A Representation of the Human

Prefatory Remarks

‘A’ and ‘the’ are more than determiners, what we in English call the indefinite and definite articles . . . both of them are morphemes, smaller units of meaning as would be the -ly suffix in English, a derivational morpheme changing, for instance, the adjective ‘true’ to the adverb, ‘truly.’ An inquiry is not identical with the inquiry, and for explanations other than the simple grammatical function of either the indefinite or the definite article.

 

What is Human, Anyway?

The character Hamlet is one of the foremost representations of the Shakespearean model of overhearing oneself think, which is what Shakespeare reveals best or fore mostly in his dramas; that is, what is presented uniquely in his characterizations.

Characters never quite listened to themselves in literature before Shakespeare–that is not a gross overstatement. There is something unique in his characterizations. There is some use of interior monologue in Chaucer, but it is not quite the same as we find in Shakespeare, not quite reaching the same level or intensity of articulation, a course the self follows in the process of thinking, the latter not randomly passing images in the mind, but an articulate process of listening to one’s thoughts. This interiority, as in what is mentioned afore, interior monologue, differs from later uses of stream of consciousness in literature, which might have more in common with montage in film. But back to Shakespeare, but is coextensive with Shakespearean interior monologue, not always presented in soliloquy . . . sometimes soliloquy is a form of aside, not exactly the same thing as interior monologue,  but just as representative of layering the consciousness.

Harold Bloom devotes a whole book to the entirety of Shakespeare and what Bloom calls the creation of the HUMAN–yes, Bloom identifies Shakespeare as having a place of primacy in our civilization’s notions of Selfhood . . . all the linguistic/cultural variations (variegations?) included.

Hamlet’s interior-ness is a major part of this, of what Hamlet uncovers, discovers, recovers . . . the use of soliloquy as interior monologue is our legacy of how to be humane, how to engage this humane-ness. Is it not what we do in the mirror–and is this not a derivative of Shakespearean drama as much as what we sometimes assume, Shakespearean drama derived from simple military practices. But then the history of the mirror would be an interesting endeavor for literary expression, if not solely the historiographic.

We must note well Olivier’s use of voice over for Hamlet’s To be or not to be in his film version of HAMLET, just what the character Hamlet is actually  engaging, when on stage the actor must deliver the lines aloud.

Hamlet is thinking to himself, is engaging in a dialectic of his own selfhood, something like essaying his humanity . . . Shakespeare would have read Montaigne, we can assume certainly. The Florio translation of Montaigne was available already for a couple of decades before Shakespeare’s earliest plays. It’s still one of the better translations of Montaigne over the last nearly 500 years.

Do not forget that Hamlet only thinks aloud for the audience to hear him–there was no other method on the Elizabethan stage. There are lines Hamlet could only be delivering to himself while observing his Uncle Claudius praying; he is clearly not speaking to the audience–although I do not restrict this as an interpretive method of presentation. A contemporary stage might choose to use audio devices for voice-over in the scene.

There is a dialogic Self in Shakespeare’s conception of the Self; it is expressed with/by/for an interior heteroglossia–yes, the self is heteroglossic as it is also plural, what Milton called the many selves Self, and what Montaigne models in his essays as extended dialectic . . . see F. Rider’s THE DIALECTIC OF SELFHOOD IN MONTAIGNE.

 

Post Script

Many objections to this notion of primacy in a western traditional understanding of Selfhood are rooted in objections chiefly levied against anything White or Male or European being relevant to any person not White, not Male, not European . . . but the objections deny a broadest possible comprehension of diversity, of a truly multicultural understanding of various and varying notions of Self, of personhood . . . simply because what we should call humanity is not restricted to a hyper localized interpretation/understanding used to stand instead of a more diverse or in place  of multiple comprehensions of our humanity is not to say it loses all validity as a competing notion of the human for others not of its cultural matrix to choose, this Euro-centric, as detractors will name it, under . . . standing of humanity . . . and all understand is just that, a first principle of architecture, to stand under, that is, to be post to lintel.

But then notions of liberty as we have articulated them for two and half centuries here in America have come to represent Liberty for all everywhere, at least in the possibilities for self-determining societies, for a rallying against any and all imperialisms and colonialisms (often mistakenly understood as White only or white European only) . . . perhaps we should then reject Democracy for being too Greek and our notions of Liberty for being, at least residually, if not more greatly, too 18th century. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights both should be rejected within this logic for both of them being too White, too male, too Euro-centered . . . and in our own overarching contempo-centrism, simply too old . . . ; or, as I heard in response to Charlottesville, maybe we need to rethink these old laws that do not pertain to now . . . as if the First Amendment was the cause or the support or the raison d’être of what transpired at Charlottesville.

 

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