September 4, 2005

This is the longest issue of Phlit that I’ve ever put into one e-mail. My hope is that, thanks to the steady advance of hardware and software, long e-mails don’t present as much of a problem as they used to. If this e-mail is a problem for you, please let me know.

It seems that, in recent months, every issue of Phlit begins with “This is the longest...” Perhaps wisdom comes with age, and as I grow older, I become wiser, and want to share that abundant wisdom with my subscribers. Or perhaps old people are garrulous, and as I grow older, I become more long-winded (as Cicero said, old age is naturally loquacious [senectus est natura loquacior]).

1. Academic Hoaxes

A. The Rooter Hoax

The following item recently appeared in my local newspaper:

Fill a document with sufficient hogwash and enough big words and somebody will bite. That was the theory proven beyond doubt recently by a trio of enterprising MIT students. Using a computer program designed to generate nonsensical papers by randomly inserting buzzwords and jargon, the three produced “Rooter: A Methodology for the Typical Unification of Access Points and Redundancy.” Sure enough, the Ninth World Multi-Conference of Systemics, Cybernetics and Infomatics, accepted the paper and invited its authors to present it at this summer’s conference in Florida (that invitation has since been rescinded).1

Here’s a paragraph from the computer-generated essay:

The study of the Turing machine has been widely studied. The original method to this obstacle was promising; nevertheless, this outcome did not completely fulfill this purpose. Though Smith also proposed this solution, we harnessed it independently and simultaneously. As a result, if latency is a concern, Rooter has a clear advantage. Our approach to redundancy differs from that of Bose as well.2

One must admit that the prose is fairly good.

B. The Sokal Hoax

In 1996, the physicist Alan Sokal submitted a mock essay to a Duke publication called Social Text. In the essay, Sokal argued that the physical universe is “a social and linguistic construct.” Social Text published the essay.

Social Text is described as “an academic journal of postmodern cultural studies.”

Postmodernism was designed to challenge and undermine traditional institutions just as much as it was designed to undermine traditional literary analysis. But Sokal turned the tables on them, undermining the enterprise of postmodernism itself.... It was a postmodern spoof of postmodernism.2B

Sokal described his essay as “a pastiche of left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense.” Sokal said that he wanted to test whether “a leading North American journal of cultural studies [would] publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors’ ideological preconceptions.”

2. Quickies

A. I recently took a class in Java programming at the University of Rhode Island. On the first day of class, the professor, a Frenchman, said “you’re going to be thinking about me a lot, my ear will be whistling. We have a saying in French, when someone thinks about you, your ear whistles.” I would describe this as telepathy, which is a branch of the occult; one might describe this as the occult power of thought. Later, when the professor announced a surprise quiz, he used a French saying about the occult power of vision: “if your eyes were guns, I’d be dead.”

Why are such sayings found in French but not in English? Is it possible that the French are more attuned to the occult, to the borderland of consciousness, than the English-speaking peoples? Did the ascetic Protestantism of the English, which repressed so much of human nature, also repress our feeling for the occult?

B. In response to my earlier comments on legal reform, I received the following message from a Phlit subscriber named Robert Barry:

Your point on rapacious trial lawyers is well taken! Tort reform is long overdue. Here’s an interesting point, though: how can medicine and education (which you cite) manage to afford such extravagant legal awards? One aspect of this is that medicine and education [i.e., higher education] are not sufficiently competitive markets and themselves need reform. The need for competition in those fields is pointed out in a new book, Paul London’s The Competition Solution, published by AEI.

3. A Jungian View of Heart of Darkness

Our book group recently discussed Conrad’s famous novella, Heart of Darkness. It’s a profound work, and highly respected, but not as clear, readable, and popular as Conrad’s other famous novella, The Secret Sharer. I enjoyed Heart of Darkness, but I enjoyed the essays on it even more. There are many fine essays on it — essays that bring out the Jungian significance, the mythical significance, etc. I enjoyed these essays so much that I made a book out of them, copied it, passed it out, and used it in our book group. Click here to see the table of contents of this book.

One of the most interesting essays on Heart of Darkness is an unpublished essay that I found on the Internet; it’s a Jungian interpretation by Colleen Burke. As I read this essay, I was surprised at how many parallels there were between Conrad’s novella and Jung’s theories, and I was also surprised that I didn’t notice these parallels when I read the novella.

Heart of Darkness is narrated by a sea-captain, Marlow, who travels up-river into the interior of Africa, where he meets Kurtz. Kurtz was once gifted and high-minded, but he has become savage and tyrannical. “Marlow encounters his double,” Burke writes, “in the powerful image of ivory-obsessed Kurtz, the dark shadow of European imperialism.”3 In imaginative literature, one personality is often split into two characters; one character is the shadow of the other, or the “double” of the other. Kurtz is Marlow’s shadow or double. Kurtz indulges the savage desires that civilized man represses. At the end of the novella, however, when Kurtz is on his deathbed, he has a moment of enlightenment, or at least reflection, and he says, “The Horror! The Horror!”

Conrad refers to Kurtz as a “shadow,” sometimes even capitalizing the S; Conrad uses the word “shadow” just as Jung uses it. This is a striking example of two great thinkers reaching the same insight independently. Perhaps the shadow is an archetype that both Conrad and Jung perceived. As Schopenhauer said, truth agrees with itself and confirms itself; the agreement between Conrad and Jung confirms their insights, and suggests that both of them perceived the truth. Burke writes thus:

When the pilgrims first carry Kurtz on a stretcher out of his cabin, Marlow describes Kurtz, observing, “This shadow looked satiated and calm.” When Marlow later discovers Kurtz missing from his steamer cabin and determines to find and capture him on shore, he comments, “I was anxious to deal with this shadow by myself alone.” Overtaking the escaping Kurtz crawling in the bush, Marlow comments, “This clearly was not a case for fisticuffs, even apart from the very natural aversion I had to beat that Shadow — this wandering and tormented thing.”

Confronting one’s shadow is an important part of personal growth. Jung described the shadow as “the negative side of the personality, the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide.”4 If one doesn’t acknowledge one’s shadow, one projects it on the outside world; “where the shadow is not recognized it is projected.”5 “The effect of projection,” Jung wrote, “is to isolate the subject from his environment.... Projections change the world into the replica of one’s own unknown face.” Jung speaks of a “feeling of sterility” that is “explained by projection as the malevolence of the environment.”6

Jung used the term “individuation” to refer to personal growth, becoming oneself, finding one’s center. Confronting one’s shadow is part of the journey of individuation. “Heart of Darkness,” Burke writes, “holds three journeys of individuation: those of Marlow, of Kurtz — and of Conrad himself.”7 Conrad’s own experience on the Congo River resembles Marlow’s in many ways, and Conrad’s river journey was a turning-point in his life; “before the Congo,” Conrad said, “I was just a mere animal.”8

Not only does Conrad use the word “shadow” in a Jungian sense, he also uses the word “soul” in a Jungian sense. Jung uses the word “anima” to refer to a man’s female soul (just as he uses the word “animus” to refer to a woman’s male mind). Of course, Jung was aware that “anima” is the Latin word for soul, and that the gender of anima is feminine. While Kurtz represents the shadow, two characters represent the anima: Kurtz’s African mistress, and his European mistress. The word “soul” is used of the African mistress (just as the word “shadow” is used of Kurtz). Here is Conrad’s description of the African mistress:

She was savage and superb, wild-eyed and magnificent; there was something ominous and stately in her deliberate progress. And in the hush that had fallen suddenly upon the whole sorrowful land, the immense wilderness, the colossal body of the fecund and mysterious life seemed to look at her, pensive, as though it had been looking at the image of its own tenebrous and passionate soul.

Again, I’m amazed at how Conrad and Jung are following the same path — using the same language, the same images — independently of each other. Kurtz’s European mistress (also known as his Intended) uses the same gestures as his African mistress, and when Marlow meets this European mistress, he’s struck by her resemblance to the African mistress.9 Just as meeting one’s shadow can be considered part of the process of individuation, so too meeting one’s anima (if one is a man) can be considered part of the process of individuation. From a Jungian perspective, it isn’t surprising that Marlow encounters an anima figure (the African mistress) soon after he encounters a shadow figure (Kurtz); “Often this second symbolic figure [anima/animus] turns up behind the shadow.”10

4. Freedom from the Law: Ethics in Heart of Darkness

On the surface, it may seem that Kurtz is “the bad guy” in Heart of Darkness. But Kurtz has redeeming features, and he’s compared favorably to the other Europeans who work in the ivory trade. After Marlow talks to one of these traders, he says, “It seemed to me I had never breathed an atmosphere so vile, and I turned mentally to Kurtz for relief — positively for relief.” Marlow tells the trader, “I think Mr. Kurtz is a remarkable man.”

Kurtz follows his nature, he acts freely and decisively. The vile traders, on the other hand, follow rules, principles, methods, judgment; they act from their mind, not their soul. One trader says to Marlow,

“There is no disguising the fact, Mr. Kurtz has done more harm than good to the Company. He did not see the time was not ripe for vigorous action. Cautiously, cautiously — that’s my principle. We must be cautious yet.... Look how precarious the position is — and why? Because the method is unsound.” “Do you,” said I, looking at the shore, “call it ‘unsound method?’” “Without doubt,” he exclaimed hotly. “Don’t you?” . . . “No method at all,” I murmured after a while. “Exactly,” he exulted. “I anticipated this. Shows a complete want of judgment. It is my duty to point it out in the proper quarter”.... It seemed to me I had never breathed an atmosphere so vile.

Marlow has a certain respect for the natives, who represent “truth,” who have a “terrible frankness.” This truth and frankness are a challenge to the Europeans. Conrad says, “He must at least be as much of a man as these on the shore. He must meet that truth with his own true stuff — with his own inborn strength. Principles won’t do.” The traders follow rules, methods, principles, but Conrad scorns principles. Conrad respects those who follow their nature — like Kurtz and the natives.

It should be noted that Conrad isn’t alone in scorning principle. Jung, too, tried to act out of his whole nature, out of his center, rather than following principles. His disciples could never predict how he would respond to a situation, because he didn’t follow general principles, he followed his feelings, intuitions, hunches. Zen, too, has no use for principles.11

5. Freedom from the Law: Ethics in Hamlet

G. Wilson Knight has argued that Shakespeare, like Conrad, went “beyond good and evil,” beyond rules and principles. According to Knight, Shakespeare felt that the art of living was as instinctive as the performance of an actor or an athlete:

The art of life [Knight wrote] is not an ethic; ethic, like technical rules, is a makeshift.... In acting [repose or poise] is the power of the thing left unsaid, the gesture not made. It will always be partly unconscious and instinctive. The beginner at golf is usually guilty of “thinking too precisely on the event”; but not so the expert, whose thought is embedded in, sunk in, dissolved throughout, the living action, mind and body functioning as a unit. So it is with the actor.12

Knight stresses the importance of repose — precisely what Kurtz lacks. If it’s a mistake to follow rules and principles (as the traders do), it’s also a mistake to follow one’s animal urges, one’s passions (as Kurtz does). In Hamlet, the character who is too thoughtful, who thinks “too precisely on the event,” is Hamlet. But if it’s a mistake to be too reflective, it’s also a mistake to be too passionate, as Hamlet tells the players:

In the very torrent, tempest, and, as I may say, whirlwind of passion, you must acquire and beget a temperance that may give it smoothness. O, it offends me to the soul, to hear a robustious periwig-pated fellow tear a passion to tatters, to very rags, to split the ears of the groundlings.(III, ii, 4)

The message of Hamlet, according to Knight, is to strike a balance between passion and reflection, between blood and judgment. Horatio has struck such a balance, and Hamlet celebrates him in these lines:

...blessed are those
Whose blood and judgment are so well commingled
That they are not a pipe for Fortune’s finger
To sound what stop she please. Give me that man
That is not passion’s slave, and I will wear him
In my heart’s core, ay, in my heart of heart,
As I do thee.(III, ii, 56)

Shakespeare’s ideal is wholeness, integration. “Horatio [is] defined [Knight writes] as a man well on the way to integration.... Notice the emphasis on invulnerable suffering. Notice, too, that Horatio does not control his passions: rather his ‘blood’ (i.e. virility, passion) and ‘judgment’ are (as in the art of acting) ‘commingled’.”13

Another character in Hamlet who has achieved integration is the rider, Lamord:

Two months since,
Here was a gentleman of Normandy —
I’ve seen myself, and serv’d against, the French,
And they can well on horseback: but this gallant
Had witchcraft in’t: he grew unto his seat;
And to such wondrous doing brought his horse,
As had he been incorps’d and demi-natur’d
With the brave beast: so far he topp’d my thought
That I, in forgery of shapes and tricks,
Come short of what he did.(IV, vii)

Knight argues that Lamord goes “beyond technique,” just as the art of living is going “beyond good and evil,” beyond rules and principles. “Observe here [Knight writes] the characterizing of Lamord’s horsemanship as a perfect unity, a magical thing beyond technique which baffles all attempts at definition. It is an athletic analogue to Hamlet’s speech to the Players; and both suggest, as does ‘style’ in any game or art, a prefiguring of some potentiality in life.”14 According to Knight, the art of living is freedom from rules — in the language of the New Testament, ‘freedom from the Law.’ The highest ethics is beyond ethics.

While Lamord can go “beyond technique,” Hamlet can’t. Hamlet “is sunk deep in the knowledge of good and evil and clogged by ethic.... He does not attain [to] the New Testament freedom from the Law. That is why he cannot move through society with the assurance of a Christ, or a St. Francis.... Our play thus indirectly attacks ethics.”15 Heart of Darkness also indirectly attacks ethics — attacks rules, principles, etc.

Before concluding this section, I can’t resist inserting one last quotation from G. Wilson Knight. Knight isn’t just a great student of Shakespeare, he’s also a great student of Nietzsche. He seems to have no use for modern psychology — Freud, Jung, etc. His favorites seem to be the Bible, Shakespeare, and Nietzsche — though he also ranged around English literature (Pope, Byron, etc.). I’ve often wondered what Knight would have thought of Jung, since Knight’s view of Shakespeare is Jungian. So let’s conclude this section with Knight’s remarks on ethics — Shakespeare’s ethics, Nietzsche’s ethics, Conrad’s ethics, the ethics that go beyond ethics:

And the goal itself, what is that? “To be”: that is, not merely to live, to act, to exist, but really to be; to be, as an integrated and whole person... in the Nietzschean sense. A super-state is indicated, a marriage of the twin elements, masculine and feminine, in the soul, whereby the personality is beyond the antinomies of action and passivity; a lived poetry blending consciousness and unconsciousness, like Keats’ “might slumbering on its own right arm.” In this state one is beyond fear of death since life and death have ceased to exist as antinomies.... The state indicated is an all but impossible integration, the Christ-state. It is no less than the final goal of the race; and that is precisely why the opening line (“to be, or not to be”) echoes and re-echoes from generation to generation with an ultimate authority.... Nietzsche’s Zarathustra, and therefore also, presumably, his Superman, is, like Christ, necessarily unmarried, since the higher integration is a marriage within the personality that positively precludes marriage.

6. Zen in the Art of Boxing

In the previous section, I quoted Knight’s remark, “In acting [repose or poise] is the power of the thing left unsaid, the gesture not made.” This idea of repose can be applied to all sorts of things. (In an earlier issue, I discussed “silent superiority” in Faulkner, etc.) When Knight speaks of “the power of the thing left unsaid,” I’m reminded of a Zen writer’s comment on haiku poetry:

When a feeling reaches its highest pitch we remain silent, because no words are adequate. Even seventeen syllables may be too many. In any event Japanese artists more or less influenced by the way of Zen tend to use the fewest words or strokes of brush to express their feelings. When they are too fully expressed, no room for suggestion is possible, and suggestibility is the secret of the Japanese arts.16

Zen has as much respect for repose as Knight does; one might say that Zen is a synonym for repose.

Just as one can find repose in poetry, painting, and acting, so too one can find repose in sports. In baseball, for example, a batter must be able to not swing (not swing at a bad pitch). Since the pitch may be 100 miles per hour, the batter only has a split second to decide whether or not to swing; the batter, like the actor, must act ‘unconsciously and instinctively.’ In baseball, it’s a mistake to swing at everything, but it’s also a mistake to swing at nothing; a batter must be active and passive simultaneously, he must attain repose.

One of my favorite examples of repose in sports occurred in Muhammad Ali’s bout with George Foreman. Ali landed several punches early in the bout, but Foreman was unbowed, and he seemed ready to overpower Ali. Instead of attacking, Ali retreated into his legendary “rope-a-dope” — in other words, Ali leaned against the ropes in a defensive posture, and allowed Foreman to punch him.

Foreman took the bait; like Kurtz, Foreman lacked repose. Foreman was like a batter in baseball who is over-eager, and swings at bad pitches. Foreman exhausted himself, and then Ali struck, and knocked him out. I don’t believe Ali had ever used the “rope-a-dope” before, or even conceived of it before. It was a stroke of genius, if ever there was a stroke of genius in an athletic competition, and like all strokes of genius, it was spontaneous, intuitive, instinctive. It came from the depths of his soul, and it signified that in those depths, there was repose.

If you want to see a movie about the Ali-Foreman bout, watch “When We Were Kings.” The movie includes interviews with American writers Norman Mailer and George Plimpton, who went to Africa to see the bout, and later wrote about it.

Doubtless there are innumerable examples of repose in sports, art, and history. I’d like to mention two more examples, and then conclude this section. Hitler rose from the lowest ranks of society to a position of absolute power through his talent as a public speaker. If you watch a film of Hitler making a speech, you’ll notice that he begins with silence; for a long time, he says nothing. Thus, he establishes a rapport with his audience. Hitler was a master of ‘the thing left unsaid.’

And finally, I’d like to mention the Roman general Fabius, who became famous for avoiding battle, for not attacking. Fabius was more successful than other Roman generals in dealing with Hannibal, the Carthaginian general. Fabius was given the nickname Cunctator, The Delayer; in English, we describe delaying tactics as “Fabian tactics.” In the late 1800s, English socialists who opposed violent methods formed a society called The Fabian Society. One might say that Ali used Fabian tactics against Foreman, or one might say that Fabius used Ali’s “rope-a-dope” against Hannibal.

Nothing is more frustrating than being defeated by an opponent who uses Fabian tactics. Foreman was devastated by his defeat, and didn’t get over it for months, if not years; Foreman said he should have died in the ring. What makes such a defeat so hard to bear is that you know you’ve been defeated by yourself, by your own eagerness, by your own lack of repose. You’re like the raging bull who rushes at the matador, only to be tricked, side-stepped, and run through.

7. Venus and Adonis

A. The Double Motif in Venus and Adonis

We said earlier that, “In imaginative literature, one personality is often split into two characters; one character is the shadow of the other, or the ‘double’ of the other. Kurtz is Marlow’s shadow or double.” Another example of the double motif can be found in Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis. This was perhaps Shakespeare’s most popular work in his own lifetime, and it ran through numerous editions. I never paid any attention to Venus and Adonis, but I recently read an interesting essay on it. The essay is by an Oxfordian named Roger Stritmatter, who is one of several Oxfordians who have positions in academia. What follows are my thoughts on Roger’s essay, thoughts that I originally published on an Oxfordian forum.

Roger shows that Venus and Adonis contains much evidence for the Oxford theory and for the Prince Tudor theory. At first, one is surprised by this wealth of evidence, but then one thinks, “perhaps all of Shakespeare’s works contain a similar wealth of evidence, if only we examine them closely.”

What about the Rape of Lucrece? Does it also support Oxford and Prince Tudor? Has it been the subject of an essay like Roger’s? Does Lucrece represent Elizabeth, as Venus represents Elizabeth? Does Tarquin represent Shakespeare himself (in aggressive mode), as Adonis represents Shakespeare himself?

Roger argues that Adonis and the boar represent two aspects of Shakespeare himself: Adonis is the light side, the positive side, and the boar is the dark side, the negative side. This is the old theme of the Double (or Doppelgänger). Perhaps the most famous example of this theme is Don Quixote (the bookish idealist) and Sancho Panza (the earthy epicure); another example is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Jungians might argue that these pairs represent the light and dark sides that each of us possesses. Jungians refer to our dark side as “the shadow.” In Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Marlow and Kurtz are doubles, and Kurtz is repeatedly described as a “shadow.” One wonders if Shakespeare ever used the word “shadow” in this Jungian sense (to denote the dark side of human nature).

If Adonis and the boar are doubles, are there other doubles in Shakespeare’s work? G. Wilson Knight has argued that Shakespeare’s works contain a series of paired characters (I don’t think Knight uses the word “double”). In each of these pairs (according to Knight), a noble idealist is juxtaposed with a cynic: Othello-Iago, Lear-Edmund, Troilus-Thersites, Timon-Apemantus, Posthumus-Iachimo, Duke [in Measure for Measure]-Lucio.

Knight argues that Hamlet contains within himself both halves, the light and the dark, and therefore he’s Shakespeare’s most complete, most life-like character. Hamlet is both Adonis and the boar; what is said of the boar in Venus and Adonis could also be said of Hamlet: his “downward eye still looketh for a grave.”

Roger mentions Ted Hughes, author of Shakespeare And The Goddess Of Complete Being. Hughes perceived the importance of the boar — not just in Venus and Adonis, but in Shakespeare’s work as a whole: “To Hughes, the boar is Shakespeare’s ‘shamanic animal,’ the secret spring to the author’s mythopoesis and his psychology.” (An image of Hughes’ book is dominated by the head of a boar.) Did Hughes know that boar=Oxford=Shakespeare? Should we tell him? Has he seen Roger’s essay?

When we discussed Heart of Darkness, we found not only a shadow figure (Kurtz), but also anima figures (the African mistress and the European mistress). Shakespeare’s works contain a series of paired characters (such as Adonis and the boar), and each of those pairs contains a shadow figure (such as the boar). But where is the anima? Are there anima figures in Shakespeare, as there are in Heart of Darkness? According to Knight, Shakespeare’s characters aren’t pairs, but rather triplets; Knight lists several Shakespeare plays that contain a female figure who represents “the supreme value of spiritual love.” These female figures include Desdemona, Cordelia, and Imogen. Do these female characters represent the Jungian anima? Does Ted Hughes view these female figures as representatives of the Jungian anima? Just as one may ask whether Shakespeare used the word “shadow” in a Jungian sense, so too one may ask whether Shakespeare used the word “soul” in a Jungian sense (as Conrad did).

B. LitSpeak vs. English

Roger’s essay is written in LitSpeak, not English. (LitSpeak is the language of contemporary literary criticism, as ArtSpeak is the language of contemporary art criticism.) This may add to your reading pleasure; there’s a certain charm in a foreign language. But if an Oxfordian is writing for a general audience, he should perhaps choose good ol’ English (assuming he hasn’t forgotten English). The traditional rules of English style are discarded (one might say reversed) by writers of LitSpeak, so if one is in the habit of writing LitSpeak, it may be difficult to switch to English.

In the old days, simplicity was regarded as the hallmark of good prose; the French writer La Bruyère said, “if you want to say that it is raining, say: ‘It is raining’.” A writer of LitSpeak has nothing but contempt for simplicity. The rule for LitSpeak is, “if you want to say that it is raining, say: ‘The expectation of precipitation has been realized, and pluviation is presently occurring.’”

Note the abundance of polysyllables in LitSpeak. The old rule was “Choose words of Anglo-Saxon origin [most of which are monosyllables] in preference to words of Greek or Latin origin [most of which are polysyllables].” LitSpeak has reversed this rule, too, and prefers polysyllables.

If you’re able to write LitSpeak, and want to know if you’ve really mastered it, ask yourself whether you dream in LitSpeak or English. If your dreams contain words like polysemantically, epideictic, and ekphrasis, then you know you’re a master of LitSpeak.

C. Final Comments on Venus and Adonis

Roger speaks of the “many literary texts in which, over the sixty years after Venus and Adonis was first published, the poem was imitated or parodied in ways which confirm that at least a few privileged early readers were cognizant of the poem’s political and legal implications.... The vogue for satirizing Venus and Adonis continued at least up until 1650, when Robert Baron published a book which is, in many regards, the most interesting item in the entire tradition.”

Did Baron know that Adonis represented the author and Venus represented Elizabeth? Did Baron know who Shakespeare was? Did an understanding of “Shakespeare” survive until 1650? If so, is 1650 when people began to forget the true identity of “Shakespeare”? Was Baron the last to remember? Should Baron be called “the last Oxfordian before Looney”? (I’ve long believed that the English Civil War was a key factor in the forgetting of Shakespeare.)

We should think of Looney, not as someone who discovered a new truth, but rather as someone who re-discovered a long-lost truth. Likewise, Copernicus didn’t discover the heliocentric theory, but rather re-discovered it centuries after a Greek astronomer discovered it. Columbus didn’t discover America, but rather re-discovered it centuries after Vikings and other peoples had discovered it. How many “discoveries” are actually re-discoveries?

Roger continues: “Perhaps the most obvious and certainly the most comical of these travesties [of Venus and Adonis] was a series of anonymous plays, The Pilgrimage to Parnassus and The Return from Parnassus I & II, written for performance at St. John’s College, Cambridge.... The character Gullio, a foppish and vain aristocrat who gushes his enthusiasm for ‘Shakespeare,’ is a caricature of the Earl of Southampton.” It should be noted that Southampton was an alumnus of St. John’s College, and therefore he would be remembered there. (A gift from Southampton was the basis for a library at St. John’s.)

8. The Genius Argument

Here’s another piece that I recently posted on the Oxfordian forum:

One arrow in the Oxfordian quiver is “the genius argument.” It can be argued that genius has played a decisive role in human history (both political and cultural history), that genius has special powers, special vision. It can be argued that the large number of geniuses who have been skeptical of the Stratford theory, or have explicitly rejected it, or have embraced the Oxford theory, is one of the strongest arguments in the Oxfordian quiver. Although Oxfordians recognize the persuasive value of “the genius argument,” they don’t seem to regard it as a serious argument, suitable for serious debate, and they probably wouldn’t use it if they were arguing their case in front of the Supreme Court. Should Oxfordians use “the genius argument” more than they do?

A disciple of Freud, K. R. Eissler, has argued that genius discovers new paradigms:

The view that the difference between talent and genius is solely a quantitative one appears to me to be misleading.... In science, it has not been too difficult to assign a structural index to the achievements of a genius, since Kuhn introduced the concept of paradigm into the history of science.... To cite an example, the assertion that the earth moves around the sun is a paradigm.... The discovery of these paradigms is, in science, the function of genius.... At best, a talent will be able to modify or employ the paradigm that a genius has produced.17

Though Eissler is discussing genius in the sphere of science, his argument can probably be applied to the humanities; in the humanities, too, new paradigms are often discovered by geniuses. The new Shakespeare paradigm, however, wasn’t discovered by a genius; most people wouldn’t describe J. T. Looney as a genius, though he may have been an excellent scholar, and he may have made a discovery of historic importance. With respect to Shakespeare, the role of genius has been, not to discover a new paradigm, but to reject the old paradigm, and to recognize the truth of the new paradigm (after someone else discovered it).

We tend to believe that truth is discovered by careful research, by good methodology, etc. But perhaps genius — the vision of genius — is the best way to discover truth. Eissler said, “I doubt that the generally accepted principle of striving and searching as the means by which to accomplish the goal of finding the truth [is] correct. Freud made his great discoveries when he let the truth come to him.”

Genius usually makes its discoveries through intuition, not through laborious research; genius sees the truth. Decades of research may not be as effective in discovering truth as the vision of genius, as a flash of intuition. As Kuhn said, new paradigms are discovered

not by deliberation and interpretation, but by a relatively sudden and unstructured event like the gestalt switch. Scientists then often speak of the ‘scales falling from the eyes’ or of the ‘lightning flash’ that ‘inundates’ a previously obscure puzzle, enabling its components to be seen in a new way that for the first time permits its solution. On other occasions the relevant illumination comes in sleep. No ordinary sense of the term ‘interpretation’ fits these flashes of intuition through which a new paradigm is born.

The Shakespeare argument is a remarkable example of the power of genius, the power of genius to see the truth. So many geniuses have rejected the Stratford theory! Has there ever been a genius who argued in favor of the Stratford theory — not just passively accepted it, but defended it with the sort of energy that Whitman displayed in attacking it?18

The Shakespeare argument is also a remarkable example of the weakness of specialized knowledge and careful research. So many specialists have been taken in by the Stratford theory!

I’d like to end by asking, Was Shakespeare himself interested in the psychology of genius? Does he use the word “genius” in its modern sense? Were his views on genius influenced by those of the Florentine Neoplatonists (who are said to have developed the modern concept of genius)?


My piece elicited the following response on the forum:

I don’t think the argument “we’re correct because all these geniuses agree with us” goes anywhere.

To which I responded:

You have a point, it may not go anywhere, but it may be true nonetheless. We should distinguish between a persuasive argument and a strong argument. If Stratfordians argue that Oxfordians are driven by snobbery, that may be a persuasive argument, but a very weak argument. If you use “the genius argument” in a public debate, you may be laughed out of the hall, but that doesn’t show that it’s a weak argument. Rather, it shows that there are a lot of people who don’t understand how strong it is, who don’t understand the nature of paradigms, who don’t understand that the Oxford theory is a new paradigm, who don’t understand that genius has a knack for grasping new paradigms (that genius can be defined by that knack), and who don’t understand how many geniuses are on the Oxford side, and how few are on the Stratford side.

© L. James Hammond 2006
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1. Seekonk Star, May 6, 2005 back
2. The complete paper can be found here. back
2B. Weekly Standard
See also an article in The Washington Free Beacon.

Update 2021
In recent years, some “open access publications” have been publishing articles, and charging authors for the privilege of being “published.” Such publications have limited quality-control, so they’re more likely to publish “spoof articles.” “In 2013, Science published the results of a sting operation in which a scientifically flawed spoof publication was submitted to open access publications. Many accepted the manuscript.”(source)

The term “open access” isn’t a synonym for “vanity press.” It doesn’t necessarily mean “anyone can publish here, we’re open to all articles.” On the contrary, it seems to mean, “anyone can access our articles, anyone can read our articles for free, we’re open to all readers.” My e-zine (Phlit) would be considered an “open access publication,” since it’s open to all readers at no charge, and it has no peer review.

I read an article published by the largest publisher of “open access publications,” MDPI (Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute). The article was about Poe’s influence on Henry James. I thought the quality of the article was comparable to the quality of articles published by traditional journals. back

3. “Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: A Metaphor of Jungian Psychology” back
4. quoted in Burke back
5. Dorsha Hayes, “Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: An Aspect of the Shadow” (Spring: A Journal of Archetype and Culture, Spring, 1956, pp. 43-47) back
6. quoted in Hayes back
7. “Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: A Metaphor of Jungian Psychology” back
8. quoted in Burke. While in Africa, Conrad became seriously ill, and was close to death. This experience doubtless matured him. back
9. Are there other examples of the anima being split into two characters, a wild character and a demure character? Is this split part of the Jungian theory of the anima? back
10. Man and His Symbols, ch. 3, p. 177 of hardcover edition back
11. For more on this subject, see my chapter on ethics. back
12. The Wheel of Fire, p. 310 back
13. ibid, p. 313 back
14. ibid, p. 319 back
15. ibid, p. 315 back
16. D. T. Suzuki, “Buddhist, Especially Zen, Contributions to Japanese Culture” (from Essays in Zen Buddhism, third series) back
17. Talent and Genius: The Fictitious Case of Tausk contra Freud, ch. 7 back
18. When I published this on the Oxfordian forum, a Stratfordian responded with a quote from George Bernard Shaw: “No year passes without the arrival of a batch of books contending that Shakespear was somebody else. The argument is always the same. Such early works as Venus and Adonis, Lucrece, and Love’s Labour’s Lost, could not possibly have been written by an illiterate clown and poacher who could hardly write his own name. This is unquestionably true. But the inference that Shakespeare did not write them does not follow. What does follow is that Shakespear was not an illiterate clown but a well read grammar-schooled son in a family of good middle-class standing, cultured enough to be habitual playgoeers and private entertainers of the players.
    “This, on investigation, proves to be exactly what Shakespear was. His father, John Shakespear, Gent, was an alderman who demanded a coat of arms which was finally granted. His mother was of equal rank and social pretension. John finally failed commercially, having no doubt let his artistic get the better of his mercantile occupation, and leave him unable to afford a university education for William, had he ever wanted to make a professional scholar of him.
    “These circumstance interest me because they are just like my own.” Shaw ends a few lines later with, “So much for Bacon-Shakespear and all the other fables founded on that entirely fictitious figure Shaxper or Shagsper the illiterate bumpkin.” back