(Swans - February 28, 2011)
Which text provides the premier historical background for Shakespeare's Tempest?
Karl Marx's Das Kapital, Vol. I, Part VIII: "Primitive Accumulation," of course.
I recommend reading or rereading these chapters in the Marx in full before continuing on herein. In them Marx paints the most seminal historical analysis of England's transition from precapitalist relations into capitalism proper, which is precisely Shakespeare's innermost problematic. (There also exists a more recent record of debate over interpretations of the passage in question.)
Harold Bloom, in his Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, would contest precisely this itinerary of contextual reading however. Bloom contends that it is the foreground of the text which gives us its value.
By "foreground" Bloom means to say something like the text "itself."
But what if this foreground itself becomes part of the historical background however, as Shakespeare's integration into the mass spectacle of late capitalism demonstrably has? Does it not follow that backgrounds are the very stuff which foregrounds foreground?
What act of reading does not fill up the gaps between the lines, furthermore?
There is no actual argument for the critic to summon excepting that of signatures and proprietorship when one adheres solely to the text "itself."
Only the question of what exactly goes "between the lines"; i.e., the "proper" context, truly engages the intellect in its broadest and most intensive activity. It is a question of knowing what we mean when we say "Shakespeare's Tempest" then, of refining and rearranging the constellations of meaning we construct about it.
II. The Tempest of Capital
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.
Capitalist forces of production had long existed under the auspices of precapitalist social relations by Shakespeare's time. Shakespeare's essential method or, even, mode of being was therefore to unyoke the economy from these feudal social relations, or ideological fetters. (He recoded his mileux in terms of deterritorialization.)
Upon his stage played the future.
Shakespeare was in fact the author of the life of Oliver Cromwell, therefore. The stages of England were to melt away, or at least be boarded-up.
And has a living theater ever really been with us since?
No, not even Artaud could raise its dead slag. And that is saying too much.
Artaud was Don Quixote. -- Reaction/resistance is futile, madness.
Cervantes and Shakespeare set across from the other reflect unto infinity.
As Shakespeare closes the stage, Cervantes opens the book. Cervantes inaugurates the novel, Shakespeare adjourns the play.
Cervantes raises up the text.
Shakespeare silences the voice.
Prospero, the master of the stage, resigns his power in end; Don Quixote, the master of the romances, finally awakens from his error on his deathbed.
And yet too many are Artaudian today. Even and especially those who still stigmatize him.
Shakespeare can only be closely read today. To stage Shakespeare, to stage anything at all, is merely curious, "sound and fury, signifying nothing."
Artaudian theater-worship is worship of unspoilt precapitalist social relations and forces. Very postcolonial, in end.
It is ember-keeping. Furious bellowing against dying coals.
But both Don Quixote and Prospero, both Cervantes and Shakespeare, long-ago awoke from this delirium.
Not a "rack" shall be left behind. Otherwise is tilting at windmills.
Shakespeare's stage-thinking is also eminently global. Nowhere do we find its like in capitalist society. We have lost our immanent sensation of totality. There is no longer any stage for the organic body-politic/species-being to represent itself upon. There is only the pulverized individual, their texts, and an estranged reality.
The only remaining theaters in the modern capitalist world are in fact military. Civil war is the only imaginable field of the modern species-being regaining its own image.
Slogans and banners do not such an image make, however.
Expropriation, or re-expropriation, of capital is the only means of the proletariat raising itself onto the stage of the universal class.
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Maxwell Clark is a writer living in New Haven, Connecticut. He is also a digital musician working under the moniker Smojphace (http://soundcloud.com/smojphace). (back)
2. If a revolutionary "relation of production" is precisely what is needed for real revolution to commence (the productive forces having already long been in place), furthermore, then this indicates that all past revolutionary "relations of production", or theories, have been erroneous, even Marx's -- and, this, by his own standard. (back)