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Rebbecca Brown: DB by RB on RB and DB

Excavating the Author’s Bones:  DB by RB on RB and DB

By reading narrative, we escape the anxiety that attacks us when we try to say something true about the world.

-Umberto Eco

Six Walks in the Fictional Woods

 

Thus ever writer’s motto reads: mad I cannot be, sane I do not deign to be, neurotic I am.

-Roland Barthes 

The Pleasure of the Text

 

DEAR AUTHOR OF THIS BOOK,—(For you forbid me to call you anything else), I utterly despair of being able to satisfy you with a preface.

-Letter from Nathanial Hawthorne to Delia Bacon

qtd. in Delia Bacon: A Biographical Sketch

 

  1. The Introduction

This year I decided to read Shakespeare’s The Life of King Henry the Eighth, and while skimming through the introduction to the Penguin edition, I came across an interesting subsection entitled “The Question of Authorship.”  In this discussion concerning the true authorship of the Shakespearean plays, I was introduced to Delia Bacon.  The following sentences had me intrigued: 

The earliest published claim that someone else wrote Shakespeare’s plays appeared in an 1856 article by Delia Bacon in the American journal Putnam’s Monthly […] Bacon’s was a sad personal history that ended in madness and poverty, but the year after her article she published, with great difficulty and the bemused assistance of Nathaniel Hawthorne (then United States Consul in Liverpool, England), her Philosophy of the Plays of Shakspere Unfolded.  This huge, ornately written, confusing farrago is almost unreadable; sometimes its intents, to say nothing of its arguments, disappear entirely beneath near-raving, ecstatic writing. (Crewe xxi)

If the fact that her life “ended in madness and poverty” did not fascinate me, the idea that she had composed a “confusing farrago” of “ecstatic writing” did.  Since Delia and my first encounter, I have embarked on a farrago of my own that includes the search not only for Bacon’s identity as an author, but also for a clearer conception of the function and meaning of an author.  There are many conflicting and competing elements in this particular hodgepodge; it is polylogical, unstable, innumerable, and expansive.  It seems to have no end, because at each step of the excavation, more bodies and bones are discovered.  Delia’s bones become my own, and I too am dead and buried.  The only thing keeping me breathing is the process, the ecstasy of my own writing, because if I follow the parallels close enough, I discover that I too am raving. [1] 

II. The Other Introduction [2]

Delia Bacon and her quest to locate the author(s) of the Shakespearean texts obscures traditional notions of an author and instead reinforces a process of discovery that places significance on both close reading and a reader’s interpretation of the text.  Her bizarre attempts to rest proof from the physical body of the very empirically dead Shakespeare coincides ironically with Roland Barthes’s suggestion that “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the Author” (Image 148).  Delia’s peculiar research methods along with certain intriguing events gleaned from her biography suggest that an author is more than just what Umberto Eco would delineate as “empirical” and “model”, and also suggests that the author exceeds what Foucault would describe as the “author-function.”  For Delia, authorship became a web of interpretation and response that extends itself beyond the traditional confines of space and historical time.  What becomes relevant after Delia’s proclamation that a certain William Shakespeare was not the sole author of his texts is the idea that authorship cannot be limited to one individual operating in seclusion from historic events that both precede and follow the act of writing.  It is not my desire in this paper to argue that Bacon was the first to suggest multiple authorships, nor is it my desire to add to the copious debate regarding the “true” author of the Shakespearean texts.  What I will establish is my personal investment with authorship in this web of writing, reading and deciphering of various interpretative strategies [3].         

III. Introducing the Author [4]

Critic Donald E. Pease argues that during the Renaissance, the notion of the author underwent a transformation in that the medieval auctor who “based his authority on divine revelation” was no longer able to uphold his credence because of an influx of various cultural influences that challenged notions of truth (107).  A new concept of an author needed to be developed in order to compensate for the shifting cultural climate.  Pease notes that “these new cultural agents were ‘authors,’ writers whose claim to cultural authority did not depend on their adherence to cultural precedents but on a faculty of verbal inventiveness” (107).  Because an author did not require inspiration from a divine source, this implies that the disappearance of the medieval auctor opened up the possibility for people of varying classes to become dispensers of culture.  A hierarchy of thought and ideas, in other words, was dismantled to potentially include members of any social position.  In addition to the emerging responsibilities of the author, the notion of genius was also fashioned in order to compensate for the disappearance of the medieval auctor.  Both the genius and the auctor are similarly characterized in that they are both “free from determination by any cultural category other than the absolutely free constructions of [their] creative imagination, the genius broke down the reciprocal relationship between the author and the rest of culture” (Pease 108).  The emergence of the concept of genius allowed for Shakespeare’s success as author because authorship could be constituted from somewhere other than a place of social privilege [5].  Genius dismantles the idea of exclusivity and implies that anyone of any social class might be endowed with the faculties of brilliance because genius does not require wealth or social privilege to obtain [6].  Genius does require, however, a mysterious bestowal of heightened mental capabilities and their implementation through linguistic virtuosity [7].  It is not merely the notion of the author that Delia Bacon challenged when she questioned William Shakespeare as the sole author of his texts, but social consequences of the genius as well [8].

Bacon was far from sympathetic to the author who so plagued her, and criticism suggests that her elitism was one basis for her pursuit to find authors suitable to compose such historically conversant texts as Shakespeare’s plays.  Robert Cantwell writes: 

A great myth was created […] to assert that inspiration was spontaneous and genius the property of the careless, the lawless, the villagers, the masses.  Delia did not object to the myth.  Indeed, she thought it beautiful […] This was the real enchantment of the Shakespearean legend—that with his miraculous inspiration he needed nothing else” (350-351).

While this article may present Delia’s beliefs in somewhat of a charmed light, examples within her books and articles are suggestive of something entirely different.  In her book The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakespeare Unfolded, she refers to Shakespeare as a “stupid, ignorant third-rate play-actor,” and “the pet horse-boy at Backfriars—the wit and good fellow of the London link-holders, the menial attaché and elevè of the play house” (qtd. in Shoenbaum 389).  It becomes clear that Bacon took issue not only with the notion of an individual author, but also with the social ramifications of authorship and genius that would extend into varying classes during the Renaissance [9].  This extension is even applicable today in that it is generally accepted that an author or genius need not be a member of the upper class [10].  In fact, the romanticized idea of the poor and suffering artist struggling to survive still permeates our culture and continues to thrive. [11]

IV. What’s an author?

Bacon’s emphasis on class and discourse as a form of power precedes Foucault’s argument that “the function of an author is to characterize the existence, circulation, and operation of certain discourses within a society” (124). Her attempt to relocate the authorship of one William Shakespeare into a group of courtiers and members of the aristocracy affirms Foucault’s statement that the author-function “does not refer […] to an actual individual insofar as it simultaneously gives rise to a variety of egos and to a series of subjective positions that individuals of any class may come to occupy” (131) [12].  It is important to note that Foucault’s definition of the author not only includes the creators of texts, but also acknowledges subject positions that readers of the texts can inhabit [13].  Foucault’s discussion of an author as someone who participates in the creation of various discourses in order to disseminate said discourses implies the propagation of ideology through the act of reading and writing. However, as Donald Pease notes, Foucault falls short with this particular definition of the author because he “defines the conditions of textual finitude—the revisionary activity of the writing process itself—as the determining cultural practice of the fundamental author [… ] His ‘fundamental’ author, in other words, performs the historic role of the author of genius” (115, 116).  What Bacon contests with her examination of the Shakespearean author and the bizarre circumstances surrounding her investigations suggests that an author does more than create a single meaning that privileged readers would be able to interpret through textual analysis [14].

V.  Why is the author dead?

Roland Barthes definition of the author as “dead” counteracts Foucault’s limitations in that it does not situate “the subject in a discourse (the text) that brings rules and their ruler (the authors) to an end” (Pease 114).  Barthes’s theory that “writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin […] writing is where our subject slips away, the negative where all identity is lost, starting with the very identity of the body writing” opens the process of reading and writing, but is still informed by a privileging of the reader over the physical author of the text (Image 142). What becomes important for Barthes is not the actual biography of the author, nor the fallacy of authorial intention, but the process of the unfolding of responses to the text.  His view both supports and conflicts with Bacon’s efforts to discover the true author of the Shakespearean texts.  While on the one hand she was struck with the conviction of finding the empirical author behind the plays, she also did so by close reading of the works in order to arrive at her idiosyncratic idea of plural authorship.  In this way, Bacon adheres to both Barthes’s and Foucault’s conflicting notions of the author.  For Bacon, the Shakespearean author was “dead” in that secrecy and conspiracy covered all traces of the existence of the true author(s) and their intentions.  In other words, her individualized interpretative strategies and attempts at deciphering code within the Shakespearean texts were more valued by her than other possible meanings gleaned from the texts [15].  A process of discovery and excavation for which there were no viable answers became primary to Bacon’s experience with the Shakespearean texts.  While on the one hand Bacon’s interpretations may comply with Foucault’s discourses of power, she also did not allow the notion of the author to abruptly close at the idea of an impenetrable text.  The author becomes impervious and layered, impossible to clearly delineate and extract without the residue and accumulation of varying centuries, personas and competing discourses. 

VI. The empirical and the model

Umberto Eco makes a distinction between empirical and model authors, in addition to a distinction between empirical and model readers.  The empirical reader, Eco notes, differs from the model reader because “empirical readers can read in many ways, and there is no law that tells them how to read, because they often use the text as a container for their own passions, which may come from outside the text or which the text may arouse by chance” (Six Walks 8).  The model reader, on the other hand, is “a sort of ideal type whom the text not only foresees as a collaborator but also tries to create” (Six Walks 9).  With Delia Bacon, it is hard to determine under which category she falls.  If indeed a secret society composed the Shakespearean plays and left certain clues within the text to be deciphered by only those readers working diligently enough to figure out the hidden meanings, Bacon would be considered a model reader.  If, however, the conspiratorial theory is verifiably false, then Delia becomes the empirical reader using the text as a mirror for her own delusions. [16]

Eco describes the empirical and model authors in order to create parallels with his account of the aforementioned types of readers, and he notes that he “couldn’t really care less about the empirical author of a narrative text (or, indeed of any text),” and apologizes for offending those who enjoy reading biographies.  For Eco, the actual physical being who wrote the text and the narratives that surround the corporeal author do not matter because the construction of the model author within the text itself is what is truly engaging. [17]  Eco’s model author is described as “a voice that speaks to us affectionately (or imperiously, or slyly), that wants us beside it.  This voice is manifested as a narrative strategy, as a set of instructions which is given to us step by step and which we have to follow when we decide to act as the model reader” (Six Walks 15).  In this description, the model author and the model reader depend on one another, and there is no place for the empirical in Eco’s model of a model textual experience.  But what of the author who does not want a reader to be “beside it?”  Note the narrative strategy that Bacon uses in the following paragraph from her article published in Putnam’s:

This new force in literature, for which books contained no precedent; this new manifestation of creative energy, with its self-sustained vitalities; with its inexhaustible prodigality, mocking nature herself; with its new grasp of the whole circuit of aims and activities,—this force, so unlike anything that scholasticism or art had ever before produced, though it came in fact with the sweep of all ages, moved with all their slow accumulation, could not account for itself to those critics as anything but a new and mystic manifestation of nature,—a new upwelling of the occult vital forces underlying our phenomenal existence; invading the historic order with one capricious leap, laughing at history, telling the laboring ages that their sweat and blood had been in vain. (104-105)        

It is hard to imagine the model reader that Bacon imagined while writing these passages, unless of course the model reader can indeed only be the empirical author of the text.  While Bacon’s writing is ecstatic, as noted previously, I am hard-pressed to argue against the critics who claim her writing too difficult to follow, and it is not my intention in this paper to either agree or disagree with their opinions. [18]  What has become more important than a linguistic analysis of Bacon’s works, for me, are certain biographical details of Delia’s life, and the way in which these particular details are often conflictingly rendered. [19]

VII. The author[s]

In examining Bacon’s life it is important to note that like the Shakespearean plurality she so vividly imagined, her own identity as author is represented in varying biographies as various and multifaceted.  The aspects of Bacon’s biographies that I choose to focus on here indicate my own preference as author and are part of the chain of discourses I choose to momentarily interrupt [20].  I am interested in Delia’s dealings with bones, and the myriad of authors with whom she was directly involved with.

Delia definitely lived an interesting, if not privileged, life; she was self-educated and created a school for women at age 15, was a popular lecturer on history, and was intimately acquainted with or somehow connected to many celebrated writers and personalities of her day.  Her short story “Love’s Martyr” beat one of Edgar Allen Poe’s stories in a contest, and she corresponded or maintained intimate relationships with Emerson, Hawthorne and Carlyle (Hope 3, 4).  There was definitely something fascinating about her that led people to use such terms as sibyl, oracle, muse, prophetess, and seer to describe her.  As a result of her apparently impressive personality, while on the lecture circuit, it is noted that “her listeners were left with a lasting impression of her, but they tended to forget what she said” (Hope 4).  Her physical appearance was apparently remarkable; maybe this explains why people were left with such a lasting impression of her and not the content of her lectures.  Hawthorne wrote of Delia when he first met her in England:

I had expected (the more shame for me, having no other ground of such expectation than that she was a literary woman) to see a very homely, uncouth, elderly personage, and was quite agreeably disappointed by her aspect.  She was rather uncommonly tall, and had a striking and expressive face, dark hair, dark eyes, which shone with an inward light as soon as she began to speak, and by and by a color came into her cheeks and made her look almost young.  Not that she really was so; she must have been beyond middle-age:  and there was no unkindness in coming to that conclusion, because, making allowance for years and ill-health, I could suppose her to have been handsome and exceedingly attractive once. (qtd. in Ticknor 198) [21]

Delia’s beauty may have been a hindrance to her scholarly pursuits, and possibly drew attention away from her critical work [22].  After all, even though Hawthorne wrote the preface to her book, he admitted after having funded the publication that he had not read the whole text.  It is interesting that Hawthorne, being a well-respected author at the time of Delia’s publication, chose to attach his name to a work he had not read, and to a theory he did not believe in.  He describes Delia to his publisher:

Lonely people are generally glad to give utterance to their pent-up ideas, and often bubble over with them as freely as children with their new-found syllables […] She was very communicative about her theory, and would have been much more so had I desired it; but, being conscious within myself of a sturdy unbelief, I deemed it fair and honest rather to repress than draw her out upon the subject.  Unquestionably she was a monomaniac. (qtd. in Ticknor 198)

Some interesting implications are made about Delia through Hawthorne’s remarks.  First, he effaces her by comparing her to a lonely child.  By mentioning the idea that children are fond of “bubbl[ing] over” with “new-found syllables,” he devalues the content of their conversation and turns Delia’s half of what was probably an interesting discourse into inarticulate speech [23].  Maybe Hawthorne felt threatened by Delia’s combination of intellect and beauty, and did not know how to process what he believed were conflicting characteristics.  Or maybe he wrote candidly of his “real” opinions to his publisher, and expressed falsities to the author herself. He writes to Delia, “you have acquired some of the privileges of an inspired person and a prophetess—and that the world is bound to hear you, if for nothing else, yet because you are so sure of your mission” (qtd. in Hope). Or maybe, he just simply thought she was a monomaniac. [24]  It is impossible to arrive at any determinate assessment of Hawthorne’s precise thoughts of Bacon. 

Biography, it seems, can be as open a work as narrative.  Eco writes that “the impression of endless depth, […] in short, of openness—that we receive from every work of art is based on both the double nature of the communicative organization of the aesthetic form and the transactional nature of the process of comprehension” (Open 39).  With his insistence on the duality of the communicative process, the fracturing of meaning becomes apparent.  While Eco may state that he has no interest in the empirical author of the text, the empirical author is necessary in order to initiate communication, although the empirical author may have to initiate communication with the model author before they can attempt communication with the model and/or empirical readers. [25]  The fragmented nature of any communicative process is such in that it allows for many interpretations, and this becomes the success of the open work.  Plurality is unavoidable and necessary [26].

VIII. Yet another

Hawthorne had set up a meeting between Bacon and Thomas Carlyle while she was in England searching for evidence to support her theory, and Carlyle too reacted to Delia as if she were mad [27].  He reacted to her proclamation of the plural authorship of the Shakespearean texts by laughing so hard that Delia “thought he would have taken the roof of the house off” (qtd. in Shoenbaum 387).  Carlyle later wrote to his brother of Delia that she “has discovered that the ‘Man Shakespeare’ is a Myth, and did not write those Plays which bear his name…she has actually come to England for the purpose of examining that, and if possible, proving it, from the British Museum and other sources of evidence. Ach Gott!” (qtd. in Shoenbaum 387).  Although she never made it to the British Museum, Carlyle’s laughter did not deter her from almost disinterring Shakespeare’s body to rest proof from his bones. [28]  Carlyle and Hawthorne were not Delia’s only male associates who reacted to her with such disbelief.  Delia’s brother Leonard, in fact, played a major role in committing her to a mental institution once she finally returned to the States. 

IX. The clock goes coo-coo and the end is near

Not much is known of Delia when she was institutionalized, but she did compose an interesting letter while committed that reflects a break with logical syntax [29].  Bacon writes to a mayor of Stratford who had once been helpful to her quest: “You have untied the spell.  Theres reason in the whole […]The E in the West and you crossed the New, the West in the East. History rest in me a clue & run a right spirit millim me” (qtd. in Shoenbaum 394).  Bacon’s belief that a clue rests within her translates to my obsession with her bones, transcending history and traditional notions of space and time. Delia’s story does much to confuse the notion of the author, and opens up an expanse of concerns that involves the body writing. [30]  Here I am again, writing myself, and the body grows and grows. [31]  However, I still have not located the authors and the quest is not yet over.  After all, history is still pressing and the writing will not stop. [32] 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Bacon, Delia.  The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakspere Unfolded.  New York: AMS

Press, 1857.

 

Bacon, Theodore.  Delia Bacon: A Biographical Sketch.  New York: Houghton Mifflin &

Co., 1888.

 

Barthes, Roland.  Criticism and Truth.  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,

1987.

————“The Death of the Author.”  Image/Music/Text. 142-148.

————Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes.  New York: Hill and Wang, 1977.

————S/Z.  New York: Hill and Wang, 1970.

————The Pleasure of the Text.  New York: Hill and Wang, 1975.

 

Cantwell, Robert.  “Hawthorne and Delia Bacon.”  American Quarterly. 1 (1949): 343-

360.

 

Cixous, Helene.  “Sorties.”  Literary Theory: An Anthology.  Eds. Julie Rivkin

and Michael Ryan.  Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 1998. 578-584.

 

Crewe, Jonathan.  “Introduction.”  Henry VIII.  New York: Penguin, 2001.

 

Eco, Umberto.  Six Walks in the Fictional Woods.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press,

1994.

————The Open Work.  Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1989.

 

Foucault, Michel.  “What Is an Author?” Language, Counter-Memory, Practice.  1977.

113-138.

 

Geller, Jeffrey L. and Maxine Harris.  Women of the Asylum: Voices Behind the Walls,

1840-1945.  New York: Doubleday, 1994.

 

Gilbert, Sandra and Susan Gubar.  “The Madwoman in the Attic.”  Literary Theory: An

Anthology.  Eds. Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan.  Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 1998. 596-611.

 

Hope, Warren and Kim Holston.  The Shakespeare Controversy.  North Carolina:

McFarland and Company, 1992.

 

Hopkins, Vivian. Prodigal Puritan: A Life of Delia Bacon.  Cambridge, Harvard

University Press, 1959.

 

Pease, Donald E.  “Author.”  Critical Terms for Literary Study.  Eds. Frank Lentricchia

and Thomas McLaughlin.  Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1990. 105-117.

 

Schoenbaum, S.  Shakespeare’s Lives.  Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1991.

 

Ticknor, Caroline.  Hawthorne and His Publisher.  Port Washington: Kennikat Press, Inc.,

1913.

 


[1] I am aware of Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s contention in their groundbreaking work The Madwoman in the Attic that often madness as a trope is a male-defined mask used to confine women, and in the case of Delia Bacon, her madness was affected by male authority.  Her brother Leonard had more than a minimal impact on her institutionalization; he was even asked by a doctor from the asylum to write his version of Delia’s case history.  Delia counters her brother’s metaphorical and physical internment by once writing that “there is something in me which he has never been able to master” (qtd. in Hopkins 254).  In my case [history], I choose to occupy and function within a site of “madness” in order to open myself to be possessed by the discovery and ecstasy of language.  Helene Cixous writes “a woman, by her opening up, is open to being ‘possessed,’ which is to say, dispossessed of herself” (583).  One difference is that there is no male who openly wishes to master me (that I know of).

[2] This was originally intended to be the introduction of this paper.  I am aware of the fact that the tone is more formal and the “I” is more distanced.  However, I wanted to leave it in as is in order to further confuse the notion of the author, because there are many authors operating beneath one “I”. The authors are layered (as my professor described once as Pillsbury Doughboy-ish), and they accumulate [dough grows thick with bones].

[3] The excavation uncovers not a linear procession, but a web of connection impossible to properly visualize.  Authorship continues to become more and more entangled.  For example, at one point when I was conceptualizing this paper and thinking about how I would write Delia’s biography, I thought about a former professor, Carole Oles, who wrote a book of poetry entitled Night Watches in which she reconceptualizes a biography in verse of the astronomer Maria Mitchell.  I remembered how she once told her class that she was virtually possessed by this woman (and therefore dispossessed).  Then a strange thing happened.  I was leafing through one of the two biographies written on Bacon, and I came across the note that one of Delia’s acquaintances, astronomer Maria Mitchell, visited with Delia while she was in England and wrote to Delia’s brother about her concern for her friend’s illness.  My roommate told me that this is “kismet”.

[4] While the author has undergone many shifts throughout time according to varying historical operatives, I choose to focus here on the appearance of the author during the Renaissance.  As noted previously, I will also discuss Foucault, Barthes and Eco’s conflicting notions of the author.  A complete analysis of the author is impossible, because it develops and alters moment by moment.  My personal conception of the author [altering moment by moment] will be [momentarily] discussed later [it has already been discussed].

[5] While particular details regarding Shakespeare’s life are suspiciously absent and have been embellished throughout the years with many myths and legends, what is agreed upon is that one William was born to John Shakespeare (the town glover) and Mary  Shakespeare in April 1564, and that Billy was baptized on April 26 in Stratford (McDonald 12).  Any additional information might as well be considered conjecture. 

[6] Obviously; even sons of glovers could be born brilliant.

[7] Where does the ecstasy of language come from?  Did Mary and John sing songs?  What about the tanning of the animals or the ale tasters who talked in tongues?  Does it come from god?  McDonald writes of Shakespeare, “we may assume that he attended church” (14).

[8] Bacon has been described as, to temper tongues, an elitist snob.  I debated adding the word “bitch,” as in, “Delia Bacon was an elitist bitch,” but when I think of it, she is never really described as being what I would call a “bitch”.  She did decide toward the end of her life, however, that she didn’t want to spend time with anyone who didn’t believe in her Shakespearean conspiracy theory.  If I had known her then, I might have called her a “bitch”, if they said that in the eighteen hundreds, that is.

[9] Now I feel guilty about possibly calling Bacon a “bitch.”  She has had enough name calling.  However, I suppose the incursion of names coincides with the layers of the author.  While looking for examples of Bacon’s resentment toward those of lower social standing, I come across this sentence:  “The new century did not put an end to the proselytizing of Delia Bacon’s followers, who hailed her as their patron saint and revered her book (which most of them did not read) as holy writ […] The historian may lament the necessity of having to make his way through thousands of pages of rubbish, some of it lunatic rubbish.  He must, however, reckon the heretical movements as part of his story, for anti-biography is, after all, an aspect of biography” (Schoenbaum 385).  I’m such a bitch.

[10] I don’t know how to feel about this really.  I spoke with a professor earlier and we talked about how there is still a lack of support for those who create art that is not familiar or comfortable.  People are afraid of the “weird” or different, and those who do not have a solid financial backing to support themselves are hard pressed to find outside financial help for their artistic endeavors.  I guess it would help to be a member of the upper class in order to avoid this.  Otherwise, you are stuck with having to schmooze. 

[11] The poor and suffering artist is, however, only a myth.  I was just outside talking to a friend about critical discourse and I was also buying into the romantic notion of the inspired genius.  I remarked how I was uncomfortable with the particular discourse of this paper because I identify more with the suffering artist than the critic.  I can not pretend to be inspired or brilliant with this work because, quite frankly, I’m insecure (and also such a bitch, sometimes).  I can’t speak the correct language (bitch) and I am definitely no genius.  I prefer to remain stupid (and mad and possessed), as much as I sometimes make it a point to try to assume the language of the master/author/genius.  This is not my tongue, nor the manner in which I was brought up to speak.  I am uncomfortable because I am trying to conform to a particular voice that is not mine.  I am no author (I am many authors) and I wonder at Bacon and her bravery (the bitch).  She was often respected, often not.  She fought against inspiration as miraculous and worked her ass off speaking in the voice of the master/author/genius.  Listen to one of her sentences (I’ve taken out about 2/3 of the total passage):

…That the new philosophy which strikes out from the Court—from the Court of that despotism that names and gives form to Modern Learning,—which comes to us from the Court of the last Tudors and the first of the Stuarts,—that new philosophy which we have received, and accepted, and adopted as a practical philosophy, not merely in that grave department of learning in which it comes to us professionally as philosophy, but that not less important department of learning in which it comes to us in the disguise of amusement […] that it is philosophy applied to much more important subjects in the disguise of the parable, than it is in the open statement; that it is philosophy in both these cases, and not philosophy in one of them, and a brutish, low-lived, illiterate, unconscious spontaneity in the other. (xvii-xviii)

I’m not so sure I truly understand what she is saying.  I am no genius.  Bacon is, however, often referred to as a genius.  I have no desire or tongue.

[12] Obviously.  Notice how the authors (and subjects) multiply.

[13] Think of how many people you have become (you bitch).

[14] What I mean here is that Bacon got it all wrong.  Well, maybe not all of it.  But she was planning on digging up Shakespeare’s dead corpse in order to search for documents in his grave that would prove the existence of a secret society of aristocrats and courtiers who actually wrote his plays.  She had the pickaxe and permission from the vicar to be in the church all night long.  But at the last minute she decided against it.  Would you dig up bones in order to discover the truth?  Well, then, here is your pickaxe. 

[15] Obviously, this can constitute a problem.  Umberto Eco notes in Six Walks in the Fictional Woods that “the way we accept the representation of the actual world scarcely differs from the way we accept the representation of fictional worlds” (90).  What if we, like Delia Bacon, are reading the world all wrong?  She saw cipher in Shakespeare’s texts that pointed her in the direction of Sir Francis Bacon (of no relation) as author (a relation).  Was Bacon’s problem merely the fact that she read too much?  Is madness merely an over-reading?  I’ve been searching for Delia’s specific diagnosis as far as her “insanity,” and all I can find is that her “mind gave way” after not achieving success as an author, and a Dr. Fayrer called her case “very very bad,” and noted that Delia had to be moved away from other patients because of her “loud talking” (Hopkins 255).  If poor reading and loud talking constitute madness, we are all of us in trouble. 

[16] While searching for Delia’s book The Philosophy of the Plays of Shakspeare Unfolded in a university library frequently described by many graduate students in the English Department as “not having shit,” I notice that there is a whole bookshelf full of books questioning the true authorship of the Shakespearean plays.  Some of them focus merely on cipher, and others propose specific authors and cite evidence for the author of their choice.  Whatever; my point is that if Bacon was using the text merely to mirror how she chose to view the world around her, then there are many others who have done the same following her lead.  Maybe this is always what happens through the process of reading and writing, and critics merely couch their language in authoritative discourse that masks the fact that they are doing the same (using the text as mirrors, propagating more mirrors, creating more Pillsbury Doughboys).  Is it so far fetched to read a text close enough to discover an unverifiable enigma?  

[17] The fact that Eco chooses to ignore the actual physical body writing, the skin and bones, the fingers moving and proceeding, bothers me.  What about the body?  What about Delia wanting to dig up them bones?  What about the moment of writing when the blood rushes and the fingers pump?  What about the movement and physical activity [skin and bones] that differs from eyes that move across a page?  What are you doing right now?  No doubt your toe is tapping [and you’re breathing—skin and bones].

[18] I wonder again about the academic discourse of the master/author/critic.  Are the model readers for critical texts merely the empirical authors that actually wrote them?  I am reminded of the critic who intentionally published a nonsense article in a leading journal, simply to expose the ridiculousness of academic discourse, and I wonder, to whom are we speaking?  Are we just talking to ourselves, and if so, why?  Who would write if only for themselves?  Barthes writes “what controls the critic is not the meaning of the work, it is the meaning of what he says about it” (Criticism 81).

[19] And now I must apologize to Eco.

[20] To interrupt, once again.

[21] I have included this whole passage not only because I find it interesting and funny, but also because it focuses on Delia’s physicality and the conflict between beauty and brains.  What I mean is, it must be difficult to be considered both attractive and brilliant (Hawthorne explicitly expresses anxiety about the combination of the two).  Why can’t the two peacefully co-exist [can they co-exist]?  After all, those who listened to her lectures apparently weren’t focusing on what she said.

[22] When I took my first graduate course, Postmodern Literature, I was quite young (23) and didn’t exactly look the model student.  This was when I painted my fingernails blue and possibly had pink hair (depending on the week).  One day, I wanted to ask a question, because Postmodernism was incredibly interesting to me and had caused me a certain kind of excitement because I found the material incredibly relevant and engaging.  Apparently I had a thoughtful (or possibly perplexed) look on my face one day because before I got a chance to raise my hand, the professor asked, “What are you thinking about?  Your boyfriend?  Or painting your nails?”  I never did ask my question.   

[23] This semester I was enrolled in a poetry workshop, which was relatively interesting most days, but for some reason, a fellow student, instead of saying anything constructive about my poetry would resort to saying things like, “I don’t get it.”  While she may have no idea what I was trying to say, I did not appreciate the fact that she attempted to turn my writing into incommunicative ramblings.  Maybe she believed I too was a child bubbling over.  I believe she is a bitch.

[24] I am possibly shooting myself in the foot.  I keep talking about myself, the experiences I have had in classrooms, the fact that I curse and am insecure.  I realize how much this is really all about me, that I am writing my own (and Delia’s) biography.  Like Barthes I want to say “It must all be considered as if spoken by a character in a novel” (Roland 1).  I have turned myself to fiction and forgotten the body writing [the body is gone, erased, as Barthes says, “writing is the destruction of every voice, of every point of origin”].

[25] The author is multiple personalities.

[26] Barthes says “to interpret a text is not to give it a (more or less justified, more or less free) meaning, but on the contrary to appreciate what plural constitutes it” (S/Z 5).

[27] Not only do the subjects multiply, but the characters in this work keep multiplying as well. There is so much I want to write about (talking loudly), and I am not sure what to leave out or include.  Writing my own biography, as a character in a book, should I mention my hamster Hammy who finally crawled into a wall (and [the body writing] died)?  I feel like I am leaving out and including too many things.  I am repeating myself over and over again: “repetition itself creates bliss” (Barthes Pleasure 41).

[28] She never dug up them bones.  One critic writes “with her book written, in some way her work done, she perhaps felt a longing for death that showed itself in a growing conviction that the truth of the origin of the Shakespeare works could be found in a grave” (Hope 10).  Once Bacon had fulfilled her function as author, she had destroyed her own voice (Barthes echoes: “writing is the destruction of every voice”).   Bacon wrote while in her mental decline: “the reason I shrink from seeing anyone now is, that I used to be somebody, and whenever I meet a stranger I am troubled with a dim reminiscence of the fact, whereas now I am nothing but this work, and don’t wish to be.  I would rather be this than anything else” (qtd. in Shoenbaum 391).  Delia had turned herself to text [a character in a novel].

[29] When I extend this paper, I plan to elaborate on madness and female institutionalization.  While perusing Women of the Asylum by Jeffrey Geller and Maxine Harris, I discover that during the development period of psychiatric institutions, many women were hospitalized for not conforming to idealized notions of the “True Woman”.  Those who participated in typically masculine activities, such as thinking, “courted ‘brain strain,’ the exhaustion and eventual insanity brought on by attempting intellectual and active pursuits beyond their native capacity” (17).  Bacon obviously would have been grouped into this category.  And, another interesting connection occurred while I was skimming through the pages of this book.  Bacon’s close friend Catherine Beecher, who helped her to initiate her own school, was apparently institutionalized too because excerpts from her writings are included in this book.  Beecher writes “the more I resided in health establishments, the more the conviction was pressed on my attention that there was a terrible decay of female health all over the land” (46).

[30] This web is amoebic, constantly split.

[31] In the elongated paper, I also plan on mentioning Delia’s love affair with a man ten years her junior.  At the end of their relationship, he showed all of the personal letters she had written him to his friends, called her crazy, and denied ever having loved her.  Some critics suggest that this led to her insanity, but I believe otherwise.  I think this event says more about the web of authorship and the body than it does about her proposed “madness.”

[32] The end.

 
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