In this video, the beginning of a new project of mine, I recite a speech from Hamlet, by William Shakespeare. Fans of my other modes of self-gurgitation may know that I am deeply, perhaps unreasonably ambivalent about this play and Shakespeare in general. But while that is true, I certainly find these words joyously moving to recite.
Another note: I have attempted to learn the general ORIGINAL ACCENT of these words, as near as I can come, and I hope it does not get in the way. It can be jarring to hear Shakespeare’s pentameters outside of the tones and rhythms of the RSC, but it’s good to push them closer toward an authenticity of deliver, however inauthentic it may seem to the first ears.
I hope you enjoy!
There are thoughts that live in the minds of any given thinker in the world today (American, white, Daniel, perfectly general), the reasonable thoughts, the general thoughts, the common-sensical. Clean them up with a bit of bite and a reasonably mean-spirited bonne-mot against any and all anti-Hobbesian or two and you can live in a tower of money and pulp. Such is the case of any professional ethicist, political philosopher, opinion writer, or prosecuting attorney you might come across. It is a decent life, but it will come to nothing.
There are other thoughts, dustier thoughts, locked-away thoughts, those existing above (abstract, transcendental, critical) and behind (historical) the world of common-sense. To devote one’s life to these thoughts without looking outside is to live the ideal of the academic quadrant. It is a cramped life, filled to bursting with stability, but while there may or may not be joy, it will come to nothing.
There remain the thoughts of abstracted, critical, brutal engagement with the reasonable thoughts of the everyday world. These have the chance to ruin every well laid plan and every common sense. This life will be hard, and there are no guarantees of joy or hope or anything at all, it is the only path that leaves a meaningful possibility of any detritus being left behind when you have disappeared; it is the only possibility of passing beyond the laws of economical life.
translated by me from Der Kommunismus ist das Mittlere, by Bertolt Brecht (http://www.nrhz.de/flyer/beitrag.php?id=10146)
To call for a revolution against all presently existing orders
But this present existence has no order.
To take refuge in violence
But there, where violence is practiced every day,
It’s nothing special.
Communism is not the most radical proposal,
Of which only the smallest part can be made real, but rather
Before it is completely, utterly made real,
There is no situation which
(Except for the truly heartless) would be bearable.
Communism is really the very least demand
The obvious next step, the middle ground, the reasonable.
Whoever places themselves against it isn’t a dissident,
But rather a diffident, selfish, unthinking little rodent,
An enemy of the human race
Wanting the most radical proposal, to make even the smallest part of it real,
All of humanity would charge into the grave.
The box is named public consciousness.
I’ve drunk an age of coffee and held the world in my eyes, sold a book to a child and bought a pig from an Austrian prince. There have been better days before now, but only one that is deservedly called today.
I wonder every now and then what the point of all this sadness is. Am I learning something? Does someone, somewhere, have it all in hand? Because I know the prompts for sadness are only ever going to get worse. I’ve read enough books to see this, known enough lives. I’ve read the bibles, of course, the recitations, the constitution, but those big old men in the sky never quite seemed to have the things under control, truly, more Sunstein than Lenin, is what I mean, and look how that turned out.
I suppose what I’m really asking: is Robespierre still alive? How about Joyce? Sontag? Susan Sontag always seemed to have the feel of the bend of the world in an important way. This is certainly the best guide I’ve had these last 8.5 months: https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/08/27/susan-sontag-rules-for-being-24/
Although Dylan Thomas isn’t too bad. https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/twenty-four-years/
Well, The Experiment is The Experiment, I guess,- Song, Dance, Dance, Repeat, Bed.
This is a poem I memorized at work a few weeks back. It’s very lovely, and while it’s mostly just a sweet little frippery, there’s some very important work done in it staking out a conception of what it means to describe a person metaphorically. The rules are different for poetic description than prosaic description, but once you’ve set out the metaphors that are always true of a subject, the ones that are never true of the subject, and the ones that might be or sometimes are true of the subject, and once you introduce a second position into the metaphorical landscape (namely, me, Billy Collins), then we’re pretty darn close to a respectable topology of the world.
Anyway, thanks for reading, and I hope you’re all feeling splendidly.