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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: March ::
Re: Writing from Experience
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0482  Thursday, 18 March 1999.

[1]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 17 Mar 1999 09:26:50 -0800
        Subj:   SHK 10.0471 Re: Writing from Experience

[2]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 17 Mar 1999 11:16:48 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0471 Re: Writing from Experience

[3]     From:   Melissa D. Aaron <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 17 Mar 1999 16:30:48 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0471 Re: Writing from Experience

[4]     From:   Michael Yogev <
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        Date:   Thursday, 18 Mar 1999 08:11:29 +0200
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0453 Re: Writing from Experience


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Wednesday, 17 Mar 1999 09:26:50 -0800
Subject: Re: Writing from Experience
Comment:        SHK 10.0471 Re: Writing from Experience

Stephanie Hughes wrote quoting me:

>>My original rebuttal to Ms. Hughes used sonnet
>>sequences as an example.  Since most of them are not autobiographical,
>>it seemed to fit.  Then I thought of Hamlet captured by pirates and a
>>lot of other things.

Then she replied:

>Where is the evidence for your belief that the sonnets are not
>autobiographical?  (Or that the author of Hamlet was never himself
>captured by pirates?)

Ms. Hughes, I have realized for some time that you are not a very
careful reader.  I have made the same error myself on this list, to my
embarrassment.  I think it is clear from the quote in full context that
I meant Elizabethan fictions in poetry or plays, and I'll expand it to
any form fiction comes in.  As you can see, I am not referring to
Shakespeare's sonnets, but sonnet sequences in general.  I am not an
expert on the subject.  That they are not usually autobiographical is
widely accepted in the books I have read.  If that is so, my statement
needs no justification.  Burden of proof is on anyone who says they are.

It is true that many, probably the majority of scholars, do think that
Shakespeare's sonnets are autobiographical.  I have asked this list
about that 2 or 3 times, but no one has come forward to help me
understand.

I don't pretend to know that Shakespeare was not kidnaped by pirates,
but I think it is unlikely.  Perhaps you will inform me.  Was the Earl
of Oxford?

Whether either were captured or not, my point is that incidents in
fiction, except autobiographical fiction, are made up.  The emotions
explored therein MAY be real for the author.  Your comments are
pointless unless you argue that all incidents in fiction is
autobiographical.  Do you?  Did THE WINTER'S TALE really happen?  Unless
you are saying something so obviously crazy, I can't imagine what point
you are making.  Are you just being petty?

I wrote:

>>I cut my paragraph because I felt I'd made a category error.  These
>>examples are not to the point.  One can maintain that an imaginative
>>artist will take their emotional experience and transform it into the
>>fiction of a sonnet sequence

Ms. Hughes wrote:

>Show me a worthwhile sonnet sequence that was not based on personal
>feeling and I'll eat my mousepad.

Bon appetite.

First, my statement allows that this can happen, which you seem to have
missed.  Even so, you have not earned the right to say this,
argumentatively speaking, until you engage points made by myself and
others in Tuesday's posts.  This issue is roundly answered there.
Ignoring those points does not make you right.

I wrote:

>>Thus someone who agrees with Ms. Hughes
>>main point could still insist that Shakespeare experienced great grief,
>>and could therefore write Titus A,

Ms. Hughes wrote:

>Grief? Rage perhaps. Hamlet's the one written out of profound and very
>real grief.

You betray ignorance of the literature on the play.  It is open to more
than one interpretation.

I wrote:

>>I don't think this approach really addresses Ms. Hughes point.  Finding
>>examples of moving art that was not deeply felt by the artist seems more
>>decisive.

Ms. Hughes wrote:

>Yes? We're waiting . . . .

Again, answered in Tuesday's post, which you have ignored.  This tactic
does not impress.

Mike Jensen

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
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Date:           Wednesday, 17 Mar 1999 11:16:48 +0000
Subject: 10.0471 Re: Writing from Experience
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0471 Re: Writing from Experience

>>I understand why she holds to this so tenaciously.  She is an
>>Oxfordian.  The case for Oxford is in part built on what the true
>>believers fancy are correspondences between the plays of Shakespeare and
>>the life of Oxford.

Rather the other way around. It is because I find numerous and profound
correspondences between the lives of all great artists and their works,
and can find none with Shakspere of Stratford and the works of
Shakespeare, that I am inclined to see the Oxfordian's point that every
play reflects one or more aspects of Oxford's life.  This is not fancy,
but fact, as anyone who studies the matter with an open mind will soon
see.  I was raised to have an interest in the connections between humans
and what they do. I was certainly not raised an Oxfordian.

>Not to mention: "How could an illiterate yokel with straw in his hair
>possibly have the profound experiences necessary to produce Lear etc."?

Good question. The issue, however, is not whether Shakspere could have
felt bereft of his estate by his three daughters (as certainly Oxford
did), but where he got the education to write about it with
Shakespeare's dazzling erudition.  Had he gotten the necessary education
someplace, we would certainly have evidence of it.

(Please note that it was not I who raised this issue, and that I am
simply responding to the quoted poster.  All further thoughts please
address to me offline as Hardy doesn't want this subject discussed
here.)

Stephanie Hughes

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Melissa D. Aaron <
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Date:           Wednesday, 17 Mar 1999 16:30:48 -0500
Subject: 10.0471 Re: Writing from Experience
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0471 Re: Writing from Experience

>>I cut my paragraph because I felt I'd made a category error.  These
>>examples are not to the point.  One can maintain that an imaginative
>>artist will take their emotional experience and transform it into the
>>fiction of a sonnet sequence
>
>Show me a worthwhile sonnet sequence that was not based on personal
>feeling and I'll eat my mousepad.

Not to take permanent sides on this one, but I always thought Drayton's
Idea was pretty good and it's also pretty clear from the title alone
that it isn't related to personal experience.  Also, I understand that
Herrick's Corinna, Julia, etc., are all fictional (as was Ovid's
Corinna, come to that.)  I think part of the problem is defining what we
mean by "autobiographical."  Falling in love, eating, drinking, death,
etc., are pretty common experiences.  I've never been a Moor working for
the Venetian government but I can certainly understand being jealous.

If we are going to drag personal experience into it, I have an
especially shy friend who is an excellent actor and a devastating
mimic.   He will do stuff on stage he would never do in private and it
is most definitely not a good idea to let oneself go in front of him at
parties.  I often imagine Shakespeare (not that I can prove it, only my
own fiction) as something like this; ostensibly the most boring person
at the party.

{Laura Fargas}
>This thread makes you wish for the Woody Allen moment, when he says "I
>have Marshall McLuhan right here" and pulls him out from behind a movie
>poster to tell the boor behind him in line, "you have no understanding
>of my theories whatsoever."  Ah, for Mr. Peabody and a real Wayback
>Machine!

If I remember my Peabody and Sherman, it's only thanks to Mr. Peabody
that we don't have Romeo and Zelda.  Mr. Peabody is pretty subversive,
come to that; most of the "great men" of history turn out to be
incompetent idiots and have to be put right by a dog, so the history
books will come right.  Three cheers for Peabody, World's Most
Teleological Dog.

Melissa D. Aaron
Whassamatta U.

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Michael Yogev <
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Date:           Thursday, 18 Mar 1999 08:11:29 +0200
Subject: 10.0453 Re: Writing from Experience
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0453 Re: Writing from Experience

First of all, a resounding "Bravo!" to Laura Fargas for her wise,
self-deprecating (literally) and otherwise wittily sensible post.
Despite Ms. Hughes self-appointed status as critic superior to the
writer-as-critic, I would venture the opinion that it makes sense to
consider what writers and poets themselves say about their
biographical/emotional proximity to the subjects and feelings of their
work.

As a Romanticist by graduate training and with a dissertation on William
Blake behind me, I take issue with the person who mentioned the
"transcendentalist ideal of the poet" as an invention of English
Romanticism we have since been cursed/blessed/bedeviled with.
Wordsworth, the least critically astute (and to my mind least
interesting) of the English Romantics, is probably guilty of this
idealized version of the poet as the fount of all wisdom springing from
his own personal experience-his excruciatingly long and windy Prelude is
perhaps the embodiment of that idea.  Yet even Wordsworth's view of the
poets' experiences as intimately and immediately connected to the works
they compose is qualified by a key phrase: the "spontaneous overflow of
powerful feelings" is nonetheless to be "recollected in tranquillity".

The best exemplar of the poet as critic of the idea that his own
experience forms the basis for emotional intensity and invention is, of
course, Keats, in a letter to Richard Woodhouse (27 October 1817).  Bear
with me for quoting a poet known for the intensity and emotion of his
works:

"As to the poetical Character itself, (I mean that sort of which, if I
am any thing, I am a Member; that sort distinguished from the
wordsworthian or egotistical sublime; which is a thing per se and stands
alone) it is not itself-it has no self-it is every thing and nothing-It
has no character-it enjoys light and shade; it lives in gusto, be it
foul or fair, high or low, rich or poor, mean or elevated-It has as much
delight in conceiving an Iago as an Imogen. . . A Poet is the most
unpoetical of any thing in existence; because he has no Identity-he is
continually in for-filling in some other Body . . . It is a wretched
thing to confess; but is a very fact that not one word I ever utter can
be taken for granted as an opinion growing out of my identical
nature-how can it, when I have no nature?"

In another letter he makes a similarly insightful comment about "what
quality went to form a Man of Achievement especially in Literature &
which Shakespeare possessed so enormously-I mean Negative Capability,
that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries,
doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason" (To George
and Thomas Keats, 21, 27[?] December, 1817).

If Stephanie Hughes will grant that Keats is a "great" poet, or in his
own terms a "Man of Achievement" in literature, shouldn't we take
seriously his critique of the "wordsworthian or egotistical sublime"
that, I submit, underlies her view of artistic creation?  Hence the
wisdom of Laura Fargas' remark on the "negative" formulations used by
Terry Hawkes, a critical version of Keats' "Negative Capability" if I've
ever read one.  Surely Keats' comments above argue, at the very least, a
certain artistic and ironic distance from the work created, and he
claims that the intensity he (and Shakespeare) achieved is a function of
this distance, as his own resonant and sensuous poetic creations
assert.  He never had the intimate connection with Fanny Brawne that he
so ardently desired, he never traveled foreign lands as he wished he
could (only to Italy to die), yet his poetry shows an intensity that
comes from an imagination carefully trained to deny or avoid the
personal, not to indulge in biographical and emotional experience.
Again, echoing someone else here, Keats' poetry is based more on his
reading and speculation than on lived experiences, a product of the
"wild surmise" he celebrates in "On First Looking Into Chapman's Homer".

Impersonally and romantically,

Michael Yogev
Department of English
University of Haifa
 

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