I wrote, with a little help from Shakespeare & Melville, about the sunken treasure that’s at the bottom of all of our literary excursions in Shakespeare’s Ocean —
They wink up at us from the depths, skulls with be-gemmed eye-sockets, wedges of gold, encrusted anchors, heaps of pearl. Fish-gnawed men and what’s become of a thousand fearful wracks. Treasures of the slimy bottom. Captives of the envious flood. What we’re looking for.
I’ve been thinking about those slimy treasures while reading my students’ essays this week.
The hardest thing about literary & literary-critical writing in any form — and I’m pleased to see a very wide formal range in these papers, from pedagogical plans to theatrical outlines, intertextual readings, and archival historicism — is trying to make sure you get down to some real and meaningful bottom, even while knowing you’re not likely to reach firm ground. Often in reading these papers, which are of course just early drafts or hints of what’s to come, I wanted you to dive deeper, to press harder, & to make a lunge at the analytical or pedagogical or creative pay-off that seemed just out of reach. There’s a certain recklessness and risk in literary writing — there’s no real way to be sure of what Shakespeare meant, at this historical remove, just as there’s no real way to be “sure” of any literary text. I’d like to see more risk-taking, and more self-aware speculation about risks & rewards, in the final versions of these papers.
I’m looking for papers & projects that get us a little bit closer to that ungraspable bottom & its glittering treasures. But I should remember, as I also wrote
It’s to the bottom of Shakespeare’s ocean that this book takes you, except for one thing: we never get to the bottom.