students all took this down.

“So how will you answer this question?”

One student raised his hand and was called on: “I will write that by the Strawson Presupposition principle—which states that A is neither true nor false if it depends on B when B is false—I cannot answer that question.  For Shakespeare’s sexual orientation is dependent on his existence, but because he did not exist, he was neither gay nor straight.”

“Was dependent.”

“I’m sorry?”

“You said, ‘Shakespeare’s sexual orientation is dependent.’  But you should have said, ‘was dependent’.  SHAKESPEARE IS DEAD!  Don’t you kids ever listen?!”

“I’m sorry.”

“Anyway, that’s not the right answer.  The right answer is: ‘No.'”

The students all wrote in their notebooks: ‘The answer to the essay question is ‘No.”

“Okay. Who here knows who Homer was?”

There was a pause, and an impudent soul, perhaps the same one who had made the earlier outbursting, made another: “He’s a yellow guy that eats donuts!”

“Wrong!  He was a yellow guy that ate donuts.”

At this the pedant spoke up once again: “Homer was a poet from antiquity and one of the most influential poets ever to use an Indo-European language.  His two major extant works are The Iliad and The Odyssey, epic poems of the classical oral tradition from which Virgil derived the poetic and thematic groundwork of his Aeneid, perpetuating the spread of the ancient poetic style in the works of later poets such as Dante and other poets of the dolce stil novo as well as John Milton in his Paradise Lost and even, arguably, the poetics of the entire western world.”

“No!  Stop that!  That is not for what Homer has been noted!”  The professor was clearly getting quite frustrated.  “Homer was most famous for three things: (1) being dead, (2) not existing, and (3) um … actually, I guess there are only two things; Homer was not necessarily gay, but he was an ancient Greek.”

The professor then went on to explicate each of these three things (one of which did not exist).  After doing so, he moved on to several other discussions, each going the same way: a rude interruption from some impudent soul, a ‘correction’ of grammar, some silence and breathing, a pedantic comment, and finally, an explanation of the most cutting-edge scholarship on the subject, with a heavy emphasis on the fact that the subject of the discussion is dead.  In this manner, the professor made his way across the western world in all its history and splendour, conquering it like Alexander the Great.  In only a matter of minutes, he had managed to deface very nearly the whole of western culture, and indeed, of humanity itself.  Dante, as it turns out, is best remembered for his political failure; Mozart for his promiscuity; C. S. Lewis for his atheism; Milton for his blindness; Beethoven for his deafness; Cicero for his demise; Albert Einstein for his bad grades; and Leonardo da Vinci for the very same thing which Shakespeare holds as his most prized contribution to western poetry.  And when he had boiled these men into a stew of plainness, the world suddenly seemed as grim and as grey as the professor’s suit or hair. No man is great, no thing is beautiful, and most importantly, all of these men are dead.

But then, as the class sat contemplating the cutting-edge scholarship before them, observing these disgraceful men of western history, as they considered the abomination that is mankind, suddenly someone in the class had a paroxysm of poetry.  It happens sometimes.  He began an uncontrollable outbursting of unmetered speech: “I have of late,” he began tentatively at first, “but wherefore I know not, lost all my mirth,” he paused patiently and gently at each punctuation mark, and one by one, the members of the class began to turn and listen to him, “forgone all custom of exercises, and indeed, it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory;” he spoke honestly, with a strange sense of emotion that seemed to entreat the audience to cry, but begged them to laugh at it’s awkward context.  He went on: “this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o’er-hanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire—why, it appeareth nothing to me but a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours.” His performance was, in itself, overwhelmingly moving, but in the context of a spontaneous outbursting, it seemed merely absurd.  So the dominant reaction was muffled laughter.

The professor interrupted him: “Wait—what is that?  What are you doing?  Stop that!”

But he went on: “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable; in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?  Man delights not me.”  Here he stopped of his own accord.  And the room was silent, filled only with muddled laughter and breathing.  As such, it became a peculiar atmosphere of disgraceful beauty—the hideous mockery of humanity that the professor had made mixed with the shameful laughter of the students and the quintessential eccentricity and seriousness of the performing student.

“What is that!”  The professor demanded.

The pedant spoke up:  “That was Hamlet’s speech to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern in the second scene of the second act of Hamlet, lines 318 through 332.”

At this, the professor was furious: “No!  That’s not right!  Shakespeare is most famous for being dead!”  The man insisted.  And now, it seemed the pins in his shoes must have finally pierced the last layer of his skin.  He began to weep uncontrollably.  He tried to restrain himself, and even tried to begin teaching again, “Shakespeare is dead!” he said.  But he couldn’t stop weeping, so he packed his briefcase and headed for the exit, weeping and repeating that sentence over, “Shakespeare is dead!”

Just before the door shut behind him, some impudent soul shouted out after him, to correct his grammar, “No, Shakespeare was dead!”

The door shut, and the room grew still and silent again.  The students sat in amusement and awe, wondering at the surreal passage of events to which they had just bore witness.  Some students were entertained to no end, others were perplexed, and still others were simply tired of sitting through such pointless classes.  It seems the only thing upon which it could be agreed regarding the professor is that he was a strange man.

A Timeless Shakespeare

After much debating with myself, I have decided to post the following essay (obviously, or you wouldn’t be reading this).  I think it will provide a better understanding, for all curious readers, of my references to Dante and other classical things by putting such references in the summarized context of my thoughts about them.  I will yet, as I have promised a friend, post something more specifically on aesthetics.  At first I wasn’t going to post this because I thought it might be too dull (it is an english essay), but then I thought: if one is fascinated with reading a blog about calculus, he mustn’t find anything to be dull.

A Timeless Shakespeare

Examining Shakespeare from the contemporary age begins with identifying the qualities of our age.  Art and philosophy have experienced a dramatic increase in diversity beginning in the early nineteen hundreds, an era commonly defined as the beginning of the postmodern movement.  The postmodern movement was the shift from ideologies such as romanticism and arguably even modernism to ones such as relativism and existentialism.  As a child of the postmodern age, contemporary human philosophy and art no longer rests itself on absolute truth but on relative values and beliefs which are designed arbitrarily for the sake of creating some sort of order to which humanity may answer.  These values and beliefs are not intended to carry any weight on an absolute scale, because absolute truth was rejected long ago, but are there merely to satisfy the natural human longing to believe in something.  This new structure of thought that exists in postmodernism, a reaction to the lack of structure behind modernism, creates an anxiety in humanity.  The creation of arbitrary values and beliefs certainly does fill part of a void in the human heart, but not all of it.  As humans, we not only long to believe in something, but also for that something to be, in some absolute sense, the “right thing.”  And this is how the classical style appeals to the contemporary thinker.

Shakespeare is a great, creative and inventive artist, but there have been many such artists across time; it’s his classicality that has, in a sense, immortalized his mortal words.  Shakespeare’s era is an excellent one for thinkers and artists of today to fall in love with.  He lived in the renaissance: close enough to medieval times to be firmly set on a belief in one absolute God, but also far enough to have an open mind which he may use to explore humanism.  Thus, he speaks the rich, classical language of countless, timeless artists, but does so with a highly accessible take.  One would think that in today’s age Shakespeare would seem too simple, philosophically, but on the contrary, he is regarded as a firm cornerstone to contemporary thought.  Why is that?  The best explanation is simply this: we are wrong.  We were wrong to reject absolute truth and have gotten further and further off course as we created theories to support this fundamental, modern assertion–for it is the mortal pictures of truth that have become immortal to humanity.

No one wants to believe in a single God and Truth, but at the same time, as T.S. Eliot said, “Dante and Shakespeare,” firmly grounded believers in absolute Truth, “divide the modern world between them; there is no third” (Selected Essays 1932).  This paradoxical rejection and adoration of absolutism is best explained as being the result of a much too simple approach to the concept.  Today, Dante looks shallow.  Everyone seems to agree that his portrayal of Hell as a place of physical suffering where “bad people” go when they die is much too simple.  But at the same time, most would much rather read Dante’s Comedy, as it was originally titled, than any of Fredric Niche’s babblings.  It seems the most likely reason for this is that Dante is being taken too much at face value.  Dante never intended his Comedy to be called “Divine.”  He knew that what he was creating was an entirely insufficient model of that which is beyond the reach of human comprehension.  Shakespeare knew this as well.  As he wrote in Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth …/ Than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Shakespeare I.v.187-188).  Yet contemporary humanity seems to have forgotten this fact, and thus when they look at Dante and Shakespeare, they see, what they think to be, an extremely shallow ideology, and yet something deep within them loves it.  This is because they think that art and philosophy are self sufficient.  They no longer look at it as a symbolic representation of truth, but as truth itself, as if the language is the thing which it is describing.

Humanity’s most recent down fall is not in believing in too large of a Truth, though it seems that way, but actually in believing in too small of one.  We rejected absolutism because it seemed too simple, but what we have put in its place, though it is well disguised, is actually much simpler.  It began with thinking that a more abstract vision of Truth is a bigger one, and then finally led to a belief that no vision of Truth is the biggest one of all.  Shakespeare and Dante’s depiction of God, however, is much larger than ours because it is small.  It’s as if by virtue of making their vision of God blatantly small, Shakespeare and other similar artists have rejected the idea that their work can come sufficiently close to the truth, and thus have portrayed God to be infinitely large, as He actually is.  This is the very essence of the classical style.

Thus, the contemporary world can’t help but love the classical style, and the popular world hardly bothers with anything else.  It is the most accessible style because it is the truest and the most popular style because it is the most accessible.  Hence, Shakespeare’s enduring fame is, like that of all other members of his style, grounded in the truth behind the style.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William, Barbara A. Mowat, and Paul Werstine.  The Tragedy of Hamlet.  New York: Washington

Square, 1992 Print.