Making Play: Shakespeare and Eternal Amor

The reason we get so much from studying Shakespeare is because he put so much of his world into his plays in a loving way. Shakespeare’s body of work is one of the most complete and well-rounded in all literary history. He wrote Tragedy, Comedy, History and whatever you want to call the plays that don’t fit into these generic categories. Shakespeare created works of art with joyful and powerful language that open wildly entertaining dialogues about life, love, and art. 

You can read Shakespeare in so many ways because there is so much in them and to them. The plays are so compelling because of the subject matter but also the style and especially the language. Shakespeare’s dialogue powerfully transforms even the darkest human tendencies into a performance worthy of witnessing. He makes art out of commonplace everyday events and shows the same care when writing sublime or terrifying moments when powerful people do horrible things. The attention to language renders each moment in the plays equally interesting.

Like great painting or photography, the subject matter is less important than the handling of the form. Edward Weston could photograph a bell pepper or his muse with equal intimacy and sensuality. This quality of affirmation, of loving the process of creation, is a kind of creative play that sometimes translates into work that is forever interesting. Shakespeare’s plays are great because of how much he includes with equal amor.

Shakespeare’s plays are stories rendered with a painter’s care for detail, tone and style about the human condition. Using language like some multidimensional paint, he creates a world that reflects a passion for the art form of theater. The love of language and of making plays elevates the subject matter and renders it all equally interesting. The tragic and comic outcomes, the virtuous and villainous characters, the countryside and the courtly settings: these dualities become unified through the force field of loving attention.  

As You Neg It: Shakespeare and the Psychology of Attraction

In Shakespeare’s play, As You Like It, we see a pattern of interaction that illustrates something common in our culture, today. The practice of disingenuously criticizing someone to achieve a psychological effect, or negging, is shown through Rosalind’s interactions with Orlando and with Phoebe. She uses false criticism to create a power dynamic with both characters.

With Orlando, she is costumed as a man, and she guides the conversation and uses it to test him. She questions him, negating his declarations of love as nonsense. Orlando, in turn, asks her if she is from the forest, and she says yes. When he suggests that her pattern of speech is too educated to belong to these parts, she explains that she was educated by an uncle who also happened to be an expert in courtly love. Her lies become part of the game. She positions herself as an expert, even though she is pretending to be foreign to the court and questions his authenticity, turning the conversation back to interrogating him. 

Through her questioning his integrity, she manipulates him into working to prove himself. He responds by giving her more of what she wants: evidence of his feelings for Rosalind. A master of manipulation, Rosalind leads Orlando around like a lion on a leash lashing him with her tongue. It is an erotic exchange, as well. Rosalind’s negging includes assuring him that she would likely sleep with 20 or so men like him if they were married. She tortures him with the idea of her infidelity to test his true feelings.

The layers of deception and identity in Rosalind demonstrate how gender in Shakespeare is a performance of power. He uses cultural norms and customs to present an image of gender that the public reads and believes to be true within the context of the play. Many characters in Shakespeare’s comedies use costume to change genders and, in this case, Rosalind is disguised as a rural dude named Ganymede who is then pretending to be Rosalind to Orlando for him to practice expressing his love. She is pretending to be a man who is pretending to be her, a kind of double negative.

Ironically, this gives her the opportunity to be herself without any exposure. She is a spy watching her future husband react to her ideas. By negging him, by questioning his character and his devotion to love, she also eggs him on. She puts fuel on the fire. She gets to see what he is made of and how he feels about her.

Rosalind, while in disguise as Ganymede, also has a strange encounter with a young woman in the forest. Phoebe is actively rejecting the courtship of a suitor named Sylvius. With not much else to do in the woods, Rosalind is there for the sport of it. She is there to be entertained by their unhappy love connection and to play a trickster kind of role in their affairs. She interrupts their conversation and starts to criticize Phoebe suggesting that she should take the offer Sylvius is making because she is not beautiful enough to do better.

Phoebe’s response is to fall in love with Ganymede. Rosalind explains the psychology behind this reversal. Sylvius was being overly complimentary. He was making Phoebe think that she was better than she is. He was falsely flattering her, and it had the effect of making her think too highly of herself and that she was better than him. Because Sylvius has been worshipping her, she sees him as subordinate.  When Rosalind as Ganymede dresses her down, she feels more attracted to “him,” because his judgmental speech suggests that he is better than her. She is attracted to being negged because it makes her think she is with someone superior. 

We see this kind of cynical darkly humorous stance often on Twitter or generally online. We are pretending to laugh so we aren’t seen crying. We perform wokeness so nobody questions our complicity. We neg our crush so they will give us some attention. We know it works, but does it work to our advantage? What is that pattern keeping us from doing or knowing? 

Romantic love is a drug and a form of madness in Shakespeare. We see characters behaving in uncharacteristic fashion, lying, and deceiving people around them to pursue the feeling of being in love. This is much different than the effect of negging. Rosalind loves Orlando both for how she feels around him and for how she feels about him. She judges him to be worthy of her love and negging him is simply testing him and having fun with him until she can reveal herself to him and claim her place as his love.

Poor Phoebe is repelled by Sylvius who is in love with her, but she becomes attracted to Ganymede for negatively criticizing her. Shakespeare gives us a comparative study of different kinds of attraction to think about the differences between love, attraction, negation and power.

Doubling Down on Imagining Sustainability

This is not going to be an article on the you-know-what. I’m tired of giving that horrible thing attention. Neither is this an article about silver linings. I’m not trying to peddle some false positivity. Nope, this is back to what I care most deeply about besides my daughter, my family, my friends and my dog: art and the environment, in my case: photographing Wilder.

JJT.25.April.2020-20

For about the past half a year, I have been working on a project that I started with my girlfriend at the time. It is a study of a local park that is accessible on foot from my studio. It started with Madison, and it has continued even while we have not been able to be in contact due to the current situation.

 

The project is about a connection to a place. There is something about hiking, about the slow methodical speed of walking, that makes a great energy for making photographs. Being connected to a place also means being connected to people. Love is always at the core of any artwork I make. That is my motivation.

 

Of course, love is a complicated set of emotions and actions. There is romantic love, familial love, the love of the natural world, the love of art. Love is a drive, and attraction to an idea, thing or action. Love is at the root of philosophy: it is the love of wisdom. If you can cultivate the energy of love as a driving force, then everything you do becomes more meaningful. Coming from a place of love is seriously underrated.

JJT.25.April.2020-28

In our current culture, we have a challenge in thinking sincerely about love. We do not honor or think deeply about the most important things: truth, beauty, goodness and love among the top of the list. We are obsessed with sex, money and power above all else. What happened to the powerful influence of love as an attraction? Love that guides us to protect and build up what we need to survive is lacking in a world riddled with techno-addiction and cyber-war. Fundamental concepts like love come across as childish or naive.

 

And yet, the most enduring things are simple but powerful and we should return to them. Now is the time to start making the work that is coming from a place of love and imagining sustainable development. We are always developing, always in process, never not building, and if we can focus our energies and resist the urge to chase after our addictions, then we might just be able to present a vision to the world that will inspire us to live in a way that makes more sense.

 

What does this mean in the context of Santa Cruz? Santa Cruz is a very strange place, but not in the ways that most people think. I often find myself cringing as I overhear people talking about Santa Cruz from an outsider’s perspective. What does it even mean to be local to a place? Why does it matter? I think it comes down to a matter of respect.

JJT.25.April.2020-31

A side note: for our communications to work we need to have more than a little common understanding as to the meanings of words, but all words have multiple meanings and are interpreted differently. We know that language is a dynamic and slippery medium, so it is always worth doing the work to define terms. That might be one of the most helpful things that writing can do: help us to come up with common understandings of concepts.

 

The push for greater sustainability in our development starts with a locally based love and respect for the landscape which leads to a desire to protect. In Santa Cruz, this plays out with a hyper sharp focus in the area between ocean and land where famous surf spots attract wannabe waveriders from the CostCo riddled hinterlands. Now, it is more than fair to say that nobody can lay claim to a part of the ocean.

 

The ocean is for everyone. But, not everyone deserves it. The ocean should be for those who respect it, who love it and who protect it. These three things are way more important than your home address. Love leads to respect which in turn inspires an effort to protect. You see a lot of people who come to the ocean with a predatory and entitled attitude, looking for opportunities to score one way or another and unconcerned about their impact on the place.

JJT.25.April.2020-34

This is true for our parks, too. The pristine trails climbing through redwood forests and up long grassy meadows with the opportunity to see wildlife and all of the intricacies of light and leaves and the interactions of organisms in an ecosystem at work is beautiful and attractive for good reasons. Access to the parks for everyone tips us in the direction of an egalitarian democracy, and so of course they should remain open to the public, but again not everyone deserves them.
Every weekend and then all summer long, people come to the area as tourists and treat the place with anything but respect. Part of the character of internet culture, which is evident among other places in high relief on Twitter, is a kind of jaded gallows humor and cynical lack of response to the things that happen in the world.

 

In other words, the dominant culture of Twitter is the culture of New York. The dominant culture of Instagram is Los Angeles. Facebook is the Midwest. We have a critical world-weary sarcastic sophisticated style of interpreting the world and an exhibitionistic flamboyant hedonistic showcase of contemporary versions of primal instincts. We have the seen it all by the age of twelve.

JJT.26.April.2020-9

Both of these approaches are what they are, and one thing they are is conceptual straw men. In the context of a megalopolis the need to be heard above the continual cacophony of millions of people all trying to get the same cronut creates a tone of such hyperbole that mainstream culture, porn and the absolutely illicit all merge in one wretched shriek of madness. That’s how I see culture right now. It stinks like 8th avenue on a hot morning, like rotting food, cigarette smoke and vomit.

 

We have ulcerous stomachs and flabby arms. From the couch, we judge the world like disappointed gods condemning our own creations in some twisted self-hating turn, a demonic yoga posture. A new variation on the ouroubourous, we have eaten too much of ourselves and are now instead vomiting up our own being.

 

This is the character of internet culture, generally, but it is not the culture of Santa Cruz. I don’t know what could make one culture better than another unless it is the abundance of love, respect and conservation for the place itself. If people are actively celebrating, taking care of and protecting the place where they live, is there not something better about that then another culture lacking those important qualities?

JJT.25.April.2020-44

The only reason to judge a culture is to promote the version of culture you want to take over the world, and as maniacal as that may sound it is also simply inevitable. If you want to have a world with greater sustainability it has to be the entire world, since we are one global system with oceans and atmosphere connecting us. What Elon Musk sends into space affects all of us for good and bad.

 

In the end it is a competition of ideas. You can’t blame people for liking what they do. You have to give them something better, you have to lead by example. That is what I try to do in my photography and in my life. I chose to create my content by walking to locations and syncing my instinct for making pictures up with the landscape the lighting and the mysterious elements of unpredictable change.

Will it be enough to move the needle? Will it help to push the people of the world to reconsider what we value? Who knows, but regardless of outcome the job is still in front of us and we can choose to do the work or not with attendant consequences. If we want good outcomes, we have to do the work.

JJT.26.April.2020-13

For me, this begins with walking long distances over and over again as I collect images and make photographs. Those are two distinctly different things, as I do one casually and without much work with my phone camera while hiking and then I also have my backpack with camera equipment, and I also carry a tripod for when I want to make a photograph that requires more technique.

 

One of the most ridiculous and counterproductive feelings I can remember from before I started this project was the frantic attempt to find a good location as golden hour approached. Sometimes you could see that the sunset was going to be amazing and so you might be racing around in your car to be in the right spot. What a bunch of horseshit that is. Since I now make photographs while in the middle of a five-hour hike, I have to use a much different set of instincts to get myself into the right position to make a photograph during the best moments of light.

JJT.26.April.2020-17

In order to do that, I have to align my instincts with the landscape. This is an ancient art known by farmers and practiced by surfers. I learned it from mainly from working with Anthony Tashnick, who is the one human most keenly attuned to the ocean I have ever known. All professional surfers have this instinct. It is a prerequisite to the job, just as a fisherman has to find the fish. The surfer has to be where the waves are good. The photographer has to position themselves for the right compositions at the right times. It is all the same in some way. You have to study the patterns and intend to be in the right place at the right time. It is an exercise of using desire to change your behavior. You have to want to get the shot and then work to be there for the moment when it happens.

 

Another, less positive, way to think about it is like the instincts of an alcoholic or junky. The need for that thing is so strong that there is almost a supernatural attraction to it that creates the ability to know where it is at all times. Just like the alcoholic knows where the liquor cabinet is when they walk into a home, the surfer knows where an incoming swell is going to break, and a photographer knows how to be somewhere amazing when the light peaks.

 

I certainly am not suggesting that I have it all figured out, but I do have some things wired. I know that the more I hike the better photos I get. I know that it is a great honor to be a photographer and I respect the art and its tradition, so I feel compelled to work at being the best artist with a lens that I can be. I very much approach the task of making art with some kind of militant warrior spirit. I believe that it is as much about conquering my own fears and temptations through discipline as anything else. Working on photography is one thing: working on the person making the photographs is another altogether. Facing ourselves and being honest about what we find is an act of courage that is transformative.

JJT.26.April.2020-19

This project is an attempt to align those things, too. I want to improve in all aspects of my being, but especially as a photographer and as a person. How can you gauge your improvement? How do you know when you are getting better? It is just a feeling. It is all subjective anyways. But, you have to live with your feelings, so if you can conquer the negative self-talk then you create space for some much more interesting dialogue.

 

The best way to earn the respect of people you care about is by being respectful and that starts with how you treat yourself. Hiking for my photographs gives me a sense of achievement and a confidence that I know something fundamental about myself. My desire to keep pushing myself physically and artistically gives me a sense of self-respect. I know what my intentions are. When I feel tired or sore, it reminds me of my decision to double down on imagining sustainability and it feels great.