March 9, 2008

1. Into Great Silence

Saw a remarkable documentary, Into Great Silence. It’s about a Carthusian monastery in the French Alps. The monastery is called Grande Chartreuse, and produces Chartreuse liqueur.

It’s a long movie — more than two hours — and there’s almost no talking. One might describe the film as meditation. It’s not only about spiritual life, it is itself spiritual. It shows the monks cutting firewood, ringing the bell, and watering the garden. It dwells lovingly on everyday objects, reminding one of a Chardin painting. It begins and ends with the following quotation:

The Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake: and after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

One of the most remarkable, one of the most spiritual films ever made. Highly recommended.

2. Twain and Shakespeare

Near the end of his life, in 1909, Twain wrote an essay called “Is Shakespeare Dead?” in which he discusses the Shakespeare controversy. He tells us that he has been interested in this controversy for fifty years — ever since he read a book by the American writer Delia Bacon. Twain devotes most of his essay to demolishing the Stratford Theory. Twain argues that the Stratford man’s environment and education weren’t the sort to produce Hamlet. Twain describes Stratford as

a small back settlement which in that day was shabby and unclean, and densely illiterate. Of the nineteen important men charged with the government of the town, thirteen had to “make their mark” in attesting important documents, because they could not write their names. [Shakespeare’s] father could not read, and even the surmisers surmise that he did not keep a library.

Twain notes that whoever wrote the works attributed to Shakespeare had a deep knowledge of law:

At every turn and point at which the author required a metaphor, simile, or illustration, his mind ever turned first to the law. He seems almost to have thought in legal phrases, the commonest of legal expressions were ever at the end of his pen in description or illustration. That he should have descanted in lawyer language when he had a forensic subject in hand, such as Shylock’s bond, was to be expected, but the knowledge of law in “Shakespeare” was exhibited in a far different manner: it protruded itself on all occasions, appropriate or inappropriate, and mingled itself with strains of thought widely divergent from forensic subjects.1

The true author was steeped in the law; his legal knowledge was such as couldn’t have been acquired by mere reading, mere socializing with lawyers. He had a “perfect familiarity with not only the principles, axioms, and maxims, but the technicalities of English law, a knowledge so perfect and intimate that he was never incorrect and never at fault.”2 Twain describes how Stratfordians have struggled to explain the poet’s legal knowledge — how they’ve supposed that he was a clerk in a Stratford law office, etc.

Twain argues that the Stratford argument is based on conjecture:

The historians “suppose” that Shakespeare attended the Free School in Stratford from the time he was seven years old till he was thirteen. There is no evidence in existence that he ever went to school at all. The historians “infer” that he got his Latin in that school — the school which they “suppose” he attended.... It is surmised that he travelled in Italy and Germany and around, and qualified himself to put their scenic and social aspects upon paper; that he perfected himself in French, Italian and Spanish on the road.

Stratfordians resort to conjecture because evidence is lacking. “We can go to the records,” Twain writes, “and find out the life-history of every renowned race-horse of modern times — but not Shakespeare’s!”

Twain describes the Stratford man’s will as

eminently and conspicuously a business man’s will, not a poet’s. It mentioned not a single book. Books were much more precious than swords and silver-gilt bowls and second-best beds in those days, and when a departing person owned one he gave it a high place in his will. The will mentioned not a play, not a poem, not an unfinished literary work, not a scrap of manuscript of any kind. Many poets have died poor, but this is the only one in history that has died this poor; the others all left literary remains behind. Also a book. Maybe two.

Twain notes that the reaction to the Stratford man’s death wasn’t the sort of reaction that you’d expect to the death of an illustrious poet:

When Shakespeare died in Stratford it was not an event. It made no more stir in England than the death of any other forgotten theatre-actor would have made. Nobody came down from London; there were no lamenting poems, no eulogies, no national tears — there was merely silence, and nothing more. A striking contrast with what happened when Ben Jonson, and Francis Bacon, and Spenser, and Raleigh and the other distinguished literary folk of Shakespeare’s time passed from life!

Twain doesn’t try to build a detailed case for Bacon, he simply argues that Bacon had the wonderful education, and the amazing talents, that one would expect to find in the author of the works attributed to Shakespeare. Twain quotes from Macaulay’s essay on Bacon:

In a letter written when he was only thirty-one, to his uncle, Lord Burleigh, [Bacon] said, “I have taken all knowledge to be my province” ....The knowledge in which Bacon excelled all men was a knowledge of the mutual relations of all departments of knowledge.

Such vast ambitions, such vast knowledge, such an inter-disciplinary approach, is what one would expect to find in a first-rate philosopher. Bacon was the Aristotle of England, and he possessed an eloquence, a rhetorical gift, that we don’t find in Aristotle. Surely Twain is correct when he says that Bacon is a stronger candidate to be “Shakespeare” than the Stratford man.

Twain points out that Bacon was fond of humor — as “Shakespeare” was. “It is evident,” Twain writes, “that [Bacon] had each and every one of the mental gifts and each and every one of the acquirements that are so prodigally displayed in the Plays and Poems, and in much higher and richer degree than any other man of his time or of any previous time.... There was only one of him; the planet could not produce two of him at one birth, nor in one age. He could have written anything that is in the Plays and Poems.” As Twain was writing these lines, Looney was building his case for Oxford, and soon Looney would show that the planet could produce two such geniuses in one age. What an age!

Twain understands how difficult it is to overthrow the Stratford Theory, weak though it is:

I am aware that when even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition.... It is the way we are made. It is the way we are all made, and we can’t help it, we can’t change it.... I haven’t any idea that Shakespeare will have to vacate his pedestal this side of the year 2209.

3. Looney and Shakespeare

I recently glanced at Looney’s book, the book that first set forth the Oxford Theory in 1920 (“Shakespeare” Identified in Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, by J. Thomas Looney). I was impressed, as I have been in the past, by the depth of Looney’s thought and the force of his reasoning. Discussing Oxford’s education, Looney says

We are told that Cecil had drawn up some scheme of instruction; that [Oxford] was “thoroughly grounded in French and Latin” that he “learnt to dance, ride and shoot”; and that he manifested a natural taste for music and a marked interest in literature. On the other hand, every word of the records we have of him, taken along with what he has himself written, represents him as one combining with his interest in books a more intense interest in life itself. Or, rather, we should say he was one in whom life and literature, especially classic poetry, seem to have worked themselves into some kind of unity: one who interpreted life in terms of classic poetry, carrying into life the conceptions of classic poetry, and reading classic poetry as but the reflection of ordinary practical life. To say that all this, is characteristic of Shakespeare is as banal a remark as could well be made; and the words which the dramatist puts into the mouth of Berowne in Love’s Labour’s Lost might quite easily be taken as Edward de Vere’s expression of personal opinions: “Learning is but an adjunct to ourself.” And this:

Berowne: “Small have continual plodders ever won
Save base authority from others’ books.
These earthly godfathers of heaven’s light
That give a name to every fixed star,
Have no more profit of their shining nights
Than those that walk and wot not what they are.

King: How well he’s read to reason against reading.”

The Shakespeare revealed in the dramas was no mere book-worm... plodding at academic studies. On the other hand it is almost impossible to conceive of a man in the position of the Stratford Shakspere rising to such a literary level otherwise than by the most assiduous and constant application of his mind to books. The man “self-educated” in this way has invariably to pay a penalty in those sides of his nature which relate him to practical life: a penalty which “Shakespeare” had not paid, and need not be paid by a man living in contact with educated people to whom “book-learning” is an “adjunct” to life rather than its chief concern.

Looney understands that Shakespeare was very well-educated, but he didn’t carry his studies too far, he didn’t become a pedant. He didn’t just learn, he also lived. In this respect, Shakespeare was similar to Kafka and Proust; as I said in my sketch of Western literature,

Like Kafka, Proust was deeply committed to literature. But Proust wasn’t bookish or pedantic. Like Kafka, Proust was more fascinated by life itself than by literature. Kafka and Proust viewed life from a literary standpoint, and found life to be the most profound and the most humorous of authors. Proust would have agreed with Kafka’s remark: “From life one can extract comparatively so many books, but from books so little, so very little, life.” The greatness of Kafka and Proust lies less in their learning than in their living. Proust learned a great deal from life, and his work is based on his own experience.

We should give Looney credit for understanding Shakespeare’s learning, and for finding a Shakespeare quotation that supported his view.

4. Twain on the Jews

After reading Twain’s Shakespeare essay, I read his essay, “Concerning the Jews,” which he published in Harper’s Monthly in 1899. Exploring the sources of anti-Semitism, Twain makes what might be called a Marxist argument — that is, he emphasizes economic factors, rather than religious factors: “I am persuaded that in Russia, Austria, and Germany nine-tenths of the hostility to the Jew comes from the average Christian’s inability to compete successfully with the average Jew in business.”

Twain argues that business success requires honesty, therefore the Jews must be exceptionally honest: “The basis of successful business is honesty; a business cannot thrive where the parties to it cannot trust each other.”

Jewish success, says Twain, is due to brains and honesty:

In Berlin, a few years ago, I read a speech which frankly urged the expulsion of the Jews from Germany; and the agitator’s reason was as frank as his proposition. It was this: that eighty-five per cent of the successful lawyers of Berlin were Jews, and that about the same percentage of the great and lucrative businesses of all sorts in Germany were in the hands of the Jewish race! Isn’t it an amazing confession? It was but another way of saying that in a population of 48,000,000, of whom only 500,000 were registered as Jews, eighty-five per cent of the brains and honesty of the whole was lodged in the Jews.

Brains and honesty led to success, and success bred anti-Semitism:

The man claimed that in Berlin the banks, the newspapers, the theaters, the great mercantile, shipping, mining, and manufacturing interests, the big army and city contracts, the tramways, and pretty much all other properties of high value, and also the small businesses — were in the hands of the Jews. He said the Jew was pushing the Christian to the wall all along the line; that it was all a Christian could do to scrape together a living; and that the Jew must be banished, and soon — there was no other way of saving the Christian. Here in Vienna, last autumn, an agitator said that all these disastrous details were true of Austria-Hungary also; and in fierce language he demanded the expulsion of the Jews. When politicians come out without a blush and read the baby act in this frank way, unrebuked, it is a very good indication that they have a market back of them, and know where to fish for votes.

Twain says that Jews have failed to acquire political power, even where they have the vote: “In Austria, and Germany, and France he has a vote, but of what considerable use is it to him? He doesn't seem to know how to apply it to the best effect.” He notes that the Irish, despite small numbers, have managed to acquire political power by organizing. He says that, ten years ago, Jews comprised 9% of the population of the Austrian Empire. “The Irish would govern the Kingdom of Heaven if they had a strength there like that.”

In earlier times, Twain says, some Jews didn’t have surnames, so government officials gave them surnames. Those who had enough money to bribe the officials were given pleasant names, such as Blumenthal (flower-vale), others were given unpleasant names.

Twain has no inkling of a coming genocide. He says that persecution will continue

here and there in spots about the world, where a barbarous ignorance and a sort of mere animal civilization prevail; but I do not think that elsewhere the Jew need now stand in any fear of being robbed and raided. Among the high civilizations he seems to be very comfortably situated indeed, and to have more than his proportionate share of the prosperities going. It has that look in Vienna.

Twain also has no inkling of a coming assimilation: “You will always be by ways and habits and predilections substantially strangers — foreigners — wherever you are, and that will probably keep the race prejudice against you alive.”

While Twain had no inkling of genocide or assimilation, Nietzsche anticipated both possibilities. Nietzsche said that Jews wanted to be “absorbed and assimilated by Europe,” and that this desire should be accommodated.3 On the other hand, Nietzsche saw genocide as a definite possibility: “In almost every nation — and the more so the more nationalist a posture the nation is again adopting — there is gaining ground the literary indecency of leading the Jews to the sacrificial slaughter as scapegoats for every possible public or private misfortune.”4 And this: “Among the spectacles to which the coming century invites us is the decision as to the destiny of the Jews of Europe. That their die is cast, that they have crossed their Rubicon, is now palpably obvious: all that is left for them is either to become the masters of Europe or to lose Europe as they once a long time ago lost Egypt.”5 Nietzsche’s predictions regarding the future of the Jews were far more accurate than Twain’s.

5. Chance or Fate?

In his famous treatise on war, Clausewitz said, “There is no human activity that stands in such constant and universal contact with chance as does war.... Of all branches of human activity, [war is] the most like a game of cards.” It’s characteristic of a rational thinker to emphasize chance, just as it’s characteristic of a non-rational thinker to emphasize fate. Clausewitz has a rational-scientific worldview, and he likes to use mathematical terms like “laws of probability,” and scientific terms like “centers of attraction” and “the principle of polarity.” Doubtless Clausewitz would be uncomfortable with the idea that a mysterious fate shaped the outcome of wars.

But Clausewitz’s contemporary, Napoleon, felt that fate was leading him to victory early in his career, and he felt that fate had turned against him at Waterloo. Perhaps what we call “chance” doesn’t really exist, but is shaped by fate, just as Freud argued that we can’t think of a random number, because our choice of a number will be shaped by unconscious factors. The ancient practice of divination uses chance events to learn fate, and predict the future. The ancient Chinese text known as The Book of Changes (or I Ching) uses dice and other random events to get advice and predict the future; Jung said this book never erred.

Clausewitz said war was like a game of cards, but modern playing cards originated from Tarot cards, and Tarot cards were used (and still are used) for divination. Perhaps neither war nor cards are matters of pure chance, as Clausewitz thought.

6. Miscellaneous

A. Received an e-mail from Jim Fedor, a Phlit subscriber:

If you really enjoy Jack London and the occult, you HAVE to read his Star Rover novel. About a man in prison who is treated poorly by the warden and kept in a strait jacket for long stretches. In order to survive he sends his mind elsewhere and time travels, changes dimensions and has experiences that would make a fabulous TV series. Hollywood did attempt something like the novel with the movie “The Jacket” but it nowhere comes close to the book (no surprise there.) A truly enjoyable read. 5 stars in my book!

B. Finished Shakespeare’s Tempest. I didn’t enjoy it a lot; I probably enjoyed the commentaries more than the play itself. I read an old Signet Classic edition that had a good essay by Tillyard, and a very good essay by Coleridge. Coleridge praises Shakespeare to the skies, and concludes with a memorable sentence: “Yet, with all these unbounded powers, with all this might and majesty of genius, he makes us feel as if he were unconscious of himself and of his high destiny, disguising the half god in the simplicity of a child.” Coleridge is one of the major Shakespeare critics, though his Shakespeare lectures only survive in the form of notes taken by an auditor.

A new edition of Shakespeare is being published. Llumina Press, which specializes in self-published books, is publishing Shakespeare plays that are “Fully Annotated from an Oxfordian Perspective.”

C. My wife recently read Twenty Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation, by Ian Stevenson. It’s a classic in the field, but she found it neither interesting nor persuasive. The cases it discusses are from India, Sri Lanka, etc., where many people believe in reincarnation.

D. I read part of Clive Leatherdale’s Dracula: The Novel and the Legend. The section on Tarot was interesting, but on the whole, the writing seemed hasty, careless, unscholarly, hack work. You might also consider Bram Stoker’s Dracula, part of a series called Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations.

7. Dracula

A. Quest for Wisdom

I finally found a top-notch Dracula essay. It illuminates the novel, it raises one’s opinion of the novel, and it makes one glad that one read the novel. It’s called “Dracula: The Gnostic Quest and Victorian Wasteland.” It’s by Mark Hennelly, and it was published in 1977. (Leatherdale discusses Hennelly’s essay in his Dracula: The Novel and the Legend, but the essay itself is far more interesting than Leatherdale’s summary of it.)

According to Hennelly, Stoker depicts both Victorian England and Dracula’s Transylvania as wastelands. Both areas need the other in order to be rejuvenated. Victorian England needs the passion, energy, and spontaneity of Transylvania, and Dracula needs the “man-brain”, the self-consciousness, of England. On the surface, Dracula is a quest to kill a vampire, but under the surface, according to Hennelly, it’s a quest for spiritual growth, for knowledge, for “gnosis.” Dracula advocates open-mindedness: “The action of the novel,” Hennelly writes, “dramatizes the Gnostic value of this ‘open mind.’”

In an earlier issue, I quoted a philosopher from India, who described Western thought as a ‘life-giving leaven.’ I asked, “Isn’t this how Westerners regard Eastern thought? Perhaps the beneficial influence operates in both directions.” This mutual benefit is, according to Hennelly, what we find in Dracula: England needs Transylvania, and Transylvania needs England.

In folklore, when a king ages, his kingdom declines into a wasteland. There’s nothing left for the king to do except go fishing, hence the motif of the Fisher King. Hennelly views Dracula as an aged Fisher King — energetic in his younger days, but now in decline. He must be replaced by someone young and vigorous. At the end of the novel, the new king is born, “the Harker child through whose veins run not only the Victorian blood of his parents but also the vitality of the Count whose blood Mina has drunk.” The Harker child is “appropriately born on the anniversary of Dracula’s death.”

Hennelly argues that other Victorian novelists also describe a “Gnostic quest,” a quest for knowledge and spiritual growth. Hennelly quotes another critic: “[Victorian novelists] stand as transitional figures between the confidence in objective fact that characterizes the age of reason and the unabashed solipsism that came into fiction in the present century through the stream of consciousness technique.” Hennelly points out that Stoker uses neither an omniscient narrator, nor a stream of consciousness, but rather a collection of diaries: “The disappearance of an omniscient narrator in Dracula reflects the atrophy of God and traditional faith so symptomatic of the Victorian wasteland.” Hennelly’s essay not only teaches one about Dracula, it also teaches one about the society that produced Dracula.

Hennelly devotes a paragraph to each of the novel’s major characters:

Renfield“Renfield’s wish to ‘not deceive myself’ allows him to distinguish between ‘dream’ and ‘grim reality’ and makes this ‘sanest lunatic’ an epistemological model for the other Victorians. As Van Helsing admits, ‘I may gain more knowledge out of the folly of this madman than I shall from the teaching of the most wise.’”
Quincey Morris“Quincey Morris, the Texan and prior suitor of Lucy, is not quite as simple-minded as he seems; or at least his simple-mindedness finally becomes an analogue of open-mindedness. Like Van Helsing and Dracula, he represents a foreign quality which the Victorians need to absorb.”
Arthur Holmwood“Arthur Holmwood, or Lord Godalming, emblemizes class, wealth, and aristocratic values, all instances of decay in the Victorian wasteland.... His bride-to-be is appropriately seduced by Dracula, the demiurge of the natural world; and Arthur’s sterile lack of open-minded belief renders him unable ‘to believe things we know to be untrue.’”
Dr. Seward“Dr. Seward represents Science but is also the detached alter-ego of the sceptical Victorian reader since his diary consumes so much of the narrative and since what he calls ‘the dogged argumentativeness of my nature’ provokes him repeatedly to question belief in the unknown: ‘Surely there must be some rational explanation of all these mysterious things.’”
HarkerHarker “begins the novel on an ‘unknown night-journey.’” Harker is the “actively questing knight errant.... Throughout the novel, this Galahad-figure’s fate tacitly hinges upon Dracula’s, the Fisher King. When he finally returns to the Perilous Castle and with the phallic Kikri knife helps to slay Dracula, Harker no longer ‘felt impotent’ but reclaims the sexual prerogatives which Dracula had usurped and produces a new male heir on the very anniversary of the Count’s ritualistic beheading and symbolic castration, or ‘sterilization.’”
LucyLucy is Guinevere, “scapegoat of an unnatural and wasted courtly-love code.... As Lucy’s transformation indicates, the stereotyped Victorian woman, elevated on a pedestal or embowered in an ivory tower like the Lady of Shalott, denies belief in the life-giving forces of carnal nature and produces the wasteland nightmare.”
Mina“If the blood of Dracula lethally drowns hitherto one-sided Lucy, it therapeutically baptizes, and provides rebirth for, diminutive Mina.” Early in the novel, Mina is an “emblem of angelic Victorian morality.” Later, however, “her open-minded epistemology balances the close-minded gnoses of the vampire hunters: ‘her tender faith against all our fears and doubting.’” Mina drinks Dracula’s blood, which “provides an antidote by a kind of homeopathic magic to wasteland sterility.... Her repeated slogan becomes a liberating epigram for the theme of the entire novel: ‘There must be no concealment... Alas! We have had too much already.’”
Van Helsing“Van Helsing and Dracula himself are both quite similar and represent vital, foreign imports which the insular Victorian creed must smuggle in for restoration of domestic tranquility. Like the Count, Van Helsing transfuses blood, has had his blood ‘sucked’ by Seward, is an isolated, enigmatic personality, and is also the same kind of ‘master amongst men’ that Dracula is.... [Van Helsing’s] personal life too has become a wasteland: ‘My life is a barren and lonely one, and so full of work that I have not had much time for friendships’.... Still armed with his Catholic faith, so foreign to low-church Protestantism, and his ‘open mind,’ he is the primary savior of the wasteland. His gospel finally becomes the redeeming deed of the novel: ‘I may err — I am but man; but I believe in all I do.’”
Dracula“One of Dracula’s opening speeches to Victorian Harker heralds his role as redeeming Gnostic: ‘There is reason in all things as they are, and did you see with my eyes and know with my knowledge, you would perhaps better understand.’” Renfield even calls Dracula “God,” reminding us of Jung’s conception of God as both good and evil.

The novel teaches a Jungian message: “There are darknesses in life, and there are lights.” Victorian society stressed the lights, and Dracula restores the balance by stressing the darknesses, just as Jung stressed God’s darkness.

B. Stoker, Lavater, etc.

I read an essay on Dracula called “Bram Stoker and the Crisis of the Liberal Subject”; it’s by David Glover.6 A rather confusing essay, but it touches on some interesting topics. Classical liberalism, Glover argues, emphasizes the autonomy of the individual; as Mill put it, “over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” But as the 19th century was drawing to a close, a new liberalism was emerging, which Glover describes as a “collectivist philosophy built around concepts of positive liberty, social justice, and a new economics.” The difference between the old and the new liberalism reminds one of the difference between today’s Republicans and Democrats.

The old liberalism was being challenged by a new psychology, as well as a new economics. Psychology was beginning to talk about unconscious forces, forces which called into question old ideas about character and individual autonomy. As Glover puts it, “not only was classical liberalism undergoing a crisis of identity in the years between 1880 and 1914, but liberalism’s crisis was precisely about identity, taking the form of a sustained debate around the question of the true dimensions of human agency.”

Stoker was a student of physiognomy, a science that tried to grasp human nature by studying the shape of the face. The Swiss writer Lavater had pioneered this science around 1780, and it enjoyed considerable popularity in Stoker’s youth. But it wasn’t the same science that Lavater had developed, it had changed during the course of the 19th century as a result of an interest in race. “The world of Dracula,” Glover writes, “was very much a world of ‘ethnological physiognomies’ in which racial identities were assumed to be plainly readable from appearances and, more than this, these readings could be used as data from which to extrapolate judgments as to a nation’s social and moral wellbeing.”

Stoker was a fan of Whitman, wrote him letters in his youth, and visited him when he went to the U.S. In an early letter to Whitman, he spoke of his interest in physiognomy, and he described his own appearance. In Dracula, Stoker is careful to describe the facial features of his characters; Glover says, “not only are Count Dracula’s malevolent powers recognizable from his ‘fixed and rather cruel-looking’ mouth or his ‘peculiarly arched nostrils,’ but when we meet Dr. Van Helsing, the man who will orchestrate the vampire’s downfall, moral fitness can be immediately discerned from his ‘large, resolute, mobile mouth’ and his ‘good-sized nose... with quick, sensitive nostrils, that seem to broaden as the big, bushy eyebrows come down and the mouth tightens.’”

© L. James Hammond 2008
visit Phlit home page
make a donation via PayPal

1. Twain is quoting the anti-Stratford writer George Greenwood, who is quoting a lawyer named Lord Penzance. back
2. This, too, is a quote from Lord Penzance. back
3. Beyond Good and Evil, #251 back
4. Human, All Too Human, #475 back
5. Dawn, #205 back
6. New Literary History, 1992, 23: 983-1002 back