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Added notes: Shakespeare as Ozymandias

Friday, September 16th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — how Bill Benzon and Will Shakespeare lead me to Angus Wilson and Ruth Ozeki ]
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Comments are now closed on my fairly recent post, Triangulation: Hoboken, Ramesses II, Ozymandias, so I can’t add there to the strand of the discussion that dealt with Shakespeare‘s language becoming barnacle-encrusted with time and our lack of knowledge, but today was something of a red-letter day for me, so I’ll start from there

I’d suggested:

Shakespeare has reached the point where the Oregon Shakespeare Festival has a Shakespeare translation project:

OSF is commissioning 36 playwrights and pairing them with dramaturgs to translate 39 plays attributed to Shakespeare into contemporary modern English between now and December 31, 2018. By seeking out a diverse set of playwrights (more than half writers of color and more than half women), we hope to bring fresh voices and perspectives to the rigorous work of translation. Each playwright is being asked to put the same pressure and rigor of language as Shakespeare did on his, keeping in mind meter, rhythm, metaphor, image, rhyme, rhetoric and emotional content. Our hope is to have 39 unique side-by-side companion translations of Shakespeare’s plays that are both performable and extremely useful reference texts for both classrooms and productions.

I’m not sure, but as we decolonialize and globalize culture (world music, eg), I suspect that English adds national streams from Barbados, Mumbai, Brooklyn, Adelaide, Louisiana and hiphop to its already rich mix, and that a Shakespeare using the spectrum of the language available in London today as keenly as Wm S used the spectrum available in London in his own day would appear no less neologistic and extraordinary than his older namesake. And then throw in an oligarch’ daughter speaking Russian, as Katherine speaks French in Henry V III.2, explaining as Katherine does, “I cannot speak your England”…

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That’s “past is prologue”. Today, blog-friend Bill Benzon posted a brief squib that ties in with this — and here my advanture begins:

McWhorter on Shakespeare: Should he be rewritten in modern English?

McWhorter has argued that Shakespeare’s language is so difficult that it should be “adjusted” into modern English for modern readers and theatre-goers. I’m sympathetic. Yesterday I started watching the Zeferelli movie version of Hamlet, with Mel Gibson in the title role and Glenn Close as Gertrude, and at times the language just lost me. Here’s a podcast where he discusses the subject with John Lynch.

Here’s a post at The New Republic where McWhorter makes his case. I quoted passages from that post in an old post at The Valve and it generated a bit of discussion, including a comment from Kent Richmond, who has rendered five plays into modern English.

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McWhorter‘s piece — Will Shakespeare’s Come And Gone: Does The Bard’s Poetry Reach Us Like August Wilson’s? Come On–really? — gives us a sense of what we’re missing when he describes present day audiences in terms borrowed from Alfred Harbage as “reverently unreceptive” — seen in the theater lobby afterwards, “gratified that they have come, and gratified that they now may go.”

And he explains something of what we are missing, in Hamlet for instance:

“Give thy thoughts no tongue, / Nor any unproportion’d thought his act.” First of all, thought to Shakespeare meant “plan,” not just mental activity. Thus “Give thy thoughts no tongue” meant “Don’t show your hand,” not just “button up.” “Nor any unproportion’d thought his act” – whose act? Who does the his refer to? To a modern listener this is the sort of opaque little splotch we must just let by, which in combination with the thousands of others over three hours leaves us yearning for a drink or a pillow. Actually, his could refer to things as well as men in earlier English. And act meant “execution”: the phrase meant “Do not act on your intentions until they are well proportioned, i.e. completely thought out,” not just “Don’t be a silly-billy.”

At the end, the famous “Neither a borrower or a lender be, / “For loan oft loses both itself and friend, / And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.” Did Shakespeare suppose that the reason one shouldn’t borrow is because it interferes with the raising of livestock? Actually, husbandry meant “thrift” at the time. It will say that in the footnotes of a Hamlet book; but at the theatre, you don’t have that with you.

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All that led me to Kent Richmond, and I wanted to hear his voice, which gives Miranda in The Tempest these lines:

If through your magic, dearest father, you’ve
Made the wild waters roar, now let them rest.
The sky looks set to pour down stinking tar,
But then the sea, climbing the cheeks of heaven,
Dashes the fire out. O, I have suffered
With those that I saw suffer! A splendid vessel,
Which no doubt had some noble creature in her,
Dashed all to pieces! O, their cries knocked hard
Against my heart itself! Poor souls, they perished.
Had I the power of a god, I would
Have sunk the sea beneath the earth before
It could have swallowed up the good ship and
The souls that were her cargo.

Intelligible, yes, in a way that Shakepeare’s version may no longer be, and way better than a crude “version” for students of study notes — but not something that encourages me to see Richmond’s version of the play.

**

But wait — McWhorter’s title doesn’t mention Richmond, it merntions August Wilson, and his piece opens:

Reading the deserved critical huzzahs for the current production of August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone has me thinking about a bee always in my bonnet.

I don’t know Wilson, and I hold much of modern “poetry” in disrespect, but I go searching with little hope in my back pocket, and lo —

It is August in Pittsburgh, 1911. The sun falls out of heaven like a stone. The fires of the steel mill rage with a combined sense of industry and progress. Barges loaded with coal and iron ore trudge up the river to the mill towns that dot the Monongahela and return with fresh, hard, gleaming steel. The city flexes its muscles. Men throw countless bridges across the rivers, lay roads, and carve tunnels through the hills sprouting with houses.

From the deep and the near South, the sons and daughters of newly freed African slaves wander into the city. Isolated, cut off from memory, having forgotten the names of the gods and only guessing at their faces, they arrive dazed and stunned, their hearts kicking in their chest with a song worth singing. They arrive carrying Bibles and guitars, their pockets lined with dust and fresh hope, marked men and women seeking to scrape from the narrow, crooked cobbles and the fiery blasts of the coke furnace a way of bludgeoning and shaping the malleable parts of themselves into a new identity as free men of definite and sincere worth.

Foreigners in a strange land, they carry as part and parcel of their baggage a long line of separation and dispersement which informs their sensibilities and marks their conduct as they search for ways to reconnect, to reassemble, to give clear and luminous meaning to the song which is both a wail and a whelp of joy.

My God, the language! The warmth and depth of voice!

**

And somehow, from there, after hearing Phylicia Rashad reading some of those words from “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone”, I find myself listening for the first time to another voice, that of the novelist Ruth Ozeki, reading from her book, A Tale for the Time Being. I’d learned a week or two back that the novel had resonance with the great Zen master Dogen, whose Mountains and Rivers sutra I greatly admire and enjoy:

Since the virtues of the mountain are high and broad, the spiritual power to ride the clouds is always mastered from the mountains, and the marvelous ability to follow the wind is inevitably liberated from the mountains.

Here’s Ozeki, herself a zen priest — skip the beginning intros, start at around the 9’35” point, or at 11’17” where her actual reading from the book begins:

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Again, such a voice! Two such voices in one day, new to me! Today I consider the world with fresh and thankful eyes.

Sectarian geopolitics in two easy tweets just yesterday

Wednesday, September 7th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — you could start from this polarity and build out to cover the tensions of the world ]
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This:

is an instance of this:

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And if these two don’t suffice, there’s always Charles Mortimer:

And so it’s all explained at last,
There’s nothing more to know.
Chameleons are pink and fast
Because they’re green and slow.

Into the storm winds

Sunday, August 21st, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Peter Thiel, Rainer Maria Rilke, and the importance of unheard voices ]
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Noting Peter Thiel‘s comment below, I was reminded of the opening of Rilke‘s Duino Elegies — Himalayas of the human spirit.

SPEC DQ Thiel Rilke

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Stephen Mitchell‘s version of the Elegies is the one I like best, and lends itself well to the speaking voice. Mitchell’s opening lines read thus:

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies?
and even if one of them pressed me suddenly against his heart:
I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we are still just able to endure,
and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.
Every angel is terrifying.

**

My own version, which I’ve placed in the lower panel of the DoubleQuote above, alludes to Rilke’s storm-driven physical environment at the time the beginning of the poem came to him at Schloss Buino. In the words of Princess Marie von Thurn und Taxis:

Rilke climbed down to the bastions which, jutting to the east and west, were connected to the foot of the castle by a narrow path along the cliffs. These cliffs fall steeply, for about two hundred feet, into the sea. Rilke paced back and forth, deep in thought, since the reply to the letter so concerned him. Then, all at once, in the midst of his brooding, he halted suddenly, for it seemed to him that in the raging of the storm a voice bad called to him: “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angelic orders?” (Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen?)… He took out his notebook, which he always carried with him, and wrote down these words, together with a few lines that formed themselves without his intervention … Very calmly he climbed back up to his room, set his notebook aside, and replied to the difficult letter. By that evening the entire elegy had been written down.

In that instant, as I understand the matter, Rilke shouts into the wind, into the heedless world, into the angelic immensity..

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Whether it’s a still small voice that goes unheard, a voice hurled into the tumultuous storm, heedless void, or transcomprehensible angelic choirs, or a voice crying from desert or wilderness, it is always the unattended, the unlistened voice which carries the note unnoticed — the truth we’d find in the blindspot if we took it for a mirror, the seed and germination of those so-often catastrophic unanticipated consequences that trend-based analysis and front-view vision so regularly miss.

Triangulation: Hoboken, Ramesses II, Ozymandias

Thursday, August 11th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — from sand he came, to sand he shall return ]
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The two images below — the upper image from Wm Benzon‘s New Savanna blog today, the lower from Wikipedia‘s article on Ramesses II

Tablet DQ 600 Ozymandias

— between them evoke Percy Bysshe Shelley‘s celebrated poem Ozymandias.

I was going to call Shelley’s poem “longstanding” — but given the erosion to which both images and the poem itself testify, it seems plausible that Shelley’s poem — like Shelley himself — may soon be dust.

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Mark you, if I were DoubleQuoting the poem, I’d do it thus:

Tablet DQ 600 Ozymandias 02

More details fit — the shattered visage, the trunkless legs of stone — but the image is by the same token further from Benzon’s photo, my starting point for this now quadrangular voyage.

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Sources:

  • Wikipedia, Pi-Ramesses
  • Wm Benzon, Here stood a pillar of the community

  • PB Shelley, Ozymandias
  • Dave Foreman, The Anthropocene and Ozymandias
  • To be exact, the lower image in the second DoubleQuote came from the DeskTop Nexus site, but a version of Foreman’s article is where I found it, and I tracked it to Foreman’s original pamphlet from there.

    On the topology of dreams

    Saturday, August 6th, 2016

    [ by Charles Cameron — a poem that’s far too philosophical to work as poetry, Laramée’s Apparatus, and Alyce Santoro’s philosoprops ]
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    The logic of poetry is, más o menos, dream logic, and so I’ve been pondering the logic of dreams and recently wrote this not terribly poetic poem:

    The egg at the conjuror’s table

    There is a topology of dreams.
    Out beyond Riemann and names I have yet to learn,
    there are configurations of space:
    past Boole, dreams have their logics.

    *

    Take an egg.
    With a tap of the wand, crack it open,
    let it fall apart so precisely
    the two half-shells could again fit together,
    ovoid, seamlessly,
    almost an egg.
    Catch white and yolk in a glass.
    Toss up and catch the half shell in your left hand
    holding the right steady,
    bring them together, there’s a fit,
    a logic to it, a topology, one
    to one, across many thousands of facets
    of fragile, broken shell.
    Break another egg so preciely
    the left half of ts shell would match exactly
    the right half of the first,
    bring them together,
    the fit is exact by definition,
    brown shell with speckled,
    but there is loss of logic, the thing is surreal,
    an egg not an egg at all.
    Holding the half-shell in your right hand
    face upwards, pour into it
    yolk and white of the same egg,
    the heart of the egg filling its own shell,
    the fit ovoid, but better:
    the original yolk united with its familiar shell.
    Cover shell and all with a handkerchief,
    red, green, blue,
    whisk it away, and the egg vanishes —
    or appears, whole.

    **

    There are logics, topologies,
    affinities beyond the exact match
    of shell and shell,
    and so between times, places,
    people in dreams –
    the half hovel, half cathedral
    with its walkways among lily ponds, the koi,
    dusk in one century dawn in another,
    her youth your old age your youth again, time
    cracked open so precisely,
    its yolk, meaning,
    its moments an exact match across centuries,
    its half-shell a perch for Venus,
    its wholeness Fabergé,
    its yolk, tempera mixed by Giotto,
    meaning, tempera, Assisi,
    gesso, the chalk cliffs of Dover, the sea..
    There is a harmony of the whole,
    of the broken unbroken,
    named yet unnameable, unspeakable,
    there is a logic.
    there is a topology of the sundries of dreams,
    a mathematics to this matching
    of thou with i,
    of words, asleep, awake, of dusk to dawn, with all.

    Recognising that it belongs in a category she might call philosopoetry, I sent it to my friend, the artist Alyce Santoro, author of the remarkable Philosoprops: A Unified Field Guide>

    **

    I’m a lucky fellow.

    Today, via 3 Quarks Daily, I ran across this quote from Walter Bejamin:

    I had suffered very much from the din in my room. Last night the dream retained this. I found myself in front of a map and, at the same time, in the landscape which was depicted on it. The landscape was incredibly gloomy and bleak, and it wasn’t possible to say whether its desolation was merely a craggy wasteland or empty grey ground populated only by capital letters. These letters drifted curvily on their base, just as if they were following the mountain range; the words formed from these letters were more or less remote from each other. I knew, or came to know, that I was in the labyrinth of the ear canal. The map was at the same time a map of hell.

    There’s something darkly Borgesian about that quote, eh? But it certainly illuminates dream topology, and even moreso, the topology of the relationship of dream to waking, itself worth comparing with the relationship of map to territory, word to referent, and indeed moon to finger with which Count Korzybski, Lao Tzu, and the Zen poets are each so notably concerned.

    **

    Tunneling on through, I find myself contemplating one of Alyce’s inspirations — Eve Andrée Laramée’s Apparatus for the Distillation of Vague Intuitions, shown in Mass MoCA‘s 2000-2001 exhibition Unnatural Science, from 2000 – 2001:

    laramee

    A detail from that work illustrates the etching of certain phrases into the glass — in this case, the words polysemy and misconception:

    7. Eve Andree Laramee_polysemy-misconception

    The display is characterized in this piece from Art & Science Jounral:

    Apparatus for the Distillation of Vague Intuitions by American artist Eve Andrée Laramée consists of an array of tall metal stands, clamps, PVC tubings, glass beakers, flasks and vials. Although much of the equipment looks standard from afar, the installation is a dysfunctional and mythological sort of laboratory that highlights the inherent but often unnoticed subjectivity in scientific inquiry. [ .. ]

    In this fantastical and visually dazzling Apparatus, many of the glassware are hand-blown with various cloudy or luminous turquoise solutions and copper wires attached to large exotic flowers contributing to the spectacle of a giant chemistry experiment gone amok.

    Upon close inspection, a second level of complexity is revealed by the seemingly unscientific words and phrases such as “HANDFULS”, “LEAP IN THE DARK” and “UNNECESSARY EXPLANATORY PRINCIPLES” delicately etched into the glass, exposing a sense of insecurity and imprecision behind the process of science.

    **

    My Egg at the conjuror’s table is really more a philosoprop, to use Alyce’s coinage, than what many expect a poem to be, and likewise Laramée’s Apparatus more a philosoprop than what many expect an artwork to be.

    Philosoprops:

    The word philosoprop is a portmanteau of philosophy (love of wisdom) and either prop (theatrical property) or propaganda (influential communication), depending. A philosoprop is a device, implement, or illustration – crafted or discovered ready-made – that can be used for the purpose of demonstrating a concept or sparking a dialog.

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