Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Hamletathon I: Mea Culpa

John Barrymore in Hamlet
Here are Hamlet's immortal words: “What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god!” But when you think on them, the simple almost aphoristic statements begin to break down. A more realistic appraisal might be given by the words “What an unfortunate creation is man. How torn between reason and instinct, how limited in intuition. In form and moving how doomed by his loss of innocence. In action how selfish, in apprehension how vulnerable.” If ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny then can we say that on an individual basis, in any given year we set out with lofty principles and goals, as if we were superior creatures capable of determining our fates, instead of craven animals forced to follow the bidding of our instincts? We make lists, write constitutions and bills of rights, but ultimately find ourselves like Dante, “In the middle of the journey of our life/I found myself in a dark wood/for the straight way was lost.” Hell is other people, Sartre’s Garcin cries out in No Exit, but hell is really consciousness and an evolving awareness of how irrational supposedly rational creatures can be. As the Hamlet-Actor says in Heiner Muller’s Hamletmachine, "I am not Hamlet. I play no role anymore. My words have nothing more to say to me. My thoughts suck the blood of images. My drama is cancelled. Behind me the scenery is being taken down. By people who are not interested in my drama, for people, to whom it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter to me either. I’m not playing along anymore." Animals might not experience the thrill of nudity or temptation. Indeed their desire may be less tainted by mediation and ultimately more profound. No one knows what goes on in the minds of animals, but can we presume they're spared our mea culpas? 

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