This is the terse lowdown on Hamlet, an exotic pushback against the tea cozy market-driven view of literature and art that rules. It’s about a book no one wanted to publish (see below). But it also starts up a theme for NC, one I’ve been mulling over a while, about art from the margins of culture, sick art, art by the sick, frenzied, chaotic, formed by paranoia instead of form. My model for thought is Christa Wolf’s novel The Quest for Christa T., in which the Heroine suffers repetitive breakdowns and failures as she tries to fit into cultural expectation and common definitions of health and success. Eventually she dies, but dying, in the language of the text, she is vouchsafed a version of beatitude. Then there is Leonard Cohen’s novel Beautiful Losers, which, in its oxymoronic title, says it all. Read the whole Guardian piece and think about it; hell, maybe even buy the book (I know, live dangerously).
In one of the several rejection letters we received when trying to publish The Hamlet Doctrine in the UK (we encountered no such problems in the US), one editor argued that the book was “essentially unpublishable” because it was “a condemnation of the literary culture of my country”. And in one sense, he’s right: our book is an implicit condemnation of a certain, mainstream, version of English culture.
The banal, biscuit-box Shakespeare needs to be broken up and his work made dangerous again. If the authorities really understood what was going on in Hamlet’s head, students might never be allowed to study the text. Hamlet’s world is a globe defined by the omnipresence of espionage, of which his self-surveillance is but a mirror. Hamlet is arguably the drama of a police state, rather like the Elizabethan police state of England in the late 16th century, or the multitude of surveillance cameras that track citizens as they cross London in the current, late-Elizabethan age. Hamlet’s agonised paranoia is but a foretaste of our own.