Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Man vs The Work, Continued

I just had an idea in the comments, maybe it will help me explain my position a little better.  Bear with me for a second.

Once upon a time a man by the name  of Joseph Weisenbaum wrote a book called Computer Power and Human Reason.  In it, he described something he called the “compulsive programmer”, someone who we would now call a “hacker”.  I cite this example because this is very much my life, I identify greatly with his description and when I stumbled across this particular analogy it stuck with me for life.

What he said (and this is drastically paraphrased) was to imagine computer programming like a chessboard.  You’ve got a finite space, and a fixed set of rules and logic for the interaction of entities within that space.  It is a closed universe.  And yet, it is effectively infinite, and the chess master is god over that space.  That is how the compulsive programmer feels about his computers.

I know *exactly* what he’s talking about there, but maybe that’s just because I’m one of them, so I hope I haven’t lost people already.  Still with me?

Compare that analogy to the study of Shakespeare the man, and the body of Shakespearean work.  We end up with three different universes in which to work.

The words we have (and their punctuation!) are the first finite space.  Which words were used, how often, in what combinations?  When is punctuation the core of an idea, and when is it used more or less at will? 

The second “finite” space is the world described by those words.  The characters are the pieces, the words determine their moves.  And it is only our understanding of what it means to be human that we take it to the next level, making the difference between “Hamlet said this because Shakespeare said so” and “Hamlet said this because Ophelia died.”  (I imagine asking a computer AI that question and getting the first answer.)  Much like a chess set there are still effectively infinite interpretations (which is why I said “finite” like that), but they all have to be prefaced with a “maybe…but there’s my evidence why I think that.”    It is a world that still presents itself as having a finite set of rules.  Does that make sense?

The third space is infinite – it is Shakespeare the man.  We don’t know why he did anything, or what he meant.  Technically we don’t even know if he existed in the form that we know as the Author.  As soon as a sentence starts with “Shakespeare meant…” or “He did this because” or “He wanted to show…” then you are in this space.  There is nothing finite about the world of Shakespeare the man.  We are playing with a partial set of rules on an infinite space.  Some people are comfortable with theorizing about how to fill the spaces, some are not. That’s why things like the Authorship question exist (not to mention the whole sexuality thing, etc etc …)


Phew.  That’s a lot to type.  Having done so, I can say it simply – it is that second space where I live.  99% of the time I see the plays as something like a roadmap / recipe of what it means to be human.   Sure, sometimes I dabble in that first space, mostly because as a software guy I have the ability to make a computer analyze the work on that level.  Almost never am I comfortable in that third space.  While it may be true that Shakespeare wrote Macbeth for specific reasons having to do with his political affiliations, that is simply of neglible interest to me other than as a curiosity.  It in no way changes my view of the play, any more than if you told me that we were all just puppets being controlled by some alien race. 


There, how’s that?  Bigger can, more worms?


Willshill said...

So, I take it, that in the world(s) of computers, you live in all three?

If the answer is yes, then you understand already why the answer to an either/or question about the worlds of Shakespeare would be difficult for someone who has Shakespeare as the focus of their work. All of the realms are completely intertwined.

Shakespeare World #1 is your C ++, Perl, Ruby, or whatever. (Please excuse a computer semi- illiterate)

World #2 Is what great API, software program, or character of GUI is born and comes alive as a result of your capabilities, using the tools in world #1. Though "virtual", it is REAL.

As to the difficulty of existing in Shakespeare world #3, it becomes much easier when someone professionally connected simply realizes what you seem to realize innately: That there can only be theoretical forays into that world. That in fact, Shakespeare himself was only able to enter that world theoretically--it was as infinite to him as it is to us. And, that the wealth we accrue from his foray (and subsequently ours) is the somewhat ethereal (but eminently worthwhile) reward that comes from seeking the Truth. Shakespeare never claims to "know" the "ultimate" truth about anything. He seeks and sees too many sides of IT. We can only do the same-- with him as a guide.

And what a wonderful blast it ALL is.

catkins said...

I have very little interest in Shakespeare the man, except to the extent that he was an uncanny genius. Whether he was Catholic or gay or unfaithful or a gentleman or a scoundrel is of no concern to me. The fact that so little of his persona leaks through into his work is what makes it so enduring and universal.

catkins said...

I have very little interest in Shakespeare the man, except to the extent that he was an uncanny genius. Whether he was Catholic or gay or a gentleman or a scoundrel is of no concern to me. The fact that so trace of his persona leaks into his work is part of what makes it so universal and enduring.

Willshill said...

As far as his personal life, I feel much the same way as catkins re: Shakespeare the man. And here is where the separation of "him"-"Shakespeare"- from his work, becomes the artificial exercise it is, in my opinion. The attempt at soap opera, that has become all the rage, doesn't make it more interesting. I find that to the contrary, it removes the focus from where it should be if we're to appreciate and make use of the wealth that is "Shakespeare". I don't care if we call it Bacon , or Marlowe, or Socrates, for that matter. As pointed out by catkins, whoever the "name" was, "he" transcends it, and its minor importance, immediately upon the first comment he makes on Life.

With that fact in mind I would argue, however, that rather than no traces of "his" persona leaking through, we see every trace. And it's through the multi-dimensional thought patterns of whoever "he" was that he was able to produce what he did. The words "universal" and "philosopher" always jump to my mind when speaking of "Shakespeare". Like the dutiful and honest philosopher, Shakespeare puts aside his own persona to take up that of Everyman. I believe he is all of his characters, and they are him. Looking at it from that vantage point, we see his every side. And the genius it took to even recognize, never mind fully explore and then relate in such a beautiful fashion,that myriad and infinite collection, is what's so dazzling to me about..."Shakespeare".

Willshill said...

PS: I realize that in my "pickiness", I may only be arguing a case of semantics here--in that case the argument could very well be moot.

Duane said...

I was going to keep on beating this horse in yet another post and another analogy, but perhaps I'll just add it in here:

Imagine a world in which there is no "Shakespeare". Never heard of the man or his works. Now imagine that a copy of the complete works of Shakespeare just showed up one day on the White House lawn, teleported there by aliens for all we know. We very literally have nothing but the words on the paper.
(If it makes you happy you can pick and choose which plays are included, and how if at all to handle the multiple-versions problem). My point is to imagine a world in which we have only the words, and not a shred of information about the creator.

How would you feel about that? Could those words ever rise to the same greatness that we feel for them as we know them today? Would you forever feel like something is missing, without that knowledge of the greater power? Without some connection to the "real"? Or can you content yourself in the universe that exists within the pages?

My guess, were that to happen, is that mankind would find itself creating an imaginary creator and instilling it with all sorts of desirable virtues.... If God did not exist Man would be forced to create him, is that how the saying goes? I always preferred a different version, "Man creates God in his own image."

Nothing like tackling the big questions, eh?

Duane said...

By the way, back to the original premise, I prefer to think of living in world #2. #1 to me would be like saying "Ok, let's consider the popularity of the Ruby language relative to C++" or "What are the most popular techniques and best patterns for doing certain things a certain way in Java?" Yes I have to touch on that in order to have a career, but is it why I love it? Do I seek that out? Nope - I create stuff. World #2. World #1 would be what we geeks call "meta information", over and above what we have inside our universe. It's the difference between a chess master who sits down to his first game against an opponent, and one who has studied all the games this other person has ever played.

There is no world #3 in the example provided. The sum total of a computer program is the code - I do not need to know whether the programmer loved his wife, I just see the code and what it does.

Willshill said...

Duane said: There is no world #3 in the example provided. The sum total of a computer program is the code - I do not need to know whether the programmer loved his wife, I just see the code and what it does.

But what could it do, given a particular instance and set of projected parameters (incomplete though they might be) that don't actually exist at the present time?
No extrapolation or hypothetical in the binary world of numbers and code? I may be totally wrong here, but I thought Einstein found out that it was possible to at least 'theorize' about the realm of infinity.

Maybe I'm barking up a very empty tree when it comes to computer code(??? I'm shooting from the hip here) and
not that I'm saying it's worth a hill of beans when it comes to an estimation of Shakespeare as husband or a human being either-- but we do have some fairly plausible factoids about Shakespeare: actor, playwright, co-producer, the Globe connection-- named in documents by those who worked with him--the 1st Folio for example, who he named in his will, etc. I understand how the detective in some could bring them to think how what we do know-- and what could be projected from that knowledge-- might be brought to bear on who Shakespeare the man was, and, taken the next step, what that might possibly say when applied to his work. The fact that I don't buy into the possible applied importance of an extrapolated premise doesn't mean it doesn't exist as a "theoretical reality" (if you'll allow that contradiction) for some.

snaggletoothie said...

In relation to world #3 two words sum it up: intentional fallacy.

Willshill said...

I'm a little unclear as to how you might be applying the notion of the intent to be false about something you've read here.

Would that be the intent to falsely project a hypothetical world itself?
If so, then "hypothetically speaking" I would say that you proffer impossible guilt for what's native to thought; inherent in the capabilities of reason. "If--then--so it might be". Though it could ultimately be proved false in it's conclusion, to posit a possibility based upon some facts is not fallacious in the act itself. We're not talking provable or non-provable syllogisms.

--Or is it the falsity of what might be claimed as actual without proof, being only based upon the known, agreed upon, given content that gives rise to a hypothetical? IE, the claim, initially, that the hypothetical is a reality in and of itself, so therefore any conclusions drawn would naturally be false. Then it becomes fallacious syllogistically. In fact, anyone knowing anything at all about such things wouldn't bother to posit such a claim as truth in the first place, knowing how illogical it is, and therefore would have nothing about which to be fallacious.

Or...can you elucidate further?