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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: March ::
Re: Feeling and Meaning
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0481  Thursday, 18 March 1999.

[1]     From:   David J. Schalkwyk <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 17 Mar 1999 09:37:54 -0600
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0470 Re: Feeling and Meaning

[2]     From:   David Evett <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 17 Mar 1999 12:11:17 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0470 Re: Feeling and Meaning

[3]     From:   Larry Weiss <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 17 Mar 1999 12:27:13 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0470 Re: Feeling and Meaning

[4]     From:   Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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        Date:   Thu, 18 Mar 1999 09:18:15 +1000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0470 Re: Feeling and Meaning

[5]     From:   Nely Keinanen <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Mar 1999 09:07:53 +0200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0470 Re: Feeling and Meaning


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David J. Schalkwyk <
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Date:           Wednesday, 17 Mar 1999 09:37:54 -0600
Subject: 10.0470 Re: Feeling and Meaning
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0470 Re: Feeling and Meaning

Talk about barbed compliments:

>First off, I'd like to say that your note is a welcome breath of sanity
>into the sorts of discussion that get too polarized, too soon.
>
>However, the argument seems to hinge on how you would define "human
>life".  If humanness is defined by either reason or emotion, if human
>life is the life of the heart or the head, then the second of your
>propositions is simply synonymous with the position against which the
>first of your propositions is reacting.
>
>My real question is how else can we define human life.  If it's neither
>emotion nor reason, what is it?

Sean, I would say that by introducing another dyad, especially one which
perpetuates the temptation to locate meaning or humanity in a particular
part of the human body, in this case, as always, inside it, you offer me
a false alternative.

I added principle b) to counter certain theories of
language-structuralist and poststructuralist-which tend to abstract it
either as a system or as a movement of self-slipping signifiers.  In
other words, in correctly pointing out that meanings are not in the head
or the heart, these theories tend to make the mistaken assumption that
head and heart make up the totality of the human which they wish to
remove from a rigorously autonymous language-system.  Now head and
heart, reason and feeling, are concepts like any other.  We use them
crucially and intelligibly; they are indubitably part of what is "human"
about language.  But language cannot be reduced to what is in the head
in the form of images or pictures, say, nor to what is in the heart in
the form of feelings.  Language certainly expresses feelings, often very
powerfully, but, again, the notion of expression is misleading, since it
suggests that language is a mere vehicle, a passageway, for that which
is inside and which constitutes the real meaning of the utterance.  To
someone with this view of expression it would seem unintelligible that
anyone could write meaningfully without having such feelings "inside"
which are expressed by the words.

My (Wittgensteinian) view is that words mean what they do because of the
way in which human beings use them.  Such use is public, shared,
imbricated in human "forms of life" which include feeling and reason.
It's when 1) emotion and reason are reduced to inner feelings and images
which are supposed to animate words in a philosophical theory, and 2)
opponents in reaction abstract words from their use in everyday life in
an attempt to get away from theory 1) that the debate becomes
misleading.  My principle a) is meant to counter 1), while principle b)
points out the problem with the opposing position 2).  They are in a
sense both symptoms of the same philosophical problem.

Hope this helps.

David

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           David Evett <
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Date:           Wednesday, 17 Mar 1999 12:11:17 -0500
Subject: 10.0470 Re: Feeling and Meaning
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0470 Re: Feeling and Meaning

Cary M. Mazer writes of the "preposterous . . . supposition that a
playwright has to have experienced the emotions of the characters he or
she is representing."  The "supposition" in *Shakespeare in Love" is
that a particular author is jolted out of a particular case of writer's
block by a particular set of experiences, which happen to find their way
in relatively unmodified form into a particular work.  The supposition
does not require that other writers have to work on that basis-or even
this writer when it comes to other works.  The movie is an unabashedly
romantic piece of work (a fact that lots of viewers have found
refreshing and delightful), which incorporates that particular romantic
view of writing unabashedly into its construction.

Sean Lawrence wonders "how else can we define human life.  If it's
neither emotion nor reason, what is it?" There's a lot of life that's
unconscious or partially conscious biology-respiration and digestion and
what not-and there's a lot that's habit-presumably the residue of some
earlier emotion and/or reason, but in practice neither very emotional
nor very reasonable.  But the rest not only need not but largely cannot
be either/or: see a very readable book by the economist Robert H. Frank,
Passions Within Reason, for a persuasive account of the interactivity,
amounting to inextricability, even within the nominally rational
behaviors that occupy practitioners of the dismal science, of the two
modes.

Passionately reasonably yours,
Dave Evett

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Larry Weiss <
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Date:           Wednesday, 17 Mar 1999 12:27:13 -0500
Subject: 10.0470 Re: Feeling and Meaning
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0470 Re: Feeling and Meaning

Cary M. Mazer wrote:

>Shakespeare, in the voice of
>one of his characters, does take a stand on this, when Berowne asserts:
>
>Never durst poet touch a pen to write
>Until his ink were temp'red with Love's sighs.
>O, then his lines would ravish savage ears
>And plant in tyrants mild humility.

Hmmmm, Berowne as Shakespeare's alter ego, interesting.  Let us all
ponder his observation that

        Small have continual plodders ever won
        Save base authority from others' books.

Larry

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Karen Peterson-Kranz <
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Date:           Thu, 18 Mar 1999 09:18:15 +1000
Subject: 10.0470 Re: Feeling and Meaning
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0470 Re: Feeling and Meaning

Sean asked:

>My real question is how else can we define human life.  If it's neither
>emotion nor reason, what is it?

Here goes (a fool rushing in...)

My take on this is that Sean is asking a key, but unanswerable,
question.  Human life is undefinable.  We can, however, describe
particular human lives-which is one of the things Shakespeare does so
well.  He describes those human lives where feeling has been driven out
by reason...or expediency (Iago? Claudius?).  He describes those human
lives where feeling has not been tempered by reason (Mercutio?
Ophelia?).   If we amend David Schalkwyk's very welcome message to read,
"words only mean what they do because they form part of human lives," we
have a workable thesis with definite terms...although in the asking of
the question ("how do we define human life?"), we provide, in the act of
asking, part of the descriptive answer...

Yours in vague, metaphysical meanderings...

Karen Peterson-Kranz
University of Guam

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Nely Keinanen <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Mar 1999 09:07:53 +0200
Subject: 10.0470 Re: Feeling and Meaning
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0470 Re: Feeling and Meaning

I am also reminded of the hilarious scene in King Edward III (assuming
that Shakespeare wrote it?) where Edward has fallen head over heels in
love with the Countess of Salisbury and tries to get his secretary
Lodowick to compose a love poem.  Lodowick is not up to the task, and in
frustration Edward grabs the pen and paper, saying:

I thank thee then: thou hast done little ill--
But what is done is passing passing ill.
No, let the captain talk of boist'rous war,
The prisoner of immured dark constraint,
The sick man best sets down the pangs of death,
The man that starves the sweetness of a feast,
The frozen soul the benefit of fire,
And every grief his happy opposite:
Love cannot sound well but in lovers' tongues.
Give me the pen and paper, I will write (2.1.174-83)

This is not to say that I agree that "great" art is only born out of
personal experience, though at least from the Romantics this seems to
have been a fairly common idea (c.f. Wordworth's "Preface to Lyrical
Ballads" or Coleridge's "Biographia Literaria," where they discuss the
qualities of a poet).  Here, these lines seem to emphasize the silliness
and shallowness of Edward's infatuation, rather than state a truth about
the nature of art.

Cheers,
Nely Keinanen
University of Helsinki
 

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