Saturday, April 07, 2007

"An Antic Blogsposition": On Playing a Part, Disguise, and Being Funny

I'm at a big important annual conference. And I am having a wondeful time.

Perhaps it's because I'm surrounded by Shakespeareans, but I'm thinking about plays and players today. One of the best things I've discovered about blogging anonymously (though most of my dear readers know I am much less anonymous than those blogs I love to read and support), is that it is rather like play acting. One takes on a new identity that permits a liberty of language and expression only associated with performance and with assuming a role. In the same way that Rosalind-as-Ganymede really begins to relish the rhetoric, wit, and play of her newfound pants role, and Hamlet is able to transcend class barriers by insulting Polonius and ceding the platea to the grave-digger's joke routine, blogging under a pseudonymous identity permits a certain freedom and jouissance.

Which makes me think about a discussion I had over lunch yesterday with a gentle and sage senior professor at a small obscure university who expressed such a delight for our profession that it momentarily humbled my vaulting ambition. We were talking about Shakespearean clowns. He laid out his theory that clowning and "clowniness" is transferrable from character to character on the Shakespearean stage. Wit is, in other words, infectious, and easily picked up by characters surrounding a clown. He cited Viola's playing with Feste in Act V of Twelfth Night and of course Hamlet and the Gravedigger.

Since I have been investigating the philological and cultural impact of "antic/antique" for some time, I brought up the connection that Margreta de Grazia makes between Hamlet's "antic disposition" and clowning, that to have an antic disposition means to play the fool on the Renaissance stage (and to play the medieval vice character on the Renaissance stage). He concurred with me very graciously.

But what my research on "antic/antique" has also uncovered is that "antic" frequently meant "disguised" in the Renaissance, so in many ways it's not just about clowning but also about the way an assumed identity allows for a freer circulation of wit, humor and social critique.

Which is precisely what pseudonymous blogging at its best is all about. And that is the reason why it has to continue. At the conference, I may or may not have privately "made discovery" of a number of pseudonymous bloggers I greatly respect and depend upon for their humorous critique and celebration of the profession. However whether this is true or fabricated, I shall vehemently refuse to "delate" on them. Also, if wit is indeed transferrable, perhaps some of it might rub off on me.

In order for the academic blogging community to survive, we need to maintain their antic dispositions: Let them be well used, for they are the abstract and brief chronicles of our time. And they are also very funny.


Pantagruelle said...

Just have to say that it was fun catching up with you at big, anonymous conference! Can't wait til next year!

muse said...

Likewise! Sorry I was such a dork meeting your gal. She was very cool.

Cleophila said...

Very sorry I missed big, anonymous conference (in warm and sunny location, natch). The funny thing about blogging, or reading others' blogs, is that you feel like the uncool kid -- bored at home on the night of the prom -- when you haven't been at a conference.

I hope I get a date next year! (mope, sigh)

My heart is set on Texas . . .

Very much like your musings on antic/antique as related to pseudonymity: would like to hear/read more about that in the early modern context (you write about Hamlet and drama, but isn't Spenser somehow antic when he poses as antique?. . . I *like that, coz it's through spelling -- really, Spenser would spell antic as antique, wouldn't he? -- that he does it . . . hmmmm. . . I will follow up on this . . . anywhere you can direct me, muse?)

(You're welcome to say: "Look in thy heart and write!" Do you get that much here?)

As for pseudonymity and blogging, I am otherwise out for various reasons (some related to principle and the kind of blog I write, some to the godawful new blogger, which mucked up my previous formatting and insisted on putting my name in BIG BOLD CAPS -- bluh), but I have taken to pseudonymity in my comment posting, in large part because I got sick of seeing my name -- it felt self-aggrandizing (uncool -- oh, so *that's why I didn't get a date! :) ) -- and because, you're right, there's a certain frisson that comes with the play-acting (like Hamlet, I typically find myself being a bit more biting in my remarks). . .

Not that I don't role play as my real name, though. . . hmmm.

I admit that there's a sense of exposure to being oneself, at least in name, online that is anxiety-inducing from time to time. It's too late for me to turn back the clocks, and I try to be a big girl about it, but it's fascinating watching academic blogland work all this out . . .

muse said...

Hi Cleophila and thanks for the excellent comment!

I'm actually working quite a bit on antic/antique. I'm sending a piece out right now on it, and it will play a prominent part in the book. In addition to figuring as "disguised" and "ancient," antic can imply grotesque, outlandish, ape-like and dark-skinned in the early modern period.

However, not being a Spenserian, I haven't yet tackled the Spenser take on it (that might end up a whole other book), but it's definitely worthwhile to check out the ruins poems in his Complaints for further play on these homophones. I can also recommend de Grazia's chapter on Hamlet's antic disposition, as well as George Walton William's earlier article "Antique Romans" in the collection "Literature and Nationalism."

Cleophila said...

Most excellent. 60 papers and 90 exams and I'll be on it.

Thank you!