INTRODUCING THE PHOENIX ARK CULTURAL ESSAYS: It’s hard to describe what we’d like from the Phoenix Cultural Essays, and want to give readers, except something original, new, and very much about the voices of the artists involved. They will be short, crisp, entertaining, and their themes will range from politics to poetry, art to artisans, solitude to society. Perhaps the spirit of what we want to give then is epitomised in the very first, at the bottom here, by the artist Philip Mount. Since Philip is a painter, it’s form goes beyond the formal word, and is more of a cultural short story, than any conventional essay. We hope you enjoy all that is to come. JUST CLICK THE UNDERLINED LINKS TO TAKE YOU THERE PA PRESS
An essay on working with wild Coyotes in the Californian Central Valley
by Kelly Michelle Baker
You know, it’s sometimes a rough go being a young ecologist. After four-plus years of exams, loans, groans and you finally try to enter the workforce. Then it doesn’t even want you. Most entry-level jobs are only temporary and pay very little indeed, if anything at all. Furthermore, they don’t really want your education, your genius, your dreams; they want your skills set and above all experience. So suddenly that perfect point average that you fought for so laboriously in college is topped by another’s raw field experience. For every fifty applications you submit, you may hear back from just two employers. If you are exceptionally lucky, then you’ll get an interview. If the stars are aligned, you’ll be hired.
So why do we even bother? Simply put: someone has to. The planet is warming. Natural resources are vanishing. Whether or not you’re in the habit of hugging trees, ecology affects everyone and everything, and whatever your profession, you play a role, you have an impact somewhere. As a wise bear once said “Only you can prevent forest fires.” Although last-minute vegetation thinning, so no brush to spread the flames, didn’t save my house from 2012’s Waldo Canyon fire…and luckily Colorado Springs firefighters were more capable than ours. Somewhere out there is an important cause though and we’ve the power and passion to fight for it, so long as the Buzz brings it to the forefront of our often blinkered lives and clipped attention spans.
I sound a little vitriolic sometimes. I can be. The battle for a green earth is just that: a fight. For every winter night that my roommate and I trade indoor heating for a wooly sweater, our neighbor is basking in their own personal furnace. For every day we try to buy sustainable foods, someone is enjoying a Big Mac (in the sense such a thing is enjoyable, if you’ll forgive my culinary snobbery). With over-exploitation and over-population too, it’s an uphill climb and mine are just the little steps. What are the really big ones then? After facing two years of infrequent employment, I finally made the decision to go back to grad school. Although my intentions were necessarily self-serving, and still are to the extent I need a pay cheque, my advocacy has sharpened. That stands to reason; I’m among my own people now, each with their own passion, their own issue too. I adopt their interests and they adopt mine. That’s the glory of education — in finding your calling and running headfirst towards that better tomorrow.
So what am I doing now and how am I becoming a better ecologist? That’s the biggest question you’re faced with entering grad school. I took it very seriously indeed. By asking seasoned faculty members, hounding them sometimes, by turning to the big guns too like the Fish and Wildlife Service, at last I found my answer: I was going to collect coyote poop! I guess you might call it Doo or Die… Laugh. No really, laugh! Please. Poop, fecal matter, dog dung, whatever you call it, is after all inherently funny. The fact that I am up to my neck in it now is even funnier because, as a person with some personal digestive issues myself, as my family well know, perhaps it’s kismet I would at last get to examine the scat of another omnivorous animal. Yet why is collecting scat so important? In that I am perfectly serious and it’s not that obvious either. Here are my field-won justifications then:
1) Coyotes effect everything in the local food chain, probably more than you think, even if you don’t spend your day thinking about it! The best way to find out what they eat is to look at what they leave behind. Although coyotes have an evolutionary aptitude for a predator diet, they’ll eat anything from wild grapes to crickets. Here in the Californian Central Valley we have many crops and in the Fall coyotes start eating tomatoes. Quite a few of them, in fact. Almonds too. This may hinder or help agriculture but whether or not they are scoffing enough crops to cause any substantial damage is beyond the scope of my study, as yet. BUT we can know with certainty that coyotes prevent crop damage by indirect consumption, which brings me to item two:
2) Coyotes eat micro herbivores like voles, rabbits, mice, rats, etc. This is hugely significant. Although we have a few bobcats and birds of prey here that do their own work, coyotes put an enormous dent into what would otherwise be explosive rodent populations. This is good for ecosystems then, as proliferation of any one species may exacerbate disease, encourage invasive species dispersal and so on. But it also has anthropogenic effects. Meaning the balancing act is that Coyotes may eat crops but mice eat MUCH more. About 8% of crop damage per acre comes from birds and herbivores, most of which are themselves prime snacks for tummy rumbling coyotes. Without predators then this statistic would skyrocket. A similar finding was made with the return of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995 by the Naturalist Jean Graighead George, underling the importance of predator activity to healthy biospheres. Out terrain is in fact sparcer, harder, less of the real wild. Given my findings so far, specifically the massive number of voles that coyotes eat in every season and at every refuge, I believe the blushing tomatoes are certainly worth the trade-off.
3) Coyotes have intrinsic value, especially if you love animals, like me. Indeed, to bring back the romance of such animals too is very important, so remember that wily coyotes have those other names too, like the prairie dog, the brush wolf and the American jackal. Some might say this is a little wishy-washy but most nature-buffs can appreciate the beauty of charismatic predators. Coyotes are natives and their presence runs very deep in both human and ecological cultures.
4) Knowing what coyotes eat will lend itself to future research. For instance, if we know coyote are eating mule deer (which can transmit disease to livestock) there could be a study on how bovine-tuberculosis fluctuates in the presence and absence of predators. We could also study seed dispersal and how coyotes spread both wild and agricultural seed. These are just two examples in a hundred possibilities, dozens of which I probably couldn’t dream up, without furthering my education even more.
What’s my real point though, other than to attempt to glamorize, even aggrandize, ecological poo-collecting? I suppose I have many: the first is fight your battles. Take baby steps and stick with them. At the heart of it all, stay learning. Everyone is striving for something (Kickstarter has taught us as much) and even if ridiculous on the surface, try to find the inner merit, even if it may not be immediately so evident. So, keep learning, keep growing, even if that means playing Devil’s Advocate sometimes (as a friend reminded me at my last presentation).
Understanding coyote diet won’t rebuild the polar ice caps by 5 o’clock tomorrow, nor reverse the drought exacerbating wildfires in my own hometown. But it’s a dot of colour and significance in a much grander picture, where sustainability incorporates the wider needs of nature. That’s one hell of a painting. So I hope others will stand beside me with some able brushes and add to the picture too. Be informed in your personal interests and then go much, much further. The world’s very big and there’s much to fix. Get out your tools. Borrow from others and share. With that, I’m off to the seaside to spread the word, which I am trying at my own website too: kellymichellebaker.com
Meanwhile you can spread another word on great animal stories and back David’s dreams too by going to Kickstarter and BACKING THE PROJECT
Kelly Michelle Baker
This article is under copyright to Kelly Michelle Baker: 2014. All rights reserved.
Kelly is a young ecologist in California, a passionate reader and one of the team who supported Phoenix Ark Press over Light of The White Bear and Dragon In The Post. The first picture is a Wikipedia public domain image of a Coyote in the snow, in Yellowstone. The second shows a map of the Sacramento River Watershed in the Central Valley. All the backers of Kickstarter projects have been invited to contribute their passion, knowledge, concerns and hopes to Phoenix Ark, working with David’s editorial help, as a little publisher throws the doors open wide.
THE LESSONS OF CROWD FUNDING AND FIGHTING THROUGH THE NOISE OF THE INTERNET
Any value to this article comes out of direct experience of trying to fund a book project on Kickstarter for Light of The White Bear but also echoing the battle being fought in the US now and across the world against Digitisation and the likes of Google effectively stealing work and putting it up for free. It is of course a changed landscape since the arrival of the web, that has altered so much socially and commercially and been a particular threat not just to writers but artists of all kinds, from musicians to photographers and visual artists too. The problem is we all seem to be implicated in that ‘culture for free‘ mentality, the white noise of the Internet too. Which is why I was so shocked at one acquaintance delighting in the ease and accessibility of his Kindle, which on the positive side had increased his own reading, yet being so casual about having downloaded 4,000 books for free. Perhaps you don’t wake up to a thing until you are directly effected yourself, like all those anti Piracy campaigns in Cinemas, back with the dinosaurs, but it is a very serious challenge to any kind of real culture, surely always something shared, and to the individual artist too. It echoes doubts about whether Facebook and the rest really connect us at a deeply human level, or more often give us a chance to put up only a mirror to the most successful or prettiest versions of ourselves, while we hide other truths in the shadows. So can you get over that 15 minutes of fame or Marshall McLuhan “medium is the message” truth and actually use the thing itself to change the medium?
Firstly there is the problem of writers and artists simply surviving, which in fact was always a very tough business. Do artists really have any more right than any one else though? I suppose that might depend on the artist, or whether you think poets are, as Shelley said, ‘the unacknowledged legislators of the world‘. Or if it is troubling that the likes of Van Gogh spent his life on the edge of poverty, wonder and madness, broken by the system, only to find his work one day worth tens of millions and hanging on the walls of slick Merchant banks. History and especially the history of the art market is too full of such ironies to dwell on it too long. Less than 5% of authors reach any kind of position where they can really live off their work alone, yet even back in the 16th Century, when the very idea of authorial copyright began to emerge with the new printing technology, booksellers, poets and writers made their way with kinds of private patronage, a bit like Kickstarter. One was a Southwark boatman called John Taylor, the self styled ‘water poet‘, whose verse is pretty much doggerel, rowing the river Thames in the wake of the likes of Kit Marlowe and Will Shakespeare, on Bankside. But who raised shillings and pence to take his work into print and at least it is one of the great historical sources. He also spent too much time, in the highly personal and often bitchy world of ‘letters’, pursuing those who promised backing and never coughed up! Shakespeare found his real and powerful patrons and his playhouse at The Globe and was wise enough to stay behind the scenes and stay true to his genius. Although Shakespeare certainly had a head for money and business. The fact is nowadays though, with super Capitalism and such vast and increasing inequality, the very idea of the patron is pretty much frowned on, so what steps into the breach, dear friends?
The only equivalent of that Printing Press revolution though, that so engaged in the battles of the Reformation too, is right now, over four hundred years later, with the arrival of the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, WordPress, Kickstarter and the rest. Such a challenge to Government’s with the likes of Wiki leaks and to tyrannies too, in examples in the Middle East. Perhaps it is reassuring that time goes back and fourth but how do you balance that laudable desire to give the world something for free, in those racing to put up the code of the Human genome before big business, especially in America, could exercise its ‘right’ to make money and patent, or Dr Salk, who gave out the Polio vaccine and said you had no more right to patent it than patent sunlight, with a writer’s desire both to find readers and to make a living too? Or indeed a painter’s, an actor’s or a singer’s?
So to Kickstarter, which here was partly a positive and partly negative exercise. Negative because it was an exhausting month and failed to hit the target of £6,000 to publish Light of The White Bear properly. It is not a large target, for someone who commented it is so easy to ‘self publish‘ these days or raised an eyebrow that any author should be so arrogant as to actually draw some funds to live on while editing! Perhaps instinct and experience rail against that because art is one removed from business, in the sense of trying to quantify what spirit or vision are actually ‘worth’. As to ‘self publishing’ it was done under the label of Phoenix Ark Press and it is not at all easy to ‘self publish’. The vast majority of ebooks or POD books disappear without a trace, leaving the litter out there on the internet too and if many are satisfied with finding a readership of say a hundred, good for them indeed, but for people used to being well published and having a powerful voice it can be soul destroying. Perhaps that’s something about ambition too, because every book or work of art has to earn its own readers. It is why Phoenix Ark attempted to build a community though, to be an unusual publisher, which is something that actually wrestles with the real work of writing and storytelling.
The positive came most strongly from younger readers, which is perhaps about something else entirely, namely remembering again that the most essential connection is writer to reader. Then the spirit of some people, often complete strangers, that stands in such much contrast to those who once called themselves friends, or indeed have a great deal of money. I was simply amazed how people with very little could be so much more generous than those with far more, both in fact and in spirit, but perhaps that is a life lesson about the salt of the earth, or how the years shut you off. It is never exactly fun not achieving a thing and yet, to be fair, I asked that question myself, namely if one ‘patron’ had come in to raise the 35% hit to 100% in the 11th hour, was that what I was really looking for? I wouldn’t have looked a gift horse in the mouth, I think, and it would not have let down fans either, but the real answer is no. What I am looking for is both practical backing, money, but real spirit too, energy, communication and essentially achieving something unique by reaching and I hope inspiring many people. Because that will itself ensure some kind of immediate readership again, as well as making one project happen, but perhaps kindling some kind of fire and passion out there too.
That is why when a new project launches next week, Dragon in The Post, on both St George’s Day and Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23rd, a film also appeals once again to the idea of building a grass roots publisher, in one sense ‘your publisher‘, to try and break through those disconnected boxes, that I think the internet has so much created everywhere. We think we are communicating with ‘the world‘, when very often we aren’t at all, we are talking sadly to ourselves. Which is precisely why Platforms are the new battle ground, commanding them, and why I found it so depressing when I first started exploring publishing that an Amazon executive could write to me gloating over the fact that Amazon, where I do publish ebooks, had just pushed the US bookstore chain Borders into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Capitalism may or may not be better than many systems, but if it is one that only ‘takes no prisoners‘ in the race for money, we will all end up by being impoverished. Just as one new backer commented yesterday that it is a new kind of fascism if we are controlled by cynical and soulless executives, just interested in their pay cheques and jobs, and artists are not paid. It is about more than being paid though, it is about really being heard!
If it works, both as a project and a wider ‘business’ model, it is about attempting to call to writers, artists and illustrators too and give back to them as well, either supporting their Kickstarting or bringing them in, and I hope I can stay true to the spirit in which it was founded! It has failed so far in any grandiose sense, yet has I think built something of quality and with a voice. Is it possible though, or are the always skeptical voices right to scoff or hide in the wings and say for instance that Kickstarter is ‘yesterday’s news‘. It shows how surface we can be, how fad driven, but if Kickstarter raised a billion in pledges by the start of this year, or even The Globe theatre has now turned to Kickstarter to fund their traveling Hamlet, in every country in the world, it is not yesterday’s news, it is in fact the growing pattern of funding and involvement for the future and certainly not just in the world of artists or writers. The Globe project is unique in that a major institution is turning to Kickstarter, with a rather fine film of traveling players singing ‘a begging we will go‘ but then Phoenix Ark Press has long been begging to be heard over quite unique work on Edmund Shakespeare, Bankside and Southwark and also approached the Globe about it, much to find the usual institutional response. Then the sadness of it is reflected in a friend emailing a link to a new book rising high in the Huffington Post charts on the top ten things you never knew about Shakespeare, starting with the fact that he even had a brother called Edmund. I was never approached about it and you cannot sue for copyright infringement on fact, but I seriously wonder where it came from. We’ll see, because in fact there are several mistakes here which need to be corrected, simply for the purpose of real scholarship. I have always noted that my first knowledge of where Edmund was staying in 1607 actually came from Professor Allan Nelson at Berkeley and a talk about the Token Books at Southwark Cathedral and to his students at The Globe.
Kickstarter though, beyond the gloss of success stories like Neil Young hitting his target and far more in a day, and good for him, is just a well designed and supported website. Just as a Kindle or Nook are really nothing more remarkable than screens, as we start to see the content again, beyond the snazzy, over important technology. A very good model too, because it does not allow you to draw any funds unless the whole target is reached and so energy and quality to leach away. But nor does it block the idea of trying again and so potentially growing and growing that fan and backer base. Which is why it was so positive to get such useful feed back and the spirit that said ‘try again‘, to create I hope a kind of fellowship, that could make many journeys either on Kickstarter, at Phoenix Ark press or elsewhere. Although having tried for five years alone with Phoenix in a hugely personal and painful publishing battle too and having lost almost everything doing so, except a pen and a piece of paper (well, a keyboard!), there are only so many times you can try the same thing without being labelled sad or nuts.
Kickstarter is different though, because it gives specific project targets, that you should have in any business anyway, but allowing a medium to try and kickstart something much bigger and more visionary. Although what that is really about is the people involved, both me and you, and the integrity of the work we can or can’t produce together. I hope you will see that, when you see the new project up on line, which has also been designed specifically drawing on the talent and creations of fans. There are over 130 dedicated followers at Phoenix, who see articles published instantly, and many, many more visitors, so do come and visit. But consider doing more than ‘Liking‘, nice as that is. I have over 400 followers at Goodreads too and now over 500 friends on Facebook, though I must go through that and define what I actually mean by friendship. I will never pay, for instance, like David Cameron or cynical business, for ‘likes‘, as I keep getting emails encouraging me too, with the temptation of somehow suddenly going ‘viral’. Just as I resisted allowing WordPress to jump my site with their own advertising.
This project I hope shares a fire about one book, but many possibilities and ideas, about the chance of a future, and also returns to that idea of people who back it becoming Friends of Phoenix Ark press, with rewards, news and discounts too here. But I hope it’s a journey, an adventure, that can bring many real things, not just digitalised words, made out of HTML number coding, crackling pointlessly through the electric ether.
David Clement-Davies April 2014
The picture is a public domain Wikepedia image of the original Globe by Hollar, although the whole map of Bankside needs to reassessed and can be with work about Edmund Shakespeare, The Vine tavern and it’s links to St Margaret’s Church and The Brotherhood of Our Lady of Assumption. That work Phoenix Ark certainly retains moral copyright in.
Last Saturday the large mulberry tree planted in 1965 by Dame Peggy Ashcroft, in the garden at the back of the site of Shakespeare’s house at New Place split in half, under the weight of the heavy rains. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust were quick to erect a sign in front of the mournful wound in Stratford-Upon-Avon saying that it would be strapped back, in an attempt to save what flowered from a cutting of the larger mulberry tree, in its stone wall bedding in the same garden. That tree itself is said to bred from an offshoot of Shakespeare’s original tree, or an offshoot of an offshoot, currently plump with the juicy blood red berries too. A tree which Germaine Greer in her book Shakespeare’s Wife suggests may have been planted by Anne Hathaway four hundred years ago, to begin the cultivation of valuable silk worms. It proves something has always been about money and survival, and certainly was in Shakespeare’s day, whether in Stratford or London. Meanwhile another mulberry tree in the front garden has caused a bit of bother in impeding the small archaeological dig underway for four years now, that has unearthed a small neolithic pit on the site of New Place, but little else, except shards of uninteresting pottery. In 2012 the Trust applied to remove the tree to get to the Tudor foundations.
The archaeologists cannot dig around or under it though, let alone fell the thing, not because trees are lovely and mulberries taste sweet, and stain your hands very theatrically too, but because it is the subject of a TPO, a Town Preservation Order. One archaeologist, perhaps echoing the sensitivities of what sometimes strikes you as a siege mentality from the Birthplace, was quick to point out that at least it will preserve whatever lies beneath for future generations of archaeologists. Everything is perhaps a vogue, and Time Team did much to bring in today’s spades, a series which should never have been axed. Yet as WH Auden said of discoveries about the facts of Shakespeare’s life being irrelevant to the living importance of the sonnets, for instance, whether involving real dark ladies or homoerotic affairs, I am not entirely sure the bits and pieces even matter that much to Shakespeare, or rather they are, like ‘real life’, always somehow a world apart.
For those in love with Shakespeare, not easy Bardolatry or heritage Britain either, Stratford-Upon-Avon can be a rather depressing place, at times, once the thrill of imagined proximity wears off, and you get stung by the LPA, the privatised Local Parking Authority, that has got into the Press for making such noxious profits. Much that is peddled to the tourists by the Trust too, if not exactly bogus, is also questionable to scholarship, or in getting you back to any kind of linguistic and social source matter. So even to dub the house on Henley Street with its awful concrete chimney stack ‘The Birthplace’, on that original wide market way, and now crowded with anything from The Food of Love cafe opposite, to a Harry Potter emporium, sometimes seems so pompous and makes Stratford a kind of over-sanctified Bethlehem-on-Avon, exploiting the mewling secular God of literature in a way the Bard would surely have laughed or despaired at. Perhaps the Victorians were to blame.
Shakespeare saw so much that it might just have been a knowing shrug, because it has been going on for rather a long time, as that window in Henley Street proves, scratched with some rather famous pilgrim signatures. All this is of course an annex to that behind the stage set work of the Trust’s important archive, which apparently the RSC for one has a very good relationship with, according to the dedicated archivists, the fruits of which are impossible to know until they crop. With a four hundredth anniversary peg approaching in 1616 though, and The Trust assessing the future, perhaps it’s time for a little plain speaking, without fear that it might result in new Midland Riots, or offend Prince Charles and Kate Middleton, now we’re all commoners really. Time to engage in some of Germaine Greer’s loudly flaunted heresies too then, that makes her book on Shakespeare, Anne and the role of Elizabethan women so refreshing and stimulating. Although for all Greer’s bristling attacks on other scholars and their mostly male assumptions, not necessarily less valid than female ones, Germaine is a little too keen to sell her own feminist line on Anne, Shakespeare, and womanhood, and makes some glaring mistakes too. In the same pages then that assure us that all the three un-wed brothers were back in Stratford in June, 1607, for Susanna Shakespeare’s wedding to John Hall, she overlooks the fact that Shakespeare’s youngest brother Edmund’s unknown lady was heavily pregnant at the time in London, in a poor part of the city too, and within weeks would give birth to a boy child, Edward, who died within the month. Four months later Shakespeare’s youngest brother, himself a player, at least in records, would be dead too, on Bankside, at only 27. If that underscores something of a dysfunctional Shakespeare family, or the problems of all families making new ones and their own way in the fighting world, it is in line with so much being written nowadays about the Bard and the times, with a grittier reality than Bardolatry has allowed and as important as getting back to the complexity and passion of the plays and poems.
Meanwhile people flock to Holy Trinity Church too, some to take in the signs assuring us Shakespeare was an active Christian, others to find their own meanings, inspirations and theories in Shakespeare’s grave. Hall’s Croft though, a building in fact dubbed a croft in the discovery of all things Scottish, in the 18th and 19th Centuries, naturally as bogus as BraveHeart, now has absurd and tasteless cut-outs upstairs peddling fun to the family and the kid’s market, in the Horrible Histories vein that seems to swamp everything. Also quite ignoring the rather fascinating story of who lived in that home and how the place itself becomes part of the mythos, that could make its own interesting exhibition. Like the actor Anthony Quayle or the two goodly ladies who owned Hall’s place and spent so much time in India with their Guru. Meanwhile, down the pub in Wilmcote, they mutter that Mary Arden’s house and farm was neither in the original building first claimed for it, in the Wilmcote complex, nor in smaller house down by the wall, today claimed as her house, but in the modest ruins over the road, by the field and overspill car park. Ho hum.
The Henley Street home, being ye holy Birthplace, Thomas’s Nashe’s house on the site of New Place, Mary Arden’s farm and the Hathaway Cottage, with the grave in the Church somewhat appended, are the five jewels in the crown of Shakespeareana for the Trust, at £22 a ticket for the grand tour (not including the £2 the Church asks for a donation, rather too officiously). For me only one of them really starts to touch a time though and that is the more off-the-beaten track working farm recreation down Mary Arden’s manor, whichever building it really was. Perhaps it is about getting away from the queuing crowds too, but there little living displays of archery, falconry, an apothecaries table and a fully served and eaten meal at dinner time, being lunch and the main meal, with real, smelly farm animals too, bring something back to life, and offer a lot of fun. I especially enjoyed learning from a jobbing actor about boys taught archery at the age of six, and the enormous strength needed to fire a Long Bow with a drawing power of a hundred and twenty pounds. The one I shot rather badly only has a drawer of forty.
What is good is not only some authenticity but the engagement of the folk putting on the show, usually not actors provided with lines, but mostly volunteers who are highly engaged and really know their stuff. I’m sure much of this is silly to scholars, when touching the texts of history, but it is important to smell some of the ‘simples’, or the delicious food we could not try because of tedious Health and Safety, to hear men and women call each other Master and Mistress, even to know that women wore no underwear, if Germaine will forgive the ‘Greer’ observation. It should be a new adjective, in talking about Shakespeare and women. But there are rumblings of uncertainty at the moment, not helped by today’s endless need for consultations, and if everyone has a gripe, perhaps its true what one local said, that at the Birthplace Trust at the moment there are “too many chiefs and not enough Indians“. If they are all fired for it, then perhaps we should restart the battle that was waged in Stratford over enclosures.
As for reality, nothing is quite true of history, perhaps, or there are always exceptions that could re-dub Henry VIII with the alternative title All is True. Time moves on too, until it becomes seized into those ‘Heritage’ sales that are sometimes so sad, but our world all over. Although that farm does give you a taste of a world that Shakespeare so often describes and feeds on in living detail, with the memories of his own childhood such a well spring of the magic and miracle that was to come. For me that is one key to a time, and to Shakespeare, that people forget, the mystery and effectively liberation of not any complete knowledge, but the very lack of knowledge, in a specific age before records made it all about death and taxes, or the Tourist shops. With the Reformation, printing and theatres, Shakespeare’s consciousness and delight in words and their making then exploded into the living language like never before. There are other good modern ideas that pop up too though, like the singing tree in the garden at the Hathaway cottage, even the recreation of John’s glover’s shop, although as clean and sterilised as the atrocious low-budget sets for the recent series The White Queen.
The Birthplace makes a mistake in not making more of true ‘scholarship’ too, which is about competing theories, and the fact the Henley Street home was quickly given over in part to a working tavern called The Maidenhead, but I suppose it would be foolish to bring back middens, hanging and quartering, or the Black Death, to get to authenticity and some flow of reality and time, and nor should Stratford be The London Dungeon. Talking of sets, what of course divides Stratford is also the presence of the RSC, The Royal Shakespeare Company, in that weird and ugly building by the river, if with those wonderful theatres inside. It is an institution that some of the folk working at the Trust say is a law unto itself and not at all engaged in what jobs and sales mean they have to peddle themselves, willing or not. Then snootiness can be everywhere in Stratford, from folk defensive of the truths they think they enshrine, to actors and artists far above the ‘awful’ tourism, to often rather patronising attitudes to tourists too, who they seem to blame for exactly what they are being sold. Don’t dumb down then, wise up and inspire, and people will always thank you for the ambition and still buy the books and trinkets.
Since everyone loves a play, and the garden of Henley Street came alive when some merry actors appeared, and drew in the visitors, perhaps the RSC might think of donating more of its energies, or some at least, to bringing to life some of the underused spaces at the Trust, like the generous gardens where those mulberry trees lie, split or not, in some spirit of creative frolic. After all, the production of Titus Andronicus is much about the currents of popular cultural success. Lyn Beddoe, head of Birthplace marketing, and it should certainly not all be about marketing, says that a rethink is underway for the 2016 anniversary, while other sources suggest that it will be in union with the local Stratford council, whether wanted or not. I bet many wish they did not have to walk on egg shells, even if a Trust somehow trust to hold Shakespeare in Trust for us all, as suggested by a summer press release entitled SHAKESPEARE BIRTHPLACE TRUST HOLDS CONSULTATION ON PROPOSALS FOR A NEW LOOK AT NEW PLACE – SHAKESPEARE’S FINAL HOME IN STRATFORD-UPON-AVON.
Perhaps the Trust, that surely hardly needed to break a sweat over silly films like Anonymous, although patron Prince Charles was suddenly put up on-line as being on the side of a ‘Stratford Shakespeare’, not any other candidate for authorship, as if a future King was any better an authority than a player or a scholar, might drop their guard a little more and admit we all know Shakespeare was Shakespeare, of Stratford and London, just as his brother Edmund was a London player too, further evidence in the matter. But that marketing and the steady accretion of the bogus beyond that, or indeed the over defensive, does not tell us what the source of genius is, and sometimes simply fuels the silly and distracting counter theories, that also ache to get to harder truths of the times, like the fact of Edward Devere being dead by 1604 and anyone but The Earl of Oxford and a minor contemporary scribbler. (No, we’re am not going to engage again, but you can read some of the arguments here.)
That defensiveness can be a problem with the loftiness or certainty of scholarship too, that Greer takes such a pot shot at, and is often as much about jobs, arrogance, and hoped for gold in them there hills too, as any chauvinism. I don’t say it of the likes of Paul Edmonson, Stanley Wells or the legendary Bob Bearman at the Trust, whose books incidentally are all over the Shop, being the Birthplace Shop, simply because my own attempts to engage with them on Edmund Shakespeare failed, but admittedly on a visit in the middle of people’s hols. Though despite the excellent help of Amy Hurst it was a little odd to receive an answer to a member of the public’s enquiries that said it connected up with “The Shakespeare Circle” [Stanley and Paul’s next book], as though a warning off. If these people had just discovered Edmund or William were still alive and living in Graceland surely as servants of the Trust they would have a duty to divulge the fact if someone asked!
I have seen it elsewhere though, especially when a door shut so quickly from the US front, among a group linked to James Shapiro, as I tried to break new ground doing research in London and to share what is or is not known about Edmund and the players. Perhaps I’m at fault in not quite respecting a claim to ‘moral copyright’ there, but I had begun my search on Edmund Shakespeare quite independently, f starting with fiction, and you thankfully cannot have copyright in hard facts, which aren’t ever quite as hard as you might think. The academic ground that really needs breaking then, or the earth turning and airing, is a little more openness, humility and fun about Shakespeare too, from many who could not write a line of poetry, and about the vital magic of art itself, against the questionable validity of biography too, or it being especially valuable or not in getting to the root of genius and inspiration. Indeed we need to ask what people are really trying to get at or defend in worrying about Shakespeare the man at all.
There are two main vogues nowadays. One is that growing attempt to prove Shakespeare a Catholic, led by the likes of the generally inspiring Michael Wood, who Greer also rightly challenges, although it depends what you mean by a Catholic, in those labels so recreated by Reformation, and the other a kind of revisionist history that suggests Shakespeare was either a villan, ‘tight’ with money, ‘ungentle’, a dastardly philanderer, or a man who may have been the most articulate ever, but who openly humiliated and effectively abandoned his own sterling wife, Anne, as Greer spikely suggests. Perhaps you should never meet the author, although with Will I imagine people are willing to forgive a great deal, while it is hardly sacrilege to suggest, as Peter Ackroyd does, that Shakespeare might have got a little fat later in life, or worried about money. Greer is simply wrong though to assume all men have thought women somehow the villains of the piece, or Shakespeare spotless either, and not to articulate more how the age itself, and a playwright who could produce Rosalind and so many other astonishing women, is so precious to that understanding of love, good and bad, or trying to understand what it’s all about. Oddly Greer seems something of the Puritan, when perhaps it was a Protestant Reformation that inhibited female liberation by hundreds of years, or time goes back and forward.
What Shakespeare’s Wife is so right to underline though is how the centuries of attempts to blacken Anne in order to justify or liberate Shakespeare are both nasty and puerile, when, for adults at least, life is surely more textured, rich and problematic too, whatever the meaning of that ‘Second best’ bed bequest in his Will. At times hers is perhaps the oddest book of all then, for the marvelous and valuable detail, since it simultaneously has Shakespeare in love with and dependent on Anne, betraying and neglecting, avoiding London stewes, or contracting syphilis there, and either not there in his own family’s life or there a great deal. So we are told Anne read the sonnets in 1609 to discover Will was homosexual, though also told the label did not exist and it is not possible to pin the sonnets to the cliché of a starting obsession with a man and then a Dark Lady. She neglects the legend about Sir William Davenant too, and a son born in 1606 to another woman, so Shakespeare as more free form about sex or love, but not necessarily in the darker or more sordid quarters of a London cess pit, so associated with players. What it does highlight is the power and importance of looking at Shakespeare through someone else’s perspective, someone so close and important, the same reason for my looking at Edmund and the family.
Finally to even graver matters though, that tombstone and monument in the Church, which has caused such problems and speculations, first because of that odd three-foot gravestone on the floor, and secondly because of that rather uninspiring monument and bust on the wall. With such concerns about disturbing a mulberry tree today, TPO or not, or local politics that the Trust cannot be blamed for, we’re very far indeed from the patrician days then when Edmund Malone could march into Stratford and instruct the wardens to paint the bust white. A good thing when you consider how many Shakespeare experts have been rather questionable themselves, from even Malone taking cuttings from Henslowe’s and Alleyn’s dairies, to Halliwell-Phillips stealing books, to John Payne Collier forging entries to prove his often convincing theories. Naughty men all, and not the strange Ms Bacon who came up with the Sir Francis Bacon authorship theory. A mulberry by any other name would taste as sweet!
As Bill Bryson points out though, the oddest were the American couple, the Wallaces, who ploughed through five million documents at the National Archives, to be rewarded by turning up the Bellot-Mountjoy case and much else besides. Mr Wallace became convinced that he was being spied on by the Brit establishment though, not exactly impossible considering Prism and Tempura, and returned to Texas to discover an oil well in Wichita Falls, that made them enormously rich and rather unhappy too. A very Shakespearean turn in the weather. The Trust though needs to somehow temper their over easily digestible tourist trap, with a sense of less marketable purposes, like the significance of the archive, and also realise that too much tourism gets tawdry. Also that you can neither be all things to all people – only Shakespeare can be that, and probably always will be – nor do anything really creative without taking some risks, and injecting new blood, including risking offending someone, somewhere. Does that mean being tough on one mulberry tree to reach other kinds of roots again? If the experience in 1756 of the curate Francis Gaskill is anything to go by they should be careful, since his growing tired with visitors saw him taking an axe to the original tree, and resulted in the town taking revenge by smashing his windows. Or perhaps this storm induced split will remind everyone the rain it raineth everyday’ and that none of the trees are original anyway.
In terms of the grave I must admit that my own nosy, blood hound instinct is to allow someone to drill a small exploratory hole in the monument, not for oil, but to see if there’s anything inside, whether ashes or almost impossibly manuscripts, if only to put treasure hunting to rest for good and help everyone get back to what really matters, the works. Which could hardly offend historical or religious sensibilities, by leaving in peace the gravestone below it, with that famous curse not to disturb Shakespeare’s bones. There again Greer makes some stimulating speculations and one is that it might be there because herbalist John Hall knew that to disturb any bones would expose a skeleton showing the marks of syphilis. Although to me it is something both about the tendency to move graves and perhaps not to rake over the agonising battles of the Reformation itself, that Shakespeare so fought out, inside and out, indeed the secrets of people’s private lives, that Shakespeare was also masterful at drawing a veil over too, in contrast to our all invasive age and ‘the right’ to know. It is the journey from the pornography of Titus Andronicus to the magical sensitivities of his dance of theatre towards marriage and real union, his understanding of the unseen too, and his strange, eventful histories, to reach the most creative truths of people and lives.
Actually what is so striking about the grave is not just Shakespeare’s stone, but the row of tombs there, right at the edge of the chancel, and thus in one sense at the forefront of the whole town to come, including Shakespeare and his wife, Nashe, Hall and Susanna. It seems that the defense and creation of the mythos then, that in one way culminated in today’s tea shops and T-shirts, had begun as soon as Shakespeare died, like that search for a coat of arms and status as gentleman, in the often grim survival stakes. At times it is as false though to the hard, tender and fascinating truths of life, as that monument erected at the end of Evelyn Waugh’s A Handful of Dust, obscuring all the betraying and messy bits, or a man doomed to jungle madness, fated to read the complete works of Dickens to a lunatic. Perhaps we should all be allowed to dance around a mulberry tree then, with the lads and lasses at the RSC, or go off to The Windmill tavern nearby and quote some Shakespeare, as we drown our sorrows: “The Wine cup is a little silver bell, where truth, if truth there be, doth ever dwell.”
David Clement-Davies is finishing a book on Edmund Shakespeare called Shakespeare’s Brother.
The picture shows the public domain sketch of New Place in 1737 by George Vertue.
A THIRD NORMANDY LANDING
Normandy, this Sunday, on a grey, early-February day, seemed empty and almost closed. Apart from the chattering and irreverent French school group, snaking down from the magnificent medieval gothic cathedral of Bayeux, vaulting in its simple brilliance, through the defiantly haute bourgeois and rather charming town of Bayeux. With its original 16th century wooden cross-beamed buildings, the lovely centre presents a French-Tudor aspect, to a head rooted in Shakespeare, though on the roundabout sweeping you into town, arms at his hips as ever, legs set attentively apart, is a far more modern vision, in the large metal statue of General Montgomery, with a stone gateway behind, staring towards the city of Caen, that he paused to attack for two months, for fear of casualties. But it is armed with a taped guide, piping jaunty medieval music at you, that you can enjoy Bayeux’s most famous ‘World’ attraction, that almost thousand-year old tapestry, that stretches for nearly seventy stitched metres behind its glass case in the town-house museum.
The great Bayeux Tapestry seems at first a bit of old cloth, perhaps a cover for a very long French bolster, until each scene is explained by the nifty recording in its full story-telling aspect. As it would have been displayed, for two weeks a year, in that great Cathedral, for a mostly illiterate medieval populace, to explain to them the ways of the Great and the Good, or not so good. The tapestry, of course, commemorates William’s and the Norman’s conquest of England. Commissioned by archbishop Odo of Bayeux, it does more than that though. It tells the very detailed story of the Confessor dispatching Harold to see his cousin William in France, of his capture at the hands of a local French noble, William suing for his release into his hands and Harold’s oath that the crown will pass to William on Edward’s death. It is of course a case of woven propaganda, even if oaths and the family relationships of noble houses were enormously politically important. As they believed they were, right up until the First World War, when Historians and theorists began to argue about other world forces, pressing to the individual, from economic imperatives to Marxist teleologies, sweeping us all before them.
The unfolding scenes also depict Harold fighting alongside Normans against a French nobility, local warlords really, like the English barons, his return to England and of course the Confessor’s death in 1066 and Harold’s coronation, so breaking his oath to William the bastard. So to the all-dominating theme of that remarkable tableaux; massed warfare and invasion. Most of the larger sequences are dedicated to the construction of that Armada and invasion force then, underlining how real warfare is a truly social enterprise, dependant not only on men and arms, hero or not, but ships, food, drink and supplies. The landing at Pevensey and the Battle of Hastings is presented in extraordinary detail, its triumphs and losses, with the bad omen of Haley’s comet streaking overhead, in barely faded threads, and the Saxon’s near rout of the French invading force, believing William dead, until he lifts his visor and the battle turns. The importance of the Norman archers, firing skyward, is stressed, as the lower strip is littered with mutilated bodies, until you reach that most piercing moment, to the Anglo-Saxon mind, Harold’s death from an arrow in his eye, and several in his body too.
It was rather appropriate then to ‘do’ those famous beaches, from which the French set out to cross the channel a thousand years ago, on the way to the Brittany Ferry back to the UK, from the incredibly badly signposted port of Ouistreham. The French still seem to want to look away when they contemplate ‘The Door of England’, La Porte D’Angleterre, and their arcane signposting can be its own kind of weave, in Bayeux or elsewhere. But I had set off that morning from my host’s house near Carentan and popped down to the beautiful sandy beaches at places like Colville-Sur-Mer, Arromanche and Pont Du Bessin. I had another purpose though, apart from interest and getting home, and that was trying to track the fate of an American friend’s relation, who died near St Lo in 1944, when an invasion force, the largest ever mounted in the history of the world, came the other way to the Normans, on D-Day, June 6th. Normandy may be stripped of tourists right now, but it certainly flags those events nearly seventy years ago, in giant roadside signs, and its seaside tourist industry makes full use of it too. So French place names have taken on others, far more modern and resonant, in the annals of change and time – Utah, Omaha, Sword, Juno and Gold, where the might of the allied Invasion force struck back against Nazi occupied Europe. Names that as a boy certainly stirred my blood heroically.
Utah and Omaha, where the Western Invasion force landed, US troops in Operation Overlord, lie West and East of the twin legged estuary that feeds the sleepy town of Carentan and competes with the canal system that once brought French butter to the coast, to be imported surprisingly into England in the 19th century. The British and Canadian troops landed east of them, at Sword, Juno and Gold, the Eastern Invasion force, and although Utah, Omaha and others have returned to a golden vista of sand and surf, edged with low slung chalet style holiday homes, and to remind you that life really should be a beach, it is only really at Arromanche that you get a taste of what it must have been like, and of the ‘monstrous anger of the guns’ that day, to quote Wilfred Owen’s grizzled First War lines. There the beach, despite the shrugging, insouciant disinterest of the French desk clerk at The Museum of Disembarkation, perhaps a residue of a Gallic or Norman contempt for all foreigners, especially English ones, is still littered with huge metal hulks from one of the most remarkable episodes of the war. Just as the wide bay is ringed with a large metal semi-circle of what constituted ‘Mulberry B’, a transportable Mulberry Harbour, to protect the men and crafts trying to disembark, from the wrath of the sea itself. Apparently it was Churchill’s own idea, to raise that vital visor of leadership, and even Bastard William on that other shore that day, despite so much criticism of Churchill’s own military tactics and input. Hence this place too has been given another name, ‘Port Winston’.
If the Bayeux Tapestry highlights the importance of the ‘war effort’ as a mass enterprise, a thousand years before, Arromanche writes it across the coastline in rusting pontoons and humble though crucial metal memorials. Memorials not only to the men firing weapons, but to the engineering corps that constructed the thing in the first place, and so much else, and the numerous support units of war too. Like the portent of Haley’s Comet though, back in 1066, a storm had struck the channel – to return to the weave of cloth and clothes, ‘The sleeve’ in French, La Manche – and almost delayed that fateful D-Day on June 6th. It went ahead, but another terrible storm was to strike in the week of the 9th June, 1944, the Great Storm, that lasted until the 17th. That Mulberry Harbour withstood its natural bombardments though and did its remarkable work too, far outlasting its envisioned use, and making Arromanche perhaps rightly ‘The Key to the Liberation of Europe’, as the sign says, and the vital foothold that fed the advance south: The door to France.
Of course it was the mass effort that constituted the astonishment of those Normandy Landings too. The months of prior bombing, disrupting bridge, rail and road in occupied France, the work of intelligence networks, the sea and merchant war and the massive Armada of Men and materials that was stock-piled across the channel and then set in motion. Like those Norman archers, the domination of the skies too. If, in driving through Normandy’s flat, crow-specked fields you also touch an earlier if recent age, in contemplating war, the horrifying vision of dug-in, mass trench warfare, man to man, bayonet to bayonet in the First ‘Great’ War, World War II was marked by enormous leaps in technology. It defined the power and direction of the rapidly moving German Panza Divisions, for instance, or ultimately the race for the Bomb. Who can say if such things are better or worse, but to return to those broken bodies below that ancient tapestry, and the agony or thrill of fighting on the ground, I turned my thoughts back to my friend’s relative and made a little pilgrimage to Colville-Sur-Mer.
It is of course, despite that Museum man’s insistence on the French name, which reminded me of how my Dad exploded once with Churhcillian fury on a Paris railway platform, crying ‘you weren’t so bloody rude when we liberated you in 1945’, part of Omaha Beach, and just above it lies The American Cemetary in Normandy. If the coast has now been re-defined by the macho utility of military operational names, I stepped back seventy years when I rounded a rustic, medieval bend of French houses, grouped about those famously perpendicular ‘Norman’ church spires that would be built all over England, to see ‘Big Red One’ emblazoned on a farmhouse wall. Big Red One was of course the US First Army and its thrusting point was at Colville-sous-Omaha.
So to a walk in the sand and then to the hugely well signposted cemetery. If America, that land of salutes to the flag, in 11am school bells, tolling the free or brave before school shootings kick off again, knows how to do one thing extremely well, it is of course memorials, in its near obsession with the fallen. The cemetery is a shrine, a beach head for the dead, and truly stirring in those rows upon rows of simple white marble crosses, on the rise of land above the sea, that tell how men from Florida, New Mexico, Texas, Utah and every US state, with names as varied as Mazzinni or Carruthers too, met their end on the beaches and in the fields of France. Like the Lincoln Monument in Washington, it echoes not so much with triumphalism, but an endless seeking for some lasting and hallowed ideal; that great American split, perhaps, between high idealism and true hard ball, defined in size and the monumentality of power and might. Yet, and not forgetting our own war effort, it is there too where you shiver to remember just how important those days were, and what we were really fighting for too. As my host commented, in dismissing so many who argue the ‘impressive’ might of the German war machine, whether it first foundered on the Russian Front or not, and in talking of their viciousness and in the end human obscenity, he stressed, in the hard terms of a veteran military historian, ‘well, I consider that a failure’. He meant Nazi soldiering. Of course, and in so many other ways too.
In its generous grounds, and clipped, well-tended box hedges that US satellite in Europe is of course also extremely well-funded. So, in the museum beside it, there is a brilliant exhibit, relaying war footage of the landings, and news footage of Eisenhower and others. It also highlights a mass effort, like the tapestry, and in its spare physical exhibits reminds you of the importance of the soldiers kit bag, while before you step out among those serried graves, in a large glass case there is simply a WWII rifle, stuck into gravel, bearing just a tilting tin helmet. That icon nearly made me cry. Though my investigations into today’s cultural values did not, in stopping at the Macdonalds on the way to the ferry to compare tastes and find them exactly the same in France, London, or New York, fill me with the wonder of World union, it is, on that spit of land, a fanfare to the common man indeed, Copland’s dawn. For all its problems in terms of America’s enormous capacity for forgetting, or for sometimes glorifying the wrong end of war, the barrel of a gun. Very striking too in its difference to Paris’s great cemetery, that I had visited the week before – Pere La Chaise.
There lies the monumental masonry not only of the French dead, but intense cultural hierarchies and the impossible aspirations of families and dynasties to outstrip eternity itself. The tombs in eerie, ancient Pere La Chaise are like little stone beach huts, row on row, casketing the blown ashes, literally, of what we cannot hold back individually. Yet of course it is a place of defiant individuation too, in the names of many famous Frenchmen and women, including the fallen in both wars, but also others that made a far less conventional mark, whether it matters or not, from Jim Morrison to Oscar Wilde. It was Wilde’s rather bizarre grave, an art deco monument to a semi-eqyptian angel of inspiration, that I paused over most, among the gravelled dirt and nearly melted snow in Paris. The snow drops were coming. In the end I found those marble crosses at Colville more moving though, if less interesting – perhaps it was that movie ‘Saving Private Ryan’, always tipping us towards the point of human meaning, though verging too on American sentimentality. If those crosses told you very little about what happened to the US soldiers, and what they did, saw and felt. Perhaps it does not matter, because we all know it now. You do not have to wander through to find something of your own past either, because on screens inside the effective museum you can now call up that honoured roll call at the touch of a button, and find out where they lie.
I didn’t find my friend’s relative, ‘JT’, just as I know nothing about him, but then only 40% of the US dead lie here. The rest were shipped back home, or perhaps lie in cemeteries elsewhere. But since this was a pilgrimage, I lit a little night light that I had brought along for JT and others, wrestling to stay alight in the stiff sea wind stirring the clipped grass, in front of one of those crosses, of which there are many, that say the same thing in the end, “Known only to God”. In a thousand years time, perhaps as distant yet telling an image of the Unkown Soldier as those barely recognisable faces, beyond the identifiable Kings and Bishops, on that great weave in Bayeux.
STRUGGLING WITH THE TWO LANGUAGES?
What does it mean when a writer like Paulo Coehlo talks Good and Evil, God and the Devil, and says that the world, even the Universe needs renewing? Are those abstract truths, and is human consciousness really evolving or renewing itself in each generation? Now at the seeming risk of destroying the Planet, that has its own natural kinds of renewal, losing belief in any firm ground, constantly mishearing each other, or seeing world events that might make the strictest atheist declare “but for the love of God!”
Is Coehlo’s a process of pure metaphor, inside fables and storytelling, or working on the level of actual parable? He would have to be in touch with God if it was. Coehlo writes fiction, but literally speaks of miraculous waters and events too, as over centuries mankind has believed in them, and what is now explicable was once very literally miraculous, and still might be. As indeed that best prevailing metaphor of religion, light, is so often reflected in the psychological intensities, especially in fear or threat, and revelations of art and painting. He is also a Catholic, youthfully having dabbled with Satanism, but is he really talking about something inside mind itself, or external power and reality? It is a constant Religious theme that it is belief in extremis that somehow does miracles, though the Buddha is said to have left his print in a rock.
Most children experience storytelling, religious, magical or secular, not as story first, but as literal truth, before the process starts of distinguishing, and then perhaps banishment from the lot, like Adam and Eve from Eden, into the harsh ‘real world’ of an adult. Is more ‘primitive’ Religious storytelling then to be equated with the more innocent or simpler state of the child, while now we are all supposedly in the nasty, modern adult world? Is a child’s consciousness actually a purer kind of consciousness, of a world that every child experiences itself as being part of some universal whole, and then must separate from? All great children’s fantasy though is about the potential loss of God and magic, and of the magical psychic powers inside ourselves.
What does it mean when we talk very importantly in the every day about being rational, logical, controlled or indeed scientific, not needing a Spiritual or God language, yet higher science presents us with such extraordinary truths and perceptions too, far beyond the ordinarily or obviously rational? Which we cannot get our ordinary heads around, in trying to describe and define reality. Perhaps that is the source of so much longing and mishearing too, especially when we approach words like love, trust and faith. Indeed the fact that the language of the psyche, conscious and unconscious mind, is somehow a disaster, just in chains to the supposedly rational. The rational can justify all kinds of horror too. We are human but animal too and also capable of going on the most enormous imaginative journeys. We might as well wipe away story, poetry, love, song and art, the ‘magic’ of old, and childhood too, although of course science becomes part of a ‘culture’ as well.
What does it mean when a writer like Peter Ackroyd says he wants to be in only his own religious camp, but knows there are forces ‘out there’ we have now idea about yet? He has a marvellous phrase too, delivered by a fine fiction writer, as well as essayist, in his biography of Shakespeare. About it being impossible that Shakespeare somehow lied about a very happy rural childhood, that breathes through his work, drawing on the power of nature, fact and metaphor, without there having been some serious psychic disturbance on the surface. Shakespeare did experience serious psychic disturbances, but not in the plays that seem to draw on childhood experience, even if children are remarkably absent from plays more about how adults do or don’t get to the unions that create them – “Go play, boy, play.”
The Two Languages
It means that there are two essential languages, profoundly at odds, or in crisis these days, that are not helped by crazy fundamentalists, trying to lay down Sharia laws, and offended by all the effective miracles of the scientific West, but nor completely dismissable by smug scientists, nor atheists either, the the freedom to believe or know is vital. Einstein spoke the essential linguistic paradox or richness, seeing how strange and extraordinary it really is, when he said “you can either see everything as a miracle, or nothing as,” But then perhaps his language had just passed into the metaphorical expression of a different kind of wonder and seeing. What it is to ‘see’ space-time, or journey out through space in imagination before fact, or understand Quantum Mechanics and the interrelation of energy and matter or the nature of light.
Perhaps it speaks of Hamlet’s dismissal of “words, words, words” themselves, in his case in trying to seek the best and vital action, so challenged by real life in that England relocated to his “Denmark’s a prison”. As science’s major concern is not how you describe reality in metaphorical words, although that’s involved far more than you might think, and Mendeleev is supposed to have solved the Periodic Table in a dream, but experiment, and so testing, proving and reproving what is taking place at an actual level, that builds an independent language around it. Science is method first, then accumulated knowledge, but no great scientist would make the mistake of saying it is not very much about imagination too, and building and rebuilding realities in your head. Perhaps it is only ever about significant paradigm shifts that open up whole new worlds.
Science is a language that cannot allow for miracles though, even as it achieves them, to more primitive societies anyhow, and must push back the boundaries of superstition, even as it discovers the more and more extraordinary and inexplicable. Unless you are somehow scientifically trying to prove the existence of ‘God’. So, if you have gone beyond established Religion, you come to ideas like “holistic relativity”, namely that there is some kind of ‘moral’ related to energy itself, linked to the way that consciousness creates value judgements, or tells and retells stories about us. It might also be expressed in ideas like Chaos Theory and The Butterfly Effect, giving us a responsibility far beyond our immediate selves.
But a spiritual, or even religious language, whether you mean established religion or ancient myth, indeed magic, either as truth or just a story of Man’s psychic journey in the world, before we could create the rational language to label and deconstruct both experience and the perception of it, is the very stuff of storytelling and literature, religious or secular.
It is imaginative and emotional first, and deals most essentially in terms like love, hope, belief, spirit, or indeed kinds of human faith in other, or each other, even if nowadays, in the West, deconstructed as purely biological processes. How impoverished we would be though without such a undeconstructed language, a purer or more original language, and no less important in our everyday interactions with each other than knowing how the fridge works? In fact just walking down the street involves acts of faith, even if you have a problem in studies on story like Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots that he is essentially a Jungian himself, and so trying to prove a school of thought.
But perhaps the question is could consciousness have evolved out of an animal state, which certainly involves being conscious, if not quite self-aware, although animals experience shame too, without somehow conceiving ‘God’, whether the word for it came first or later? A consciousness first defined as feeling, instinct and sensation perhaps, the grunt of being out of the dark, but essential to evolving primates too. The God in the animal itself, defined first in male terms of The Father, but then in far more explosive terms as God of everything there is. In the beginning was the word…
No, surely in the beginning was the void and energy, but in the beginning of fully conscious Man, as we talk of Man, certainly, then God through naming and storytelling too. Unless of course you accept the very literal proposition that the word became flesh, though surely the point is still the word first, and language itself.
Of course there are many great Science Fiction stories, but fiction and literature are how a deeper understanding of each other, and indeed of language itself, hence its evolution into higher and shared metaphor, is hammered out, evolves and is shared culturally too. Just as we perceive our own lives best as narrative line. Obviously story is a part of our experience too, beyond everyday experiences around us, in the metaphors of fiction, great or small, crossing into reflections of reality, and the interrelation between worlds, inside and out. Inside and out being outside the story, but in and outside people’s consciousness and emotions in that story and the every day. Writers above all experience that sensation of somehow being inside and outside events, and their own work too, but so do we all. It can cause that raised eye problem that you get in films too, when you see the words “This is a true story”.
So to Joseph Campbell’s odd remark in The Hero With A Thousand Faces, to the effect that “the only true sin is to speak from the two worlds at the same time”. What on earth does that mean? It might echo Hamlet’s hyper rational “there is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so” , set against his essentially human and moral “I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, had I not bad dreams.”
Campbell may be making the mistake of mixing metaphors, yet what he is really trying to do, as someone attempting to turn the study of cultures and faiths into a kind of science, that he insists repeat worldwide, is speaking of things he understands intuitively, as reader of religious stories, myths and fables, but reinterpreting them as public essayist, writer, to approach an evolution of human thinking and understanding. The tension between the two is manifest, as the best fantasy creates a tension between real and fictional worlds. Just as Jung tried to make the ‘science’ of psychology, which may essentially be just an art, a primarily spiritual exploration, because he thought man essentially spiritual.
The two worlds at the same time? Perhaps in scientific terms that ‘sin’ might involve the basic truth of matter, as we are matter, our thinking about matter, then thinking about matter somehow thinking about itself! The viewer affects the experiment too, according to Quantum law, but perhaps the ‘sin’ of the scientist, as opposed to how his work is perceived or really affects in the world, is just being a bad one.
In human terms it might be being in love, perceived first as spiritual even holy state, and being outside that state again, then stepping between the two. In mythological terms it might be taking story, operating on some supra cultural level, as literal fact, yet somehow trying to prove it as part of the story itself. That was the ‘sin’ that took place at Phoenix Ark, with awful consequences, although when you have struggled with animal nature and ideas of good and evil, then get so horribly labelled by people you loved and needed, the greatest sin was at a publisher in America.
In Hamlet’s terms it is knowing that purely rationally, indeed scientifically, nothing is good or bad, because matter ostensibly defies value judgements, but that human’s are moral beings, who need some spiritual and ethical language and reality. Indeed need love and friendship, as much as food, water and sunlight. He spends the entire play trying not to commit a sin, or ask if sin exists, but it leads to tragedy anyway.
The point isn’t whether Joseph Campbell succeeds or not in his own attempts at some kind of proof though, especially if the process is underway anyway, or he is just writing stuff caught between imagination and study. But that there is an obvious crisis taking place now, as Hamlet’s crisis of supreme awareness was voiced at the cusp of religious Reformation here, four hundred years ago. Not a crisis for people who just get on as they do, and believe or know what they do, but at a higher cultural and social level.
Then and Now
A play has many voices in it, not necessarily interpretable in what you think a playwright is ‘saying’, but Hamlet talks directly of that brick-wall that causes it all, our own deaths, out of the mysteries of birth and consciousness, but then “that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns,” puzzling the will. That place you cannot prove scientifically, or think beyond, as Wittgenstein said “death is not part of the experience of life.” While simultaneously just having seen a ghost on stage though, in the form of Hamlet’s father, just back from his metaphysical journeying.
Of course it’s art, while paradox is an essential part of perceiving and exploring, living too, but especially creating art and fiction, that speaks with the force of actuality, more immediate and important than kitchen sink ‘truths’. But Shakespeare also had the most extraordinary awareness of his own psychic and creative processes, and protecting them too, at the completely instinctive level. He was not exactly studying himself as he wrote but wholly aware. So he has Hamlet speak to the ghost on a stage, or under it, stamping on his head on a literal stage trap door, “how now old mole?”. He is creating a drama, allowing representation of the possibly fictional, but also walking around the echo chambers of his own imagination, indeed psyche.
Just as Macbeth, the play, highlights the importance of that drunken porter, “Remember the porter”, as a kind of literal doorkeeper and doorway. While, surrounded by the language of witchcraft and evil, a very real thing under King James I, a psychic hell is unleashed on stage, and in the marvellous words of the characters, and a protagonist finds that in himself and others “Macbeth hath murdered sleep”.
Madness is of course also a state that haunts Macbeth and Hamlet too and comes true in Ophelia’s grief, and Lady Macbeth’s nightmares. A potential state written right across that most shattering and human play of them all, King Lear. “Oh fool, let me not be mad, not mad” that seems so much about splitting male and female energy and value. In The Winter’s Tale Polixenes’ collapse is an extraordinarily modern representation of today’s Nervous Breakdown.
It all speaks more of Jung than Freud though, of some experience of the whole Self, so balanced in Shakespeare, even Jung’s archetypes and Universal Unconscious, that Jung describes as a most gigantic world. So a source of enormous creative energy and vision, not limited by purely ‘scientific’ language. While the playwright to an extent had to live each of those characters into being, Shakespeare in cultural time was on a journey towards a world of modern psychology, but in his living world of Eros and Psyche, still and so far more liberated.
But Shakespeare turns away from murderous Reformation battles, namely overtly and literal religious thinking and conflict, or the kind of revolts and disasters of Christopher Marlowe’s Dr Faustus, bringing up dangerous charges of heresy in real life, by summoning his own metaphors for the seismic battles inside and out, in his very fabulous and dislocated The Tempest.
Where, as Peter Ackroyd suggests of John Dee putting aside his own Elizabethan books, in real life too, his necromancies, Shakespeare rejects the Occult, very active then and meaning literally what’s hidden from the eyes, yet knows so much about magic and what’s hidden too. So he produces the healing if fragile visions of a Prospero, the master magician and literal hope of life and prosperity. Most of Shakespeare’s sprites and fairies too are not located in official church conflicts or doctrine, but in the deep folk-lore of the English imagination. Indeed it is the characters in his plays who touch or are feigning madness, who speak so wildly and tormentedly of Biblical demons and Heavens and Hells.
Prospero who, spending so much time in his Plato-like cave, breaks his staff and drowns his bookes too, to cross the void between two worlds, find resolution and speak to a living audience and the future. Who does not speak of God and the Devil directly, but accepts both the Caliban in the human, and in himself, “that thing of darkness I acknowledge mine”, which religion might call demons,and then psychologists the demons and phantasms within.
But who summons his Ariel too, and emerges as a man and less tyrannical father, having mastered the magic of his own play, and all the characters inside it, with God-like or magic power. In the head, the isle is indeed full of noises, memories, people and magic too. He does not speak from two worlds at the same time, then, nor confuse fiction and fact, even if the Religious fact in the real outside world might now be described as pure fiction by many, he understands the magic of himself in a theatre and the fragile curtain of art, raised for an audience’s use in the ‘real world’. But if Shakespeare had not found his art, or his own direction in that art at The Globe, he might very easily have gone mad himself and the imaginative journey he took is staggering.
There is a brilliant little book by an American Jungian, Frank F Johnson, called He – Understanding Male Psychology. While elsewhere Johnson talks, rightly or wrongly, about Hamlet representing a sea-change in male or indeed human consciousness, at a crisis point too, in this little gem he talks about the medieval myth of Parsifal and the search for the Holy Grail. It retells the story of The Fisher King, and how he is wounded in his genital, creative manhood, when he comes into contact with a symbol of Christ, and effectively religious consciousness itself, that we all experience if only in Childhood, burning his lips on a roasting fish, but also during a battle with the more sensual, sexual ‘East’. It is perhaps the battle of moralities and primal life forces, that becomes Historical cliche or symbolic journey.
How Parsifal then sets out to find the holy grail for betrayed Arthur, perhaps a metaphor for life itself, and finds the Grail Castle. But fails to heal the wounded Fisher King, who can no longer drink from the holy cup, because he does not ask the right question, while he is inside the magical castle itself. So it all vanishes, like a strange and beautiful dream, filled with knights, fair maidens and heroic quests, and Parsifal is left in exile for twenty years, of dearth and famine in the outside world, but clearly reflecting the interior loss of magic too. A kind of magic we all find in ourselves at certain times, which Shakespeare profoundly express in his astonishing output, as he “conceives it so”, and the loss of which can be the road to a real hell inside, and round about.
Johnson talks about how in so many stories the sinister though is literally flagged by things associated with the left, as opposed to that prevailing metaphor of God and the right, almost as completion and wholeness. The New Jerusalem out of the Felix Culpa, the happy fall of the Catholic Church. Of course the suggestion is that the sinister, occult journey is inside the psyche itself, where all sorts of dark and primal forces lurk, perhaps just out of the structure of the Reptilian brain, like the power of Caliban, or the flights of Ariel.
It would be to brand Man the Devil himself though to suggest that the unconscious or darker psyche was the Devil though, or pure evil, though some have believed in possession and still do, and as Johnson says, in a religious scheme of things presumably God himself will redeem the fallen angel one day. Indeed, in William Blake’s terms, in his Marriage of Heaven and Hell, that ‘rebel angel’ is Lucifer, the light bringer, and in Johnson’s terms a source of vital creative energy, that he suggests Goethe literally walks on stage, with his different Dr Faustus, in the form of Mephistopheles and his fiery dog. Manipulative, ruthless, utterly cynical, but brilliant and virtually all-powerful Mephistopheles, a vitally creative ‘God’ nonetheless. Johnson suggests it is then Goethe’s profound genius, or perhaps part of a long cultural process, to redeem the Devil himself, by having him acknowledge the strangeness of Man, in the love of the abused but devoted prostitute Gretchen for Faust. An act of faith itself. So all the psychic battles of Man are taken out of the hands of the Church. Goethe, who lived in Rome.
There’s another writer called Peter Kingsley though, who in a little book about what he thinks the sacred origins of Western Culture, before rational Socrates and Plato, In the Dark Places of Wisdom, suggests there is somewhere else too, neither quite fiction, nor quite fact either. He talks of the dream lairs of ancient healers, that were real places in ancient Greece too, in caves and underground temples.
They are all of course words on a page, held in the flickering perceptions of how we use and understand them, but words and thought surely have a strange inter-relation with ourselves and with matter. They must do if language can evolve to define matter so precisely at a physical level, and then create machines that control it, but which also draw us in, like the Internet, TV, Film, to completely different experiences of reality, in the everyday world surrounding us. Part real, physical world, part virtual world of the mind. That’s even ignoring the fact that aspects of telepathy, even precogniton, are as hard to dismiss as the patterns of dreams and shared stories, or as the discoveries of science at very counter intuitive levels.
As for two languages, could there be a Shakespeare today, with our all-consuming scientific and codifying language, and how can such conflicts be resolved? Is the way just pure science, and not the language of stories, that are so deep in Man? Johnson suggests someone has to pick up the story of Parsifal and great a Mythic story again, that can then speak beyond immediate conflicts. Are we really so advanced from what we think primitive civilisations though, or indeed sophisticated ancient ones, namely somehow evolving to far higher mind?
Evolving to some consciousness that can really understand and speak beyond opposition, of man’s real control of the Godlike power now, that science has allotted to or found in itself? Not just using the tools of science but connecting it with the magic inside ourselves? Do we have to take sides in one camp or the other, reunite the two, even at the risk of committing a kind of sin in even trying it, or find a completely different path? In Eastern philosophies the powerful creative conflicts of God or the Devil, Good and Evil opposites, language itself creates or personifies, are relocated into ideas like Creation and Destruction, or even Yin and Yang, but are completely inseparable and in continuous movement. It is again why Peter Kingsley reminds that Occult traditions have been suppressed as evil.
Perhaps the best united language just asks the question, but suggests don’t just believe – know. If Faith itself very obviously requires belief, or you respond more directly to metaphorical language, perhaps just get on with it, although allow some room for what you are trying to believe in nowadays. In the recent drama on TV about Darwin’s crisis, the cure came when his doctor told him to have faith in whatever he was doing, and in his case could prove scientifically too, so not commit the life Sin, the being without, of believe in nothing at all. Supposedly scientists know science is ‘truer’ than belief, even when intuited belief and imagination pushes them through the borders of current reality, or indeed when laws seem to break down on the edges of Black Holes. As storytellers know fiction can be more true or real than ordinary fact. It is obviously better to be a Prospero than a Dr Faustus though, one lost to his own communion with the growing Hell of himself, and seeing dreams of Helen vanish in handful of dust, but the other reconnecting with life and throwing his power into an unknown faith in the future. It demands, in every life, “brave New Worlds, that hath such people in it.” If so, know with the humility that defies the fundamentalist, but marvels at the best scientists too.
ps Just to lighten up a bit, what’s Hamlet’s best Irish Joke? – “Now might I do it, pat.”
PA PRESS 2012
Phoenix founder and novelist David Clement Davies ponders the Mayan Calendar and the Science/spirit divide with a theory about Two Langauges.
Seasoned Aid Worker and writer Henrietta Miers revisits her days on the Northwest Frontier, with a moving story of real people and real lives beyond the cliches and prejudices.
The Publisher at award winning Eland Press takes us back to grand days of yore and tells us how he chooses to reprint some of the great travel writers
A piece on the Royal Wedding, ‘madness’, isolation and the great rural poet John Claire
Editor of the Royal Society of Literature magazine travels with two great poets, William Wordsworth and William Butler Yeats.
Military historian, TV presenter and best selling historical novelist Saul David writes on history, fact and fiction and the lines between the two.
Head of the environmental charity Rainforest Concern Peter Bennett wonders what priorities are important today.
TV producer Eugenia Anastassiou beautifully captures the spirit of Phoenix Ark Press in writing about the death of Corporal Tasker and his dog Theo.
British Judge Murray Shanks stresses the vital importance of law and justice in revisiting Cambodia’s Killing Fields.
Hugley praised author Donald Sturrock, who wrote the definitive biography of the great Children’s author Roald Dahl, ponders the vital importance of wonder and the child’s sensibility.
Painter and one time House of Commons artist-in-residence Philip Mount paints a picture of being an artist in New York with writing that captures the spirit of Phoenix Cultural ‘short stories’.
The Phoenix Ark Cultural Essays are under Copyright to Phoenix Ark Press and may not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher 2012