25 July 2014

Reserving the right to shake things up

Mind you, when I wrote on Wednesday that the question of the text is completely settled, I might have written instead, I have a text I like, so there is no pressure.

Leafing through Leaves of Grass yesterday, I found a favorite passage in Song of Myself which might serve just as well, or even better. Or perhaps (since Whitman's lines can be wilful in their variable lengths, not that I consider that at all a bad thing, as a reader) I may toss a salad of suitable ingredients, from the two passages I have this week been perusing.

Meanwhile, Lee has come through with a complete verse rendering of The Mysterious Fruit, will give that a close read today. As I am not sure when the Song of the Open Road project may actually materialize, I am reassigning Op.123 to The Mysterious Fruit.

Had a great time reading Bill Bryson's book on Shakespeare (from the Eminent Lives series). I applaud the author who concludes the first chapter with the frank, manly disclosure:

... this book was written not so much because the world needs another book on Shakespeare as because this series does. The idea is a simple one: to see how much of Shakespeare we can know, really know, from the record.

Which is one reason, of course, it's so slender.

The book is essentially (1) Here is some historical context, (2) These are the actual facts we have in our possession viz. Shakespeare, and (3) Here is some of the conjecture spinning from the facts, but however attractive, it remains conjecture. This book taught me more than I ever knew about the Spanish Armada. (Admittedly, I had not done any particular research.)

I've started reading the sample of Ron Rosenbaum's The Shakespeare Wars on my Kindle.

It's always seemed to me that the work is what is most worth caring about and that Shakespearean biography, with its few indisputable facts, its suppositions, its conjectures, its maybes, does more to distort than to illuminate the work.

I have nothing against literary biography in general, but I suspect most serious literary biographers must be a bit dismayed at the fantasies spun out by Shakespearean biographers on the basis of such fragmentary evidence. Just as in the old story of the man who persists in searching for his keys under a streetlamp (even though they're not there) "because that's where the only light was," Shakespearean biography, especially the obsessive-often circular-attempts to make inferences about the work on the basis of the few known facts and anecdotes about the life, can be a distraction from the true mystery and excitement, the true source of illumination, the place the hidden keys can actually be found: the astonishing language. (Look how little we know about Homer and how little it matters.)

Thus most efforts to forge, fabricate or flesh out the life (as opposed to placing the work in its cultural context) have ended up doing a disservice to the work because they lead inevitably to a reductive biographical perspective on the work and use the work to "prove" suppositions about the life.

I think I shall probably wind up reading this in full, as well. There are such powerful resonances with the foodfight which often arises over Shostakovich.

This morning, I began reading James Shapiro's Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? . . . hard copy, toting the book around with me. Not so heavy as the Gershwin biography which I really need to take back up and finish.

Although the experience wound up spread out over a few evenings, actually . . . I revisited The Witches of Eastwick, which I had not seen since watching it on the big screen the season it opened. Pretty good, although at times I found the soundtrack rather a musical nuisance. Felt awfully sorry for Veronica Cartwright's character throughout (the Cassandra role). Bothers me, too, that the Principal found it horrifying that (wait -- for -- it) a school band was playing Mozart musically. Glad I watched it again, for another movie in which Cher did quite a creditable job of acting. Nicholson was hammy, in a role which pretty much needed hammy for fuel. I'd say he was a good man for the role, though I am not sure I rank it among his finest performances.

Watched a couple of episodes of the third season of Rod Serling's Night Gallery last night. Largely enjoyable, though it certainly has the feel of 70's television + Serling not "in control" to the degree which enjoyed with The Twilight Zone. Certainly fun to watch episodes with John Astin and Leonard Nimoy. I may or may not go through and watch the entire season.


jochanaan said...

There is a lovely story by Connie Willis, the Hugo- and Nebula-award-winning F/SF author, called "A Winter's Tale," a fantasy about what Shakespeare's last days may have been like. She too gets impatient with revisionist histories and especially with theories that maybe "somebody else" wrote many or all of Shakespeare's plays since "no ordinary person" could have written them all. She replies, "Of course he wasn't 'an ordinary person,' he was Shakespeare!"

"Witches" is a very fun movie. My favorite character is Susan Sarandon's cellist, and my favorite scene is the one in which she and Jack Nicholson literally burn through Dvorak's Cello Concerto. :)

My lady Tammie introduced me to Night Gallery. Some fun stuff there, not quite on the same high level as The Twilight Zone but still delightfully creepy.

Karl Henning said...

Agreed, Dvořák is the high point! Though Alex talking Daryl down from destroying Sukie with the hæmmorrhaging may be the best acting in the whole movie.