Make a Donation

Consider making a donation to support SHAKSPER.

Subscribe to Our Feeds

Current Postings RSS

Announcements RSS

Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: March ::
Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0598  Wednesday, 31 March 1999.

[1]     From:   Anthony Burton  <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 30 Mar 1999 10:16:13 -0800
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0574 Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing

[2]     From:   Stephanie Hughes <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
        Date:   Tuesday, 30 Mar 1999 09:01:39 +0000
        Subj:   Re: SHK 10.0574 Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Anthony Burton  <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 30 Mar 1999 10:16:13 -0800
Subject: 10.0574 Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0574 Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing

In the long exchange of ideas on this subject, what is said about the
source of an artist's experience includes a lot of unspoken assumptions-
but little examination-of what one means by "experience."  Let me
suggest that the human being is a bridge between two entirely different
kinds of experience: one is initially inner and (in the broadest sense
of the word) spiritual; the other is initially outer and rooted in sense
perception.  In the first, one finds the forms of things unknown; it is
a world of universals in which we may all participate, and where we may
recognize the truth or validity of what other people express, even when
drawn from very different life experiences.   In the second, we
encounter the local habitations and names by which we ground those
experiences in everyday reality.   One may be richer or poorer in either
kind of experience.  One may be a virtuoso in dramatizing (or painting,
composing, etc.) the fruits of outer experience or of the inner sort.
One may also be very wise in an inner sense or very rich in worldly
experience, with no gift for any form of artistic expression.  The
"timeless" art seems, to me at least, that which contains a balance of
the two, and at least enough of the inner reality in its universality to
provide a structure, a skeleton, which the author dresses in local
habitations and names but yet, after those local details are forgotten,
dated, or misunderstood, remains recognizable as an expression of some
enduring  form.

But, and this is the point  that I think is so important, both the inner
and outer must be recognized as "experience."   We ignore either one at
the peril of a reductionist one-sidedness by which we lose our sense of
the human being --  the actor, questioner, and essential field of
activity on which all our own  experiences, questions and answers come
into consciousness-the very being whose presumed "experience"  is the
starting point and excuse for the whole inquiry.  In this view, a good
many currently popular fields of study are reactions  -- reflecting
contemporary concerns-to the narrow or impoverished experiences and
unacceptable biases that various authors reveal in their choices of
local habitations and names.   To that extent , they are too often
likely to devalue or ignore the creative achievement  which makes the
work under consideration worth discussing in the first place.

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Stephanie Hughes <
 This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
 >
Date:           Tuesday, 30 Mar 1999 09:01:39 +0000
Subject: 10.0574 Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing
Comment:        Re: SHK 10.0574 Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing

>The other straw man, the "great artist," is an irrelevant generalization
>designed to elide the differences between poets like Donne who write
>from their intellect, and poets like Shakespeare who write from their
>hearts.

I don't really see much distinction between the nature of Donne and that
of Shakespeare. Certainly Shakespeare wrote as much from his intellect
as he did from his heart, and just as certainly Donne wrote just as much
from his heart as he did from his intellect. It is the use of both
facilities, of both the right and left hands of one's nature, if you
will, that identifies the great artist. As for a "straw man," I don't
see that da Vinci, Mozart, Michelangelo, Mendellsohn, have any straw
about them. I merely wish to remove the "straw" that so far has kept us
from seeing Shakespeare as fully and completely as we see these GREAT
artists.

>Please don't kill me for this overfacile distinction. It's
>purely rhetorical. In conclusion, it may not be necessary that a writer
>has ever lived in Tennesee to write a character that has lived in
>Tennessee, but it is necessary that Shakespeare wrote from his own
>experience because every human being has experienced love, jealousy,
>anger, guilt, etc.

Of course, but I would go further and say that it is necessary that
those experiences take certain forms. Not all loves are the same, not
all jealousies. The jealousy that a child feels for the love the parent
gives to another child is different from the jealousy felt by a lover,
though one may feed the other. I believe that most good/great art is
based on these deep universal feelings, but allied to more specific
incidents in the artist's own experience, although often not so specific
that one can actually locate the experience in the artist's biography.

I find it interesting to see the ways this argument plays out.  First, I
believe that at bottom there is really no argument, that if we kept at
it long enough we would find ourselves agreeing. One poster after
another restates the case in polemical terms, wrong vs. right, heart
vs.  mind, experience vs. intuition, when it isn't really an either/or
but an and/and. Other posters begin by protesting, but end by restating
my position in their own words.

One more example: Tom Wolfe was on TV the other day, puffing his new
book, A Complete Man. Wolfe went on and one about how it isn't necessary
to use one's own life, how he wrote the book entirely through research,
etc. What I would have liked to point out to him is that the turning
point of his book is identical in nature to the turning point of his
other (marvelous) novel, Bonfire of the Vanities. In both cases the
protagonist gets into trouble when his vehicle breaks down in a
dangerous neighborhood. If this didn't actually happen to Wolfe, or to
someone he loved, I'd be very surprised. In fact, I simply would not
believe it. It's just too coincidental that the same event should
function as the turning point in both Wolfe's novels.

Along the same lines, the author of a popular detective series was being
interviewed on the radio recently, and described an awful event in his
childhood when he accidentally shot his brother in the face. The brother
survived, but the guilt has haunted him ever since. The interviewer
pointed out that all the deaths in his books were the result of shots
fired to the head, all of them described in minute and horrific detail.
The writer was actually surprised when this was pointed out to him. It
was clear to the listener that he himself had never made the connection
until that moment.

>One of the main problems here obviously is that we cannot sit down and
>ask Shakespeare about the degree to which he based things on his
>experience, observations or imagination.  This and his humble origins
>cause some people to conclude that it was impossible for Shakespeare to
>have written his plays at all.

Again (and again and again), it is not that his humble origins prevented
him from writing at all, it is that they prevented him from writing the
kinds of things that the plays are about.

>One of the primary themes that Alfred Hitchcock returned to again and
>again in his films is the theme of the "Wrong Man."  This is where the
>ordinary man (or woman) is thrust into an extreme situation where he has
>been misidentified and is being pursued by the police as well as by the
>villains of the story.  (snip)
>But the fact is that ABSOLUTELY NOTHING in Hitchcock's life resembled
>these situations.  As close as we get is this: When he was a child, his
>father sent him to the police station with a note for the policeman.
>Young Alfred had been bad and his father wanted him to be locked up for
>a little while to show him what happens to bad people.  Could this be
>the origin of the obsessive theme?

It might, or it might not. If this event was symptomatic of an early
childhood where this kind of treatment was the norm, it might well be
the source of his obsession. You might ask yourself where did he get
this ideosyncratic obsession, which you have so thoughtfully detailed?
Where do such obsessions arise? My feeling  is that such obsessions are
based on personal experience. We may not know the particulars of how
they arose, but logic should tell us that the incidents are there. To
believe, as some appear to, that such obsessions arise out of thin air
is to take the existential view of reality, one that has little to
recommend it but the ease of its application to everything that should
be of profound interest.

>If I were to follow Ms. Hughes line of reasoning I would
>have to conclude that someone else really directed Hitchcock's films and
>certainly it would have to be someone more personally exciting, cultured
>and a graduate of film school at the very least.

Oh, please. Most great film directors learned by doing. That's not the
point at all. And had Hitchcock been more "cultured," his films might
still have been equally important, but they would have been very
different in nature, and his obsessions played out through different
forms.

Stephanie Hughes
 

©2011 Hardy Cook. All rights reserved.