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Home :: Archive :: 1999 :: April ::
Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 10.0613  Monday, 5 April 1999.

[1]     From:   Todd M Lidh <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 Mar 1999 13:47:56 -0500
        Subj:   Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing

[2]     From:   Judith Craig <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 Mar 1999 13:45:13 -0600
        Subj:   Thinking, Feeling, and its Relation to Art

[3]     From:   Mike Jensen <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 Mar 1999 12:24:24 -0800
        Subj:   Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing

[4]     From:   Marilyn Bonomi <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 31 Mar 1999 18:32:46 -0500
        Subj:   Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing

[5]     From:   Jim Carroll <
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        Date:   Sunday, 04 Apr 1999 12:05:45 -0400
        Subj:   Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Todd M Lidh <
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 Mar 1999 13:47:56 -0500
Subject:        Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing

Stephanie Hughes recently writes (on this whole notion of "origin of
art"):

>First, I believe that at bottom there is really no argument, that if we
>kept at it long enough we would find ourselves agreeing.

Followed Wednesday, in short order, by:

>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.

Ms. Hughes, I think you've inadvertently stumbled on why you've
encountered so much resistance to your argument. You say on the one had
that we all really agree deep down (and the only agreement I've seen has
been in the area that we all have amorphous similar emotional spectra-a
poor descriptive phrase, I admit -- not that personal experience
dictates about what one can or cannot write). On the other, you state
unequivocally that someone with Shakespeare's "humble origins" simply
could not have written the plays. And yet, there are a number of people
who have written in response to say they've written on subjects that are
not part of their personal experiences (living in Tennessee, for
example) but have received reaction similar to yours with Shakespeare:
"he must have lived that life to write it so well."

Well? Doesn't that seem a bit incongruous to you? If someone can write
convincingly but  they haven't lived in Tennessee, yet people think
he/she did, how is that different than someone writing a play convincing
you they know the ins and outs of court life yet never experiencing it
first-hand?  Your earlier reply to this argument was surely there was
something similar to that "living in Tennessee" experience which allowed
the writer to be so convincing. Again, how can you say that the same
line of argument cannot be applied to Shakespeare? Similar experiences
set in new situations.

What most people on this list have agreed on is that some artists (even
many) have drawn on personal experience when writing, but there is
simply no way to grossly generalize that one is only great artist by
virtue of using personal experience.

I don't mean this to sound snippy, but would you argue that the Mona
Lisa is a better painting for those who believe it is a self-portrait?
What about Escher? Are his etchings based on personal experience or
taking a common item (stairs, hands) and doing someone that simply
doesn't exist?

By the way, is everything that Shakespeare writes based on his own
personal experience? Everything? Down to the smallest detail? Complete
with fairy juice, ass heads, Roman generals, Hecate and exiting the
stage pursued by a bear? Where does artistic license diverge from
straight biography? How are we to distinguish between what is "obviously
a reference to a personal experience" versus what is fabricated for the
sake of the play? I just can't help but see this as an entertaining but
deluding pursuit...

Todd M Lidh
UNC-Chapel Hill

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Judith Craig <
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 Mar 1999 13:45:13 -0600
Subject:        Thinking, Feeling, and its Relation to Art

As a new member of this list, I may be entering a discussion that has
already been concluded, but I am responding to a remark in Stephanie
Hughes post that there was little difference between Donne and
Shakespeare and to a distinction made between "inner" and "outer"
relationship to experience that affect one's artistic creations.

I am staking my career on the perception that Shakespeare, although
certainly an intellectual poet, DOES differ from Donne in that his
poetry seems to contain more of the heart than the abstractions Donne
sets up in his metaphysical poetry.

I think this perception stems from the fact that Shakespeare's early
experience of sexuality may have been overwhelming to the extent that he
rejected sexualtiy early on in his career in favor of concentrated
attention to playwrighting.  This view of life  I consider moral and
even broadly Christian in character, much like the life experiences of
Augustine.

Donne, on the other hand, seems to have indulged in sexuality for its
own sake and pleasure-not having had any bad experiences of it-and
finally married Ann out of some kind of deep attraction that fulfilled
him.  His poetry does NOT provide an emotional outlet; it seems rather
to have provided an intellectual way to categorize his experience.
Shakespeare, it seems to me, had to put EMOTIONAL content into his work
that was lacking in his life or impossible to find from his point of
view.

I think this point of view is consistent with close readings of his
plays, poems, and other people's observations about him.  It is directly
contradictory to fashionable views of him presented in such movies as
'Shakespeare in Love."  For some reason, many people in the past have
read him alongside the Bible as a moral poet, and I simply cannot
imagine him being flagrantly immoral, as Donne freely admits in his
poetry.  This view may sound old-fashioned, but I don't know what else
to do about it, since I cannot get over holding to it, and I, moreover,
find it nowhere REALLY contradicted in his plays.

Best,
Judith M. Craig

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Mike Jensen <
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 Mar 1999 12:24:24 -0800
Subject:        Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing

Stephanie Hughes wrote:

>I believe that most good/great art is based on these deep universal feelings

A few members of this list have challenged Ms. Hughes definition of
great art suggesting there may be other ways for art to be great.  I
suggested Tom Stoppard as an example of art that impresses me greatly,
but isn't exactly thick with feelings and experience.

While Ms. Hughes did write,

>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.

I don't think she has really addressed this issue.  Here is a direct
question.  Please favor me with a direct answer.  Do you, Ms. Hughes,
believe that art must be "based on these deep universal feelings" to be
great?  Are there exceptions?

>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.

Dangerous ground here, Steph. First, are your beliefs really relevant
here?  Mine are not.  I'll side with the facts to the extent they are
knowable.  I have no idea if this incident ever happened to Tom Wolf,
but I figure his first hand knowledge may be a bit more reliable than my
ignorance.  If the two of you debated his life on C-SPAN, I'd believe
him.

Whether this happened to Wolf or not, consider Raymond Chandler.  He
wrote that if a plot reaches a dead end he has someone enter the room
with a gun.  There is no record of this ever happening to Chandler.
Some writer's do have little tricks they repeat because it solves
writerly problems.

Pericles and Leontes lost wives and daughters for very long periods of
time.  Shakespeare probably didn't, yet he wrote about it twice.  Add
just wives, daughters, and sons from other plays (COMEDY OF ERRORS,
i.e.) and you add to the head count.

Does it really make sense to stand by that statement about Tom Wolf
until such time as Wolf confirms the incident?  If Wolf does confirm it,
does it make sense to insist on it for other writers whose biographies
we can not recover?  Would it make sense to insist this happened to
Shakespeare?

I raised this issue a week or more ago and suggested it is best to say
we don't know, we have no reason to think so.

Does this address the issues, or as you suggested off list, is this just
another irrelevancy of mine?

Mike Jensen

[4]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marilyn Bonomi <
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Date:           Wednesday, 31 Mar 1999 18:32:46 -0500
Subject:        Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing

Ms. Hughes says,  "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."

The arrogant assumption that humble origins prevent people from
experiencing (both internally and externally, as Anthony Burton so
cogently and eloquently noted in the same digest) the range of
experiences that would serve to provide support for the genius of
creation continues to infuriate me (and apparently a number of other
SHAKSPERians).

The parallel to Alfred  Hitchcock offered by another lister provided a
very concrete rebuttal, one that seems to have penetrated not at all.

What ARE the plays about?  Power politics, for one.  A combination of
reading Plutarch (and I refuse to accept the unsupported insistence that
Shakespeare did not read IN LATIN the Roman historians), reading
Holinshed, reading the contemporary pamphlets, and walking about in
London, visiting the pubs, talking to people like Marlowe-plenty of
source material here.  Love, for another.  Again, unless one marries
oneself to Ms. Hughes' repeated contention that only direct personal
experience of a very particularized emotion permits one to write about
it, one has to admit that virtually all of us love in one way or
another-parent/child, soulmate/soulmate, waterbrother/waterbrother,
friend/friend, teacher-mentor/student divinity/worshipper, and on and on
and on.  Genius (or even deep talent) transforms these personal
experiences through imagination, artistic gifts and even psychological
mechanisms like projection.

Ms. Hughes seems not to credit the country bumpkin with the imagination
to make of external experiences and internal experiences the
transformation into art.

And I've yet to be convinced by any of her arguments.  They're classist,
probably sexist, given her view of Elizabeth I expressed in a different
post, and still uninformed by any substantive evidence beyond that given
her by her own intuition/heart.

Marilyn Bonomi

[5]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Jim Carroll <
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Date:           Sunday, 04 Apr 1999 12:05:45 -0400
Subject:        Re: THINKING, Feeling and Meaning, and Writing

The course of this discussion has proceeded in such a way that most of
the respondents feel that they have had to categorically agree or
disagree with the notion that elements of an author's personal life can
appear in his/her work. I think it is rather obvious that those
biographical details do appear. It should also be obvious that a writer
could, for example, take the grief that they have felt for a deceased
pet, and give it to a character who is mourning the death of a father,
or give the feelings that they have had for an unrequited love and give
that to a dog in a children's story. It seems to me, though, that the
actions of the characters are made mostly from imagination, and that the
imaginative work is studded haphazardly with bits and pieces of the
author's life, thus making it impossible to reconstruct an author's life
from his work. The following excerpt is taken from the introduction to
Vladimir Nabokov's English translation of his novel "The Defence", about
a chess player named Luzhin:

"In the Prefaces I have been writing of late for the English-language
editions of my Russian novels...I have made it a rule to address a few
words of encouragement to the Viennese delegation....Analysts and
analyzed will enjoy, I hope, certain details of the treatment Luzhin is
subjected to after his breakdown (such as the curative insinuation that
a chessplayer sees Mom in his Queen and Pop in his opponent's King), and
the little Freudian who mistakes a Pixlok set for the key to a novel
will no doubt continue to identify my characters with his comic-book
notion of my parents, sweethearts and serial selves. For the benefit of
such sleuths I may as well confess that I gave Luzhin my French
governess, my pocket chess set, my sweet temper, and the stone of the
peach I plucked in my own walled garden."

Nabokov has his tongue in cheek here, but I think this must be similar
to the process that most writers use, and it is also corresponds to what
I have done in the tiny corpus of fiction that I have written. The
[unmentionable group of pseudo-scholars] insist that we must admit that
Shakespeare incorporated emotions and events from his real life into his
work, and some of us resist that notion, no doubt feeling that we might
be forced to admit that the [unmentionable would-be tin miner] might
have written our dear Shakespearean plays. Of course Shakespeare
incorporated bits and pieces of his life into his plays. The important
point is that it is *impossible to reconstruct a narrative of the
author's life from those bits and pieces*.

Jim Carroll
 

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