Tuesday, 31 July 2007
"...the consumption of old copies of the Financial Times and the sexual possibilities of vegetables."
"Burial explores a tangential, parallel dimension of the growing sound of dubstep. Burial’s parallel dimension sounds set in a near future South London underwater. You can never tell if the crackle is the burning static off pirate radio transmissions, or the tropical downpour of the submerged city outside the window."
"What [the Summer flood of England] can’t help but remind me of is some recent reading, Ellis Sharp’s novel The Dump. Far from the calm urbanity of his blog, this is a gleefully putrid pile-up of waste and detritus, akin slightly to Stalker if Russian Orthodoxy was replaced with narked Trotskyism. Set in a sort of waste-camp on the outskirts of Walthamstow, ringed by impassable and invisible walls, this takes rather perverse joy in the washed up crap that we can be fairly sure is soon to be pervading all of Tewkesbury, savouring used condoms in jam jars, the encrustations of baked bean tins, the consumption of old copies of the Financial Times and the sexual possibilities of vegetables. This will, no doubt, become an increasingly familiar landscape, particularly after the riverside luxury flats have been abandoned and their denizens escaped to the hills."
Monday, 30 July 2007
"Ghost World: Quietly audacious, Hungarian cinematographer's debut is the most existential of Holocaust films"
"Adapted from Nobel laureate Imre Kertész's autobiographical novel of an Auschwitz boyhood, the Hungarian film Fateless has a remarkable absence of sentimentality. The movie is obviously artistic, but there are no cheap or superfluous effects. It's almost mystically translucent.
"Fateless is Lajos Koltai's first film as a director, but he has a long and distinguished career as a cinematographer, including 14 films shot for István Szabó. One would expect Fateless to have a look, and it does, albeit less pictorial than impressionistic. Koltai seems to have chosen his actors largely for their faces, including the sensitive moptop Marcell Nagy, who plays the 14-year-old protagonist Gyuri. Images dominate the narrative. The film's structure is elliptical, unfolding in a series of vignettes, beginning amid the falling leaves and the shabby, cluttered flats of a wanly enchanted Budapest."
"Ghost World:Quietly audacious, Hungarian cinematographer's debut is the most existential of Holocaust films"
"The subject of the Holocaust has been treated on film from so many varied approaches that one would think it impossible to make a new impression. In one of the seminal books on the subject, Indelible Shadows, author Annette Insdorf estimates that she has seen over 200 films on the Holocaust (which Jewish scholars prefer to call Shoah). In a more recent book, scholar Lawrence Baron lists over 800 titles in his 'Holocaust Movie Database, 1945-1999.' The cinematic approach to one of the 20th century’s most harrowing events includes comedy (The Great Dictator, Seven Beauties, Life is Beautiful, Train of Life), documentary (Night and Fog, Shoah, Image Before my Eyes), fiction [many based on real events or people] (The Night Porter, The Damned, The Pianist, The Music Box, Schindler’s List, Good Evening, Mr. Wallenberg, Europa, Europa, Bent, Sunshine), and even exploitation (Love Camp 7, Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS, Salon Kitty, The Gestapo’s Last Orgy).
Fateless proves that even a subject as well worn as the Holocaust can inspire artists to scale new heights. With a subject that is already loaded with emotional power, it would be all too easy to rely on manipulative plot machinations to move spectators. Insdorf spends the first few chapters of her book debating what the proper film language is for the depiction of the Holocaust. One of the points that comes out of these chapters is that a film striving for an authentic, valuable contribution to the Holocaust legacy would do best not to rely on conventional Hollywood style realism and melodramatic conventions, preferring 'the tense styles and dialectical montage of European films' [p. xv]. First time director Lajos Koltai, a cinematographer by trade, steers far of any such dramatic crutches by relying almost exclusively on the power of visual imagery (editing, cinematography), aided by a beautiful, minimalist score by longtime genius composer Ennio Morricone (with wonderful vocal chants by Lisa Gerrard), to illicit its emotional power."
"Journey into the Soul"
"There have been so many cinematic presentations of the Holocaust that, with the event itself receding beyond the reach of living memory, it's in danger of becoming historical porn, an exotic atrocity we consume over and over again for increasingly dubious reasons. Lajos Koltai's magisterial, understated Fateless avoids that trap; this is a grand claim to make, but I think it's one of the greatest of all Holocaust films. In focusing on the destiny of one young Hungarian boy, a survivor of the camps who never seems to understand quite how much he has lost at Auschwitz and Buchenwald, Fateless conveys on a visceral, intimate level what it was like to live in those terrible places."
"Fateless: My summer vacation in Buchenwald"
We've come a long way to where the mountain is high
I take my cedar to where the mountain is high
What I need is a peace and quiet
What we see is an illusion
I have no reason to confuse them
I have no reason to confuse my brothers
They have real shotguns
They were baby killers
But I warned you many times that they will burn down your house
Not today (what can I do)
Not today (to make it better)
What we need is a persuasion
What you give is retaliation
I hope one day we meet again
I hope one day we love one another
They were young soldiers
They were old liars
But I heard the rumor that they will burn down your house
Not today (what can I do)
Not today (to make it better)
They will burn down your house
They will burn down your house
"Top Ranking" by Blonde Redhead
"Jonathan Meese loves to play Hitler. He could be seen recently on a MySpace site striking a familiar pose, silly boy as mass murderer, with his right arm stiff in the air, looking serious and determined in a black Adidas tracksuit top, black jeans and a cowboy hat with Adolf scribbled on it in big blue letters. 'Everything has to come back up again stinking!' it said next to the photograph."
"'Hey funny guy, please quit with that nazi crap! YOU ARE PATHETIC!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!' said a commentary posted a few days later by someone who was obviously unaware of how popular it is in Germany to act as if Hitler were still terribly fascinating, an übervater, a permanent historical presence – only to have one's picture taken one more time in the Führer pose; to bring up all the Germanic crap again, all the evil words and flags and signs and poses; just to amuse oneself with a little Nazi onanism."
Sunday, 29 July 2007
"I'm spending all my time
Driving 'round, faking clever
With a girl who seems alright
And another one who's better..."
I've just discovered one of my all time favorite music clips on YouTube - "Unsent Letter" by Machine Gun Fellatio. I can't think of another clip where the visual track is so completely removed from the world expressed by the lyrics. Or rather distorted "correspondences" that belie what is being retold - the visual "re-telling" of male trauma through the manipulation of female bodies to simulate an injured self (pre-arranged via a phone call like a sexual transaction) in an attempt to recreate the absent presence of a lover's body while the lyrics banally catalogue the recycled longings issuing from the throes of "lost love". And what better visual theme for an Australian love song is there than to represent the remains of that quintessential event within the Australian landscape - the car accident.
So I'm hangin' on your line
Thought we could speak together
Don't know what it is with you
You seem gone forever
Japan's ‘Socially Withdrawn Youths’ and Time Constraints in Japanese Society
Management and conceptualization of time in a support group for ‘hikikomori’ Sachiko Kaneko
Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford; firstname.lastname@example.org
This article discusses how time is conceptualized among hikikomori, or Japan’s so called ‘socially withdrawn youth’, through the narratives of hikikomori keikensha (those who experienced hikikomori) and also examines time and space management in hikikomorisupport context based on ethnographic data. Hikikomoriis an act of retreat from time and space constraints in society. Hikikomorisupport groups provide a place for them to be without feeling such time constraints, but this is not considered sufficient to get hikikomoriback into society. Hikikomori, which challenges the usual coordinates of time and space, may be understood as a kind of reaction to time pressures and role performances in Japanese society.
Key Words: ethnography • Japanese youth • narrative • social withdrawal • time constraints
Hikikomori (Social Withdrawal) in Japan: Discourses of Media and Scholars; Multicausal Explanations of the Phenomenon.
Master of Arts
East Asian Studies
School of Arts and Sciences
Dr. Akiko Hashimoto, Associate Professor, Sociology
Dr. Brenda G. Jordan, Adjunct Assistant Professor, History of Art and Architecture
Dr. Keiko McDonald, Professor, East Asian Languages and Literatures
generalization in media
sensationalism in media
exaggeration in media
Date of Defense
Hikikomori, a phenomenon which exists to date mostly in Japan, are people who seclude themselves in their bedrooms for an extended period of time and reject most forms of contact with the outside world. These are usually males and young people in their twenties who may comprise nearly a million Japanese citizens.
Since Japanese and foreign media as well as scholars express different opinions on potential causes of hikikomori, one of the focal points of my work is to show that causal explanations of the phenomenon, especially those involving multiple causes, that are provided by different authors are not in conflict. I do so by arguing that social withdrawal may be a consequence of each cause on its own, but also the result of interactions between them. To demonstrate it, I analyze discourses of media and scholars and show linkages between the three most salient causes of hikikomori: conformity to Japanese society, the pressure of the educational system, and a problem of communication between parents and children. These factors represent the three distinct categories of my analysis – Society, School and Parents.
The second issue I address in my work is hikikomori as a form of resistance against the social order in Japan. My study shows that social withdrawal does not have to be an extreme form of behavioral deviation as such, but rather that it could be perceived as a radical manifestation of resistance in the society of Japan originating from within Japanese culture. This argument explains why hikikomori do not decide to choose an active form of resistance.
Through a cross-category discussion, the thesis is one of the first to expound on interrelations of hikikomori causes originating from different spheres of life, such as society, school and parents. Moreover, the work elaborately explains the correlations between causes which makes it distinct from other authors’ publications. My study is also one of the first summaries of all potential factors mentioned by media and scholars that result in the problem of hikikomori, which will supply a better understanding of the phenomenon in the English language literature.
"If Foucalt's way of thinking was fundamentally alien, even to militant young lycee students versed in French philosophy, it was even more unfathomable to a great many political activists and intellectuals, both inside and outside France.
"The most vivid (and amusing) example of the sort of reaction Foucault could provoke may be his debate with the American linguist Noam Chomsky. Staged for Dutch television, the meeting took place in November, 1971 - and Chomsky still remembers it well. "He struck me as completely amoral," says Chomsky. "I'd never met anyone who was so totally amoral."
"As Chomsky recalls, they met and spent several hours together before the program was taped, establishing some common ground despite the language barriers (Chomsky spoke little French, and Foucault was not yet as proficient in English as he would become). They exchanged political small talk, and discussed the Port-Royal grammarians, one of their shared scholarly interests.
"But there were already signs that this was not going to be any ordinary debate. Hoping to puncture the prim sobriety of the Dutch audience, the program's host, Fons Elders, a professed anarchist, had obtained a bright red wig, which he tried, unsuccessfully, to convince Foucault to wear. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to Chomsky, Foucault had received, in partial payment for his appearance, a large chunk of hashish, which for months afterwards, Foucault and his Parisian friends would jokingly refer to as the "Chomsky hash"
The television program itself began placidly enough: Chomsky defended the idea of a "biologically given, unchangeable" foundation to human nature, and Foucault raised some doubts. Chomsky summarized his ideas about generative grammar, and Foucault briefly explained why historiography for him required "effacing the dilemma of the knowing subject."
"As the conversation continued in this vein, Elders kept poking Foucault under the table, pointing to the red wig on his lap, and whispering, "put it on, put it on." Foucault tried to ignore him, but as Elders' questions became more and more needling, he began to bristle"
from The Passion of Michel Foucault
UPDATE: as further evidence that some truly heinous people sometimes visit this blog, I came across a reference to this posting as "shite", featured on, predictably enough, a Colin Wilson fan page. Just to clarify; the piece does not, in the manner claimed by the silly blog post, use an article from the 1950s about Oswald Mosley and Wilson as the entire basis for what follows. No, it suggests the "elective affinities" between "the outsider" philosophy and the privileging of the rarefied experiences of surpassing individuals. Sadly, Wilson's philosophy requires that invidious distinctions are drawn between people, not least between "big clocks" and "little clocks". Wilson, with his work ethic, and spiritualist exercises, displays the hallmarks of someone with little faith in "the masses" [sic] developing any collective means of realising prospective ideals. He has used the exact same words as Margaret Thatcher by proclaiming absurdly "that society doesn't exist". Moreover, women become serial killers because they are "downright ugly", while analysis of Marx's theory of surplus value is caricatured in Wilson's example where he defends the position of a boss telling a tradesman "what to do with his spraygun" i.e. shove it up his behind (see A Criminal History of Mankind and the Encyclopedia of Murder for these references; there is no shortage of comparable claims in his other works either). So there is a wild inconsistency between the harshness of Wilson's own class background, with which one can easily sympathise, and his embrace in turn of an even more elitist ethos than the Establishment he claims has always persecuted him.
The other day I was reminiscing about conversations with Ron Abbey, the proprietor of Abbey's Bookshop. I'd asked him, just prior to his untimely passing, given that he was based in London way back in the 1950s when "The Outsider" became a bestseller, if there was any kind of consensus within the publishing/bookseller industry of its author. Without missing a beat, Ron informed me that Wilson used to visit his premises, wearing an assortment of really terrible disguises/makeup jobs, on the pretence of being a customer innocently inquiring into how well "Mr Colin Wilson's books were selling". Ron would simply respond by immediately addressing him as "Mr Wilson", before concluding that he was a self-obsessed crank. I guess what had initially stimulated these reflections was my recent experience of thumbing through a new biography of Oswald Mosley, where I came across further details of the meeting of minds between the notorious British fascist and the infamous existentialist pop philosopher. The book, the title of which unfortunately escapes me at present, (I'm sure though it was either Very Deeply Dyed in Black: Sir Oswald Mosley and the Resurrection of British Fascism After 1945 or Black Shirt: Sir Oswald Mosley and the British Fascism by Stephen Dorril), revealed that although Wilson was sympatico with many of Mosley's ideas, he did not approve of his "methods" (violence, presumably).
It seems that some of the initial inspiration for this review of The Outsider sprang from a piece of student writing which Williams had to assess. What was most remarkable in this instance was how closely passages of the student’s essay mirrored sections of The Outsider, in particular the references to waiting for her husband at Brighton station, "a train came in and disgorged…like some giant whale with a distaste for fish that day- masses of men on the way to football…Not one of them looked "handsome, good and clever"…the overall colour of their dirty, dingy mass was depressing and dead." Unfortunately for the student though, her account was very detailed, recording both the location and time of arrival of this "dingy mass", and so Williams felt compelled to inform her that he was himself "disgorged" on the very occasion which she was referring to. What is most fascinating here is how the student’s mode of perception had arisen as a result of reading Conrad’s novel The Secret Agent, and how its themes could be articulated to extreme and precarious forms of consciousness. For example, the significance of the book could be thought through in relation to serialist Theodore ("the Unabomber") Kaczynski, by no means the only person to have articulated its themes to concern about diminished chances of individuality, or indeed "the ability to kill men in mass" which Williams’s student described in some detail (McIlroy and Westwood 1993: 5). In this light, the articulation of Wilson's writings to the organised political form of Oswald Mosley, appears as a luridly logical extension of such a capacity to kill enmasse.
The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory
Deborah E. LIPSTADT
The Outsider hardly seemed to be the stuff of even modest success. It was a bizarre concoction of philosophy and literary criticism, purporting to be about existentialism, and packed full of quotes and references to Sartre, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Gurdjieff. Even garlanded with the dust-jacket praise of Edith Sitwell (whose 137-line blurb claimed that The Outsider was an "astonishing" book and that Colin Wilson would be "a truly great writer"), Gollancz's initial print run of 5,000 copies seemed wildly optimistic.
The first sign that something was up came two days before publication, when an excited article in the Evening News heralded Wilson as "A Major Writer". The next day he was acclaimed by the two most important critics in the country - Philip Toynbee in the Observer and Cyril Connolly in the Sunday Times. "Luminously intelligent," declared an overjoyed Toynbee of Wilson's book. Connolly pronounced it to be "extraordinary", "one of the most remarkable first books I have read for a long time". When it appeared in the bookshops on Monday, it sold out by the end of the afternoon.
Publication day also brought a follow-up feature in the Evening News, revealing that the startling prodigy had saved money by being homeless, writing in the British Museum by day and sleeping rough on Hampstead Heath. The Daily Mail and the Express took up the story - Wilson was a self-taught, working-class lad from Leicester who had left school at 16 and worked variously as a hospital porter, a lab assistant and a labourer in a plastics factory in Finchley before giving up his job to write full-time and sleep on the Heath - where he returned to pose obligingly, back in his sleeping bag, for Life magazine.
Fleet Street had found its very own intellectual genius, one who called himself an existentialist, with a turtle-neck and brainy specs to boot. Amazingly, the highbrow critics agreed. The Outsider was "really important", according to the New Statesman. "Masterly," said the Listener. "Brilliant," said Elizabeth Bowen. "Brilliant," echoed VS Pritchett on the BBC Home Service. Within a few months, The Outsider had sold 20,000 copies in hardback, translation rights had been sold to five territories and the American edition had been selected as a book of the month.
Inspired by Wilson's dramatic entrance into the literary world ("he walked into literature like a man walks into his own house" was the account in the New York Times Book Review), Daniel Farson, then a young freelance journalist and soon to be one of Britain's first TV stars, wrote a couple of articles for the Daily Mail, not only acclaiming the prodigy ("I have just met my first genius. His name is Colin Wilson") but also announcing that he was the leading light of a new postwar generation.
Farson's enthusiasm for Wilson had to carry his far less impressed opinion of the other writers he roped into membership of this supposed generation: Kingsley Amis; Michael Hastings, then 18, who was about to have his first play performed; and, in a desperate cast-around for any other at-all-visible talents at a lean time, John Osborne, whom Farson noted seemed to be "an angry young man". A fortnight later, the Daily Express replied with its own feature, taking the same four writers and turning the phrase into a plural - Wilson, Osborne, Amis and Hastings were, shouted the headline, "Today's Angry Young Men".
No matter that the label was nonsensical, that the writers had almost nothing in common and, indeed, that they thoroughly disliked each other's work and each other. Having discovered its own literary genius, Fleet Street now set out to promote its very own literary group. The catchphrase certainly helped the four to become rich as well as famous. Within a year The Outsider had earned Wilson £20,000, equivalent to £1m today, an especially noticeable sum in those straitened times when rationing was just coming to an end and Lady Docker's gold-plated Daimler was a subject of nationwide envy.
Then came the downfall. Wilson was the first to suffer, and the one who suffered most. The Sunday Times commissioned him to write a much-vaunted series of book reviews, but three strange pieces later, the series came to an abrupt end. Asked during an interview with Farson on ITV if he was a genius, Wilson agreed that he probably was. Writing in the Daily Express, Wilson mused that death could be avoided by those with sufficient intellectual oomph. "Why do people die? Out of laziness, lack of purpose, of direction." During a symposium at the Royal Court, he announced that Shakespeare was "absolutely second-rate", and wrote "the sort of things you find stuck on your calendars".
The tabloid backlash began with a story in the Sunday Pictorial in December 1956. Wilson had left his wife and five-year-old son. This touch of ignominy became full-blown farce when Wilson's girlfriend's father came across the author's journals. Horrified to read what he wrongly took to be pornographic fantasies (actually, explained Wilson, notes for the novel he was writing), the concerned parent resolved to rescue his daughter. He turned up with his wife at Wilson's Notting Hill flat, brandishing a horsewhip. Wilson's future mother-in-law set about the country's famous new philosopher with her handbag.
The incident was front-page news for several days. Pursued by the press, Wilson and his girlfriend fled to Devon, and there it would have ended had Wilson not done his best to keep the story alive. Having made a deal with the Mail for exclusive coverage of his imminent return to London, he then alerted the Express, reasoning that "I felt it only fair to let them know too". He also handed his journals over to the Daily Mail. Although they turned out not to be pornographic, Wilson's private thoughts made for juicy copy. "The day must come when I am hailed as a major prophet," was one quote. "I must live on, longer than anyone else has ever lived ... to be eventually Plato's ideal sage and king ..."
The literary establishment looked on in horror. Their wunderkind was a nincompoop. Philip Toynbee had already provided a throat-clearing apology in his books-of-the-year piece in December ("I doubt whether this interesting and extremely promising book quite deserved the furore which it seems to have caused ..."). If ever there was a book in for a critical hiding, it was the sequel to The Outsider, Religion and the Rebel, published in September 1957.
It was panned. "Half-baked Nietzsche" was the scornful dismissal of Raymond Mortimer in the Sunday Times, where Cyril Connolly and his wild praise were both conspicuous by their absence. "A vulgarising rubbish bin," considered the mightily embarrassed Toynbee, who now remembered The Outsider as "clumsily written and still more clumsily composed". Nor, as one might think, was Religion and the Rebel the luckless victim of Wilson's terrible publicity. It thoroughly deserved its panning. It is every bit as bad as The Outsider. Both books are dreadful. Appalling.
The whole sorry episode certainly shows up the two reviewers who were primarily responsible - Connolly, who was hopeless at anything that required abstract thought and who was a complete sucker for grand names and grand gestures, both of which The Outsider had aplenty, and poor Toynbee, who was always susceptible to grand-sounding ideas. (Interesting to see Toynbee not learning from his mistake and, 20 years later, acclaiming Robert Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance - The Outsider of the 1970s - as "a work of great, perhaps urgent importance" reaching "the very heart of our present psychological and spiritual anguish".)
Others in the literary establishment had proved themselves just as fallible. Sitwell, Bowen, John Lehmann, Stephen Spender - they had all praised Wilson to the skies or wooed him for their periodicals, before suddenly clamming up and hoping nobody had noticed the initial faux pas.
Significantly, Wilson's most prominent enthusiasts were all "Mandarins" - bellettrists who were younger members or descendants of the Bloomsbury group, upper-middle-class and upper-middle-aged, high priests of high art who worshipped at the altar of modernism and all things sophisticated and French. Wilson dropped all the right names - foreign, highbrow, impressively daunting on both counts - and, with his vague proclamations about the spiritual crisis in modern society and the alienation of his genius Outsiders, pressed all the right buttons.
His supporters also managed not to pick up on Wilson's offensive witterings about what he termed "the common mob" - 95 per cent of the population, by his estimation, although the real Outsiders comprised 0.005 per cent of the elite 5 per cent - being worthless "apes", "caged animals", "hogs", "flies", "ants", "insects", "human lice". Actually, the Mandarins clearly found that general line rather congenial, because it fitted only too well into their cherished Romanticist/modernist myth of the artistic genius set apart from and above society, and justified in that alienation by utter contempt for the masses. With his horrendous simplicities, Wilson proclaimed that intellectual misanthropy loud and clear. He recommended, for example, that the mentally ill should be shot. He also demanded that his artist-visionary Outsiders should "achieve political power from the hogs".
Indeed, Wilson toyed with the idea of doing just that in 1958, when he helped found a new literary-political movement, the Spartacans, to replace iniquitous democracy with the dictatorship of the "expert minority" of the spiritual elite. The Spartacan movement soon fizzled out, but not before attracting the eager support of Oswald Mosley.
With his loose talk of Übermensch, Outsiders and geniuses, and his happy acceptance that he himself was probably a genius and "a major prophet", he also offered an unwittingly comic, Hancockian version of the Great Writer the Mandarins desperately wanted to appear - preferably one who could lead them all out of the cul-de-sac that their beloved modernists seemed to have led them into, and definitely one who could single-handedly rescue a second-rate era of unambitious writing.
Alas, as it turned out, Colin Wilson wasn't even a flash in the pan so much as an accident in the kitchen sink, and his preposterous rise and ludicrous fall served only to humiliate an already embattled literary establishment and further discredit their devotion to modernism and all things European.
As for Wilson himself, his eviction to the literary wilderness in 1957 proved to be irrevocable. Despite his exile to a place beyond respectability, he has plugged away at an amazingly prolific career, producing more than 100 more books in the half-century since his heyday, many of them about the occult and the paranormal, and about allegedly Outsider criminals like Jack the Ripper. His extensive oeuvre has two virtues - his clear, simple, fluent style, and his ideas being just far too daft to be taken seriously.
Wilson disagrees. "I suspect that I am probably the greatest writer of the 20th century," he says. "In 500 years time, they'll say, 'Wilson was a genius', because I'm a turning-point in intellectual history.'
Well, no they won't, but yes he was, sort of.
· The Outsider is published by Phoenix (£8.99). Harry Ritchie's latest novel, The Third Party, is published by Hodder & Stoughton
We are used to encountering variations on Foucault's theme of the "heterotopia", but I wonder if anyone has yet attempted a scholarly, ethnographic study of the phenomenon of "urban exploration"? To my mind, such a study would do well to consider how representative of its participants it might be to speak in terms predominantly of libertarian anarcho capitalist IT contract workers, who view industrial technology as somewhat quaint. Furthermore, driven by "Fight Club" fantasies of "the society of the spectacle", the thrill arises from transgressing into forbidden places, attaining ego control in a histrionic context.
"As soon as we become motionless, we are elsewhere; we are dreaming in a world that is immense…The exterior spectacle helps intimate grandeur unfold" and he approvingly quotes to this effect a desert explorer and deep- sea diver Philippe Diole, who wrote that "neither in the desert nor on the bottom of the sea does one’s spirit remain sealed and indivisible (Bachelard 1964: 207 cited in Reynolds and Press 1995: 204).
Such descriptions also evoke the familiar "psychology of Gothic geology" which so inspired the Romantic contemplation of the "wild beauty" of the Alps. They are of interest to creative action in that their logic holds that the sublime forces a sacrifice of the imagination (which is unable to comprehend "the infinite") to reason, which must be extended to cope with this powerful sensory information, ultimately meaning that the sublime is not intrinsic to an object of the outer world, but is instead a creative act within the subject/observer. As a consequence the self becomes measured against the seeming omnipotence of nature (Heath and Boreham 1999: 31). The most disturbing side of this logic is related to the way that such experiences can also facilitate the hyperbolic measurement of the self’s capacities against other people. As Simmel observed in a brief essay, "The Alpine Journey", "this pleasure remains completely egoistic and, therefore, the risking of life as mere enjoyment is unethical; indeed even more unethical since for the hire of a guide for fifty or a hundred francs one risks another’s life through possible accident." He suggests that the "alpinist" is comparable to the gambler, who does not look "for material profit but the excitement of risk and the gripping combination of the cold-bloodedness and passion of one’s skill and the incalculability of fate" (Simmel 1991: 98). It is this kind of commonality that I wish to develop throughout the course of this thesis: the reference to risk and gambling, the incalculability of fate, foregrounds precisely the features of contingency and the sociological thesis of individualization, the significance of which I am seeking to demonstrate for an understanding of violence:
"The less settled, less certain and less free from contradiction modern existence is, the more passionately we desire the heights that stand beyond the good and evil whose presence we are unable to look over and beyond…Whoever has once enjoyed this will yearn for the release in something that is simply other than the "I"- the "I" with its melancholy disquiet, full of the life of the plains, choking the exercise of the will. This is so more with respect to the mountains than the sea, which, with its foam waiting to drain away only to come flooding back in, with the purposeless circulus vitiosus of its movement, reminds us only too powerfully of our own inner life…Since not only the addition to the "I" through its opposite releases us, but also the sea as symbol and picture, shorn of all incidentals, mirrors our destiny and unhappiness, rather like a secret homeopathy, and discloses a reconciliation and a healing elevation over life" (Simmel 1991: 97).
In this analagous thinking, and one could also draw on Canetti here for its more extreme ramifications beyond the good and evil to which Simmel refers, the logic of the survivor asserts itself as a triumphalism which holds that if all others are dead, then the self must be alive. The wider context of his argument was an attempt to in part explain the Holocaust in terms of the destruction of German feelings of self-worth wrought by inflation following the First World War; the feelings of German self-worth sought to reassert themselves by totally devaluing the European Jewry through an organized campaign of murderous scapegoating, (Canetti 1987: 265). More generally though, Canetti suggests that an addiction to murder is a holdover of survivalism, and one might inquire in such terms into the socio-cultural significance of phenomena such as the Lake/Ng nuclear fallout shelter, (Coates 1987 : 183), which acted as an operational base for numerous serial murders, to say nothing of the apocalyptic vision of "helter skelter" associated with Charles Manson’s refuge in the desert hideaway of Death Valley. In such a context one could speculate as to why survivalism is self-defeating and can never attain its goals, given that "the "sole survivor’s" plight is no less a nightmare than death; after all, it shows what death is about, it is a mirror-image of death; moreover, only if reflected in that imaginary mirror can death be visualized in all its brutal truth." (Bauman 1992: 37).
The general impression garnered therefore from posthistoire texts is thus the spatiality that is indissociable from their apocalyptic tone. Here then also would be the kind of backdrop befitting the kind of haunting poetic melancholy found in the work of science fiction novelist J.G. Ballard - renowned for his surreal aestheticised imagery of abandoned buildings, drained swimming pools, and sprawling vast empty landscapes, which accurately conveys Bauman’s sense of survivalism as a mirror image of death:
"…when they reached the western outskirts of the city, it had become…inextricably confused with all the other spectres of the landscape they had crossed. The aridity of the central plain, with its desolation and endless deserts stretching across the continent, numbed him by its extent. The unvarying desert light, the absence of all colour and the brilliant whiteness of the stony landscape made him feel that he was advancing across an immense graveyard. Above all, the lack of movement gave to even the slightest disturbance an almost hallucinatory intensity" (Ballard 1965: 191).
"Dead Tech" by Manfred Hamm.
DEAD TECH is more than a book on industrial archaeology. The decay of our industrial monuments is both beautiful and sad. Hamm captures the decline of our mechanized age as he documents wartime gun emplacements, steam locomotives, collapsing piers, decommissioned aircraft carriers, abandoned coal and steel plants, and the grim piles of nuclear power plants. Dead Tech documents the deconstruction of the hubristic monuments of war and capitalism that surround us.
August 07, 2005
Tomorrow Belongs to Me
Worst Halloween Costume Ever," found on Snopes.com.
Prophesied to last a millennium, Adolf Hitler's Thousand-Year Reich lasted only 12 years, from 1933 to 1945. Scripted to end—if it ever ended—in the melancholy grandeur of triumphal arches wreathed in ivy, its tawdry finale turned out to be a self-inflicted bullet in Der Fuhrer's brain, as Soviet tanks rumbled into Berlin. The Third Reich's only memorials are the death camps that scream its guilt from every stone, and the odd, unmarked grave of evil dreams: here, a buried mound of rubble (the Reich Chancellery); there, a weed-tufted field (the Nuremberg stadium, where the party rallies were held). Even Hitler's remains were not laid to rest in the pharaonic crypt he envisioned for himself, a Holy Sepulchre for the Nazi death cult. Poetic justice ordered a more appropriate fate: Hitler's corpse was shoveled unceremoniously into a shell hole outside the Fuhrerbunker, in a lull between bombings.
(The following is an extended dance remix of an essay that appeared in Vogues Hommes International, spring/summer 03, pps. 252-255, under the title "Fascinating Fascism 2.0." Now that the copyright has reverted to me, I thought I'd republish it here, in expanded form, for those who missed it the first time around. Auto-plagiarism Alert: the Rick Poynor quote that appears here, taken from an interview done for this article, also resurfaces in "Deconstructing Harry," written for this site. Chandler called this sort of thing 'cannibalism'—which means I'm in good company, at least.)
Yet, Nazi Germany won't stay buried. In the United States, at least, the Chaplin-mustached murderer of millions and his Thousand-Year Reich live on—in newspaper headlines, pop culture, the mass imagination. Examine that spiky EEG of American culture, The New York Times, and you'll find dozens, sometimes hundreds, of stories in a single year alone that relate, in one way or another, to Nazi Germany. Every Sunday's Book Review seems to include at least one book like the historian Michael Beschloss's best-seller, The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler's Germany, 1941-1945; each day's headlines seem to trumpet another German company's admission that it profited from slave labor during wartime, another Holocaust denier outed, another silver-haired, lawn-mowing grandpa next door exposed as a Nazi war criminal. The satellite dish of our media unconscious is still receiving the ghostly images of a horror show that stopped transmitting a half-century ago.
Which would be appropriate, in light of the Nazis' proto-postmodern intuition that filmed images, not firsthand experience, are what endures, in a media culture. Witness their love affair with the cinema, from Leni Riefenstahl's creepily effective use of moving images to move the masses in Triumph of the Will to the Nazis' obsessive documentation of their genocidal handiwork (brilliantly used as exhibits for the prosecution by Alain Resnais in Night and Fog) to Eva Braun's fondness for home-moviemaking to Hitler's boundless appetite for movies, usually one or two a night, mostly "light entertainment, love, and society films" (Albert Speer, Inside the Third Reich) and, more revealingly, footage of the sadistically slow strangulation of the conspirators who attempted to assassinate him, which he watched "down to the last twitches of the condemned" (Joachim Fest, Hitler). "Those Nazis had a thing for movies," quips a character in Don DeLillo's Running Dog (1978), a novel about the black-market intrigues swirling around "the century's ultimate piece of decadence"—a fictional movie shot in the Fuhrerbunker during Hitler's last days. "They put everything on film. Executions, even, at his personal request. Film was essential to the Nazi era. Myth, dreams, memory."
[The Third Reich of Dreams. Hollywood conjurations, from The Nazis, by Piotr Uklanski. ]
And film is where our myths, dreams, and memories of the Reich That Will Not Die are endlessly replayed. Strange attractors in the chaos of human history, Hitler and the Holocaust confound all efforts to make sense of them. Even so, two recent movies attest to our unending attempts to understand do just that: Max, the Dutch director Menno Meyjes's portrait of the Fuhrer as an angry young boho and artist manque, and The Pianist, Roman Polanski's tale of a Polish-Jewish virtuoso who survives the brutality and degradation of the Warsaw ghetto to play another day. Of course, they're only the latest bids, in our long exit from the 20th century, to mine meaning from the hellpit of the Holocaust—or, less loftily, append a Hollywood ending to the unspeakable, as in Schindler's List, Triumph of the Spirit, The Truce, and Life Is Beautiful.
Meanwhile, on the small screen, World War II—a reassuringly Manichean struggle between good and evil, in our age of videotaped beheadings and Abu Ghraib torture porn—is fought and re-fought on cable-TV shows such as The History Channel, waggishly dubbed the "Hitler Channel," in recognition of its seemingly all-Nazi, all-the-time programming. The satirical webzine Bizcotti.com wasn't far from the truth when it ran a parodic item headlined "History Channel Goes To All-Hitler Format." According to Bizcotti, executives sporting red-and-black armbands adorned with a "Teutonic version of the History Channel's 'H'" announced that "in addition to the usual slew of documentaries about WW II Germany and the life, death, and machinations of Adolf Hitler," the channel was developing "Cooking with the Fuhrer," "Hitler's Top 10 Funky-Fresh Videos," and the "madcap sitcom "Keeping Up with the Himmlers.'" To quote Jack Gladney, the professor of Hitler studies in DeLillo's novel White Noise (1985), "He's always on. We couldn't have television without him."
From The Nazis, by Piotr Uklanski.
Closer to the bottom of the cultural slagheap, the straight-to-video market thrives on Hitleriana, juiced up with "historical recreations." The shelves of my local video store sag under the weight of titles such as Hitler's Home Movies, a blurry, low-budget exercise in exploitation whose absence of any narration—in fact, any sound whatsoever—or even titles lends it a weirdly pornographic air. Volume 5 (!) of the series begins abruptly, in the middle of a non-narrative whose jerky, hand-held camerawork and cinema verite plotlessness would make it the envy of undergraduate auteurs everywhere: anonymous children toddle jerkily around the Fuhrer's Bavarian hideaway, watched over by genial SS guards; women (Eva Braun among them?) frolic in swimsuits. But where's Adolf? Like those shrouded, trussed-up models in fetish magazines, their invisibility the source of their erotic power, the Fuhrer's absent presence haunts this chaste pornography. Grabbing a copy, I ask the woman at the register if I get a discount for being the first person to rent it in years. "Oh, you'd be surprised," she says, with the unflappable deadpan of the career video clerk. "There's a lot of interest in this stuff."
Indeed there is, if eBay is an index of our obsessions. Checked recently, the "collectibles" section of the American version of the auction website was awash in Nazi memorabilia. Up for auction were Hitler Youth backpacks, a Nazi officer's photo albums, a pair of size 42 clogs made in "the largest forced labor shoe factory in occupied Europe," and enough "genuine" Nazi-era Hitler-head stamps to mail some deserving Holocaust denier a mountain of SS daggers and concentration-camp armbands.
[Little Drummer Boy. Hitler Youth figurine, hawked through the neo-fascist UFC website, bringing you "information which is uncorrupted by the forces of political correctness and Liberal Consensus."]
But what's it all about? Susan Sontag's groundbreaking essay "Fascinating Fascism" (1974), a meditation on the eros-and-thanatos frisson of all those chisel-faced Aryans in their death's-head insignias and black uniforms, isn't much help in explaining media dream life in the early oughts. The eroticizing of the swagger stick and the jackboot was a product of the pleasure-dungeon demimonde in the days before AIDS. Our conjuration of the Third Reich has more to do with the sudden realization that the last living Holocaust survivors are dying—as are their Nazi tormentors, a development that spurred the record-breaking acceleration, in 2002, of U.S. Justice Department prosecutions of Americans suspected of Nazi war crimes.
Then, too, there is the sheer, staggering enormity of Nazi evil, a black hole in the cosmos of intellectual discourse that we are only now beginning to reckon with, through pop myth and scholarship. "If we ask why Nazism feeds the imagination more than, say, the horrors of Stalinism, or other dictatorships, then we can recall that no other dictatorship spawned both a world war and a major genocide—in fact, the worst genocide in history," says Professor Ian Kershaw, author of an acclaimed multi-volume biography of Hitler, in an e-mail interview. "Mussolini, Franco, even Stalin seem therefore to be more understandable products of their own societies and state systems, whereas the riddle of how such a devastating doctrine of inhumanity and regime of breathtaking brutality and destruction could arise in a modern, economically advanced, and culturally sophisticated country like Germany (with its many similarities to our own societies) prompts unceasing interest and enquiry."
Thus, there may be less irony than meets the eye in our tendency to replay flickering Third Reich newsreels on our mental movie screens at a time when cloned sheep and pigs with human genes are science fact and bacterial computing and molecular robotics seem just around the bend. "Hitler's contemporaries—Baldwin, Chamberlain, Herbert Hoover—seem pathetically fusty figures, with their frock coats and wing collars," wrote the sci-fi novelist J.G. Ballard in 1969. "By comparison, Hitler is completely up to date, and would be equally at home in the '60s as in the '20s. Certainly, Nazi society seems strangely prophetic of our own—the same maximizing of violence and sensation, the same alphabets of unreason and the fictionalizing of experience."
[Rudolf Herz, "Zugzwang" (1995), from "Mirroring Evil" at the Jewish Museum, New York City].
The mass psychosis that swept through Germany in the '30s nags at us because '30s Germany was perhaps the first truly modern, mass-media society, in many ways scarily like ours; if it happened there, it could happen here, the logic goes. The Holocaust was the nightmare offspring of the Machine Age and a Wagnerian mysticism whose virulent anti-semitism may have been of its moment, but whose murderous anti-modernism is always with us, making blood brothers of Ted "Unabomber" Kaczynski, Osama bin Laden, and every other mad bomber who wants to Fight the Future.
Then, too, our hypercapitalist age—when politics has been annexed by advertising, nations hire image consultants, and war fever is fanned by P.R. firms—is especially susceptible to the mesmeric power of what might flippantly be called Nazi "branding." In a culture seduced by surface, the brutalist Deco of Nazi architecture and design becomes one more historical style to rip, mix, and burn. "This material engages us not only because of what it represents to the popular mind—the specter of absolute evil—but because it does so with a stylish command of imagery that has never been surpassed," says the design critic Rick Poynor, author of Obey the Giant: Life in the Image World, in an e-mail interview. "The devil has the best tunes and the Nazis have the best uniforms, insignia and banners, and a 'logo,' the swastika, of incomparable power. (No wonder books on corporate identity can never resist including it; next thing you know, they'll be calling it a 'brand.')"
Instructive to remember, at such a moment, the original "No Logo" refusenik Karl Marx's admonition that history repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce—to which one might add: and finally, as brand. "Fascism—I hate to say it, but it's sexy," said a magazine editor quoted in a 2000 New York Times article about the passing fad, in couture, for gladiatorial breastplates, military uniforms, and other fascist chic.
[Ann Coulter, She-Wolf of the Media SS. Nazi kitsch, ripped and remixed by Eponymous.org.]
The moral weightlessness required to see fascism as sexy is a sublime obscenity, especially in a world where the ethnic cleansing, eugenic rhetoric, and apocalyptic politics of the Nazis have come back to haunt us. But that's the danger of playing with loaded images: The boots gleam, the death's-heads wink; we'll try them on, we think—just for fun, only for a minute, when no one's looking. They fit like a dream, and before we know it, we're acting the part.
The popular film Good Will Hunting (1997), along with 2 documentary subjects, Neil Hughes in Apted's "7 Up" series, and Charles Crumb in "Crumb", are potentially very good illustrations of the relationships between scepticism and omniscience. In "Good Will Hunting", which I will focus discussion on, these elements are all appropriately presented in the form of a love story. The major dramatic breakthroughs in the film take place during therapeutic sessions focusing on the eponymous childman genius who "knows it all", and therefore poses a serious management problem for a professor of mathematics who wishes to mentor the youth. Actor Robin Williams, who seems for much of his acting career to have cultivated a somewhat dubious and disturbing screen persona based upon the calculated appeal of deriving pathos from a shame propelled dynamic of abjection and infantile regression, seems well suited to the role of the therapist called in to prevent Will’s self destruction. It is the experience of the failure of his own omniscience which makes him such an empathetic therapist and this must imply that there is a shared quality of enhancement and recovery at work in the therapeutic dialogue. Crucially, the breakthrough involves a foregrounding of the shared background of both patient and therapist from a poor South Boston neighbourhood, and it is in this respect that one may wish to capitalize on the possible significance of the film’s title. Until Will can be challenged on a level which he had not associated with his previous existence, his furtive search for self- development remains unfulfilled.
It is certainly striking the way in which this example bears some comparison with the passivity of the workers in Sennett and Cobb’s study who were also living in South Boston; witness in particular their example of the "philosophically minded auto mechanic". The authors argue that this man’s awareness of "the social contradiction" forces a refusal to "make anything" of his accomplishments, because then his abilities would belong to the unfair "unmeritocratic" system and he would therefore be "alienated" from his talents and his fellows. He cannot seriously accept his own intelligence "since to do so would drag in the status order of the outside society…Such fragmentation gets him by from day to day, but it keeps him a prisoner as well." (Sennett and Cobb 1973: 216) Such a vital comparison could of course be supplemented by other vivid examples provided by these two sociologists:
"More usual is the comment of a factory worker who has an encyclopedic knowledge of sports statistics, makes rapid calculations of batting averages and the like, but who gets upset when his wife points out his ability…There is something more here than embarrassment at being praised. The strengths "I" have are not admissible to the arena of ability where they are socially useful; for once admitted, "I"-my real self - would no longer have them" (Sennett and Cobb 1973: 216).
Furthermore, this kind of response bears some comparison to Arendt’s conceptualization of The Life of the Mind (1971) inasfar as she regarded thinking and willing as autonomous and not instrumental. This is well worth pursuing in brief. A consequence of this separation is that "truth" comes to reside only in the problem solving of the professional world; it cannot reside in a political realm because truth, in such an autonomous conception, compels and thereby threatens liberty. The workers are in this way compromised in their ability to challenge power relations. Heller’s commentary on Arendt sees here a point to be deconstructed in the manner of other critics such as Gyorgy Markus, who regard this dichotomy as setting up "an absolute, unbridgeable line of division separating the "political" from "the social" (cited in Heller 1989: 153). Further to this, contra the "banality of evil" thesis, Heller suggests it does not suffice to claim that the pure thinker who withdraws into a dialogue of the "two in one" is prevented in principle from doing evil, on the pretext that no one wants to be the best friend of a murderer. This too is demonstrably aporetic in that a thinking through of matters of good and evil contradicts Arendt’s own criteria of "pure" thought. Thinking on such matters cannot be autonomous because, "one must have some preliminary knowledge about good and evil, there must be at least a single value or a single norm which compels (the truth of good), so that thinking can reject evil thoughts and evil deeds" (Heller 1989: 155).
In the film, Will Hunting is visibly torn by his rigorous adherence to this ethic of autonomy; his liveliness, as demonstrated by the rowdy streetfighting hijinks with his buddies, sits uncomfortably with his intellectual remoteness and immiseration as a casual cleaner employed by Ivy League Harvard University. Significantly, Will lives and studies alone. The significance of reading Heller, Sennett and Markus together in this respect is that their work is affirmative of Will’s dilemma in ways strengthening Williams’s characterization of liberal tragedy. As such, and with only ambivalent redemption for an ending, the film is disinclined to emphasize the relative deprivation aspects of Will’s predicament, in favour of a focus on his trust in the primary group of lifetime friendships. It therefore suggests that these relationships function as a substitute for a developmental "attachment disorder", stemming from childhood abuse at the hands of a brutal father.
But this is obviously only part of what these relationships may be substituting for. A balanced understanding of tragedy therefore demands that both apects be dealt with. In psychoanalytical terms this means that a response to such circumstances entails something more than the expected advice that "knowing" must mean coming to terms with these difficulties as a way of merely managing and renouncing the ambition of always overcoming them. If one could also demonstrate the relevance of serial killer Ted Kazynski’s plight to Will’s in these ways, the "fictional" analysis of the film can also be compared to Eigen’s example of his treatment of a fellow psychoanalyst. This colleague had previously acted as Eigen’s supervisee, and is referred to only in the article as Doctor Omnis (read "Doctor Omniscience"). For it seems that Doctor Omnis shared Will’s predicament in all essential respects, as he too in time began to experience how an "empty knowing or omniscience can substitute for the struggle to know," and indeed the willingness of an autonomous personality to acknowledge shame and intimacy. It is on these grounds, the central conflict that provides the drama of the film, that the therapist challenges Will on his claim that he is hesitant to become involved with a woman who is romantically interested in him. Will’s fear is that that any commitment on his part would spoil the ideal of her he has in his mind. However, Will’s existence cannot ultimately be sustained because the relation to true and good norms is irreducible to the "innocent" faculty of the spectator. The intellectual is not the owl of Minerva (Heller 1989: 154). We see here the relevance of Honneth’s "struggle for recognition" being played out in an action dynamic. Only through these means can there be an effective engagement with the problem that emerges in the analysis: otherwise Will’s overweening sense of anticipation continually results in life receding as he approaches, a problem Laing also discerned among his patients. It is in these kinds of terms that Eigen explains in some detail how Omnis had extended this destructive attitude to his most fundamentally important interpersonal-relationships:
Dr. Omnis soon observed that a sense of "knowing better than" pervaded much of his life. It had been an element in the making and breaking of his marriage. Both he and his ex-wife had been attracted to the air of mental superiority each gave off. But the chronic contempt implicit in this attitude made living together impossible. Similarly, knowing better than his superiors had led to self-destructive difficulties in various job settings. In social life his all-knowing stance severely limited the kinds of people he could tolerate. An attitude which seemed to "work" with patients sabotaged his life as a whole. He previously had not considered his problems from this particular angle (Eigen 1989: 619).
My intention now is to use the strange and ghastly metaphor of the "severed head" as a convenient rhetorical device to encapsulate a series of related concerns. To trace the lineage of the severed head could in spirit encompass some aspects of the writings of Adrien Borel and Bataille, who viewed fascism in anthropological terms as evidence of a collective sacrificial desire within "civilised people". The spectacle of sacrifice for them marked identification with the limit experience of subjectivity. The source of Bataille’s interest in particular strained for credibility by arguing that fascism’s tool could be used against it in the performance of public sacrifice which would transport people out of their individual selves into a spiritual community. What we should take away from this is their guiding assumption that identification with extreme forms of punishment such as sacrifice marked a limit to what agency could appropriate- a self-mutilation so extreme that "to the loss of a head there is no…reply." Bataille believed this to be something beyond the demand for brutal punishment he saw as motivating Breton’s claim that the simplest surrealist act was an act of mass murder, firing a pistol blindly into a crowd, "that such an image should present itself so insistently to his view proves decisively the importance in his pathology of castration reflexes: such an extreme provocation seeks to draw immediate and brutal punishment." In time, Bataille would mourn the intractability of his own "philosopher’s head"; decapitation became for him the precondition for literary undertaking, as noted by Dean (ibid p232).
Given his foregrounding of what he calls "hyper-reflexive involution", the connotations of "solipsistic grandiosity", in the metaphor of the severed head, are all too apparent to Sass. Sass therefore offers the following critical snapshot of Valery’s novel, Monsieur Teste:
"[t] he experience is closer to that of Monsieur Teste, that "eternal observer" or "severed Head" who, instead of acting, watches himself live, and whose thought, Valery reminds us, "is equally free (when Teste is HIMSELF) of its similarities and confusions with the world, and, on the other hand, of its affective values." Like Teste, such a person has become the most complete psychic transformer…that ever was", a being to whom "everything seemed…a special case of his mental functioning, and the functioning itself now conscious, identical with the idea or sense he had of it." And as Valery notes, the awareness of one’s own ultimate omnipotence now becomes inevitable, for one realizes: "God is not far. He is what is nearest."(Sass, op.cit, 1992, p.299)
These kinds of insights could be further developed through appreciation of the aforementioned importance of shame in the writings of Sennett and Cobb, Giddens and Heller, and although concerned with contemporary developments, we can see how important it remains to look back at Simmel’s work on the prevalence of violence in societies in which honour plays an important role, on the behalf of which men demonstrate a preparedness "to make terrible sacrifices". Simmel uses the example of the once widespread prevalence in Europe of duelling in the development of his thesis. What can be derived from these kinds of connections is yet another connotation of "severed head", in the sense that "both the violation and the vindication of honour are often represented in the idiom of the human body: the stained honour which can only be vindicated, "cleansed", or "washed" with blood" (Blok 2000 p34). It could be argued that much so- called "senseless violence", contains an important symbolic component, which can be read in such terms, as an infliction of dishonour or shaming upon an "enemy", with perhaps instances of the taking of an enemy’s/victim’s head explained by the fact "that the head is the most individual part of the body." In these terms, Regina James can argue in her article "Beheadings", which examines the significance of decapitations and the parading of severed heads on spikes during the first years of the French Revolution, that "While severed heads always speak, they say different things in different cultures…Cross culturally, taking and displaying an enemy’s head is one of the most widely distributed signs of victory." (quoted in Blok 2000 p33)
If one links the problem of overcoming the dilemma of hyper reflexive involution to the social imperative to regain honour by taking decisive action, with all of its connotations of violence and tragedy, then one alights upon the classic archetype of Hamlet. I'll be pasting a piece below tracing some of these lines of enquiry. However, it can firstly be noted how further comparison seems feasible with respect to Iris Murdoch and J.B Priestley’s depiction of the dilemmas faced by their "intellectual" characters; Martin Lynch-Gibbon (a wine merchant), Honor Klein (Palmer’s half sister, an anthropologist and Palmer Anderson is a psychoanalyst), in the play, "A Severed Head" (London, p.98):
Martin: "My marriage is dead. I love you & I desire you & my whole being is prostrate before you. This is reality!"
Honor: "Not every love has a course to run, smooth or otherwise, and this love has no course at all. Because of what I am and because of what you saw…I have become an object of terrible fascination for you. I am a severed head such as primitive tribes and old alchemists used, when they put a piece of gold on the tongue to make the head utter prophecies. And perhaps long acquaintance with such an object might lead one to a very strange knowledge indeed. For knowledge like that one would have paid enough (emphasis mine). But that has nothing to do with ordinary love & ordinary life. As real people you and I just don’t exist for each other."
Martin: "You told me you were a severed head. Can one have human relations with a severed head?…We must hold hands tightly & hope that we can hold on through the dream & out into the waking world. Could we be happy?"
Honor: "This has nothing to do with happiness, nothing whatever."
Martin (taking this in) "I wonder if I shall survive?"
Honor: (smiling) "You’ll have to take your chance, won’t you?"
Martin: "And so will you…" (They approach each other as THE CURTAIN begins to fall) (p.107).
And before I forget, I have it on good authority from the founding member of the band Severed Heads, that his inspiration for choosing that name was not derived from the play, nor from an awareness of hyper reflexice involution i.e. "analysis causes paralysis", as Fielding referred to it, later adding, "that came later". I might even post some more information about this "naming event" at a later time. Finally though, here is de Grazia's evocative analysis of "Hamlet":
Hamlet's Thoughts and Antics(draft version)
Margreta de Grazia
In 1904 a plaster cast of Rodin's Thinker was placed in front of the Pantheon, the burial place of the great French geniuses. A mere few weeks later, however: "a man scaled the fence in front of the plaster Thinker with a hatchet in hand and hacked the statue to bits. An approaching policeman heard the vandal cry: 'I avenge myself -- I come to avenge myself.' When the man was taken to the police station, he explained that he knew the statue was making fun of him, a poor man with only cabbages to eat. The Thinker's gesture -- shoving a big fist into his mouth -- seemed to mimic the way the man ate. [A friend] wrote to comfort Rodin: 'The accident with the Thinker is stupid. We can only feel sorry for the poor devil.''' Ruth Butler, The Shape of Genius (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1993), 426.
1. Imagine Shakespeare saying to himself:
'In this tragedy I want a character who above all else THINKS. But can thinking possibly be staged? Now if tragedy is a representation of an action, what action might a man play to indicate to an audience that he is thinking? How can 'that within' be given show? What mirror can reflect 'the pale cast of thought'? Now I've inherited from the middle ages a whole roster of character types: avengers, clowns, courtiers, kings, lovers, madmen, malcontents, scholars, soldiers, villains . . . but no thinker. Nor are the ancients of my little-Latin-and-less-Greek of any help; they were interested only in outer conflict, not the inner affair of thought. Clearly something new is required -- an action by which to dramatize thinking, when there is no action for thinking. But that's it! I'll stage my thinker not in action but in inaction. I'll put him in a really tight spot, give him 'the cue for passion,' and then have him 'do nothing.' Instead of a tragedy of action, I'll have tragedy of inaction -- a tragedy of thought! 'But will they get it? When they see my character not acting, will they say to themselves, 'Oh, he is not doing anything: therefore, he must be thinking.' Maybe I'd better give them a hint as to what's going on in his head. I'll have him on stage telling another character that he is thinking. But no, that's dialogue. I'll have him on stage telling the audience that he is thinking. But that's an aside. I'll put him on stage silent. But that's a dumbshow. But suppose he were on stage alone AND talking -- to no one but himself ? Giving voice to his thoughts? And if I have him thinking aloud early on and then again and again and again, they'll realize that thinking with him is an ongoing process. What he is doing when thinking aloud is what he is doing all the time, but silently. Maybe not everyone will get it at first, maybe only 'the wiser sort,' so it will be 'caviar to the general,' at first anyway. But in time -- they will get it. The performance of thought -- as inaction -- as DELAY.'
2. And it did take time for even 'the wiser sort' to figure out that the play was about a man who thinks.1 In fact, it took over two hundred years before Coleridge famously connected Hamlet's disposition to think with his indisposition to act, or in his words, Hamlet's 'intellectual activity' to his 'aversion to action' (2.55). And that, for him, is the point of the play, the 'universal' it dramatizes: that a man prone to thinking is incapable of acting, and proportionally: the more the thinks, the less he acts. Here is how Coleridge imagined Shakespeare plotting out his play:
The poet places [Hamlet] in the most stimulating circumstances that a human being can be placed in. He is the heir-apparent of a throne: his father dies suspiciously; his mother excluded her son from his throne by marrying his uncle. This is not enough; but the Ghost of the murdered father is introduced to assure the son that he was put to death by his own brother. What is the effect upon the son? -- instant action and pursuit of revenge? No: endless reasoning and hesitating. . . . (54)
What Shakespeare did, then, is contrive the most insufferable plot imaginable just so his protagonist could then slight it. Coleridge also slights it: he never again mentions plot in his scattered but abundant comments on Hamlet. And why should he? What happens in the play has no bearing on Hamlet's character. His disposition to thought -- his 'ratiocinative meditativeness' (72)-- predates the play; indeed, it appears to be congenital, having issued from the 'germ' of his character (80). Programmed by that inborn germ to do what he does (or does not), he is entirely self-determining. No need to bother with acting, reacting, or interacting; possessing 'a world within' himself' (55, 62, 69; 'a man living in meditation,' 59), Hamlet is complete unto himself. It is around 1800 that the saying, 'Like Hamlet without the Prince' -- becomes current. Take away the character and precious little remains. The inverse, however, is not true: take away the play, and the prince remains perfectly intact. Hamlet has come to possess all the free-standing self-sufficiency of an icon. In any English-speaking context, the image of a young man looking at a skull evokes Hamlet thinking: thought thinking itself. Without ties to plot, Hamlet is a character [person] in his own right, ready to go anywhere and indeed he does turn up in unlikely places -- always delaying, that is -- thinking.
3. Extricated from plot, Hamlet is free to move out of not only his dramatic fiction but his historical period as well. His autonomy qualifies him to step out of his own 1600 and into the present of 1800, then of 1900, and then of 2000. It is around 1800 that Hamlet starts to appear ahead of his time, more in keeping with the advancing present than with Shakespeare's own receding past. Hamlet in 1800 looks like Coleridge ('I have a smack of Hamlet myself'2), a resemblance Hazlitt extends, 'It is we who are Hamlet,' marveling at the 'prophetic truth' that enabled Shakespeare to see so far into the future (2.14). England's close counterparts in Germany are making similar claims, hailing Hamlet as 'epoch-making' (2.163), providing 'a mirror of our present state as if this work had first been written in our own day.'3 Emerson identifies his entire nineteenth century with Hamlet: 'its speculative genius is a sort of living Hamlet,' and his times ('the age of Introversion') cannot see beyond Hamlet's thought, 'His mind is the horizon beyond which at present we do not see.'4 At the turn of the century, George Brandes notes that Hamlet will always be at the vanishing point of our perception, 'Hamlet, in virtue of his creator's marvelous power of rising above his time . . . has a range of significance which we, on the threshold of the twentieth century, can foresee no limit.'
4. What we have after 1800, then, is a long tradition of finding the most recent modern understanding of consciousness in the answer to the question 'Why does Hamlet delay?' The answer -- whether philosophical, psychological, or psychoanalytic -- provides Hamlet with the psychic processes that make him appear modern.5 New (and newer still) psychological explanations repeatedly emerge to account for the symptom of delay.6 Hamlet's epochal interiority, then, is produced in answer to the question of his delay. And it is constantly being reconfigured in light of more avant-garde understandings of subjectivity. It is the question, then, that makes the play modern, and that keeps it so; for the modern by definition must always look up-to-date, or better yet, just ahead of its time. Hamlet's psyche has proven phenomenally receptive to new theories, accommodating reams of them for 200 years now. In no small part the appeal of the approach lies in the simplicity of its hermeneutic format: its fill-in-the-blank structure. 'Why does Hamlet delay?' 'He delays because of _ _ _ _,' and -- eureka! -- you have the answer to Hamlet's character which is also the key to the entire play (for the play is his character), as well as a new way of constituting the emergence of the modern period that in turn guarantees its fresh relevance. High returns, to be sure, but it is still surprising to find even our most sophisticated current readings returning to the 'question of questions,' as if no reading could be valid unless it provided, however incidentally, an explanation for Hamlet's delay.7
5. More surprising is that Hamlet's delay should continue to figure so pervasively outside of literary criticism, whenever the relation of thought to action (to engagement with world and others) is at issue. Hegel, contemporary with Coleridge, appears to be the first philosopher to invoke Hamlet, in his Aesthetics, Phenomenology of Mind, and History of Philosophy.8 In the former, he singles out the play as representative of modern tragedy because Shakespeare's Hamlet, unlike Sophocles's Orestes, is driven not by an external agent or principle (Apollo or Justice) but by his own inner prompting -- his 'prophetic soul,' 'the seed of ruin' contained within himself, the equivalent of Coleridge's simultaneously generative and destructive 'germ'. For Hegel, the play is an allegory of the dialectical movement of the spirit of consciousness toward self-realization. Hamlet's 'stops and starts' externalize the bumpy trajectory of the dialectic as it progresses toward its goal. The plot sets up a kind of obstacle course of 'colliding factors' through which Hamlet advances against his own irresolution until in the final scenes, he is 'bandied from pillar to post' and ends up 'sandbanked.' Hamlet falls short of dialectical self-realization, and necessarily so. In 1600, he exists only on the threshold of modern consciousness; before the philosophical advances of Descartes, Spinoza, Kant, and, of course, Hegel himself, Hamlet can only get so far. At the conclusion of his History of Philosophy, Hegel turns to Hamlet for a metaphor by which to describe its long, hard, 2500-year trajectory, and finds an unlikely one: 'Well said old mole. Cans't work in the earth so fast?' The old mole, like the spirit of consciousness, like Hamlet himself until the play's end, tunnels arduously through earth toward the light that is the freedom of absolute self-determination.9 6. Nietzsche despises the Hegelian teleology that hubristically places modern man at the pinnacle of history, as if he were the be-all and end-all of time. But in both The Birth of Tragedy and in Untimely Meditations, he chooses the same Hamlet to represent the proper response to this absurd history: disgust and nausea. Hamlet's knowledge of the blindness and injustice of all historical action 'outweighs every motive for action' and leaves Hamlet enervated and withdrawn: 'Understanding kills action.'10
7. Hamlet also appears in Benjamin's counter-Hegelian genealogy of tragedy -- of baroque Germany, rather than of ancient Greece. In The Origins of German Tragic Drama, Hamlet like the Melencolia of Durer's engraving, is 'the sorrowful Contemplator,' world-weary, mourning in the aftermath of the Reformation the loss of meaningful action to a Lutheran theology of solafideism, 'the philosophy of Wittenberg.' With the renunciation of good works, 'Human actions were deprived of all value,' and a numbing acedia or taedium vitae set in.11
8. Perhaps it is not too much of a stretch to include Derrida's Spectres of Marx in this line-up. For here, too, Hamlet is conjured up, this time around the pressing question of justice which the spectres of both Marx and Hamlet at once promise and enjoin. But the justice Hamlet must perform has nothing to do with the retributive justice of the revenge tragedy. If it did, Hamlet would not hesitate to execute it -- and automatically -- for the logic of tit-for-tat requires no deliberation, unlike the harder calculation of an incommensurate justice of a future-yet-to-come that leaves Hamlet in a position of 'indecidability' or 'messianic hesitation.'12
9. Hegel's dialectical set-backs, Nietzsche's nauseous recoiling, Benjamin's melancholic acedia, Derrida's messianic waiting: all find their presiding genius in Hamlet, a delaying Hamlet. It is astounding that Shakespeare's performance of thought as inaction should have such a grip not only over critical readings of the play but over so many forms of philosophical writing as well This is more astounding still when one realizes that for the play's first two hundred years -- about half of its entire history -- Hamlet's delay was not an issue. There is no evidence that an introspective and inactive Hamlet appeared on the seventeenth or eighteenth-century stage. The lines of Hamlet most frequently quoted derive from his lunatic rant rather than his intellectual musings; there is record of Hamlet in madman's undress, none in his melancholic inky cloak. The soliloquies appear to have been mainly dispensable in the play's early acting tradition. They were either halved, gutted, or omitted in performance, except for the 'To be or not to be' soliloquy which appears to have been celebrated (and parodied) from the start.13 Rather than his inaccessible interiority, it was his flashy role as antic that audiences apparently loved. One author in 1604 would like to have had Hamlet's capacity to 'please all, but since it would entail his having to 'runne mad,' he would prefer to 'displease all,' and keep his wits.14 When a character named Hamlet appears in Eastward Ho! (1605), he enters quite literally 'running mad': 'Enter Hamlet a footeman in haste,' reads the stage direction, and so he does, as indicated by an attendant's response, 'Sfoote Hamlet: are you madde? Whither run you now . . . .?' That so many of the few early references we have to Hamlet refer to his running mad suggest that this may have been something of a signature stage stunt. Dekker twice alludes to Hamlet in frantic motion: 'break[ing] loose like a Beare from the stake' and rushing in furiously ('by violence') to disperse a crowd (1.8)15 And the famous Hamlets are remembered for their physical not intellectual bravura:16 Burbage for his acrobatic leap into Ophelia's grave (1.9); Betterton for playing the part, 'with great expectation, vivacity and enterprise,' even at age 74, (33); Wilks for his skittishness, even in soliloquies, ' It was said of him . . .that he could never stand still' (96). As late as 1839, complaints bear witness to a long tradition of a hyperactive Hamlet, 'overflowing with bustle, starts, and rant, and entirely destitute of that meditative and philosophical repose, which Shakespeare has made the leading feature of the character' (3.14).
10. Nor did the 'question of questions' come up in the long series of eighteenth-century editions. No editor from Rowe in 1709 to Malone in 1790 mentions Hamlet's procrastination as a problem. This is not to say that no one noticed that there was delay in Hamlet.17 Clearly there was a long lag between Hamlet's breathless resolution to swoop to his revenge at the play's start and his eventual killing of Claudius at its end. (Hamlet himself draws attention to this delay; so does the ghost.) This lag was noted, and criticized, but as one of the many 'faults,' 'absurdities,' or 'irregularities' that came of Shakespeare's not having modeled his tragedies on the ancients.
11. In the first critical work on Hamlet, Some Remarks on the Tragedy of Hamlet Prince to Denmark (1736), for example, the critic George Stubbes writes: 'To speak the truth, our poet, has fallen into an absurdity: there appears no reason at all in nature why this young Prince did not put the usurper to death as soon as possible.' But the problem at this point is not with the character Hamlet, but rather with the plot of Hamlet.18 Shakespeare turned to an 'old wretched Chronicler' (Saxo Grammaticus) rather than one of 'the noble Originals of Antiquity' and 'followed the plan so closely as to produce an Absurdity in the Plot.' In Saxo's Danish History and Belleforest's Histoires Tragiques, Hamlet's counterpart must wait for years -- until he has grown up -- before he can exact revenge, and he bides his time for this long span by feigning idiocy. Having chosen to follow his source, Shakespeare was left with the problem that, 'Had [Hamlet] gone naturally to work . . . there would have been an End of our Play.' He, therefore, 'was obliged to delay his Hero's Revenge'; and he did so through the same expedient of the 'antic disposition.' Acknowledging the problem, Stubbes criticizes Shakespeare's solution: he should 'have found some good reason' of his own to explain the lag, for as we shall see, his adoption of Saxo's solution compromised the very dignity of the tragedy. Thus on the rare occasion when delay IS noted before the end of the eighteenth century, the problem is attributed to plot not character and it was resolved, albeit unsuccessfully, by introducing the device of the 'antic disposition.'19
12. Stubbes's Remarks suggest an approach to delay in Hamlet that is dramaturgical rather than psychological, inherent in the plot rather than symptomatic of the character. A plot that begins with the command to revenge ('Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder,' 1.5.25) and ends with the satisfaction of the command ('Here . . . thou damned Dane,/ Drink of this potion,' 5.2.330-1),20 creates a gap in between that needs somehow to be filled up. This structure is repeated within the play itself around other acts of revenge. When Laertes hastens from France to avenge his father's death, there is a long interim between his impetuous vow in the middle of Act IV ('I'll be reveng'd/ Most throughly for my father,' 4.5.135-6) and its performance in the final duel. He gets off to a roaring start when he storms the royal palace, but is then checked by the king ('forbeare a while,' Q1). He renews his vow ('But my revenge will come,' 4.7.29); but first he has to hear out Claudius's elaborate scheme, so long in the telling (over sixty lines) that a few maxims admonishing against the waning of passion with time must be introduced (two in F, six in Q2; 4.7.109-24); these themselves take up time while warning against the 'abatements and delays' that come between what we intend ('would do') and what we in deed do. And then when the moment itself does come, the impetuous Laertes uncharacteristically avers.. About to wound Hamlet with the unbaited and poisoned sword, he hesitates, 'And yet 'tis almost against my conscience' (5.2.300) -- and his hesitation is visible -- that is staged-- so that Hamlet notes it and eggs him on, 'You do but dally' (301).
13. So, too, in the Player's speech, between the raising of Pyrrhus's avenging sword and its falling on Priam, a long rhetorical pause occurs. 'The slaughter of Priam,' as Hamlet terms it, occurs in the speech Hamlet 'chiefly loved' -- that is, 'Aeneas' tale to Dido' describing the Fall of Troy. Hamlet may be right in claiming that this speech 'was never acted, or if it was, not above once' (2.2.430-31); in textual form, however, it was reiterated -- and copiously. Throughout the 16th century, Aeneas's long narration of the Fall of Troy, extending through all of Book Two of the Aeneid, was the primary set-piece from which students learned the rhetorical skill of copia -- of dilation or expansive embellishment through the generation of text. Erasmus, in his massively influential De Copia recommends that the fall of Troy be used in order to teach both brevity and copiousness, and himself illustrates how the event can be both reduced to a mere six words ('And the fields where Troy was') or expanded indefinitely; in Rape of Lucrece, Shakespeare expands it to 1200 when Lucrece fills up the time between her dispatching of a messenger and his return, with a long meditation on the picture of the Fall of Troy hanging in her quarters).21 It is from this tale that Hamlet selects one detail: Priam's slaughter. The bloody avenger Pyrrhus wends his way through the burning streets of Troy, locates his prey, strikes wide with a blow that manages with its mere 'whiff and wind' to fell '[t]h'unnerved father' (470). Pyrrhus then raises his sword as if to finish off the old king, but it remains suspended, 'seem'd i'th'air to stick' (475): 'So as a painted tyrant Pyrhhus stood/ And like a neutral to his will and matter/ Did nothing'(477-78). The uplifted sword does not fall until thirteen verse lines after it has been raised, at the end of a long periodic sentence that delays the fatal fall of the sword until the final line of the description, 'Now falls on Priam' (488). It took Pyrrhus sword as long to fall on Priam as it takes to pronounce (or read) those thirteen dilated lines. We have then a dilated passage within a famously dilated account marking the pause -- 'Pyrrhus's pause' (483) -- between the raising and the falling of the sword. 'This is too long' (494), complains Polonius with some justification (though he grows impatient even in Q1's truncated version in which the slaughter is reduced to a mere two lines), and Hamlet orders it sent to the barber, along with Polonius's beard -- to be cut.
14. The speech of Priam's slaughter is obviously intended for the elite in the audience, for it is taken from a play which, according to Hamlet, 'pleased not the million,'twas caviare to the general' (432-33). The player's next performance, 'The Murder of Gonzago,' however, would have pleased the multitude,'who according to Hamlet, 'for the most part are capable of nothing but inexplicable dumb-shows and noise'(11-12). So would have the moment just before the climax of the play proper. The assassin, Lucianus, pauses before poisoning Gonzago. Hamlet's expression of impatience indicates that Lucianus, or rather the actor playing Lucianus, is drawing out the preliminaries: 'Leave thy damnable faces and begin/Come. The croaking raven doth bellow for revenge.' Between the stage direction 'Enter Lucianus' and his first speech, he is on stage (or rather on the stage-within-the-stage) for nine lines (F) during which Hamlet banters bawdily with Ophelia. For this duration, Lucianus has the stage to himself, all court eyes upon him, and he takes the opportunity to ham it up, apparently by making grotesque faces, to the obvious displeasure of Hamlet, but to the delight, one imagines, of the 'barren spectators.'
15. Like Hamlet, Lucianus bides his time through dilatory antics. And his grimacing 'damnable faces' may resemble Hamlet's mad countenance when he looks 'As if he had been loosed out of hell.' His exaggerated villainy is surely in violation of the instructions Hamlet has just given to the players not to overdo it: 'o'erstep not the modesty of nature'(19). But it also violates Hamlet's advice that the 'clowns speak no more than is set down for them' when 'in the meantime some necessary point of the play [is] then to be observed' [italics added]. There is no clown in this itinerant acting troupe, but Lucianus, the 'antic Vice' of the Mousetrap play is surely his closest kin.22 Though gestural rather than verbal, Lucianus's interpolation holds up an especially climactic action, the pouring of the poison in the king's ear that is intended to 'unkennel' Claudius's 'occulted guilt' (3.2.80-1).
16. The acts of Laertes, Pyrrhus, and Lucianus are all characterized by a delay that occurs in the interval between the avenger's 'will' or resolution and 'matter' or execution. Laertes's 'dallying', 'Pyrrhus's pause', and Lucianus 'damnable faces' fill out the time between those two points. And the play at large also follows the same structure, with Hamlet's antic disposition filling up the 'meantime' between the two termini of the Ghost's command to revenge and Hamlet's performance of it. His 'antic disposition' functions like the interlude or ludic entr'acte designed to occupy the time between the acts of the medieval mystery and morality plays, filling the time in between with farce or stuffing.23
17. Stubbes's Remarks enable us to imagine the play before its radical reorganization around Hamlet's interiorized character from 1800 on. It becomes possible to shift the problem from the inner complexities of a unique character to the outer exigencies of a plot structured around revenge. There is more to be learned from this early (pre-1800) critical discussion. Stubbes points out that while the 'antic disposition' takes care of the gap in the plot, it introduces an absurd implausibility: the madness Hamlet feigns to ward off suspicion ends up only attracting it. More important, as Stubbes notes throughout his Remarks, the 'antic disposition' repeatedly degrades the tragedy by introducing levity proper only to comedy. In terms of the generic considerations at the heart of his criticism, the device is a terrible 'injudicious' mistake: 'The whole Conduct of Hamlet's Madness, is, in my Opinion, too ludicrous.' Throughout his evaluation of the play's 'Beauties and Faults,' he censures the prince's 'Levity of Behaviour,' beginning with 'his light and even ludicrous Expressions' to his companions after his solemn encounter with the ghost, expressions which he finds poorly 'correspondent to the Dignity and Majesty of the preceding scene.' He attributes Hamlet's 'satirical Reflections on Women' to the same cause and complains 'that it wants Dignity,' just as Hamlet's exchanges with Ophelia 'want Decency.' Hamlet's jokey puns are particularly censured for their indecorum: his pun on 'pipe' (the badge, along with the tabor, of the clown) 'is a great Fault, for it is too low and mean for a Tragedy'; so, too, his pun on Brutus's 'brute part' is 'intolerable,' conjoining noble Roman republican with wild beast. Hamlet's 'pleasantry' upon establishing the guilt of his uncle 'is not a-propos,' nor is his reflection on his killing of Polonius, nor 'his tugging him away into another Room.' Finally, while admitting its popularity on stage, he finds the jocularity of the grave-digger's scene 'unbecoming' to tragedy. By censuring all manifestations of Hamlet's antics, Stubbes 'refines' his character from the 'barbarisms' of the prior age, purging away the coarse, low, base, and mean. Having stigmatized all eruptions of Hamlet's 'idleness,' Stubbes leaves the reader with a Hamlet worthy of a tragedy -- princely, dignified, heroic and virtuous.
18. Stubbes's critical principle is quite simple: the tragic and comic should never converge. 'All Comick Circumstances, all things tending to raise a Laugh, are highly offensive in Tragedies to good Judges . . . such Things degrade the Majesty and Dignity of Tragedy.' By such a principle, the hybridized tragedies of Shakespeare ('tragical-comical-historical-pastoral,' F) and of most of his contemporaries would have been ruled off the public stage. The distinctions of genre were commonly honored more in the breach than in the keeping. And yet there is something instructive about Stubbes's criticism of Hamlet along generic lines. Quite simply the prince belongs to tragedy and the antic to comedy; the words of the former are dignified, delicate, and elevate while those of the latter are buffoonish, coarse, and rude. For Stubbes, the purpose of differentiating between the tragic and the comic is to differentiate between high taste and low taste in the accomplishment of the critic's task: 'to settle, if possible, a right Taste among those of the Age in which he lives.' His class biases, the basis for his division of the audience into the 'better' and the 'meaner sort,' are not unlike those reflected in Hamlet's instructions to the players (of which Stubbes predictably approves) in which he sets 'the judicious' against 'the unskillful,' and insists that the censure of one of the former must 'o'erweigh a whole theatre of others.' This is the Hamlet who likes caviar, who knows the religious controversies at Wittenberg, who can 'write fair,' with 'a hand of little employment,' and who incorporates into his speech allusions to the likes of Montaigne, Seneca, Ovid, Cicero, Luther, and St. Paul.
19. But this Hamlet is quite separate from the antic, the clown who plays up to 'the millions' (the estimated 1000-1500 'groundlings' in the yard at the Globe) with his gritty, bawdy, and insolent 'wild and whirling words' to make 'the barren spectators laugh.' As Robert Weimann has been arguing most persuasively for decades, Hamlet when playing the antic draws on the clown's or fool's privilege of directly addressing the audience, establishing a verbal rapport with the low members of the audience through direct address, puns, proverbs, obscenities, and scurrilities.24 He suspects, too, that this verbal engagement 'would have almost certainly been reinforced' spatially by Hamlet's frequenting of the downstage platea closest to the yard where the groundlings would have stood. Thus while the role alienates him from the court within the play it connects him with the groundlings outside of it. At the same time, however, Hamlet can revert back to his princely register and position -- in his soliloquies, in his exchanges with the players, and with Horatio -- so that he is alternately engaging the better and the meaner, addressing a socially and spatially divided audience. He speaks up to the gentlemen in the galleries and down to the groundlings in the yard, pitching sententious considerations up to the high and scurrilous jests down to the low, shifting from general and abstract truths about the nature of man, mortality, cowardice, suffering, action, or mutability to material particulars like moles, camels, weasels, pickers and stealers, hawks and handsaws, rats, and guts, pleasing the elite with his rhetorically skilled dilations and the commoners with his vulgar improvisations.
21. What Stubbes's criticism foregrounds is the composite structure of Hamlet's character. It is an outrageous generic cross of prince and antic, 'as if we were to dress a Monarch in all his Robes, and then put a Fool's Cap upon him.' This is the same character that prompted what Coleridge termed his first 'turn for philosophical criticism.' Hume's phenomenalism and Kant's transcendentalism no doubt informed this turn, though Coleridge believed Shakespeare possessed a comparable 'deep and accurate science in mental philosophy.' According to this new criticism, in order to understand Hamlet, the critic had to 'reflect on the constitution of our own minds.' With true prescience, Coleridge coined the term 'psycho-analytic' to describe his critical technique of probing into dramatic character. In such a practice, genre disappears. Coleridge rarely comments on Hamlet's 'antic disposition,' and when he does it blurs into his 'disposition to excessive thought.' He does, however, note the abrupt shift in Hamlet's behavior before and after he has seen the ghost, discussing the contrast in terms not of generic violations but of mental functions. It is Hamlet's perception that changes rather than the genre, and from 'terrible' to 'ludicrous' rather than from 'tragedy' to 'comedy.' The explanation lies not in the rules of decorum but rather in 'a law of the human mind': when the mind perceives something irregular ('out of the common order of things') it responds first with terror; but once abstracted from danger, 'the uncommonness alone will remain, and the sense of the ridiculous be excited.' Coleridge's psychological explanation thus conflates the two roles of Hamlet which genre had kept discrete. After Coleridge, criticism will increasingly look for psychological explanations for Hamlet's 'strange and odd behavior,'attributing it to various kinds of psychic disturbances, disorders, pathologies, neuroses.
22. It is quite common to find in scholarly accounts of Hamlet that its criticism did not begin until the Romantics, that is, until critics concluded that the play, centered on delay, was about thinking. In such accounts, Shakespearean commentators like Schlegel and Coleridge are seen as great emancipators who freed criticism from the dogmatic bondage of neo-classical theory. Before the liberation, Hamlet was misunderstood or not understood at all (though undeniably it was appreciated). In other words, the play had to wait for history to catch up. What has driven contemporary histories to such an odd conclusion is an inability to imagine any other way of understanding the play. And yet, in the allusions and scraps of commentary that we have of the play from before 1800 there is evidence of an approach that is not focused on Hamlet's inner workings -- that looks at plot rather than character, at genre rather than mind. Psychological readings have blown plot and genre out of the critical waters. Or, rather, internalized them as character, so that delay is not a plot device but a symptom of psychic conflict and the conjunction of tragic and comic heightens not social division but -- again as always -- psychic conflict.
This paper is an expanded and modified version of my contribution to a collaborative paper, 'Hamlet as Intellectual,' given with Peter Stallybrass at the Republic of Letters 2000 Conference at Oxford University (Sept. 2000) and to the Renaissance seminar at Princeton University (Nov. 2000).
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1 In his copy of Speght's edition of Chaucer, Gabriel Harvey notes that both Lucrece and Hamlet 'have it in them to please the wiser sort.' Unless otherwise indicated, citations to seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth century comments on the play will follow the same three-volume compendium: Critical Responses to Hamlet 1600-1900, ed. David Farley-Hills, 3 vols. (New York: AMS Press, 1996-99). Citations will appear by volume and page number parenthetically in text.
2 Quoted from his Table-Talk by Gary Taylor, Reinventing Shakespeare: A Cultural History from the Restoration to the Present (New York: Weidenfelt & Nicolson, 1989), 102. Coleridge's contemporaries also noted the resemblance: Hamlet is both a 'satire' and 'an elegy' on Coleridge himself [2.54].
3 G.G. Gervinus, Shakespeare Commentaries (1849, trans. 1863), ii, 126, cited in A New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare: 'Hamlet', ed. H.H. Furness, 2 (New York: Dover Publications, 1963), 301.
4 'Our age is bewailed as the age of Introversion. Must that needs be evil? We, it seems, are critical. We are embarrassed with second thoughts. We cannot enjoy any thing . . . We are lined with eyes. We see with our feet. The time is infected with Hamlet's unhappiness, 'Sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought.' (1837). Representative Men: Seven Lectures (201-2).
5 To be more precise, Coleridge inaugurates the tradition in England. The question arises concurrently in Germany as well in Schlegel's Lectures on Dramatic Literature (1810, trans. 1815) which Coleridge may have known. It is central, too, in the remarks of three Scottish critics writing in late eighteenth century: Mackenzie, Robertson, and Richardson, though ethical questions still loom large.
6 See Richard Halpern on the imperative in twentieth-century performances and readings of Hamlet to produce an innovative Hamlet, Shakespeare Among the Moderns (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1997), 227-88.
7 Janet Adelman attributes the paralysis of Hamlet's will to 'the psychic domination of the mother'(Suffocating Mothers: Fantasies of Maternal Origin in Shakespeare's Plays [Routledge: New York and London, 1992], 30); Jonathan Goldberg sees the delaying tactics as ' the result of [Hamlet's] identification with his father's words' (Voice Terminal Echo [Methuen: New York and London, 1986], 99); Marjorie Garber argues that Hamlet's inability to forget the paternal command is what impedes action, 'For action is inextricably bound with forgetting' (Ghost Writers, 156); Richard Halpern reconstrues Hamlet's 'dilatory tactics' or 'internal entropy' as resistance to Oedipal law which in turn opens a clearing space for new productivities (Shakespeare Among the Moderns [Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1997], 284, 287-8); and Stephen Greenblatt (with Catherine Gallagher) ascribes Hamlet's difficulty to 'the entanglements of the flesh' in a materiality 'that stubbornly persists and resists and blocks the realization of the ghostly father's wishes' (Practicising New Historicism [Chicago and London: U. of Chicago Press, 1999], 158).
8 See The Philosophy of Fine Art, trans. F.P. B. Osmaston, (New York: Hacker Art Books, 1975), IV, 334-36, 342; Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A.V. Miller (Oxford, New York etc.: Oxford U. Press, 1977), 201; ; Lectures on the History of Philosophy: Medieval and Modern Philosophy trans. E.S. Haldane and Frances H. Simson (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995) vol. 3, 546-47, 553.
9 For further discussion of the mole's importance to Marx's materialism as well as Hegel's idealism, see Peter Stallybrass, 'Well Grubbed, Old Mole': Marx, Hamlet, and the (Un)Fixing of Representation,' Cultural Studies 12, 1 (1998), 3-14; and de Grazia, 'Teleology, Delay, and the Old Mole,' Shakespeare Quarterly, 50 (Fall, 1999), 3, 251-67.
10 The Birth of Tragedy, trans. Shaun Whiteside (Penguin: London, New York, etc., 1993), 39-40. Although Hamlet is not mentioned by name, his resemblance to Nietzsche's 'suprahistorical' man is quite evident in 'On the uses and disadvantage of history for life,' in Untimely Meditations, trans. R. J. Hollingdale (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 65. For another account of Hamlet's relevance to this essay, see Marjorie Garber, Shakespeare's Ghost Writers: Literature as Uncanny Causality (Methuen: New York and London, 1987, esp. 154-57.
11 The Origin of German Tragic Drama, trans. John Osborne (Verso: London and New York, 1977), 138-39.
12 Specters of Marx: the state of the debt, the work of mourning, and the new international, trans. Peggy Kamuf (Routledge: New York and London), 169.
13 For more evidence of hyperactive rather than introspective performances of Hamlet in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, see John A. Mills, Hamlet on Stage, the Great Tradition, 4-5. John Downes, in Roscius Anglicanus (1708), claimed that there was an unbroken tradition in acting of Hamlet from time of Shakespeare to end of century: Betterton had been taught the part by Davenant who had seen Joseph Taylor act Hamlet in Blackfriars who had been instructed by Shakespeare himself. See Farley-Hills, 1.29, 278.
14 Daiphanthus, or The Passion of Loue (London, 1604), A2.
15 On the popularity of Hamlet's antics in the seventeenth century, see Paul S. Conklin, A History of Hamlet Criticism 1601-1821 (Frank Cass & Co.: 1968), 16-20. Running puts at risk the stable vertical axis that is the basis of the body's dignity. The assumption of an 'antic disposition' requires that the body as well as discourse be 'wild and whirling' or 'out of frame' ('suit the action to the word').
16 In the1676 Player's Quarto ( used in theatres until 1709, at least): 'Too sullied flesh' is halved, and 'O what a rogue and peasant slave' completely gutted , and 'How all occasions do inform against me' (in F only) completely gone. So Hamlet can not be 'hamletizing' on stage until the nineteenth century. For early criticism of the soliloquies as being too frequent, long, dispassionate, independent of plot, and in the case of 'To be or not to be,' irrelevant, see Charles Gildon, 1. 46. For early appropriation of the 'To be or not to be' soliloquy, see Paul S. Conklin, A History of Hamlet Criticism, 1601-1821 (Frank Cass & Co.: n.p., 1968), 20.
17 Not until 1821 does an editor mention delay, when James Boswell junior refers to Hamlet's 'incurable habits of procrastination' and 'that irresolution which forms so marked a part of his character' (535). At this point, Boswell had read Schlegel, whose Lectures on Dramatic Art and Literature had been translated in 1815, and extracts from Goethe's William Meister's Apprenticeship provided 'by my friend Mr. Talbot,' 539), though he makes no mention of Coleridge. The Plays and Poems of William Shakspeare (F.C., J. Rivington, etc., 1821), vii, 539.
18 Some Remarks on the 'The Tragedy of Hamlet' was published anonymously in 1736 and recently attributed to George Stubbes. References are from the reprint by AMS Press (New York, 1975) and page numbers will henceforth appear in text. Malone in 1790 and Boswell/Malone in 1821 reproduce much of the essay at the end of their editions of Hamlet. If Stubbes is the first to comment on delay in Hamlet, it may because he was the first to use Theobald's edition ('In the Course of these Remarks, I shall make use of the Edition of this Poet, given us by mr. Theobald,' 3), the first to conflate the Folio and Quarto Hamlets. The Player's Quarto cuts 800 lines from the Quarto version; a full conflated version was not performed on stage until 1899 (See Hamlet, ed. G. R. Hibbard (Oxford and N.Y.: Oxford University Press, 1994), 23. As many have noted, the problem of delay is less likely to have been noted in the highly truncated Q1 version. In Fratricide Punished, Hamlet gives an entirely circumstantial explanation for delay: 'I cannot attain my revenge because the fratricide is surrounded all the time by so many people.' See Variorum 'Hamlet', 2, 139.
19 Later in the century (1771-72), the editor George Steevens also criticized the play for drawing out the action through Hamlet's antics : Revenge is 'stagnated, and [Hamet] goes on from Act to Act playing the Fool.' The delay for him, too, is not a problem with the character but with the plot; the marvel is that Shakespeare 'could make [the play] interesting without Progress in the Fable' (1.220-21).
20 Quotations throughout follow Harold Jenkins's Arden Hamlet (London and N.Y.: Methuen, 1982) and citations will appear in text.
21 This stretch is much indebted to Patricia Parker's account of the rhetorical tradition of textual generation and dilated middles. See especially 'Literary Fat Ladies and the Generation of the Text,' in Literary Fat Ladies: Rhetoric, Gender, Property (London and New York: Methuen, 1987), esp. 13-17.
22 David Wiles notes the absence of the clown in the itinerant acting company in Shakespeare's Clown (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987). Hamlet calls Lucianus's violation 'villainous' (44) or typical of a villein, reminding us of the rustic identity of stage clowns, (like the two in the graveyard scene, called clowns in all three early texts) as well as of the traditional kinship between the clown and the Vice. On the connection between villains and clowns, see Richard Helgerson, Forms of Nationhood: The Elizabethan Writing of England (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 223.
23 Patricia Parker at several points relates 'farce' to material to be 'stuffed,' 'crammed,' or 'forced' between two endpoints, Shakespeare from the Margins: Language, Culture, Context (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1996), 76, 216, 223.
24 See Shakespeare and the Popular Tradition in the Theater: Studies in the Social Dimension of Dramatic Form and Function, ed. Robert Schwartz (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978), esp. 230-35 and, particularly in relation to Q1, 'Playing with a Difference: Revisiting 'Pen' and 'Voice' in Shakespeare's Theater,' Shakespeare Quarterly, 50 (1999), 4, 428-31. At the same time, however, that Weimann has so brilliantly established connections between Hamlet and the ritual, popular antic tradition, he also makes a special case for his modernity. 'Hamlet is a more poetically unified individuality' reflecting Shakespeare's 'larger artistic synthesis.'
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