Just a couple of broad points for us to think about on Tues when we discuss “blue humanities” or the “new thalassology” or whatever we’d like to call it.
1. Natural Disorder and Literary Form: In both the oceanic and non-oceanic elements of my work on nature, I’m interested in contrasting the disorder of the natural world (and the environment-human culture relationship) with the kind of order — provisional, of course — that literary form provides.
Prospero’s “revels now are ended” speech might be relevant here.
2. Historicism and Anachronism: In early modern studies (and, I believe, other areas of literary studies as well), much research in recent decades has been historicist in a comprehensive and horizontal sense: scholars immerse themselves in the culture & habits of thought of one particular age. Part of what At the Bottom of Shakespeare’s Ocean and the Shakespeare Now! series of which it’s part tries to do is open up this closed historicist circle & ask Shakespeare to speak directly to 21c questions and concerns. There are lots of risks involved in this sort of thing; sometimes it doesn’t work; and I think that a deep historicism is part of this project. But I also want to talk on Tues night about the blindfolds that history puts on us.
The passage in The Tempest that might be relevant here is Miranda’s recollection of her mother, in the “dark backward and abysm of time” in 1.2.
Nicole P says
It’s not Tuesday night yet, but just to get the ball rolling, I had a few thoughts to share. Though I wasn’t sure on first glance what I was getting myself into, I’m actually enjoying _At the Bottom of Shakespeare’s Ocean_. I particularly like that creativity isn’t being sacrificed in the name of ‘serious academic work.’ The interchapters, which I suppose you could call prose poetry, are my favorite parts. Really, I had never considered the ocean in Shakespeare’s plays as anything more than a setting or a metaphorical device, but the idea of the ocean leaving salt on a text and in the mouth of a reader was enough to make me want to keep reading and rethinking the place of the ocean in literature.
Going back to where I wanted to begin, though… the idea of natural disorder and literary form… I think the book is a wonderful representation of that. On one hand there is a certain order to the book, but on the other, it’s a very organic sort of organization. Things just seem to pop in, but they feel like the belong there.
And of course, the act of writing itself is very much a process of natural disorder, of grabbing at thoughts that don’t really exist yet and of being held mercy to the whim of the subconscious. We like to think we are masters of our minds, but really, I have little control over what pops into my head (especially while I’m writing). I can’t stop bad memories from swimming to the surface from time to time or recall the names of childhood friends on cue.
Tara Bradway says
Nicole, I think my favorite is “What the Pirates Said to Hamlet”!
To tack on to your thoughts on natural disorder and literary form … I really picked up on the section of “Strange weather” about Lear being, of course, a play. In writing and/or staging a play, we are attempting to create order of a kind and make some sense of the world. This is what Prospero is doing throughout The Tempest, not just in the pageant, right? In utilizing his magic, he’s made order of his disordered life and his expulsion from Milan. He’s created a scenario in which the King of Naples, his entourage, and Prospero’s brother are “shipwrecked” on his island. The entire shipwreck is a play. And isn’t Prospero successful in ordering his environment at the end? His daughter will be married, become the Queen of Naples, his dukedom is restored. His world is re-ordered, while Lear’s never is. I’m a little too tired to continue that train of thought, but at least rolled the ball a little more (as Nicole put it!).
See you all tomorrow night!
Steve Mentz says
I very much like Nicole’s point about the writing process as also working through these order/disorder struggles. That seems quite right to me, even if we might hope (and work toward) some degree of control over our writerly minds & processes. Tara’s focus on the communal & theatrical nature of the illusion of order also seems important, esp since writing is never as solitary a process as it might seem. (In fact, on a tangent I might say that while our literary culture & esp our copyright laws encourage an “authorship as private ownership” conception of literary culture, the dramatic context seems very clearly communal, and close attention to print publication, in the 17c and today, reveals that this process, too, emerges from communal labors. I allude to this in my acknowledgments to the book.)
Dave Price says
I found the idea of exploring natural disorder very interesting, especially in terms of narrative order. I think it says something about how we, as humans, are wired to create an order or logic to the world, rather than the other way around. We (humans) need a narrative to make sense of the world, even if we are given conflicting information, we tend to make that part of our narrative. The disorder that disrupts that narrative could possibly lead to a larger narrative? I tend to think of my studies on Hegel when examining the structures of the natural world that don’t fit into our way of thinking. Out of this conflict and dialect comes a new truer form. The problem with this theory though is that it tends toward some more true, ideal reality and doesn’t give value to the moment at hand. I’m always wondering if Keats’s Negative Capability idea could relate to the instability as a given idea/
Steve Mentz says
A nice post, Dave. There’s some interesting tension between Hegelian/post-Hegelian efforts to define an “ideal” and literary form, which is both not-real and also often more hybrid & ragged than a Hegelian synthesis.
Nicole P says
Insomnia is getting to me, so I thought I’d be productive….
Stemming somewhat from your conversation on Hegel, Dave (though also going off on a tangent), I think that Derrida’s Differance also lends dialectic ways of thinking about chaos and order. There is this idea that nothing has a presence in and of itself, and that we only recognize things in their difference from other things. In a way, that means chaos– not conformity– is the way we attempt to order our universe.
I might also be tempted to call upon Bakhtin here, who believed that the novel was an immensely complicated (chaotic) system of discourses, and that disorder isn’t just a part of the narration and the story itself being interpreted in multiple ways, but each word actually comes with a whole host of meanings that are different for each individual.
How do we reconcile this as writers, this ever-present chaos that we both need and want to reject at the same time?
Dane Robinson says
I feel that there is a difference between natural disorder and disorder that is brough on by other forces, as well as the difference between the reactions of disorder.
Natural disorder is believed, by most, as the path that we are destined to have gone down. No one can influence nature. If you believe in a God, it may be contributed to him/her, but when there is some sort of natural disorder, we deal with it and move on. This seems to be contradictory to the way that people handle other forms of disorder that strikes the world because they would feel that it was not the correct “chain of events” or it “disrupts natural order”
Disorder causes chaos, and when it is not neccessarily caused by nature, we see whatever made it as an agent of chaos. In The Tempest, the storm may have been interpretted as being caused by two specific things. There are three main “characters” one being the ship wil mariners, one being Prospero, and the others being the entities in the sky. One can draw a large allegory from that, and compare it to chaos in many ways.
This is theoretically speaking, remember.
One can be that Prospero caused the storm, being an agent of chaos, therefore it disrupts nature and the mariners aren’t prepared for it. They must adapt.
Another way to look at it would be that of the entities who caused the storm. If this was the case, the Mariners would still be in the same position, but would adapt, and not have a bad attitude toward it because it was something that was not casued by an agent of chaos, but done by nature.
In the world something could happen the same way, but the circumstance determines the reaction. This, to me, is absolutely ridiculous.