From World to Globe

10 December 2011

Saturday


The Bard

If you search the collected works of Shakespeare online for “world” you get 589 hits; if you search for “globe” you get a paltry 10 hits, although these hits include one of my favorite passages from The Tempest:

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.

Also from The Tempest is this perhaps even more famous line, in which Miranda evokes the world, not the globe:

O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!

For Shakespeare, it would seem, the worldhood of the world is very much that of the world rather than that of the globe.

I was mildly surprised by these lopsided Shakespearean results — I think I had in mind that Shakespeare’s theater was called The Globe — though perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised, since “world” is simply a much more frequently used word in English than “globe.” But that may be changing.

Today it is becoming increasingly common to speak in terms of that which is “global,” and especially in terms of “globalization,” which latter has already become a term that evokes an emotional response in many. Does this shift in language reveal anything important, so it is merely a shift between synonyms as a concession to fashionable language?

Language simpliciter has, I think, played a role in this shift. One simply would not say, “worldization” as one would readily say, for example, “globalization.” The fact that we need a word to express an historical process of institutions being adopted worldwide says something about our time. What does it say? It says that we are what I call a Stage I civilization, such that the geographical borders that once separated us and allowed for isolated pockets of human beings who did not know about each other have been reduced or eliminated by transportation technologies that are the result of industrial-technological civilization.

In regard to “global,” the term is neutral and even, we could say, secular, whereas to describe anything as “worldly” carries a definite connotation, and the connotation that it carries increasingly appears to belong to another era.

This linguistic shift is quite recent, taking place only in the past few decades. In the early twentieth century, when it was in vogue for philosophers to discuss socialism, it was usually discussed in the context of world government. At that time, no one spoke of global government. Bertrand Russell, for example, was a great advocate of world government in the first half of the twentieth century. Most people know about Russell’s socialist phase and his world government writings from the 1920s and 1930s, but Russell was so committed to the idea that he had another stage of thought immediately following the Second World War, at which time he argued that the US should use its monopoly on atomic weapons to establish a world government under threat of force. An echo of the early twentieth century concern for world government survives in the conspiracy community, which has all but monopolized the phrase “new world order” to describe a world government foisted upon the peoples of the earth (and especially the peoples of the US) against the will.

Recently when I was reading Braudel’s Civilization and Capitalism Vol. 3: The Perspective of the World, I noticed in the Foreword Braudel’s discussion of “world time.” In a note Braudel notes that the French title of the volume was Le Temps du Monde and that the expression “world time” was derived from Wolfram Eberhard’s Conquerors and Rulers: Social Forces in Medieval China. Here is what Braudel says of world time:

“World time then might be said to concentrate above all on a kind of superstructure of world history: it represents a crowning achievement, created and supported by forces at work underneath it, although in turn its weight has an effect upon the base. Depending on place and time, this two-way exchange, from the bottom upwards and from the top down, has varied in importance. But even in advanced countries, socially and economically speaking, world time has never accounted for the whole of human existence.”

Fernand Braudel, Civilization and Capitalism, Volume 3: The Perspective of the World, Foreword, p. 18

It is fascinating that Braudel here makes use of the Marxist terminology of base and superstructure, though he applies these ideas to time. This suggests interesting possibilities and I know of no one who has further developed this idea. It is equally fascinating to me that Braudel mentions the two-way exchange between base and superstructure, which sounds very close to the temporal relationships that I have posited as characterizing ecological temporality. But formulating this exchange in terms of “bottom up” and “top down” this suggests to me constructive and non-constructive approaches, which roughly approximate the bottom up and top down perspectives. So there is a lot to think about in this short quote from Braudel.

In any case, Braudel expresses himself in terms of world time, not global time. Braudel belonged to an earlier generation, and I suspect that the terminology of world time is formulated by analogy with prevalent ideas of world government.

In Karl Jaspers The Origin and Goal of History, which predates Braudel’s Civilization and Capitalism by more than twenty years, putting in right in mid-century, we find Jaspers struggling toward a formulation of world history, and world history would obviously be a function of world time.

Of course, people have been talking about world history for a long time, at least since the Enlightenment, when humanity began to know itself not only as a spatial whole but also as a temporal whole. Jaspers took this a step further. A consequence of Jaspers’ attempt to elucidate his philosophical conception of world history was his formulation of the idea of an Axial Age. I have discussed Jasper’s Axial Age on several occasions (for example, The Next Axial Age and Axialization of the Nomadic Paradigm) and the idea of an Axial Age has passed into popular thought and is known to many.

What Jaspers was trying to express in terms of an Axial Age was a shift in human history that was genuinely global. Previous conceptions of “Ages” of human history had always been specific to one culture or one civilization; Jaspers sought a conception of an Age that embraced all humanity, and while Braudel does not mention Jaspers in his discussion of world time, one could justifiably understand Braudel’s efforts as a practical application to historiography of Jasper’s conception of world history.

The terminology that is emerging from the shift from world to globe highlights global change as a process. Earlier conceptions focused on semi-static periodizations. A truly temporal understanding of history will see things in terms of processes, so this is a development that I find to be valuable. I have, after all, expressed my understanding of strategic trends shaping the future in terms of pastoralization, extraterrestrialization, singularization, and so forth.

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Monday


Forbiddenplanetposter

Variations on the Theme of a Shakespearean Rag

Last night I re-watched Forbidden Planet (1956). It is a film that I have watched many times, and I consider it, along with The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and This Island Earth (1955), to be a locus classicus of science fiction cinema.

The_Tempest_title

It is well known that Forbidden Planet is loosely (very loosely) based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The Tempest is one of the Shakespeare’s plays that I know quite well (like Hamlet and Julius Caesar, which I have been through many times, and unlike, say, A Winter’s Tale, which I’ve never read at all), and which has influenced my thought in certain ways.

A macabre tempest from Hans Holbein the Younger's design for a Totentanz series of woodcuts (1523–26)

A macabre tempest from Hans Holbein the Younger's design for a Totentanz series of woodcuts (1523–26)

Though I didn’t consciously think of it when I sat down to watch Forbidden Planet last night, it was particularly appropriate for me to do so yesterday, as the same day I had gone to Powell’s bookstore and found a copy of a book I’ve been looking for, Ariel by José Enrique Rodó. Ariel is a philosophical essay from 1900 on South American culture that draws upon The Tempest for its archetypes and conceits. Ariel, Prospero’s familiar spirit, is used to represent all this is best in classical (read: European, and especially ancient Greek) culture, while Caliban, the son of the witch Sycorax, represents vulgar utilitarianism and positivism.

Ariel rodo front

Thus themes of The Tempest echoed through my Sunday, and I recalled an aphorism from my Variations on the Theme of Life that invoked Shakespeare’s characters from that play:

Faustus and Prospero.–Consider Doctor Faustus with his Mephistopheles and Prospero with his Ariel: two conjurors and their familiar spirits could scarcely be conceived more at odds. Doctor Faustus in his last desperate moments offers to burn his books, while in the Bard’s tale of sorcery only the crude and primitive Caliban wants to burn Prospero’s library; instead, our gentle wizard drowns his books of magic. Not fire and scattered ashes, but water and slow decay is to be their fate.

There are two footnotes to this, one on Marlowe:

Marlowe, Doctor Faustus, act V, scene ii, line 197: “I’ll burn my books!—O Mephostophilis!”  This is the last, anguished cry of Faustus before being dragged down to Hell by devils.

And the other on Shakespeare:

Shakespeare, The Tempest, act V, scene i, lines 56-57: “…deeper than did ever plummet sound, I’ll drown my book.”  Let the anti-Stratfordians who attribute the Shakespearean corpus to Marlowe contemplate this. The worlds of Faustus and Prospero, while equally magical, could not be more different: it is not merely a difference of expression or a difference in tone—there is a fundamental intellectual difference between Faustus and Prospero. Also note that both of these passages, the Shakespeare cited herein and the Marlowe cited in the immediately previous footnote, constitute the climax of the respective dramas.

Elsewhere in the same book I make some remarks on anti-Stratfordianism, and the contrast above between Marlowe and Shakespeare seems to me irrefutable proof that Marlowe did not write Shakespeare. So if you are an anti-Stratfordian, pick the seventeenth Earl of Oxford or Francis Bacon or anyone else as your pet favorite author of Shakespeare (not that I think these any more plausible), but please don’t tell me that Kit Marlowe wrote Shakespeare. The two could not be more temperamentally diverse.

Yes, it's true: The Bard was the son of a glove maker, never attended a university, and wrote the greatest works of literature in the English language. Deal with it.

Yes, it's true: The Bard was the son of a glove maker, never attended a university, and wrote the greatest works of literature in the English language. Deal with it.

So utterly distinct are Shakespeare and Marlowe that it makes an amusing intellectual exercise to imagine a Marlowe play written by Shakespeare or a Shakespeare play written by Marlowe. Imagine, if you will for a moment, a Shakespearean version of Doctor Faustus… it certainly wouldn’t have ended as Marlowe ended it, and Shakespeare’s handling of the low comedy scenes would have been rather funnier. (Shakespeare was good at comedy.) On the other hand, imagine a Marlovian treatment of, say, The Tempest. Marlowe’s Miranda would have been a different woman, must have been another woman entirely. Miranda is sweetly curious and endearing — qualities we do not find in Marlowe’s plays (the curiosity of Doctor Faustus is driven and demoniacal). One can imagine, if only for a moment, Marlowe writing the part of Lady Macbeth, but never the part of Miranda.

Marlowe's Doctor Faustus is one of my personal favorites that I have read many times. I love it for its uniquely Morlovian character as I love Shakespeare's plays for their uniquely Shakespearean character.

Marlowe's Doctor Faustus is one of my personal favorites that I have read many times. I love it for its uniquely Morlovian character as I love Shakespeare's plays for their uniquely Shakespearean character.

The idea of a Marlovian Shakespeare or a Shakespearean Marlowe is so much fun it makes me want to go over the texts of these authors again with this in mind and produce my own rewrite of Shakespeare on Marlovian principles or Marlowe on Shakespearean principles, and I could go on about the comparison of the two without getting tired of the subject. But whether or not anyone has contemplated classic remakes of classic works, nothing is more timely that the topic of contemporary remakes of classic works.

While Marlowe was not Shakespeare, he was a great writer in his own right and a Faustian if not Mephistophelean character, lovable even if damned.

While Marlowe was not Shakespeare, he was a great writer in his own right and a Faustian if not Mephistophelean character, lovable even if damned.

The Day the Earth Stood Still has recently been remade, and I discussed this earlier in Earth Day. I have read that a re-make of Forbidden Planet is under consideration. Science fiction films, even more than other classics, are vulnerable to the desire for a remake. Special effects technology has evolved so rapidly and so dramatically that the viewer’s expectations are easily disappointed. The most advanced special effects of the past look awkward even to the point of shattering the illusion that fiction demands, posing a challenge for the willing suspension of disbelief. Today, even relatively inexpensive-to-produce television series like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica have special effects that were unobtainable in large budget films ten or more years ago.

José Enrique Rodó, author of Ariel

José Enrique Rodó, author of Ariel

Because of its nature, science fiction often demands special effects, and the special effects of the past — even those of classics — are now seen as woefully inadequate. One response to this has been ex post facto updating. The first three Star Wars films were re-edited with more elaborate effects, and the original Star Trek television series is in the midst of a similar updating. Other than a remake, there is also the possibility of a sequel. I would rather see a sequel to Forbidden Planet than an attempt remake, which latter would almost certainly fail to surpass the original, however awkward, hokey, and campy the original now appears.

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