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Home :: Archive :: 2009 :: July ::
Ramblings on the Instability of Meaning and on the
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 20.0411  Tuesday, 28 July 2009

From:       Hardy M. Cook <
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Date:       Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Subject:    Ramblings on the Instability of Meaning and on the Nature of 
Thought

Dear SHAKSPEReans,

I was in a enormous hurry when I originally composed this message. Since 
I want to express myself as clearly and precisely as I can about these 
issues, issues that in and of themselves border on the ineffable, I am 
taking the time and Editor's privilege to revise what I previously had 
written, providing now a corrected and more polished version, a version 
that revisits Amnon Zakov as well as Marx, the Tao, and The Dhammapada.

 >At least Amnon knows his theory about _Hamlet_ is undoubtedly only
 >*a theory* and one that is way out there, but possibly _interesting_
 >in terms of staging, or if people are willing to consider *a purely
 >imaginative "theory" that makes NO claim to finality or
 >truth.* [Hardy M. Cook EMPHASIS]

Phyllis Gorfain's remarks in her post that accompanies mine and in 
particular her comments about her friend Amnon Zakov's paper, "Death 
Becomes _Hamlet_: Elsinore as a Black Hole," and his interpretative 
play, "Death Becomes Hamlet or Is That The Question?, A Tragic Comedy in 
Two Acts,"
<http://www.shaksper.net/review-papers/index.html>, that I quote above 
capture many of my own attitudes toward some of the _Hamlet_ postings 
that have appeared on SHAKSPER recently (see especially my comments in 
the FLAWS thread at <http://www.shaksper.net/archives/2009/0396.html>).

After these many years of association with SHAKSPER, I have found that 
many, many people are fascinated with _Hamlet_ (some seemingly more 
attracted to _Hamlet_ than to any other of Shakespeare's plays what so 
ever). Further, it appears to me that many of them believe that they 
have a better understanding of the meaning of the play than anyone else 
does. The problem is that not only are they convinced they understand 
the play better than anyone else but also that they simply cannot be 
persuaded by any means or evidence, either textual or historical or 
otherwise, that they are not ABSOLUTELY correct in their assumptions. 
Occasionally, these "pet" theories are religiously based (i.e., _Hamlet_ 
represents spiritual struggle between X and Y), often connected to a 
larger theoretical framework (i.e., not only is _Hamlet_ about the 
retelling of such and such but that the reason is that Shakespeare was 
representing Christian beliefs about Z, or Jewish beliefs about U, or 
that Shakespeare was Christ or that he is a member of the list from 
Louisiana (or was that Texas), and so on and so on).

And then there is the matter of those posts that treat the character of 
Hamlet as a "real" person not a as character in a fictional construction 
that is enacted by actors (who may or may not want to imagine a "back 
story" to help them enact their character for the stage).

However, what I believe that bothers me the most about all these posts 
to which I refer, those posts that appear at the drop of any proverbial 
HAT with Hamlet's name on the inside label or across the outside of that 
HAT, is the poster's seeming conviction of that poster's own rightness, 
own correctness, own surety, that there is only ONE correct 
interpretation of the play and that the information in his or her 
particular post is the expression of that correct interpretation.

One recent _Hamlet_ thread began with a question -- What is Hamlet's flaw?

Now, either* I have finally grown up, or* have so bought into 
post-modernist assumptions, or* have so accepted beliefs in the 
instability of meaning that I am no longer, if I ever was to begin with, 
capable of feeling assured that my assumptions are stable enough to hold 
up to scrutiny -- that my thoughts are even worthy enough to utter ("I 
know that I know not"). I am not sure if I have just come to accept that 
whatever I have to say runs the risk of being expressed in such unstable 
terms that I am virtually incapable of making a critical observation 
about Shakespeare or* is it just a critical statement about _Hamlet_ or* 
is the entire point of _Hamlet_ that _Hamlet_ is perhaps the foremost 
expression in western literature of the instability of meaning, of the 
inability to find fixity in language or thought. That _Hamlet_ is ALL 
about "the interrogative mode," as Maynard Mack said of _Hamlet_ -- To 
be or not to be -- THAT IS THE QUESTION!* Or is it that I have become so 
imbued with AN Asian perspective that nothing means, it just is.*


***NOTES***

*THIS SYMBOL = * = a NOTE = an aphorism OR a collection of aphorisms to 
which this symbol refers.

(1)
"To judge therefore of Shakespeare by Aristotle's rules, is like trying 
a man by the Laws of one Country, who acted under those of another."
      Alexander Pope. From "Excellencies and Defects of Shakespeare"

(2)
"The past if a foreign country; they do things differently there."
      L. P. Hartley _The Go-Between_

(3)
a purely imaginative "theory" that makes no claim to finality or truth.*
      Amnon Zakov. "Death Becomes _Hamlet_: Elsinore as a Black Hole"

(4)
"The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human 
thinking is not a question of theory but is a practical question. Man 
must prove the truth -- i.e. the reality and power, the this-sidedness 
of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality 
of thinking that is isolated from practice is a purely _scholastic_ 
question."
      Marx. From _Theses On Feuerbach_ 
<http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/theses/theses.htm>

(5)
"It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on 
the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness."
      Marx. From "Preface" of _A Contribution to the Critique of 
Political Economy_
<http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1859/critique-pol-economy/preface-abs.pdf>

(6)
"Religion is from the outset _consciousness of the transcendental_ 
arising from actually existing forces.
      Marx's Notes, 12. FORMS OF SOCIAL CONSCIOUSNESS
<http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1845/german-ideology/ch01c.htm>

(7)
When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.

Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other. . . .
      Trans. Stephen Mitchell
      Verse 2 _Tao te Ching_

(8)
Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty only because there is ugliness.
All can know good as good only because there is evil.

Therefore having and not having arise together.
Difficult and easy complement each other.
Long and short contrast each other;
High and low rest upon each other;
Voice and sound harmonize each other;
Front and back follow one another.
      Trans. Jane English
      Verse 2 _Tao te Ching_

(9)
Everyone recognizes beauty
      only because of ugliness
Everyone recognizes virtue
      only because of sin

Life and death are born together
Difficult and easy
Long and short
High and low-
      all these exist together
Sound and silence blend as one
Before and after arrive as one
      Trans. Jonathan Star
      Verse 2 _Tao te Ching_

(10)
Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty,
           only because there is ugliness.
All can know good as good only because there is evil.

Being and nonbeing produce each other.
           The difficult is born in the easy.
Long is defined by short, the high by the low.
      Before and after go along with each other.
      Trans. Wayne W. Dyer
      Verse 2 _Tao te Ching_

(11)
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our
thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
      From Verse One _The Dhammapada_
      Translated by Thomas Byrom
<http://www.thebigview.com/download/dhammapada.pdf>

(12)
All that we are is the result of what we have thought.
      From Verse One _The Dhammapada_
      Translated by Eknath Easwaran

(13)
As I [Amnon Zakov] said above, this [The concept of *Hamlet as a 
collapsed star*] is only *ONE* [Hardy M. Cook's EMPHASIS] of the 
possible interpretations of _Hamlet_. Perhaps this [THESIS of Amnon 
Zakov's paper, "Death Becomes _Hamlet_: Elsinore as a Black Hole": The 
blindness of the rest of the figures facing the negative omens and the 
abdication of responsibility by the open-eyed Hamlet will become the 
core of the tragedy. The King's blindness to Hamlet, till the last 
minute, is demonstrated by his plans to kill Hamlet in a duel: "He, 
being remiss,/ Most generous, and free from all contriving" (IV.vii. 
146-48). The once- proficient murderer does not realize that his victim 
is very suspicious and harbors many plots. Yet even the open-eyed Hamlet 
also wishes to close his eyes off in order to abdicate his 
responsibility. In my opinion this is the real meaning of the famous 
soliloquy: "to be or not to be.../ to die, -- to sleep, -- no more" 
(III.i.66-71). Not only the clown and the insane are free from 
responsibility, but also the *sleeping* and the *dead*.] is the most 
horrible of them, but horror never eliminated the possibility of 
existence of any world. We have only to ask: will Elsinore be buried, 
like the cursed Chernobyl in the sarcophagi of the black hole? Will the 
black hole, that once was Elsinore -- join the Fortinbras' galaxy, or 
suck it in, contaminating it by its curse, so that not even a beam of 
light will remain?

The director's decision will determine the color of the last scene 
[Zakov's concept of *_Hamlet_ as a collapsed star*'s application for 
design and lighting: "Gradually dimming bright halls can convey a world 
that is closing, shrinking and darkening, in which the blinding lights 
of sacrificial supernovas will accompany the murder of Polonius and the 
death of Ophelia. But this is an irrational and deceptive light, 
extinguished in its short-lived intensity. Gradually, the decorations 
can transform into prison bars, and a strange "leprosy" can spread 
through people, clothing, property and walls. This is a leprosy of 
"people and homes", the inspiration for which the stage designer may 
derive from the Biblical chapters, "Thou shall seed" and "leper," in 
Leviticus."] and his choice of future ["The blindness of the rest of the 
figures facing the negative omens and the abdication of responsibility 
by the open-eyed Hamlet will become the core of the tragedy."]-- as the 
curtain falls[: "Hamlet's escaping from death in England is not a case 
of choosing life, but of choosing death within the collapsing star. He 
is like Samson, who said: 'May I die with the Philistines.'"]
      Amnon Zakov. "Death Becomes _Hamlet_: Elsinore as a Black Hole"
 
<http://www.shaksper.net/review-papers/ZakovDeathBecomesHamlet_Elsinore_Black_Hole_ZAKOV.pdf>

(14)
Under heaven all can see beauty as beauty,
           only because there is ugliness.
All can know good as good only because there is evil.
      Trans. Wayne W. Dyer
      Verse 2 _Tao te Ching_

All that we are is the result of what we have thought.
      From Verse One _The Dhammapada_
      Translated by Eknath Easwaran


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