Fractured Compass

June 17, 2006

Two Shorts

Filed under: Personal,Poems and Other Trifles — roundapple @ 8:55 am


that this leads to no-
where is clear now. each
in its own spot, cars
form the vertebra of a cobra
refusing to slither
when only a moment ago
it had a different intention,
one can only twist
to cool the glued butt.
engines flare like tempers.
passengers sit dreaming of
antivenom, wait for the burning sun
to melt the scales.


words trip on the tongue,
to a personal saraband,
slip away from the mouth,
fly into airspace – curious
creatures of mind’s fever,
tentative like dawn’s yellow,
till they see the vast
blue, then soar like rogue
laughter. pen, like a camera,
makes rote attempts
at copy, captures only
outlines. how quickly they
become ancient fauna, ptero-
dactyls on paper.

Shakespeare, Bloom and Reinventions

Filed under: Personal,What I Saw and Read — roundapple @ 8:31 am

Harold Bloom’s Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (Riverhead Books, 1998) bristles with some of the finest insights on the Bard’s characters and language that one can possibly read in a single volume. I’m a belated newcomer to this 745-page book – one that I should have discovered years ago.
I once believed that plays were meant to be seen, not read, and that novels were meant to be read, not seen on the screen. But that’s impossible at times, given my geography and resources. So my primary immersion into Shakespeare has been through reading cheap paperback versions of the plays and watching Olivier and Guinness on film and BBC television. And lately, watching revisionist, post-modern movie versions of some of Shakespeare’s plays (starring Al Pacino, Kenneth Branagh, Ian McKellen or Keanu Reeves, for example). My initial adolescent aversion to the language of the plays was quickly replaced early on by sophomoric admiration for the poetry when I was in college. This was especially because the pocketbook versions often had a glossary and essays by the likes of A.C. Bradley. Shakespeare, though, was never a serious affair in school, neither required reading nor part of any English language curriculum. I attempted to get into Shakespeare for the fun and pleasure of it. In the process, I got to know aspects of Elizabethan culture and history and possibly some of the finest poetry in any language as well.
My favorites were Hamlet, Antony and Cleopatra, The Tempest, Romeo and Juliet and The Merchant of Venice. I can’t recall having enjoyed Falstaff, though he was famous, nor the histories. Seeing how Bloom approaches the characters in these plays gives me a warm feeling of deja vu and more. That’s because Bloom critiques the characters always in the context of poetry and action. Bloom has prodded me back to reading some of the plays I neglected because of his enthusiasm for characters as diverse as Rosalind in As You Like It or the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet. His discussion of Shylock and anti-Semitism are full of wisdom. (One of his latest books, incidentally is Where Shall Wisdom Be Found?). I have even come to appeciate Falstaff.
Much as I appreciate Bloom’s gifts as a critic, I find two things quite jarring here. Firstly, Bloom squarely places himself in the tradition of William Hazlitt, Bradley, Samuel Johnson and Harold Goddard. That is, strongly against modern, postmodern and New Historicist interpretation in the context of reading, academic writing and performance. His insights come from almost a lifetime of reading and teaching Shakespeare. That gives him enough of a critical armamentarium to quash the opposition. But when you work from that perspective, page after page may be spent countering the views of other critics. This gives the book the shape of an acerbic dialogue with critics and performers whose work are sometimes unfamiliar to the reader that it feels like killing flies with bullets instead of flyswatters. I suspect that this is inevitable given that Bloom proudly displays his badge of Bardolatry. I felt the book should have been written with an air of largesse given Bloom’s gifts and stature. The reason why I briefly narrated my own early experience with Shakespeare is to suggest that “diluted” or re-interpreted Shakespeare may be the only experience of Shakespeare possible for some of us. Secondly, in a Western “literary” culture, one can understand the book’s grand claim that Shakespeare invented the human in the sense of not merely a “representation of cognition, personality and character” to the highest degree in “imaginative literature,” but of an “excess of representation…closer to creation.” On this end of the planet, though, the claim is patently rhetoric as the human is not just a literary human, and literature not just Western literature.
Shakespeare does exert, like his own character Prospero, magic, and not only on Anglophiles but on anyone steeped in literature. An amusing illustration occurs in a short fiction by the Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges. Towards the end of his life, Borges wrote Shakespeare’s Memory. Here is a story where a character passes on to a willing another Shakespeare’s memory. Imagine your own memory and Shakespeare’s being commingled. Imagine seeing Anne Hathaway or suddenly whistling a foreign tune. But Borges was smart enough to know that the gift of Shakepeare’s memory had limits. Having a memory is not tantamount to writing Shakespeare. In the end, the narrator, Herman Sorgel (who, being partially blind and living among books, is posibly Borges himself) gives away Shakepeare’s memory to an accepting another via telephone. Vestiges remain though. Even reading Swedenborg and Blake returned him to Shakespeare. Sorgel’s solution was to immerse himself in the “strict, vast” music of Bach. Bach, as a friend of mine argues, also invented another type of the human.

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