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TOPIC: Scientific article on Booth's Sonnets

Scientific article on Booth's Sonnets 3 months 3 weeks ago #7443

  • Steve Minkin
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Those of us who have read Stephen Booth's work on The Sonnets know it to be an extraordinarily rich, deep, and imaginative dive into the poems, reflecting an attention that goes beyond 'close reading' to 'microscopic reading' (cited in the article). Here's a terrific article from a scientific magazine arguing that Booth is a prescient critic, and the first literary critic to recognize the larger role of the unconscious in reading. Booth and the author argue that the near-puns, near multiple meanings, close associations, and hosts of other connections – not usually consciously noted – all factor into the whole brain's appreciation of the language.

nautil.us/issue/48/chaos/shakespeares-genius-is-nonsense-rp

A key section from the article:
>>An explicit pun is a momentary flash, and then it’s over. More valuable for Booth are the links that spread out from each word based on “its sound, sounds that resemble it, its sense, its potential senses, their homonyms, their cognates, their synonyms, and their antonyms.” Unexploded puns conserve their energy and preserve these links, creating rich, multilayered, imbricating patterns throughout a work.
What’s essential to Booth is that for readers and audiences—for everyone but the professional critic—these patterns usually remain below the threshold of our attention. What he calls the “physics” of the verse are available to general readers, but not obtrusive. In his 1998 book Precious Nonsense, Booth argues that the experiences that Shakespeare’s poetic language evokes with such verve and subtlety are intensifications of everyday language experiences. Shakespeare achieves this by weaving incredibly rich networks from the same kinds of “substantive nonsense and nonimporting patterns” that pop up in slang, jokes, songs, and nursery rhymes. Those dense networks of patterns, Booth posits, are “the principal source of the greatness we find in Shakespeare’s work.” <<
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Scientific article on Booth's Sonnets 3 months 3 weeks ago #7444

  • Steve Minkin
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A couple of less abstract passages:

>>>>According to Booth, the greatest tragedy in Macbeth occurs in the audience, in the failure of moral categories that leaves us identifying with the title character despite his repugnant actions. He points out that later scenes repeatedly offer Malcolm to the audience as a potential way out, giving us several chances to switch our moral allegiance.
So why don’t we? The answer, Booth says, is because Shakespeare doesn’t want us to. To begin with, Malcolm’s responses to the unfolding drama never seem quite appropriate. On learning that his father has been murdered, for example, he answers “O, by whom?”—“a response from which,” Booth notes, “no amount of gasping and mimed horror can remove the tone of small talk.”
By padding Malcolm’s later speeches with an abundance of “syntactical stuffing,” Shakespeare ensures that Malcolm comes off as plodding, bloviating, dramatically weak. “Malcolm’s style is grating in its lack of economy,” Booth explains; his “syntax is maddeningly contorted, and his pace tortuous…no quantity of alternative adjectives and nouns can fill up the cistern of Malcolm’s lust to dilate upon particulars.”
Here, if ever, Shakespeare lays out bumpy verbal terrain. Even if we wanted to like Malcolm, the play encourages us not to simply because the way he speaks is so impedimentary. Malcolm slows things down. We never leave Macbeth; linguistically and otherwise, things are much more exciting when he’s around.
“In the theatre, speed is good and slowness is bad,” Booth writes. “In the story of Macbeth as staged by Shakespeare, virtuous characters and virtuous actions move slowly; speed is characteristic of the play’s evil actions and their actors. What an audience approves in one dimension of its experience is at perfect odds with what it approves in another.” This, Booth maintains, is why we keep going to see Macbeth. And for him, the three-hour respite from the constraints of ordinary logical and moral systems is “an effectively miraculous experience.”<<


>>Functional shifts occur when parts of speech are switched unexpectedly. They’re a favorite Shakespearean device, but noun-to-verb conversions are especially common: Edgar’s “He childed as I fathered” in King Lear, for example, or the hero’s lament in Antony and Cleopatra about “The hearts that spanieled me at heels.” According to [Professor Phillip] Davis [of Liverpool], the changes in EEG measurements between Shakespearean functional shifts and various control sentences demonstrate that “while the Shakespearean functional shift was semantically integrated with ease, it triggered a syntactic re-evaluation process likely to raise attention and extra emergent consciousness.” In other words, the brain noticed something odd about the use of a noun as a verb, quickly made sense of it, and was put on high alert for more unusual activity. <<
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