Tag Archives: Shakespeare

While the World Burns

Today I have a clear view of the Rocky Mountains; a week ago, the smoke from fires in Oregon and south affected us: for a couple of days, we had an air quality alert. Fires don’t care about international borders; smoke doesn’t care. Compared to life down there, we’re lucky. I have often thought of Calgarians as being like Tolkein’s hobbits in their Shire, gloriously oblivious to the grand conflicts around them. But the smoke blows up here, too, reminding us what we’re part of. Climate emergency and political crisis, which also blows up here from the south, are part of our lives, and we are responsible.

In such times, I make yet another attempt to reread Heidegger. Who?!? you say–did I mean Heidegger, the most unrepentant of ex-Nazis, a philosopher most obscure in his generalities…him? For me, at my age, Heidegger’s fall into Nazi collusion, which I believe was both personal and philosophical, is a reminder of the ever present potential of any system of thought to be used for evil as for good. The key word in that last sentence is system. It’s when thought is systematized that it becomes dangerous. Heidegger wants to present a system of thought, but he also offers a critique of systems of thought.

I’ve sought many guides to Heidegger over the years, because for me, his work requires guidance. My current guide is Mark Wrathall’s little book, How To Read Heidegger, in the how-to-read series edited by Simon Critchley. Wrathall begins each chapter with a couple of page extract from Heidegger’s writing, and then he explains it. I am most appreciative. What, then, does Heidegger via Wrathall help us with, in terms of understanding our current vulnerability? And by the end of this post, how can we better understand what we need from Shakespeare, in our vulnerable condition?

Wrathall begins with what Heidegger means by saying that humans live in multiple worlds. A world, in this sense, is “a particular style of organizing our activities and relations with the things and people around us” (20). To understand our current crises, whether these involve climate, or lack of political leadership, or racial conflict, we need to see each issue as part of a world that first instigates this crisis and then makes it difficult to respond. Response is difficult because we still are enmeshed in the style of organizing our activities and relations that produced the crisis. Example: a little more than a mile west of our house, the Province of Alberta is building a large bridge over the Bow River, as part of an expanded ring-road project, so yet more vehicles can drive around Calgary, heading west (it’s a marvel of technology and seductively fascinating to watch being built). The not-so-old bridge will become east-bound only; the new bridge will be west-bound. A world is the way of seeing, relating to, and finally acting that makes that bridge seem necessary. In the present world called Alberta, building it as a rail bridge is unthinkable, a non-starter. We need a bridge for cars and trucks. Some people, in their worlds, need a conviction of racial superiority, and in more people’s worlds during the last decade, they are willing to be self-conscious and public about that. Simply proclaiming a different world in opposition to theirs will only intensify conflict. You have to begin by understanding the world that makes such thinking, relating, and acting not just possible but necessary, their world. To get ahead of myself, Shakespeare is noted for making the most awful characters’ worlds plausible. His significant talent was for taking multiple points of view, or in Heidegger’s terms, provisionally inhabiting multiple worlds.

A second of Heidegger’s concepts is mood. “Heidegger is pointing to the way that while we are in a mood,” Wrathall writes, “everything shows up as having a certain unified ‘tone’ or ‘flavour’ or ‘feel'”. Moods “do this by deciding for us what will be salient in a given situation” (36). Moods establish salience. Here we get to what is for me, after a career of teaching sociology, the most interesting problem: “The way things matter to us, Heidegger says, is not something we are free to decide, but is imposed on us by the way the world is arranged and the ways that we are disposed for the world” (36). The way things matter to us–that’s the crux. Here my example can be why bioethics, so far as I can tell, has had so little impact on actual clinical practice in medicine. How healthcare professionals do this activity of medicine is disposed–they are disposed to act–by the way their world, the physical spaces of hospitals and clinics, is arranged: what’s there for use, and how the things they use are at hand. Settings impose, a verb to take seriously. Things at hand impose and then dispose for further use. That disposition includes what people consider salient: what matters, what counts, and what is effectively invisible, including sometimes pain. Effecting change requires about affecting mood, which is formed in material circumstances, amid things that are arranged.

Three is enough for a blog posting, so third and last I turn to art: the work of art, in the sense of what distinctive work art does. On Heidegger’s account, art works by uncovering. Uncovering is his translation of the Greek word that’s usually translated as truth. One of Heidegger’s most useful tactics is to turn substantive nouns into verbs; to emphasize that what’s involved is not a substance, as in the truth, but a process, as in continuing uncovering. It can make Heidegger’s writing confusing at first, but Shakespeare does the same thing, as Philip Davis has pointed out. A book of my formative youth was Buckminster Fuller’s I Seem to Be a Verb, which is a great title.

“Works of art help us to grasp the character of a world,” Wrathall writes, glossing Heidegger (75). “The art work shows us the essence of the thing purely and simply, so free of distraction or adornment that we can see what is really at stake in the world” (83, emphases added). To see what is really at stake, and at the same time, to see what others, living in their worlds, believe is really at stake, as their worlds dispose what they are able to see.

The tyrant creates a world based on fear and its corollary necessities. Tyrants understand, intuitively, that humans need worlds perpetually reconstructed for them. It’s remarkably easy to guide that reconstruction so that the tyrant appears necessary as the only possible remedy to the fears that same tyrant has not invented, but rather has exploited and made central to people’s world. Art, including Shakespeare as a paramount example, can uncover what a world conceals. Art may be the best available human means of uncovering.

Most of Shakespeare’s plays are simple as storytelling for an audience that was mostly illiterate and had to get it the first time through. It’s why the plays are constructed from folk-tale motifs and recognizable character types. There are also infinite complexities that require later reading, but the action is right out there, in the audience’s face. And the action, with help from the language, uncovers. Many, maybe even all, the plots hinge on layers of uncovering. Shakespeare uncovers weakness and evil, prejudice and fear, forgiveness and joy. Participating in one of the plays–staying with the story over a couple of hours of sustained engagement–is a form of therapy. A therapy of stripping away and restoring: entrenched dispositions are stripped away, and we are restored to seeing possibilities that were obscured. Shakespeare offers no system. He does what Heidegger argues language does: he shows us pictures, sometimes of tyrants and sometimes of true love. His pictures uncover.

Thus Heidegger helps me understand how Shakespeare works, and why his work has a claim on us, not as time out from the crises of the moment, but as what we need to encounter those crises in their multi-perspectival complexity.

Interdependence in Motion

Once upon a time, I’d guess 1989 or 90, I was at a conference attended by some former students of Kenneth Burke (1887-1993). One asked another how the old man was doing, and the reply was that Burke was bitter, because he felt that many “new” ideas that were circulating were little more than what he’d written years ago, and he wasn’t being properly recognized. At the time, what little I knew about Burke was mostly from reading Goffman, who drew heavily upon Burke’s idea (which he credits to Aristotle) that what we think of as motives depend on distinct rhetorical presentations; motivation is less an internal state than an effect of self-presentation. I only actually read Burke recently, specifically the volume of his disparate writings on Shakespeare, collected by Scott Newstok. Burke isn’t fun reading for me; his thoughts seem to outrun his pen. But I have to place him among those few authors who have changed the way I read. And after all these years, I now agree that his sense of not being properly recognized was fair enough.

Burke argues that we tend toward what he calls a novelistic reading of Shakespearean drama. In reading that way, we miss the drama, the push and pull. If we read as if we were audience members, what we see are characters playing parts that are required by a plot, and each’s part takes shape in relation to the other characters. Consider what Burke writes about Coriolanus, and if you don’t know that play (it’s about ancient Rome), fill in his name and the other characters’ names with characters from whatever story you like; there’s a generalizable principle here. Or fill them in with players in a medical drama: patient, doctor, nurse, worried family member, clinical student, technician. All these people are playing parts in their understanding of what the plot is. Burke writes:

“The citizens [of ancient Rome] have the mixture of distress, resentment, and instability that enables them to help Coriolanus get into the kind of quandaries necessary for him to enact his role. As for the Tribunes, besides their function in making Coriolanus’ bluster look admirable in comparison with their scheming, they serve to carry the play forward by goading him into the rage that leads to his banishment, and thus eventually (as one thing leads to another) to his death.” There’s much I love in those lines: the idea that we each help others to enact their roles, as we ourselves are helped; that drama is always about carrying forward, the never ceasing movement of life; and Burke’s understanding of narrative as being about one thing leading to another. But then he writes what I appreciate most: “All told, in being the kind of characters they are, the other figures help Coriolanus be the kind of character he is; and by their actions at precisely the times when they do act, they help lead the appointed…victim to the decision required, by the logic of the plot, for his downfall” (136-37).

What Burke characterizes as novelistic understanding (which may be unfair to readers of novels) is taking characters as individuals who have self-contained identities, although of course as they bounce off each other, different things happen. Coriolanus isn’t who he is, except insofar as other characters help him (in Burke’s ironic usage) to be that person, and this person is whom the plot requires, if the play is to move forward, relentlessly. Not only are characters brought into being through dialogical relations, but the dialogue is always in motion, speeding up and slowing down. The challenge is not only whether we can read with that in mind; it’s whether we can experience our own lives, with their relationships and plots, as interdependencies in motion. Living during a pandemic should make that easier, and maybe some people’s pandemic panic results from being brought up against the recognition that none of their choices is or can be entirely their own. That shouldn’t be scary, but for many people, it is.

“And when he is threatening to lead an army against Rome,” Burke writes about Coriolanus, “he does not know himself” (140). For me that recalls Regan’s line about her father, Lear: “he hath ever but slenderly known himself” (I.1.308-9). Is it too gross a generalization to say that the Shakespearean drama is always a drama of self-knowledge, and the effects of whether it is slender or sufficient? The plot’s tension is whether self-knowledge can be attained before something inestimably valuable is lost. That goes all the way back to Oedipus, who literally doesn’t know who he is, and maybe further back: Achilles only realizes who he is when he gives Hector’s body to Priam. In the present, the writers of illness memoirs realize how partial their previous knowledge of themselves had been; these too are dramas of self-knowledge. But because these narratives are memoirs, as a novelistic genre of story, most writers don’t go as far as Burke in realizing how other characters “help” them to enact their parts in…what? In dramas where the tension is between different characters’ commitments to different plots: who is willing to go how far to make the action to lead where.

Burke radicalizes my understanding of how vulnerable humans are in our dependence on others who shape–Burke’s “help”–the characters we enact, and in that enactment, become. In Coriolanus, the characters help the protagonist to his destruction, which makes that a tragedy. In As You Like It, Rosalind helps Orlando to become the character whom she marries; that’s comedy. In the forward movement of our own lives, who is helping toward what?

Mysteries of Fragility

“The play conceals a mystery” (42). That’s the Romanian theatre director Aureliu Manea (1945-2014), from the recently published collection of his writings, Imaginary Performances in Shakespeare (Routledge, 2020). I’m not nearly competent to assess Manea’s contributions to theatrical performance. I write about how, as he imagines productions of different Shakespearean plays, he appeals to the vulnerable reader, or vulnerable theatre goer, because Manea clearly distinguishes experiencing performance from reading. “Ordinary reading is unsatisfactory” (69), he writes; “Like a layer of snow, the words written by the playwright conceal future fruits.” As Manea writes about how he would stage different plays, he suggests–he wouldn’t want to do more than to suggest–these fruits. His constant theme is mystery: the mystery of theatrical performance that can transform a text that “has something apparently cold about it” (69) into performances that live not only on the stage, but in the experience of the audience participants.

When Manea writes that ordinary reading is unsatisfactory, he is not going in the direction of suspicious readings. That way of reading is given a thorough discussion in Toril Moi’s Revolution of the Ordinary, and I won’t go off on that now. Against the background of academic “critical” suspicion, Manea can seem almost naive in some of his understandings. About The Merchant of Venice, he writes: “I do not see any Jewish problem in this text” (7). Manea’s Prospero in The Tempest is not the colonialist, patriarchal figure some now understand him to be, but someone who “dedicates his final wonder to his beloved daughter” (11). In The Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio comes to liberate Katherine from her stultifying family, not to gaslight her into submission to himself. “The process of becoming, accompanied by music and strange gestures, will symbolise the birth of a free soul,” he writes about how he imagines staging Shrew. “Everything will be enveloped in mystery, as if it were something difficult and cumbersome, a forging of new relationships between man and world, between man and his fellow man” (49). The gender biased language in that quotation probably isn’t innocent, and Manea’s claims for what some consider Shakespeare’s “toxic” plays should certainly give us pause and maybe offend us. Maybe I’m being too generous in looking elsewhere, at what’s of immense value in his imagined performances.

The job of Petruchio in Shrew is to wake up Katherine, whom Manea understands as a Cinderella character. Or better yet, as I understand his argument, Briar Rose, who sleeps in a castle that is spell-bound in time, until she is awakened…–and that’s the problem: it’s another story about a woman needing a man to wake her up. Can we get past that to a human dilemma: we of all genders need someone, or something, to wake us up; the soul needs awakening, and constant reawakening. That goes back to Joseph Campbell’s idea of the great mythic tension between stasis (Briar Rose’s sleep or the dragon’s hoarding) and renewal brought by the hero.

For reasons I don’t understand, Manea doesn’t understand Rosalind in As You Like It as playing this hero role; he passes her by, which I regret. Nor does he discuss Cymbeline, in which Imogen exemplifies the hero who revitalizes a moribund court and country. He does imagine a properly heroic role for Viola in Twelfth Night: “In my production, Viola will arrive here in Illyria through a tunnel in time. She will be dressed in the fashion of the unknown…. She is a vulnerable being, so delicately frail that we feel an urge to protect her. After her arrival, things will carry on as if nothing has happened, but at the same time, imperceptible changes begin to alter the age-old provincial way of life” (54). Yet it ends sadly: “Swallowed by the city, Viola will follow the path of sacrifice out of too great a love for man” (55).

I simply don’t know how Manea can recognize this about Viola, but not apply the same insight to Katherine in Shrew. But he’s an artist: he sees his imagined production. He sees Viola one way, and Katherine another. That, so far as I am learning, is what it is to be a director. And the production then has to make his way of seeing compelling for his audience. I’d love to have seen his Shrew, if he ever staged it. Maybe he does me the greater service by leaving me to imagine his production.

All this is about vulnerable reading on several levels. The distinguished philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer wrote a book called The Enigma of Illness that disappointed me, because as I read, at the time I read it, I missed him developing the sense of enigma that overlaps with Manea’s sense of mystery. In the enigma of care, specifically in hospitals, the drama of stasis and renewal is endlessly played out, but the ending is often that the patient, who arrives like Viola in Illyria, frail yet capable of instigating change, ends up being swallowed by the institution. Physicians and nurses are too often like the Petruchio who violently gaslights Katherine, depriving her of rest and sustenance until she submits to his view of reality, and not like Manea’s Petruchio who “should resemble the enchanters in Fellini’s films, those strange directors, those seekers of the beautiful, wandering through utterly ordinary towns, true creators of modern enchantments” (48). As usual, I ask far too much of people who are, especially now, not only overworked but literally endangered. This is an especially poor moment to desire a recognition of the enigma that illness is. But such poor moments are also the best moments, because that’s when everyone realizes their shared vulnerabilities, and when institutionally proclaimed certainties are shakiest and most readily questioned.

Here’s Manea’s other contribution to vulnerable reading. He reminds us that we should never stop looking for enchantment, beauty, the casting off of “an unfavourable guise” and the “true arraying of the body” (49). I cannot ignore, but I can set aside, Manea’s occasional indifference to the toxicity in Shakespeare when I read the following, and consider a life dedicated to offering people experiences that might reawaken them: “The mission will be the more wonderful the closer it comes to the stars. It is true that we do not always grasp that the sky above us is starry. But that is why there is art, in order to reveal such truths” (70).

Two Modes of Consolation

Vulnerable readers, whose needs are the topic of this blog, need consolation. I realize how, without much thought, I have defined vulnerability as a need for consolation. My question has then been what sorts of consolation can be offered by reading generally, and by participating in Shakespeare specifically. So, imagine my sense of anticipation when I saw that the Folger Shakespeare Library has in its excellent podcast series Shakespeare Unlimited an episode titled “Shakespeare and Solace”, posted online last April. It’s an unusual episode, longer than most and including multiple contributors rather than a single interviewee. Michael Witmore, the current Folger director, and Gail Kern Paster, Director Emerita, are interviewed by regular host Barbara Bogaev, with contributions from multiple actors, directors, and other previous guests on the podcast. I recommend listening to it; some of the readings from Shakespeare are wonderful to hear.

What interests me in this posting is how, as I listened, I realized that I hadn’t distinguished between two complementary but significantly different ways that people find solace in Shakespeare–how the plays console. I realized that how I look for consolation in the plays is not how most people find solace. That difference is my topic.

Both Paster and Witmore speak of specific lines as a source of consolation. Paster: “lines emerge in your head or they come out of your mouth without you’re ever really thinking.” Witmore follows by saying: “I tend to think of short phrases. They sometimes jump out at me, and they’re not really…what I want to hear from them or not the same as what they mean in the passage” (ellipsis in original transcript). What I think he’s getting at, although they don’t specify it, is the difference between how Shakespeare’s words and phrases can sound out of context, versus how we understand them as spoken by a particular character who’s in a specific situation. Let me offer an example that is not in the podcast, but it speaks to both solace in Shakespeare’s lines and the difference between a line in or out of context.

In David Schalkwyk’s Hamlet’s Dreams: The Robben Island Shakespeare, he quotes Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, where Mandela talks about the solace he found in Shakespeare’s line, “Be absolute for death; for either death or life shall be the sweeter.” In prison, facing the possibility of death every day, Mandela lived the truth he found in this line. But, the line’s from a speech in Measure for Measure, and in that context, it’s layered in complicity. The Duke, disguised as a Friar, tells Claudio to be absolute for death. The disguise is one level of falseness. Another level is that the Duke has no intention of letting Claudio die; he has a plan that will rescue him (although that doesn’t work out as he anticipates, but that’s another issue). And then it matters that Claudio rejects the speech, and his speech about the utter finality of death possibly trumps the Duke’s eloquence, especially because Claudio is actually scheduled to be executed. Schalkwyk describes the context as the Duke’s “cynical manipulation of Claudio” (64), which sums it up well. And then, after discussing another of Mandela’s favourite lines from Shakespeare, Schalkwyk concludes, and I agree: “Mandela pays little attention to the context of the speeches from which he draws his lessons or comforts” (65). But that isn’t a mistake Mandela makes; it’s not a shallowness of reading. Instead, and going back to what Witmore says about lines out of context, how Mandela uses Shakespeare is more than fine: he takes what he needs, and Shakespeare lends his words to that purpose.

Paster’s example is the Duke in As You Like It saying “Sweet are the uses of adversity.” She adds that in the play, “it comes off as sheer rationalization,” which might be a bit strong but she knows far more than I. What she adds is a fine example of vulnerable reading: “I think for those of us who are trying to cope with isolation and solitude, we better find the sweet uses of adversity or else we’ll be really in a bad place.” Her context is speaking about a month into the lockdown resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, a time when everyone was learning a whole new dimension of vulnerability in their lives, as we still are when I write this.

The complementary but different form of consolation finds its source not in individual lines from Shakespeare but rather from the adaptability of Shakespeare’s stories, most of which are already adaptations. I’ve written (in Literature and Medicine) about how the character of Hamlet consoles, on the one hand, by mirroring the plight of someone who is thrown into a situation of irresolvable conflict, and on the other hand, Hamlet also consoles by being a cautionary example of how not to respond when finding oneself suddenly vulnerable. Or to go back to Measure for Measure, in a short piece I co-authored in the medical journal The Lancet, we write about how the play describes different characters’ struggles to maintain integrity in situation of endemic craziness, and as such, the story can be a survival guide to those who work in hospitals. In reading for the story, if individual lines are remembered, they matter as part of telling that story, although that story can morph into one’s own story.

The consolation of what we can call reading for the story can take the form of fan fiction, which has a considerable tradition in the production of Shakespeare. Until the mid-18th century, those performing Shakespeare felt free to rewrite to an extent we today would find simply wrong. Mostly famously, the poet Nahum Tate revised King Lear so that Cordelia lives, marries Edgar, and reigns as Queen. That version (1681) remained the standard performance text for a century and a half (although Tate died in hiding from his creditors, so maybe some higher power disapproved). My point is that any reader of Shakespeare can adapt the story to fit her or his needs: write yourself a new part in the story, or adapt a character to be your alter ego and change how she or he acts. Make the story be what your consolation requires. You will be doing a version of what Shakespeare did, and as long as you’re not planning on producing your version in public, there’s no criterion of how well you do your adaptation.

I was writing recently to a friend who’s a therapist. I compared the space in which therapy takes place to the Forest of Arden, from As You Like It. The Forest of Arden is not filled with spirits–no Puck or Ariel–but it has its own magic. The deposed Duke and later his exiled daughter Rosalind go there in desperation. Rosalind plays with her identity: she dresses as a young man, Ganymede; for a while, she is a man, albeit a man whose main occupation is to teach another man how to properly love the woman whom he is infatuated with, who is of course Rosalind. You go to the Forest of Arden in your complete vulnerability; it shelters you, and it offers a space for identity play that becomes transformation. It is being in the Forest that consoles. Not quoting the story, but being in the story, as a space that holds you and frees you–the freedom depends on the holding.

People need both modes of consolation, reading for lines and reading for the story; both have value. But it’s useful to recognize their difference.

Can Occasions Think?

Paul Krugman used to add a parenthesis to the title of some of his New York Times economics columns warning the reader to expect “geekish”. This blog posting may be my most abstract to date, but the implications of the issue are real, especially in my longterm quest to understand what happens in clinical encounters.

I begin for the third posting in a row (and it will stop after this) with the writing of Philip Davis, this time from his book Shakespeare Thinking. That title is literal: Davis’s project is to show how Shakespeare’s language creates spaces in which though is elicited; at the extreme, how Shakespeare creates, or generates, or even evolves the possibility of thinking, which sounds hyperbolic, until you see Davis showing how it happens. But let’s begin with something easier to hold onto. Here’s an observation that restates what others have suggested about Shakespeare:

“Shakespeare is closer to Renaissance tricks of double perspective. For the shape of a thing depends on the perspective–shift it ever so slightly and the ‘object’ changes. So, Edgar on Dover cliff [in King Lear] has different perspectives in the same painting. In that sense Shakespeare is more like a cubist in action: taking multiple points of view almost simultaneously until it is not two or three people separately inserted into one solidly external situational container so much as two or three reciprocally overlapping situations within one complex blended happening” (Davis, Shakespeare Thinking, p. 86).

Now imagine, please, a familiar hospital scene: a patient in bed, a physician standing over the bed, delivering news maybe about test results or whether a treatment is succeeding, a nurse standing slightly back, and a family member on the other side of the bed from the physician. Apply what Davis says about Shakespeare: “it is not two or three people separately inserted into one solidly external situational container so much as two or three reciprocally overlapping situations within one complex blended happening.” Most healthcare studies of what’s called “doctor-patient communication” assume the narrational privilege of one actor, the physician, and measure how well the patient understands and retains the information conveyed by that physician. More enlightened studies go further, recognizing that each person in this situation has her or his own interests and agenda; each not only comprehends (or not) the content of information, each assesses and interprets what is said, including messages that are enacted, not spoken (Goffman’s signs given off, beyond signs consciously given). Davis calls upon us to understand the situation as more complex still: “three reciprocally overlapping situations within one complex blended happening.”

The ethical question this raises–at least ethical is the best I can think to call it, although the word seems inadequate; should I just say human?–is whether the participants in this situation can each remain self-aware that the other participants do not share their perspective. Something beyond empathy (a word I seek to avoid) is involved here; it’s rather an awareness of the limits of fellow-feeling, the limits of what George Herbert Mead called taking the role of the other. To return to Davis’s metaphor, can we put ourselves inside a Cubist painting and live with the fracturing of the lines that, in normal perception, make the scene around us cohere?

Davis continues, and here is where I find his thinking going beyond anything I remember from all that sociologists have written about interaction and situational framing: “It is as though the occasion itself, like a living thing, knows nothing about the parts within itself being separate or, at least, thinking themselves to be so. It is we who habitually think in terms of subject and object…” (86, my emphases). Sociologists have talked for nearly a century about how people define situations. Goffman showed how situations frame interaction, but that only shifted the emphasis from human actors actively defining to definitions being culturally given as resources for humans. What Davis offers is the idea of the situation itself as one of the actors, like a living thing. But this thing is not fully self aware. It cannot understand that the people in it think themselves to be separate: subjects perceiving others as objects of their perception.

In what I think was one of the great observations of clinical medical practice, Anatole Broyard pointed out that his doctor did not realize that as he was examining Broyard, so also Broyard was examining him. Or Montaigne asking whether, as he played with his cat, the cat understood itself to be playing with him.

Neither Davis nor I is doing philosophy, so we don’t aim at a resolution. What I at least want is a change in perspective, or an opening to multiple perspectives. Decades ago Alfred Schutz wrote about multiple perspectives, drawing in part on William James. There’s nothing new here. It’s more a question of whether we can ever take seriously what’s been recognized all along. Whether it’s Edgar and his father on the Dover cliff in King Lear or an everyday hospital room consultation, there’s a dramatic tension that makes all the difference. Edgar actually can–he has the grace to be able to–see the cliff from above (the perspective he’s playing, for his father, Gloucester), from below (the perspective of Gloucester who believes he has fallen), and no cliff at all (which is reality to anyone observing them). Shakespeare’s art is to enable us, as we experience the play, for just a moment to see from all three perspectives at once.

So here’s the ethical question, so far as Davis concludes it, or maybe as far as anyone can conclude it, and here also is another take on what Davis means by thinking: “…it is thought that has to come out there, in the world, rightly taking its anomalous place amid the whole intervolved reality to which it so uncomfortably belongs and refers” (87). It’s not the communication, or the definition of the situation, or the frame–although each of these attends to something–rather it’s thought, taking its anomalous place, so uncomfortably. Having seen this enacted on Shakespeare’s stage, can we experience our lives as thought arising?

Consolation Without Reassurance

I admire the music critic Alex Ross. In a recent issue of The New Yorker he wrote about the death of his mother last February. Ross describes choosing to listen to Brahms on his overnight flight from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. His experiences frame comments he makes about Philip Kennicott’s book Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning, and it’s Kennicott I want to focus on, because the sentences that Ross quotes made me realize that while I’ve spent some time exploring what vulnerablility means, the idea of consolation is almost as important for the project of vulnerable reading. I’ve often claimed that the arts, literature, Shakespeare can console–I believe that. So Ross’s quotation from Kennicott disrupted a line of thinking–an idea or maybe ideal of healing arts–that I had become complacent about.

“I bristle at the idea that music is consoling or has some healing power,” Kennicott writes, taking me back several decades to when I used to be invited to conferences on alternative and complementary medicine, where serious people made claims for the physical healing power of music. Kennicott calls this “a cliché of lazy music talk”, and it has the potential to be that. “Music, if anything, makes us raw, more susceptible to pain, nostalgia, and memory.” Most of Kennicott’s book, on Ross’s reliable account, is about how he responded to his mother’s death by immersing himself in Bach, specifically the Goldberg Variations. That also took me back. A cassette tape of Glenn Gould playing the Goldbergs was my constant nighttime listening when I was hospitalized with cancer surgery and then treatment.

So I found myself immediately agreeing with Kennicott, insofar as he seems to be calling for more nuanced consideration of what consoles, and beyond that, what is worth calling healing? But I want to hold onto the belief that music, or other arts including Shakespeare, can console; that claim need not be lazy. The value of Kennicott, at least for me now (I hope eventually to read his book), is to make me be more explicit about the consolation that works–that does its consoling work–by making us more susceptible to … what? Here we reach his triad of pain, nostalgia, and memory, which seem to be not such good things, or, we’re led to ask, what kinds of pain, nostalgia, and memory might be good or bad? Let’s take only nostalgia, because I’m at risk of opening up way too big a topic for a blog post.

Ross proceeds to distinguish between reflective nostalgia and restorative nostalgia. Restorative nostalgia can be called sentimental; Ross describes it as envisioning “a return to home”. Reflective nostalgia is more fit for a sociologist like me. Ross quotes the literary scholar Svetlana Boym: “Reflective nostalgia dwells on the ambivalences of human longing and belonging and does not shy away from the contradictions of modernity,” Ross argues that Brahms’s music exemplifies reflective nostalgia. If music opens us to reflective nostalgia, that does console and heal.

In Shakespeare, I think marriage, true marriage, represents reflective nostalgia. Marriage as an ending recognizes the human need for longing and belonging, but the home that this marriage will create will retain the ambivalences of the relationship that have made the road to marriage difficult traveling. Moreover, the marriage will be situated within “the contradictions of modernity”, which for Shakespeare include both the tenuous legitimacy of monarchs and the increasing prevalence of money as a common denominator of value, but again, that opens up way too much. Suffice it to say that we in the audience both want the lovers to get married, we want to imagine them reaching a home of their own, but we don’t forget our ambivalences; there’s no happily-ever-after. That ambivalence seems most explicit at the end of Measure for Measure, when it’s left open whether or not Isabella will accept the Duke’s proposal of marriage. I want her to take his hand … but I share her doubts.

Might we think, then, of reflective consolation, following the Boym/Ross usage of reflective nostalgia? This consolation is not pastoral; there’s no shepherd who will keep the wolves away, so we may safely graze. Speaking most personally, for me it’s the consolation of feeling my participation in an old story that continues to unfold in my life. If terrible things happen to me, so they have happened and will happen; I participate in a shared narrative that is worth calling a drama. This consolation offers no reassurances. Its only promise is that the story will go on.

To get myself out of a discussion that’s opened up more than I can take on here, let me defer back to Alex Ross. He describes sitting with his mother, in her library, when her illness made speech near impossible. “So we listened together, and Brahms listened to us both.” That’s the consolation of vulnerable reading.

Vulnerability, At the Present Moment

If I had given this blog a title, it would be the vulnerable reader. Both those words need specification, but today I’m stuck on what it means to think of oneself or others as vulnerable. By now–March 30–I assume everyone being kind enough to read this is living with some level of dislocation, whether of work, relationships, living arrangements, provision of services…and a long list of ‘and so on’. Shakespeare’s plays all begin, and I actually think all is warranted here, with some dislocation that is both individual and collective. Sometimes one or more characters has incurred this dislocation themselves: Lear’s division of his kingdom or Romeo and Juliet falling in love. Others have dislocation apparently forced upon them: Viola in Twelfth Night gets shipwrecked; Rosalind in As You Like It and Hamlet both have to deal with dislocations caused by the older generation’s misbehaviour. And maybe the most interesting are characters among whom I’d place Shylock and Coriolanus (not usually conjoined in one sentence) who both act and are acted upon. Shylock and Coriolanus seem to me to fit perfectly the human condition as famously described by Karl Marx: each makes his own history, but neither does so in conditions of his own choosing. Here’s a Shakespearean zen koan: in Macbeth, are the three sisters (a.k.a. the witches) of his choosing? Say either and you’re doomed.

Thinking about these characters, maybe even thinking with them, we can see ourselves as vulnerable both to our circumstances and to our selves. And pace Epictetus, it is not so easy to separate what we can control from what we cannot. Living in a pandemic especially blurs that distinction. Living now can make a word like control seem crudely naive about the human condition. Control is an illusion, and most dangerous when we most need to exercise whatever control we can. On my account of things, none of us ever controls much of anything, and that’s the beginning of our vulnerability. We are vulnerable both to illusions of control and to despair at our lack of control.

Erving Goffman’s Stigma, which might now be receiving the most attention of any of his works, seems to me to understand vulnerability as the ultimate absence of control over how one’s self is understood, both by oneself and by others, and human attempts, sometimes heroic and sometimes comic, to control information about the self. So far as we can control some people’s access to some information about ourselves, we stave off vulnerability. But there’s always what Goffman calls discreditable information out there, and so we’re all vulnerable. It’s comic in the sense that it’s funny watching Buster Keaton racing downhill, trying to outrun the giant snowball behind him. What, exactly, do we find funny? What about ourselves are we laughing at?

The situations of Edgar and his father, Gloucester, in King Lear are both distinctly not funny. The former is falsely accused by his brother and on the run, living disguised as a madman, mortifying his flesh to embody the identity he must assume to survive. Gloucester has had his eyes gouged out by Regan and Cornwall. Then they fall in together, and that doesn’t strain my imagination. I wrote, a number of blogs ago, about how the critic Jan Kott imagines the stage image of Edgar telling his father that although the ground might feel flat, they are climbing a steep incline to cliffs from which Gloucester is determined to thrown himself, ending his miserable existence. Two figures on a flat stage, struggling up an imaginary hill, one hoping to end a life that has proven too vulnerable.

Although King Lear ends with Lear holding the dead body of Cordelia, for me the more immediate lesson for us is Edgar and Gloucester, learning to live with what they now know as their own vulnerability. I distrust the word resilience and try to use it only to discuss what it obscures. I prefer to think of Edgar and Gloucester gaining tragic knowledge: that what you can control can never be disentangled from what you cannot control, and you are always vulnerable. But you choose to persevere. Shakespeare’s works multiply variations on characters choosing to persevere through the dislocations that they have variously caused and had imposed upon them. I like best those endings that leave us in doubt how this will work out.

The big difference is that in Shakespeare’s worlds on the stage, we the audience know that there will, within a couple of hours, be at least the sense of an ending, and we project that knowledge onto the characters in the plays, at least I think we can’t avoid treating our expectation as their knowledge. The most immediate anxiety of the pandemic, more immediate I think than getting sick and dying, is not having any idea when it might end, or what an ending will look like. It’s not knowing whether we will see some people again or do some things again. It’s not knowing what version of life as we knew it might again be available to us, when. I recently read a review by James Shapiro, writing about a new book that places Shakespeare in times of recurring plague, which the book’s author argues is the ever present background of concern in the plays. Plague was a predictable but always unexpected aspect of life for a long time, as in centuries. Shakespeare’s plays are both respite and reckoning with plague. How do we, now, use them to live with the newly recognized vulnerabilities that the present moment makes palpable in our lives?

Shakespeare’s Storytellers

“Ian considered O and Dee, holding hands under the trees as she fed him another strawberry, and Casper, watching Bianca with a proprietary air as she jumped Double Dutch. They were like characters in a play who needed an extra scene, a thread to pull them tight. And Ian held the thread” (p. 126). That’s from Tracy Chevalier’s novel New Boy, which is her retelling of Othello in the Hogarth Press series of modern Shakespeare. Ian is the Iago character, and I think Chevalier catches Iago’s sensibility as a storyteller: how Iago sees others as characters in a story that he writes, directs, and plays a leading role in. I follow Erving Goffman in believing that one part of the presentation of self in everyday life is the manipulation of others to play out a story in which that self can be what the storyteller imagines being, or perhaps discovers who they can be. Manipulation covers a wide range of actions, with Iago/Ian representing the worst. We recognize how stories are co-constructed. We acknowledge less often how enacting stories involves manipulations; there’s a fine line between these categories.

This blog is a much condensed version of what was planned to be plenary lecture I was scheduled to give at the Narrative Matters conference in Atlanta this May. That event, like everything else these days, won’t happen, and by the time of next year’s conference, I sincerely hope I’ll want to speak on something else–it’s depressing to think that a year from now, I might have the same thing to say. So this blog becomes a useful venue to set down a bit of what I would have said in Atlanta.

Shakespeare’s plays are filled with characters who either overtly stage stories, as Hamlet does when he organizes the players to perform The Mousetrap, or like Iago/Ian, enrol others as the cast in a story the protagonist designs. In The Tempest, Prospero designs such a story with the goal of setting back in order what had been dislocated by his brother’s usurpation of his Dukedom. Prospero’s cause may be fundamentally just: usurping the rightful ruler is a bad thing, especially setting him and his child adrift in a leaky boat. But The Tempest is an edgy play because Prospero is–to use the key word again–manipulating everyone else. Miranda and Ferdinand may feel they are genuinely falling in love, and they may have a great future together, but we know that Prospero is setting them up. Social scientists, at their most annoying, like to point out that most choices we humans make are far more predictable, and easily manipulated, than we imagine. In Pierre Bourdieu’s monumental phrase, we make unchosen choices. In social science, the Prospero role is called society. What’s amazing is the pleasure with which we watch The Tempest, compared to the annoyance we feel when told our choices are less our own than we supposed.

So we might array Shakespeare’s storytellers into categories like the good, the bad, and the ugly. Iago is clearly the ugly. Who’s good and who’s bad gets complicated. Hamlet stages The Mousetrap for reasons that seem good–to determine whether the Ghost is honest by observing Claudio’s reaction to a murder that mirrors what the Ghost accuses Claudio of doing–but Hamlet is less in control of how he performs his “antic disposition”. His viciousness to Ophelia puts him in the bad category–he needs professional help, even if we think he’s aware of being watched an is performing for those spying on him.

My favourite, in the sense of most fascinating and perplexing, good/bad storyteller is the Duke in Measure for Measure. In a remarkably short first scene, he conscripts Angelo and Escalus to play his part, to be Duke, while he leaves town for unexplained reasons. The Duke doesn’t leave, but rather disguises himself as a Friar and plays that part in the story that he as Duke has instigated, but that Angelo proceeds to act out. The Duke thus acts closest to how I think people in so-called everyday life design stories. What makes Measure for Measure so engaging is the constant question how fully the Duke has predicted what would happen and remains in control, and when he’s genuinely surprised by his cast taking the story in directions he hadn’t anticipated. I find the Duke more interesting than Prospero because of his tenuous control–he has no Ariel to make him effectively omnipotent.

Measure for Measure is based on the old folktale of the evil judge who offers to release a woman’s loved one if she sleeps with him. In MfM, when Angelo acts this way–thus taking an established part in a story that precedes him–the Duke has matters in control; he might even have predicted Angelo’s behaviour. In the eventual assignation with Angelo, the part of Isabella is played by Mariana, who is (inexplicably) still in love with Angelo, despite his having jilted her over an unpaid dowry. Then comes the fascinating moment: Is the Duke surprised when he learns that Angelo has reneged on his bargain and despite believing he possessed Isabella, has ordered the execution of her brother, Claudio, to proceed? An actor can play the Duke’s reaction either way: has he suddenly lost control of the story, or did he anticipate even this turn of events?

The Duke will regain control in his endgame move of staging his own return, and that’s when he most blurs the good/bad line. Part of bringing down Angelo, before ultimately forgiving him, involves not telling Isabella that Claudio is alive (another head is sent to Angelo, in another deception). Then, having pushed Isabella to her limits, the Duke asks her to marry him, which is at least his idea of a happy ending to a story in which most of the people have been seriously unhappy. In what may be Shakespeare’s greatest silence, Isabella never gives him an answer, and different productions can cue the outcome in either direction with more or less certainty. I’m left with a question that’s a Shakespearean version of a Zen koan: Is the Duke’s proposal to Isabella honourable? And what counts, then, as an honourable proposal? What counts as honourable storytelling, with real life characters?

We tell stories not only at bedtimes and firesides, but also in how we enrol/enlist/conscript others into parts that set them acting out plot scenarios that we, the real life storyteller, have more or less in mind; that is, we expect and desire more or less specific outcomes. As the stories we have instigated play out, we watch, intervene, and maybe manipulate, accounting for that in different ways. We decide which characters need what extra scene, and we half believe we can hold the thread that pulls them; sometimes, we do hold that thread. Shakespeare shows us the continuum and complexity of what counts as manipulation, and how easily honourable manipulation turns creepy. Different periods of response to Shakespeare react differently to the protagonists’ manipulations. At the extreme, nobody has ever condoned Iago. But Prospero has been idealized and condemned, both. In MfM, Lucio describes the protagonist as “the old fantastical Duke of dark corners” (4.3.156), and I wonder how truthful that is. Which brings me back to my usual sort of questions: How much of ourselves does companionship with the Duke enable us to see? Into which of our own dark corners does MfM shine some light?

Lear’s 100 Knights

When King Lear resigns his kingdom to his daughters (spoiler alert: Big Mistake), one of his conditions is that he retain 100 knights as his entourage. The knights are not speaking parts, although they sing, led by the Fool. Different productions put more or less knights on stage, acting more or less riotously. At one extreme, they literally bust up the furniture, leaving the stage a shambles and making it seem justified when Goneril tells her father that his knights are no longer welcome. He storms off in a huff, expecting no such restrictions from Regan. When Regan takes the same line, and then Goneril shows up and the sisters join forces, Lear knows he’s in trouble. When Lear departs into a literal storm, the knights seem to disappear. Regan speaks of him being “attended with a desperate train” (2.2.495), suggesting she’s still worried the knights might put up an armed resistance, but then they’re just…disappeared into the storm, as the Fool will later disappear.

The knights can be understood as a plot necessity: they provide the pretext for the daughters’ hostility, and different productions make this pretext credible, although later events show it was a pretext. I find the knights more significant than that; they earn a place in how I think about myself and people around me. We all have our own version of 100 knights, and a lot is at stake in the maintenance of whatever those knights are. Our claims on others to recognize the legitimate importance of those knights are foundational to our relationships with those others. We expect those closest to us to willingly contribute to the maintenance of those knights, even if that requires them to accept some disruption.

When Lear’s daughters question why he needs the knights, his reply is, to me, one of the most poignant lines in the play: “O, reason not the need!” (2.2.453). Functional need can be reasoned; it admits “I need it because…” statements. We might call the need that cannot be reasoned identity need. We need what we have decided makes us who we are, and King Lear is all about characters either making claims to be someone more than they have been (the evil Edmund, plotting to gain his brother’s title and lands), or realizing that in order to survive, they must give up what they have claimed (the threatened and displaced Edgar), or subordinating their claims to the needs of another (Kent assuming the disguise of a servant in order to continue serving Lear), or struggling to maintain their sense of who they are, as that identity is threatened. “Does any here know me?” Lear asks rhetorically, or maybe not so rhetorically. He then turns to irony: “Why, this is not Lear. Does Lear walk thus, speak thus?” (1.4.217-18). Lear asks ostensibly for others’ recognition, but he may also be asking how he can know himself, in the circumstances he is suddenly thrown into.

Once again, I’m back where I started, a very long time ago, with the early work of Erving Goffman–The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Asylums, and Stigma–in which the core problem is how people sustain the claims we humans are constantly making to be a self that is entitled to others’ acceptance of those claims. Goffman’s word for that acceptance is deference; for Hegel it was recognition; for many philosophers and bioethicists the words are dignity and autonomy. Goffman’s insight is that claims for the self are literally propped up; we need material props that substantiate our claims.

What I think Goffman didn’t spend much time thinking or writing about is what happens when people can’t see why certain props are necessary to someone else’s claims. I’m interested to imagine an alternative Lear in which the daughters are honestly intentioned toward their father. In this alt-Lear, Goneril and Regan are not the sort of people who poison and torture, respectively. The daughters just want what they start off claiming to want: household peace. That seems like the everyday situation we all find ourselves in when we question someone else’s need to something that’s disrupting the household and is, to us, excess baggage.

I notice that when Lear’s daughters are being, at face value, not unreasonable, he’s the one who pushes back disproportionately, cursing them in what may be the play’s most virulent language. To some extent, this scenario can play out at any stage of life. But in King Lear, age counts. After telling, or pleading, not to reason the need, Lear says: “You see me here, you gods, a poor old man, As full of grief as age, wretched in both” (2.2.461-2). A person of any age might protest, “O, reason not the need,” but Lear’s age intensifies that line; it somehow counts more, and exactly how tells me something about the vulnerability of old age. Although if you ask me what that is, I either babble some embarrassingly simplistic cliché or I have to tell you the story of Lear again.

I think these thoughts because of just spending time with my father, who is well beyond Lear’s age. I reflect on how easily I can find myself playing the Regan/Goneril part, questioning his need for something that seems to me to cause not only significant trouble for the household, but from my viewpoint it makes him unhappy. At such moments, it’s useful to stop and tell myself, O, reason not his need. Having 100 knights in attendance makes Lear feel like he’s a King, King Lear. We all need our 100 knights.

I myself am increasingly full of age though not, right now, feeling any particular grief. I write this surrounded by piles of all my belongings taken out of the rest of the house while we endure a once-in-a-lifetime repainting and flooring. Things had gotten pretty well worn, to put it nicely. It was an interesting enough experience piling everything into my study, one room we’re not redoing, and it will be more interesting putting things back, or I hope deciding what not to put back. There’s an awful lot that doesn’t stand up to any reason of need. I have to ask myself what self it sustains, what it props up. King Lear teaches me that aging well means not putting one’s children in the position of having to question their parent’s need in order to preserve the peace. Shakespeare eventually raises the bar so high on Regan and Goneril’s bad behaviour that when Lear claims he is more sinned against than sinning, we tend to believe him. But when I reflect on the play, it’s a close call.

I hope that as a companion story, Lear gives me greater patience not to reason the needs of others, but also greater willingness to reason my own needs. The 100 knights are a good metaphor with which to live a vulnerable life.

Risk, Lear, and Life

Not the least interesting reason for choosing to work on Shakespeare is that it introduces me to people at what may be, for many of them, the top of their game. Falstaff famously says that not only is he witty himself, he is the cause of wit in others. Shakespeare might have been writing about himself. I hope he may still be the cause of wit in me, although I appreciate the challenge, even for Will.

Which brings me to S.L. Goldberg’s 1970 An Essay on King Lear (Cambridge). Reading as I do, by snowball sampling, I read somebody else quoting Goldberg and found his book cheaply online, used. Such is my late style of scholarship. I started the book, got bored or bogged down, then went back to it and was glad I did. After finishing it I looked up Goldberg, or Sam as he was known. He was born in Melbourne in 1926; his father was a tailor. He eventually worked his way to Oxford, where the critic F.R. Leavis had a great influence on him. I don’t know as much as I should about Leavis and those known as Leavisites, but the idea of someone’s name becoming a school does not sit well with current sensibilities. Although we write about some argument being Foucauldean, Foucault hated boundaries; no acolyte academic group has formed. Bourdieu railed against what he called consecration. Anyway, Goldberg returned to Australia, went through several marriages and as many different departments, upset a lot of people, and along the way published his Essay on King Lear to mixed reviews, critics suspicious of what they perceived as its moral rigidity, which seems to have been his problem as a departmental chair. The world being a small place, I discovered I know at least two colleagues who worked with Goldberg. One degree of separation, as always. Goldberg died in 1991, heart problems.

I didn’t know this while I was reading the book, but retrospectively it makes sense. What I like about Goldberg’s Essay are the questions that he finds the play asking; they’re big questions about life and how to live it. What I found tedious is that Goldberg can’t let himself fully like any of the characters: Edgar he finds always “besides the point” in his speeches; Cordelia’s importance he cautions against overrating. Goldberg opens himself to big questions, but also holds himself back, which holds back the reader. It’s brilliant…and annoying. Maybe that’s a deal we have to live with, fairly often.

Goldberg is most rewarding, to me, not about characters whom I want like, but rather about Goneril, one of Lear’s evil daughters, although the more intelligent of the two. What defines Goneril, for Goldberg, is “how little reality she can bear to acknowledge” (184). That’s what I mean by Goldberg focusing on how to live: it’s not a specifically literary question; it’s a question that unpacks what colleagues mean when they use, or over-use, and fail to circumscribe, the word moral. Who we are, as moral beings, depends on how little or how much reality we can bear to acknowledge. Maybe Goldberg got this idea from T.S. Eliot’s line in the Quartets, whatever. It opens a different perspective on Goneril. I’d never thought about her in those terms, and then I have to think about myself in those terms. And I think they’re good terms in which to think about oneself.

Goldberg goes on to say that Goneril “continuously chooses the terms on which she will risk herself, but hers are so sharp and narrow that they leave her a correspondingly brittle kind of security” (184). She can, he writes, “afford to surrender only a very little of herself”. Maybe it required Goldberg’s own disposition to be able to recognize that, but it’s a good recognition. It’s good to think about Shakespeare’s characters in terms of how much of themselves they are willing to risk, to surrender even if only provisionally. Rosalind in Much Ado About Nothing risks inhabiting a male self, in the Forest of Arden where people can explore who else they might be (in the Forest of Arden, there is no really be). We love Rosalind for her risks. Then we could list Shakespeare’s brittle characters, and what it costs themselves and others to defend what they cannot surrender. Leontes in Winter’s Tale is a simpler example than others, and clearer for that. Othello is more complex. Ophelia risks and loses her mind, which is why I agree with Simon Critchley and Jameson Webster about liking her more than Hamlet, in whom brittleness and risking might have the most complicated alternation.

“The terms on which [Goneril] is herself are the only ones in which ‘success’ and ‘failure’ are real to her”, Goldberg writes (184). That’s a big sociological, or moral, question: what defines different people’s senses of success or failure? I hear in it Bourdieu’s question of what counts for different people; what can they take seriously? What any of us is willing to risk both derives from and affirms what we can–are able to–take seriously. We define ourself through our risks (or unwillingness to risk) in taking-seriously. I realize the tautology in all this: a good risk, a risk that leads to some success, is understood as good because of what counts as success, which depends on who a person is, and what a person is defines their capacity for risking. That tautological quality should not, I think, put us off what’s valuable in this way of thinking. The characters willing to risk more of themselves–Edgar and Cordelia, or Rosalind and Viola–find a success that fits my sense of success. But the point is: in affirming their sense of success, maybe I expand the terms on which I am myself (to paraphrase Goldberg). Maybe I make myself a bit less brittle.