Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Shakespearean slips

I am wondering whether Shakespeare invented the Freudian slip.
Did other people before Shakespeare represent mistakes on stage? I am thinking of the way Shakespeare has people make everyday mistakes (the mistakes of everyday life), as in certain kinds of forgetfulness
Courteous lord, one word.
Sir, you and I must part, but that's not it:
Sir, you and I have loved, but there's not it;
That you know well: something it is I would,
O, my oblivion is a very Antony,
And I am all forgotten. (Cleopatra)

what was I
about to say? By the mass, I was about to say
something: where did I leave? (Polonius)

HOTSPUR    Lord Mortimer, and cousin Glendower,
Will you sit down?
And uncle Worcester: a plague upon it!
I have forgot the map.

KENT               I am come
To bid my king and master aye good night:
Is he not here?
ALBANY   Great thing of us forgot!
Speak, Edmund, where's the king? and where's Cordelia?
I don't think this is just the reality effect, though it is that. Or maybe it would be better to say that the reality effect is one in which something real is going on, something real offered and bargained for and exchanged and clarified.  It matters to Polonius that he was about to say something, and it matters that Reynaldo reminds him of what he wanted to say, show's him a kindness where Hamlet would scorn him.  It matters that Albany forgets Lear and that he has to remember him before Edmund is willing to help: recalling the fates of Lear and Cordelia makes Edmund count.

In a previous post I alluded to Grice's distinction between naturalistic and non-naturalistic meaning.  A fever of 102 degrees F means you're sick, whether you say so or not; "I'm sick and can't come to work today" also means you're sick, whether you are or not.

Freud (we know) had trouble with theorizing repression, because the unconscious mind seemed split between the part that wanted to tell the truth (about its desires, judgments, demands, etc.) and the part that was censoring the part that wanted to tell the truth.  The result of this split was a compromise formation: the unconscious got to tell the truth slant.  Parapraxes -- Freudian slips -- were good evidence for this, he thought.  Whether this is true or not, it's certainly true in some literary contests, where a writer or performer imitates a telling and revelatory lapsus linguae.  But how do we analyze how it's telling?

Does an unconscious communication, a hysterical symptom, a slip of the tongue, mean naturalistically (it's a sympton! like a fever) or non-naturalistically (it's discursive! it knows what it's saying and wants to say it).  Some extreme Freudian formulations (I am looking at you through my -- gulp! -- myopic eyes, Otto Fenichel) saw all symptoms as non-naturalistic meaning, as expressions of unconscious intentions.  Although the intentions themselves might not have been intentions to express, so that naturalistic meaning can come back that way, this doesn't seem true of slips of the tongue: they are my unconscious talking, and my unconscious is talking to you.  So they may have naturalistic meaning on a conscious level (they mean I am repressing something) and non-naturalistic meaning on the unconscious level: they say what my unconscious mind wants to say.

I am interested in costly or honest signaling, how such signaling evolved, what happens when such signaling interacts with conscious expressive intention, what such signaling hopes to elicit (e.g. Reynaldo's aid, Antony's love, Hotspurian enthusiasm; in the Lear case, it's more like we've all forgotten, and need Edmund as he needs to be needed: Albany's forgetfulness is his as well, and only Kent remembers).  One argument in favor of Freud's view is that Freudian slips would be uncontrollable and therefore honest signals, and cooperative species, especially hypercooperative species like our own, need honest signals.  Freudian slips, and maybe the Freudian unconscious, solve a problem in cooperation for a species that has to be able to use language in an extremely skillful and fine-grained way, without being able to lie too easily and at will.  We need to be able to tell when someone is lying, and the way to tell that is both by detecting lies and by detecting truths that they might not wish to admit.  (Some of these truths can be happy ones: she's too shy to admit it but she does love me! Upon that hint I'll speak!)

Anyhow, I think Shakespeare saw this and used it.  Here are two examples of classic Freudian slips, a quick one and a more subtle and therefore more telling one (since what's telling about them is the point).  The quick one is this: when at the end of Twelfth Night Orsino realizes that his page and friend is actually a woman, Viola, he's delighted.  He can marry her.  His repressed homoerotic affection for her now finds heteronormative (sorry, seriously) legitimation.  And so he speaks, and calls her... Cesario.

Cesario, come.
For so you shall be, while you are a man...

He quickly corrects himself, but the mistake isn't one.  That she is pricked out as Cesario is not a bug but a feature.

Here’s my other, longer example, from Richard II.  Richard has gone to Ireland, his rebel cousin Bullingbrook has landed at Ravenspurgh in Yorkshire.  York is the last, despairing survivor of the previous generation.  The trouble in the play begins when his brother (Bullingbrook’s father) the Duke of Lancaster dies; now he receives news that his sister-in-law (“my sister Gloucester”), who had been the close confidante of the last two surviving brothers has just died, and he is the last surviving member of the great generation of Edward’s sons and their widows.  The Duchess of Gloucester doesn’t count as one of them in the psychology of the play because she is not a widow, but a wife and mother who will be called on to interpose between husband and son.  Shakespeare has a bit of playcraft to do here; he has to make plausible the fact that York will change sides, and that the Duchess of York isn’t reason enough to stay loyal to the old regime and its legacy, though loyalty is his natural instinct.  The whole play is about the counterpoint, divergence and convergence between public, politico-theological fidelity and obligation on the one hand and private loyalties and motives on the other.  Shakespeare must represent York as a figure who believes himself to be acting according to the dictates of political theology (as his brother Gloucester certainly had), but who nevertheless is too weak-willed and weak-minded to represent the true principle that he wishes to and thinks he does.  So Shakespeare makes him needy: what’s best is to feel that public duty and private commitment coincide.

Shakespeare has already begun this portrait of his character by showing how Richard manipulates him (in the same way but far more easily than he manipulated Lancaster into voting to banish his own son) by making him his deputy when he goes to Ireland, playing on York’s desire to show his loyalty against his own private preferences, while realizing that this desire is itself a private preference. The Queen contributes to that.  Everyone capable of loving loves her (a fact Bullingbrook capitalizes on); we do, and York does too, so that she adds a private incentive to his preference to do the right official thing.  The Freudian slip that Shakespeare writes for York shows his neediness, his loneliness, his fecklessness and confusion, all of which are necessary to his character, even while adding another touch to the portrait of the sorrow of the Queen, whose husband is later to be murdered just as the Duchess of Gloucester has been murdered.  Off York must go to prepare for Bullingbrook’s invasion, and he takes the Queen with him, calling on her (as Orsino has called on Cesario):
Come, sister,--cousin, I would say--pray, pardon me.
He wants her to be his sister, to replace the sister he has just lost who herself replaced the brother he had lost before.   But she is not his sister and won’t be Queen long, and he no longer has a friend or close relation to support him in his last attempt to support his generation’s view of the world.  He is like Polonius, flustered by a new world, whose grimness his discomfiture underlines. We see he's flustered, we see his need.  Shakespeare, at least, thought such slips worth the telling.  He may not have invented, but discovered them.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Emotional experience as the internalization of costly signaling

Costly signaling may be a universal biological phenomenon, an essential part of the structure of all biological activity.  Yeast do it and so do ants and so do humans.  They do it because it is the nature of costly signaling to be reliable, and the reliability of signals is of paramount importance.
For most organisms, though, signaling is not intentional.  Paul Grice distinguishes between naturalistic and non-naturalistic meaning.  Naturalistic meaning is the kind of thing characteristic of symptoms of disease.  A fever of 102 degrees means an infection, for example.  It doesn’t mean infection because the microbe or the person it infects is trying to declare that an infection is occurring.  It means infection as a natural consequence of the microbe’s interaction with the body (e.g. the body may be reacting in such a way as to make itself an inhospitable environment for the microbe).
On the other hand, if I say that I feel feverish, nothing about those words naturally means that I might have a fever.  You’d need to know English, and to know that I was uttering an English sentence, to know that my saying that meant the possibility of an infection.  Utterances of this sort involve non-naturalistic ways of meaning.
Now one might think that these two kinds of meaning are actually two completely different phenomena.  Naturalistic meaning might better be described as evidence for or consequences of some state of affairs.  Whereas nonnaturalistic meaning means to mean, so to speak.  Its function (or at least a major part of its function) is to be interpreted.  We don’t produce a fever in order to get our physicians to intervene (or when we do, that's interesting).  But we do tell them we feel feverish in order to get them to intervene.
Grice is right, though, to connect these two kinds of meaning.  The reasons peacocks have such elaborate tails, the reason flamingoes are pink, the reason some frogs are blue, is precisely that it is (at least a major part of) the function of such phenomena to be interpreted.  Costly signaling (as in all three of these examples) and warning signs (as in the third) are “designed” (i.e. evolved) to be the object of assessment and appropriate response.  Peacocks and flamingoes signal their fitness by showing (respectively) that they can afford the costs of carting around so large and easily damaged a tail, or the costs of ingesting the poisonous foods that turn flamingos pink.  And some frogs are blue, as is well known, to warn predators that they are poisonous and should be avoided.
In such cases a kind of automatic process of signaling and interpretation occurs.  It’s equivalent to a “flag” in computer programing.  Both the existence of the flag and the appropriate response to it come about automatically.  The flag requires interpretation but does not require deliberation.  Biological signals in general are part of a circuit of interpretation without deliberation.  They’re game theory automatized.  The basic idea of evolutionary game theory is that dominant strategies are selected automatically, because they are the ones that are successful, and success is an automatic selector.  Signals are indeed meaningful, in a fuller sense of the term than is captured by the idea of evidence, residue, trace, relic, byproduct or some other such term implying the post-facto possibility of reconstruction a state of affairs.  Evolutionary advantage accrues to organisms that can respond appropriately, relevantly, and efficiently to the state of affairs by seeing how various flags are natural ensigns meaning that such a state of affairs obtains, and to the organisms whose signals are well- and easily-interpreted.
Cybernetics began as the science of automatic communication within a system, whether biological of mechanical.  Automatic communication follows many of the same principles in both domains.  For example ants follow chemical trails and touch antennae when they meet each other, modifying their activities and pathways as a function of the frequency of their interactions.  Deborah Gordon has dubbed this system the anternet because it turns out to work pretty much the way that the Internet automatically looks for the most efficient pathways between nodes.  (The development of the Internet allowed scientists to notice the same sorts of things in the anternet.)
Now, at some point signaling and reception became more deliberative activities.  Signalers became aware of the efforts and costs of signaling; receivers became aware, at least, of the signalers’ awareness of these things.
There are various evolutionary pathways that might lead to the development of non-automatic deliberation. Not all strategizing can be automatized.  It is a basic theorem in automatic computation that novel situations will arise within a system that the system cannot solve optimally.  Risk-taking, and eventually deliberate and therefore conscious risk taking, will sometimes lead to very high payoffs (even if they will also sometimes lead to disaster).  In evolution novelty will also appear with the appearance of any new externalies (in ecology, environment, population, climate, or unexpected events).
In all such cases of genuine novelty there is no automatically dominating strategy.  That’s what makes novelty novelty.  The probabilities that enter into the calculation of expected utility and thereby govern decision-making are not established.  They are therefore what we call subjective and not objective probabilities.  As Richard Jeffrey argues, subjective probabilities are those that there is no independent way to check. Novel situations will always require subjective assessments of probabilities.  (That’s what’s novel about them.  Hume consistently argued that all probability was subjective, because every situation is novel.)
Once the production and assessment of signals becomes a matter for deliberation, then both the signaler and the receiver will have to take into account the fact that the signaler is choosing to signal.  Conscious signaling, whatever else it signals, also signals that fact.  Signals become a sign of the deliberation that produces them, and to the extent that the receiver reads them that way, she recognizes the subjectivity of the signaler, who has deliberatively and deliberately made the choice he has.  Because the choice isn’t automatic, the signaler is individuated.  Here we have the beginnings of an irreducible individuality, a subjectivity that isn’t simply exemplary of species-being.
By "deliberative" here, I don’t mean a necessarily lengthy, careful, or well-considered process.  All I mean is that subjectivity becomes part of the equation, so that some signals become expressions of subjective attitudes and commitments.  These are the kinds of signals we call emotions or emotional expressions.
It is for this reason that it’s right to say (with Anthony Kenny and those he draws from) that emotions are reasons, not causes, for action.  But I would add that their function (as signals) is to give reasons to others to act.  They can only give reasons for others to act if they signal honestly that they are also giving those who express them reasons to act as well (which is a standard view of emotions).  Emotions therefore have to appear causal to those to whom their expression acts as a signal: they have to start looking as though they are causal.  Not automatically causal, though, but quasi-causal since they are routed through the subjectivity of the signaler.
If we were to try to express the schema of the expression of emotion in its most skeletal sense it would have to contain the following recursive component: Part of what I am feeling is that I am really trying to make you see that I am really trying to make you see what I am feeling.  The really-trying aspect is the part of the emotion that points to the fact, or is pointed to by the fact (they’re the same thing) that the expression of the emotion is costly.
Emotions arise from and promote intersubjectivity.  If the signaler is recognized as deliberative, then he also must consider how to signal to a receiver capable of such recognition.  From an evolutionary standpoint, they are therefore emergent properties of the vast and intricate kinds of cooperation predicted by non-cooperative game theory (that is game theory where cooperation isn’t a prior part of the set-up or rules, but has to come about, if it does, on its own).
Consider supplication, as a kind of gold-standard expression of desperate emotion. The costs (measured as risks) of supplication are very high.  The suppliant is utterly defenseless. In this way he shows that he really wants, is really trying to make the dominant figure who has the choice of mercy or murder to see that he is defenseless, and that he really wants the dominant figure to see this.  He gives such urgent reasons for being spared that they begin to him to feel like causes.  They aren’t causes, but he needs them to be.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Macbeth's friendlessness

I've always been haunted by this soliloquy --
Seyton!--I am sick at heart,
When I behold--Seyton, I say!--This push
Will cheer me ever, or disseat me now.
I have lived long enough: my way of life
Is fall'n into the sear, the yellow leaf;
And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have; but, in their stead,
Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honour, breath,
Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not. Seyton!
-- by the way Macbeth begins by calling upon Seyton, twice, the way it interrupts itself and then begins again, and then interrupts itself once more to call for Seyton again.  I vacillated between writing "the way it interrupts itself" and "the way he interrupts himself."  But it's the speech that's interrupting itself: the sense of social agency that belongs to a person speaking is over now, or all but over.

This is the first time that Macbeth calls on Seyton, the first time he's mentioned.  Shakespeare was writing Antony and Cleopatra at the same time as Macbeth, and in both plays he is interested in the last unimportant figures who stay loyal to the end, whose loyalty is only noticeable, who are themselves only noticeable, at the end (in A&C it's the schoolmaster Antony sends to negotiate with Caesar).  Seyton matters here because he's the only person Macbeth can count on, because Macbeth still knows that persons are what you count on, that being a person, being able to speak, means being able to speak with someone, to have them care what you say.

I think I'm obsessed by the minimalism of this soliloquy (as in sonnet 73, the language is headed towards the lesser adjectives: sear to the understated yellow; cf. yellow leaves, or none, or few, as though "few" were fewer still than none, as yellow is consciously less sublime, less an achievement, than sear).  "Honour" isn't replaced by abasement but by "mouth-honour," a repetition with a difference that is not revolution.  And he must not look to have these things: it's not just that he won't have them, but that he can't dally with their false surmise.  But he can call Seyton, good air, his only friend.

"When I behold--": prelude to some grand comment on life and its depths, as in the roughly contemporaneous Sonnet 12:
When I do count the clock that tells the time,
And see the brave day sunk in hideous night;
When I behold the violet past prime,
And sable curls, all silvered o'er with white;
When lofty trees I see barren of leaves,
Which erst from heat did canopy the herd,
And summer's green all girded up in sheaves,
Borne on the bier with white and bristly beard,
Then of thy beauty do I question make,
That thou among the wastes of time must go,
Since sweets and beauties do themselves forsake
And die as fast as they see others grow;
And nothing 'gainst Time's scythe can make defence
Save breed, to brave him when he takes thee hence.
Shakespeare questions even the young man's beauty and its defense against time, when he beholds the violet past prime; Marvell worries, "When I behold the poet, blind yet bold," that Milton will ruin the sacred truths; Wordsworth's heart leaps up when he beholds a rainbow in the sky.  But Macbeth doesn't need to finish the thought: there's no lesson to be learned here, no reaction that matters, no when which marks any sort of achievement or perspective.  He has lived long enough to be past whens (she should have died hereafter, either way, so when doesn't matter).

I love this soliloquy, I think, because it doesn't state anything, any insight, any generalization, or rather it's all generalization, since there are no particulars that matter any more, nothing he may look to have.  "The poor heart" isn't it's own, but it's what all hearts are now, thanks to him.  He calls Seyton, I think, partly to interrupt these thoughts, but partly to confirm them: calling Seyton and being alone are the same thing.  Not that Seyton is indifferent to him, but that being alone is the human condition in a different way from the way we imagined.  It's not that we're irremediably separated from each other; it's that we're alone together, that we think for others (that's what soliloquies are always about), but what we think about for them is being alone.

-------

NoteDo not say that Shakespeare is writing a hysterical speech for Macbeth here, that he's calling Seyton so insistently so as not to be alone with his own thoughts, like Lear calling on the storm so as not to ponder on things would hurt him more.  Seyton is more like his Fool, but without any of the Fool's presence: most of the Fool's loneliness is internalized in Macbeth, and Seyton represents more the residual element in Macbeth's character that corresponds to the part of Lear's heart that is sorry for the Fool yet.  But Macbeth is not sorry for Seyton: that's just not in question within the residual affect of the scene 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sweets to the sweet

I've been loving, for a long time, the way Shakespeare uses the word sweet.  Two obvious instances.  In Richard II the Queen, puzzled over her own free-floating sadness, says:
                                                   I cannot tell
Why I should welcome such a guest as grief
Save bidding farewell to so sweet a guest
As my sweet Richard.
And then Edgar's amazing, ambivalent lament:
                                 O our lives' sweetness
That we the pain of death would hourly die
Rather than die at once.
It's an amazing word for Shakespeare, and tends to come at times of sadness and need: "If you do love old men, if your sweet sway allow obedience, if you yourselves are old," Lear pleas with the heavens. Sweet sway.

And I've been thinking why it's such a good word: because it's great and ephemeral, the experience of tasting, not possessing, and the purer the sweetness the less it's about even the idea of something lasting. It's Ashbery's "charity of the hard moments," but without hardness or charity: the sweetness of the moment, as it "Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself / Unto our gentle senses." It's just for now, but that's pretty great, the way a play can be pretty great.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Preferences

We has them.  I want a cheezburger, and I can has cheezburger, but I don't want to want one.

Thomas Schelling and George Ainslie, among many others, use the story of Odysseus and the sirens to illustrate strategies of commitment in strategic interaction, strategies by which we disclaim our most highly ranked preferences.  Odysseus knows that no one can resist the siren-song lure of the Sirens’ song.  But he wishes to hear the song.  He therefore instructs his sailors to fill their ears with wax, so that they won’t hear it, and to bind him to the mast so that he cannot react to the song by forcing the sailors to change course.  He is binding a future version of himself whose preference he know will differ from his present preference – which is to resist the temptation of the song.  He knows that his preference will change, and he is preventing his changed preference from overriding what he also knows is the better, higher payoff, longer term preference that he now has.

This has become a standard example in the literature of behavioral economics.  But what I would like to add is the further idea that Odysseus has yet another preference, which is a preference for his preference to change.  Odysseus knows that the Sirens’ song will make him want to succumb, and he wants to want to succumb.  But he doesn’t want to succumb.  Binding himself is a way of experiencing the desire to lose himself in their singing without fulfilling that desire so completely that there will be no more self to lose, without fulfilling that desire so completely as to lose the experience of its haunting elusiveness in the all-too-present recognition that it is a mere trap.  He desires its elusiveness to his own desires (as Swann desires the little phrase), which means desiring not to fulfill his desire to catch it.  He wants to miss it, and miss it intensely, and therefore experience its essential absence, as Beckett wants to miss his love, and therefore experience her essential absence and therefore love her:

     I would like my love to die
     and the rain to be falling on the graveyard 
     and on me walking the streets
     mourning the first and last to love me
  
And compare Basho:

     Even in Kyoto
     hearing a cuckoo
     I long for Kyoto
                  (trans. Jane Hirshfield)

Odysseus’s affective and qualitative experience is one of preferring to have a preference not only different from his current preference to resist yielding to the Sirens’ song, so that he’ll want to yield to that song then: he wants as well for his future preference not only to be frustrated but to feel frustrated, since the inability to yield to temptation is part of the longing he longs to feel. (Ainslie elsewhere describes what he calls the management of longing, which means managing to keep longing going.)  So Odysseus prefers not to yield to the Sirens’ song, but also prefers a future where he will not to yield to the Sirens’ song even while preferring to yield to it, where part of the content of the preference to yield to the Sirens’ song is a hopeless preference for a preference not to yield to it.  (In the same way it’s part of the pleasure of smoking that the cigarette trumps our desire not to want it: “the perfect type of a perfect pleasure.  It is exquisite and it leaves one unsatisfied.  What more can one want?” (Wilde)  What more can one want than to be unsatisfied?    Not smoking offers a satisfaction (or end to longing) that can’t compete with the frustration of that satisfaction that smoking offers. Smoking when we want to smoke frustrates our desire not to want to smoke, recruits the longing not to want to smoke into a longing for smoking’s exquisite way of leaving one longing.  It’s so insidious because the pleasure of smoking includes the very preference not to take pleasure in smoking.  Odysseus wants to feel the pleasure of wishing the Sirens’ song were not so irresistibly beautiful, so he wants to hear a song that will make him wish he didn’t want to hear it so much.  He binds himself because he does not want to yield to the song, but does want to want to yield to the song, to yield to a song that will make him want to yield despite wanting not to yield.  Gathering terms, this gives us the following near-paradox: he prefers to the preference he has now – not to yield – not having the preference he has now, but having instead a preference for the preference he has now.

I love this kind of inconsistency in preference in literature, where you’d prefer not the preference you have but to have the preference that you have.  We’ve seen it in Beckett, and we can see something similar in a lovely, funny moment in China Mieville’s The City & the City.  The vaguely Balkan detective narrating that noir novel and his assistant Corwi are working themselves to exhaustion:

I stopped and bought us coffee from a new place, before we went back to the HQ. 
American coffee, to Corwi's disgust. 
"I thought you liked it aj Tyrko," she said, sniffing it.
"I do, but even more than I like it aj Tyrko, I don't care."


Here, very simply, not having a preference is ranked higher than his actual preference.  But on what scale? Not a scale of preferences, but maybe on a scale he prefers to the scale of preferences.  This is a microexample of the authentic mode of the noir detective, broken and defeated, but unbroken and undefeated by being broken and defeated.  Its simple complexity is really a complex simplicity, and that's just what Kant says aesthetic achievement is: the resolved irresolution of preferences among preferences.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ghostlier demarcations

 
 
 
But isn't that what David Markson did (for longer) in This Is Not A Novel?  No. Not at all. This book is different, for all its seeming fragmentation, nonetheless obstinately cross-referential and of cryptic interconnective syntax.  Here's a guy who has turned his genre into a vehicle for serious ideas and serious emotion--and has never, unlike Markson, been tempted to write more than necessary.  Markson hesitates to label his work "experimental" and instead characterizes his novels -- both "literally crammed with literary and artistic anecdotes" and "nonlinear, discontinuous, collage-like, an assemblage" -- as "playful."  There is no linear (or nonlinear) sequence of events to exploit with a wink-nudge because there is no novelistic time employed at all, no events that would require such sequencing.
 
 
 
 

 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

By way of a longish placeholder, and an observation about parties

“Song” The song tells us of our old way of living,
Of life in former times. Fragrance of florals,
How things merely ended when they ended,
Of beginning again into a sigh. Later

Some movement is reversed and the urgent masks
Speed toward a totally unexpected end
Like clocks out of control. Is this the gesture
That was mean, long ago, the curving in

Of frustrated denials, like jungle foliage
And the simplicity of the ending all to be let go
In quick, suffocating sweetness? The day
Puts toward a nothingness of sky

Its face of rusticated brick. Sooner or later,
The cars lament, the whole business will be hurled down.
Meanwhile we sit, scarcely daring to speak,
To breathe, as though this closeness cost us life.

The pretensions of a past will some day
Make it over into progress, a growing up,
As beautiful as a new history book
With uncut pages, unseen illustrations,

And the purpose of many stops and starts will be made clear:
Backing into the old affair of not wanting to grow
Into the night, which becomes a house, a parting of the ways
Taking us far into sleep. A dumb love.
--Ashbery
Placeholder: I've always disliked facile talk of the green-world/real-world distinction in Shakespeare. Belmont, the Athenian woods, the Forest of Arden, Bohemia. As though Shakespeare was acknowledging fantasy while gently tutoring us in the reality principle that moralist critics, each a mini-Leavis, valued most.

Of course there's something to the contrast of moods that Shakespeare is after, a contrast to which locale contributes. But I think the contrast is temporal: it's a different kind of experience of time that he's after, the suspension of action, the ritardando slowing the impetus with which cause attempts to burn the stages of effect to achieve its final purpose, that I wrote about here. It's how Shakespeare manages theatrical time, makes theatrical experience into something other than a causal nexus. Our relation to time changes, we live (to alter Beckett slightly) a Shakespearean pause. That's the point: not the contrast between green and real (urban, ordinary, everyday, whatever) world, but the access to that pause.

I can segue to my observation by quoting the Beckett I alluded to, the narrator's description of Belacqua in More Pricks Than Kicks:
He lived a Beethoven pause, he said, whatever he meant by that.... He was an impossible person in the end. I gave him up in the end because he was not serious.
The pause is where the serious is suspended. It's not unlike (especially in More Pricks Than Kicks) Deleuze's evocation of alcohol as the world of the passé composé, the suspended, timeless, lost and present-in-its-loss world that is other than the careening, unfolding, continuous, exorbitant present. It's the achievement of a non-serious relation to time.

The achievement, that is to say, of parties. Proustian parties we know about, but it's been striking me how many parties there are in Shakespeare, how (as in Proust) they seem to occur mid-play. Not only in the green-world comedies (the "green world" is the place they occur), but in the histories and tragedies as well: the Mousetrap -- and the graveyard--, the feast to which Banquo so unexpectedly returns, Pompey's feasting of the triumvirate (among many others in Antony and Cleopatra), drunkenness in Cyprus, the hovel scene in Lear, the various strange gatherings in Titus. Parties in Shakespeare generally include us: we're not watching for some underlying dynamic (James Bond avoiding the noose tightening around him as he plays Baccarat against his antagonists), but spending time with the play, which gives us, allows us to share, a "time which is our own," to quote Shelley in his great poem of suspension, the "Lines Written in the Bay of Lerici."

Shakespeare's plays tend to follow the dynamic of the convergence of all surviving characters which Dan Decker describes so well in his great book Anatomy of a Screenplay. But the really interesting thing is the two-step rhythm of that convergence: first at a party mid-play (the Mousetrap, Cyprus, even the hovel, where the joint stool can't deny that it is Goneril), and then again at the end. The party is a false-ending, often (as it certainly is in the Mousetrap), but in another sense it's the other possible ending, the one came there for, the experience of the play and not of its resolution. The duration of that experience, in all genres, takes shape as a party.

These thoughts are partly inspired by listening, elegiacally, with just this sense of suspension, to Lou Reed's "Heroin," which is of course about what it's like to be moved to sing "Heroin." All true songs are about what it's liked to be moved to sing them: The old way you lived, relive it,* at least during the song: tomorrow is just some other time. What the song promises -- a promise it keeps in making it, and doesn't break by not keeping it in any other way -- is that you can always bring it with you, always sing it again tomorrow. Blanchot finds sublime the moment that Achilles offers Priam bread or death, hospitality or the end of things. Plays have to end, but no one so well as Shakespeare understood how to use them to offer the hospitality of time, the interim of friendship.
*Children, while you can, let some last flame
Coat these walls, the lives you lived, relive them.
--Merrill