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Posted: 15th December 2006 by Fred van Ommeren in Uncategorized
  1. Rahman says:

    (who is doing a very good job of stirring up a deabte Respect ): It is in any case only the symbolic aspect of a work of art that truly resonates with audiences: not the real people in the narrative, but the archetypes they represent. Really? Really?? I think you’re wrong. That’s an absurdly reductive view. The best most moving artists surely show us the complexity that lies behind and within crude symbolism.Is the ancient narrative on which the main plot of Othello is based (for instance) moving in itself? Do we read a plot synopsis reduced to symbolism and archetypes of a Greek tragedy and weep? We certainly do not. Because the symbolism and archetypes are deeply familiar to us, and have lost their ability to move.Familiarity allows our brain to go into autopilot. The great artist knows this, and whilst (s)he may base a work upon ancient myths, symbolism or tropes will go out of his/her way to flesh them out, develop and modify them, *make them new*. Joyce’s Ulysses may be based on the Odyssey, but the casual reader would hardly know.In my opinion, the best artists undermine symbolism and cultural expectations whether subtly or overtly. Art is only art when it’s pushing against a barrier.Going back to Othello The movement of the symbolism is to liken Othello increasingly to a jealous, irrational beast. The maddened cuckold trope. The shape to his character’s development is (according to the reductive, symbolic analysis) remorselessly downward. In a fit of jealousy scarcely human, at this stage he kills his symbolically pure, blameless wife.This plot the simple interaction of archetypes isn’t going to make me cry. No indeed. What *will*, though, is when Shakespeare *then* puts into Othello’s mouth the beautiful, broken, almost self-deluding speech beginning, Soft you, a word or two before you go . TS Eliot wrote about this and it’s brilliant because it reminds you that this *isn’t* a simple symbol, but a human. As complex, self-contradicting and stubbornly unclassifiable *as any of us*. That’s the key.I’m going to stick with Walt Whitman: Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes. The greatest art has always been about showing the inconsistencies, the idiosyncracies the messiness behind those tempting, seductive but empty symbols.