Saturday, April 3, 2010

The rebirth of soliloquy

or: It's William Shakespeare's World & I'm Just Living In It...

Once upon a time in a high school English class far away, the subject of Hamlet and his propensity for talking to himself was on the table.  The teacher, the right honorable Anonymous Archetype, gavelled the session into order and  the first to speak was a much younger, beardless version of the bloke in the hat you see to the right.
Scottie: "I hate this play, it doesn't make any sense."
Mrs. AA: "What don't you like about it?"
Scottie: "You keep asking me to read Polonius and he gets stabbed."
Mrs. AA: "You do such a nice doddering old goat voice, Scottie.  What else?"
Scottie: "And last semester I was Cassius."
Mrs. AA: "And a decent backstabbing fiend as well.  Is there anything you object to other than my casting choices?
Scottie: "Well, for one thing, people never turn to an invisible audience and just start jabbering."
Mrs. AA: "You just wait for the invention of Twitter and YouTube."
Scottie: "What?"
Mrs. AA: "Nevermind."

I always wondered by she had a blue police box in the cupboard.

Anyway, I forgot all about this little exchange until a few days ago when someone asked me a question online and I turned to this anonymous audience and started talking.  Well, I was typing, actually, but I most assuredly was not talking to myself and I owe that unnamed English teacher an apology.

It began with an essay by Michael Chabon (as such thing often do) called "Trickster In a Suit of Lights" which I opined should be read by, well, everyone who reads.  This prompted a young reader to ask me what else he should be reading and my response grew and grew bit by bit until it became a 1,300 word soliloquy on the nature of reading and writing and the constraints of genre (which amounts to a sort of deconstruction of the Chabon essay).

Yes, everyone talks to themselves whether they admit it or not.  Most of those ramblings happen inside our heads, our "internal dialogue" and for some of us (myself included) it occasionally emerges and steps blinking into the sun.  At which point, my wife usually turns to me and says "I'm, sorry, did you just say something about robots and goblins?"  Because when I externalize my internal processes, they tend to emerge mid-stream and malformed.  I think that most real life soliloquies have had that quality for most of history.

I'm put in mind of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead where they wander through the events of Hamlet and periodically encounter the mad prince of Denmark mumbling nonsensically to himself.

Enter the Twitterverse and it's ready supply of audience members to listen to our externalized ramblings and re-enter the soliloquy into our daily experiences.  Each day millions and millions of people turn to their screens and on blogs and Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, they launch into soliloquy those things that might have in past days remained internalized.

So I apologize to all the English teachers.  For the soliloquy thing, not the complaining about being cast as Polonius thing.

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).