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"This Bodes Some Strange Eruption to Our State": Hamlet, Contemporary Poetics, and the Avant-Garde

Organizing Committee:


This class would comprise a talk and discussion around Shakespeare's Hamlet and its relation to experimental language practices in contemporary poetics and film. It would be taught—this first session, at least; if there's anyone else who's really interested in the material, perhaps another session could follow—by Joe Milutis, a media artist and writer whose most recent book is Ether: The Nothing That Connects Everything. This class would happen in conjunction with an upcoming piece in Triple Canopy (where I'm an editor) on the same subject, and may also, then, be a space for meta-discussions on the various formats and platforms for knowledge exchange and intellectual inquiry. First and foremost, though, it's a chance for people who haven't read Hamlet, or would like to revisit it, to do a close reading of the text and discuss it in the context of contemporary theory and avant-garde art practice.

Joe would start off with a brief talk introducing his concerns, and then open thing up for a more general discussion. His jumping-off point would be a discussion of notions of the "materiality of the signifier" and the limits of that materiality in Hamlet, as well as a discussion of Shakespeare in the context of data-mapping technologies, and how these ideas are embodied in the various films of the play. The discussion may continue along these lines or engage other, related, topics: Hamlet and consciousness (e.g. read thru Bergsonian/Deleuzian notions of action and the virtual), Hamlet and ideology (e.g. Derrida's hauntology of Hamlet), Hamlet and experimental theater (e.g. read thru avant-garde reiterations such as Herbert Blau's Elsinore—or as an actor's manual in itself).

The discussion would be very much open, though, and it would be great if those if you with an interest in Hamlet, poetics, sound and materiality, Kenneth Branagh, etc., would participate in shaping the class beyond this outline. Definitely point out related work that's out there and additional readings that would be interesting. (I'll ask Joe to get things started by making any additional comments he might have.)

Joe doesn't live in New York but will be in town and available to facilitate the class on November 12th, 14th, or 15th—hopefully those dates work for enough people. (We'd aim to have one chosen by the end of October.)

Depending on the level of interest we could also organize a screening of some film versions of the play; that could be done as a separate class before Joe gets to town.



William Shakespeare, Hamlet



Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx

Henri Bergson, ch. 1 of Matter and Memory

Herbert Blau, ch. 5 of Take Up The Bodies


Optional Screenings:

William Shakespeare's Hamlet (Branagh, 1996)

Hamlet 2000 (Almereyda, 2000)

Hamlet (Olivier, 1948)

So Is This (Michael Snow, 1982)



  • Joe Milutis


I'm still looking for the Olivier scene where he addresses the ghost after killing Polonius (my desktop is a mess!), however, here is a good scene to compare to the Ophelia re-enactment above. The Olivier version in general uses voice-over as the main thematic/stylistic disruption of "presence":

I am also finding that, while YouTube searches had not been helpful earlier in this process, that it is easier to find materials via uploading your own materials, rather than doing a more civilian search (i.e. suggested videos generated from titles and tags for some reason are better than "human" searching). So with that, I am going fishing:

If there is anyone who wants to pass on their own results of data mining "this" please pass on. Especially looking for a good high school Polonius (although most high school productions I've found are so wildly expurgated as to be useless. Or the class assignment for Hamlet becomes just another excuse to do a thinly veiled Star Wars homage.)

Since we had sound problems last Sunday, I'm starting to upload the full scenes to YouTube. I will probably take them down after a week or so, to avoid copyright issues, so probably best to download them yourself with something like the Firefox Youtube download plugin if you want them for reference. Although it would be interesting if we continued conversation in the comments boxes. And the upshot of uploading these will be to see what other videos the system lumps with mine, which may end up as useful fodder for the eventual essay.
This is Polonius's speech ("take this from this if this be otherwise"):
And this is the scene that I didn't have right on hand, with Ophelia re-enacting Hamlet's gestures:
More to come with Olivier . . . Joe

Hey everyone, a reminder that this class will be happening today at 4....


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