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West Side "Queer" Story?


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#16 Mel Johnson

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Posted 15 January 2004 - 04:41 AM

As to Tolkien, some context may be instructive. He was writing the line I quoted about the writing of allegory, not the reading of it, or even its performance. It is from the foreword to the first authorized American edition of LotR (Ballantine, 1966), and debunked the idea that he had depicted various persons (Hitler, Stalin, Kaiser Wilhelm, Cecil Rhodes, Lyndon Johnson(?!) ) or events (WWI, WWII, the General Strike of 1926) in the story. He had not written it with any intent to portray any actual event. Life has an odd way of imitating art.

Further, Tolkien's "Beowulf" lectures were hot tickets on the Oxford scene, as the rumpled and tweedy Professor took the lectern, shuffled about a bit, and then instantly transformed with a mighty "HWAET! wae gar-dena..."

Lewis was the unabashed allegorist, "Pilgrims' Regress" and all, and while he and JRRT enjoyed a vital friendship and colleagueality, they did not write at all the same way.

#17 salzberg

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Posted 15 January 2004 - 07:21 AM

To say that "that is what the artist means" is to espouse a fundamentalist viewpoint

No, it's showing respect for the artist.

You're implying that the artist's intent is completely irrelevant; that, to paraphrase Humpty Dumpty, "Art means what I mean it to mean." It relegates art to being merely a source of someone's Ph.D dissertation or tenure defense.

This, to me, seems illogical.

... But then, that's just my interpretation.

#18 Leigh Witchel

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Posted 15 January 2004 - 07:48 AM

It depends on your relation to the artwork.

It's not up to the reader/viewer/audience member to have respect for the creator of a work. Once the work is out there, it's out there to be interpreted as it strikes the person taking it in. If the author is still around, s/he has the right in turn to refute as seen above. And so starts a dialogue (of sorts!)

The story changes if you're the work's editor, restager or lighting designer. Then I'd argue that your position ought to be one of advocacy (but that's my schooling and belief, it isn't everyone's, look at the many radical productions that overlay their own story on Shakespeare's text out there.)

A point made in the earlier thread (see link above) for me is that my judgment of an analysis is based on whether it enlarges or diminishes the original work for me, but even that is different for everyone. For example, in Schiff's article on Copland referred to in the previous thread, his historical analysis put the work in context for me, his psychological analysis diminished it for me by narrowing the horizon of the work to sublimated passions, which doesn't put anything in context for me.

Apropos WSS, I do recall Arlene Croce's one glancing, dismissive comment on a queer viewpoint in WSS' source, Romeo and Juliet. San Francisco Ballet's R&J under Michael Smuin came to NYC and Croce posited that it was the ballet gay men could watch without sublimation. I found it depressing to think that a gay man couldn't watch a ballet for its sheer beauty of design or deeply expressive emotion no whatter who was dancing, but we had to watch them all as if we were masturbating in the dark. Obviously, Croce is no queer theorist, (she's pretty much the opposite, eh?) but I found reducing the motivation for art to physical attraction (another example, Schiff positing the Cowgirl was a substitute for a cowboy) as foolish as denying physical attraction. And it leaves one open to refutation: Is Schiff taking into account who wrote the libretto? Of course, in every school of interpretation, there's good work and bad work.

But Paul's comment above shows how the same analysis that doesn't explain a work to me could for someone else. He also made an excellent comment previously about how most anyone creating works will reject psychological interpretation of their work almost as a matter of survival, much the same you would as a custodian of a work, Jeff.

#19 britomart

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Posted 15 January 2004 - 09:24 AM

Leigh:

I think that's an excellent point - it does of course matter what one's relationship to the work is, and, I think there are even levels to this relationship. For example, a dancer's job is both to function as a medium of expression for the choreographer but also (arguably, and I imagine, depending greatly on the particular choreographer) to bring something of his or herself to the role. What role the spectator has is a complex and interesting one - I am (right now, believe me this could change) a believer in the fact that they do influence a works meaning over time, whether for better or for worse is certainly up for debate.

And, Mr. Salzberg, I am sorry you have such a negative view of the academic profession. While it is certainly true that there are many jargony, anxious (about many things such as the two you mentioned) individuals, there are also many incredible teachers, who do much important work both in education and research, and who do what they do because they love it and they love and respect the authors and texts they work on. I find your answer interesting, though, because the profession has certainly incurred a lot of negative PR in the decades since the 70's, and I think much of it is, unfortunately, self-generated. At any rate, it's good for those of us who wish to enter it to be aware of; maybe that can change.

Thanks for the Tolkien references, and the WSS bits as well.

#20 dirac

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Posted 15 January 2004 - 11:48 AM

I'd echo what britomart has said, but I don't think I can put it any better! :)

As an aside, I used to read much literary theory from academic sources with great interest and profit, and learned a great deal from those of my professors who were well versed in same.

#21 Ed Waffle

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Posted 15 January 2004 - 05:20 PM

dirac wrote:

I used to read much literary theory from academic sources with great interest and profit


I still do. Currently reading Terry Eagleton's book on tragedy. His memoir, "The Gatekeeper" is terrific--and very funny.

#22 Nanatchka

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Posted 16 January 2004 - 04:59 PM

Actually, oberon also hit a good one when he mentioned the Frodo/Sam relationship in LotR.  Tolkien on interpretation:  "I cordially despise allegory in all its guises."  He disbelieved in the tyranny of the author to force interpretation onto the reader, and championed unrestrained interpretation, even if the author had never had a particular meaning in mind.  "If the reader says it's there, then for him, it's there."

I have used this quotation in writing about Merce Cunningham. Same deal, but substitute "viewer" for "reader." It's an interesting correspondence.

#23 salzberg

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Posted 17 January 2004 - 03:27 PM

OK, I think my position's been misinterpreted here; I don't deny the audience member's (be it a viewer, a reader, or a listener) right to see in a work whatever symbolism he/she...well, sees in it.

My complaint is with those who would artificially impose their agenda, whatever it may be and for whatever reason they might have, on a work. These aren't people who react to what's in the piece; they decide what they're going to see (I was thinking about this today while watching Casablanca, in which the symbolism is fairly unambiguous; when Louie drops the Vichy water into the garbage or when the band drowns out the Nazi marching song with La Marseillaise, it's pretty obvious what the filmmakers intended).

Last May, my joke was that the opera I was lighting was a labor allegory in which an honest working man is cheated out of his wages by an unscrupulous employer and in desperation becomes an urban terrorist. In truth, I would like to do a version of The Pied Piper like that, but this version was decidedly not such a work and it would have been dishonest to impose such a concept upon it.

#24 Mel Johnson

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Posted 17 January 2004 - 03:38 PM

I see your point; it is indeed unfair to impose upon THE AUTHOR meanings derived from the viewer's interpretation. To continue with Tolkien (oh, stop the groaning out there!), he admitted a total innocence of reason as to why he left the Tom Bombadil and Scouring of the Shire story arcs in the final version of LotR for printing. He wrote to his publisher that "perhaps some clever fellow will know why, and then HE will tell ME."

#25 salzberg

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Posted 18 January 2004 - 09:18 AM

I know exactly how Tolkien felt; I usually know exactly why I do something on stage, but I sometimes go with a gut feeling that something is right, without analyzing it. If an audience member or critic (well, hopefully the critic was also an audience member, although I know of one writer who once reviewed a ballet that wasn't performed) wants to later tell me that my stark shaft of light was "a searchlight beam, pinning the dancer to the stage", that's fine.

...IF that's what the piece really said to her/him.

#26 BarreTalk

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Posted 18 January 2004 - 11:42 PM

"The content of a communication is determined by the receiver" - Berlow

In other words, it doesn't matter what the author wrote, what he thought he wrote, or what it meant to him. You can read any subcurrent or backstory into a plot that you want - it's out of the writer's control.

#27 Mel Johnson

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Posted 19 January 2004 - 05:48 AM

Or as General von Luttwitz so eloquently put it at the Battle of the Bulge in 1944, "Ne? Was gibt's mit dies' 'Ne'?" :blushing:

#28 Watermill

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Posted 19 January 2004 - 11:59 AM

That was a "nut crack", ...er, of a differnt sort, eh?

#29 Mel Johnson

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Posted 19 January 2004 - 12:01 PM

Ah, yes, indeed, yes, indeed! :P


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