Thursday, 20 August 2009


I jokingly remarked to a very academically gifted friend of mine recently that tackling a chapter of her thesis on Shakespeare using only my under-equipped brain had given me nosebleeds, dizzy spells and fever.

This started me thinking about the relationship between words, reading and physiological effects, and I recalled an SF novel by Neal Stephenson, Snowcrash, in which a computer virus threatens the brains of those who 'read' it through their internet connections. It's a novel bubbling over with wit, invention and humour, and thoroughly recommended.

AE Housman famously declared that he couldn't think of a great line of poetry while he was shaving because it would give him goose-pimples and he would cut himself. Also, in the lovely novel The Crock of Gold by James Stephens, one of the characters says: "I will make a poem some day....and every man will shout when he hears it".

Said thesis-writing friend added:

and consider as well Elizabethan antitheatricalists with their theories of physiological mimesis in spectators (men turning into women, for instance, after witnessing transvestite performances onstage).

Every Man will Shout was also, incidentally, the title of a poetry anthology we used in middle school, which has stuck in my mind, as does the gentle refrain of our then English teacher that:

Literature is life, and studying literature is studying life.


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