Monday, March 16, 2009

the Sisyphean task of rolling back Bowdler

If you're dyslexic then the above title might qualify as a pun. If you're not then just pretend you are and indulge me.
Putting on my English teacher hat here. The story of Sisyphus is the ancient and enduring expressions of absurd and futile struggle. His torment was to be consigned for all eternity to try to roll a large boulder up a steep hill and just at the point of reaching the top to see the boulder elude his control and roll back to the bottom once more.
Thomas Bowdler was an English physicist who died in 1825. His name is notable to literature and drama types because it inspired the term "bowdlerize" which means to expurgate or omit material deemed vulgar of offensive. In his lifetime, Bowdler published a ten volume set of books entitled, "The Family Shakespeare" in which he edited some of Shakespeare's plays, omitting language so that they might be read aloud by the entire family.

That sounds an awful lot like the rhetoric of the people who brought the complaint against "Picasso at the Lapin Agile", namely that it wasn't fit fare for the entire family. Makes me wonder if the "Family Shakespeare" might become an adopted text for our school district.
Here's just one example of Bowdler's work. It's taken from a website devoted to the censorship of Shakespeare:

Shakespeare's original:

"the bawdy hand of the dial is now upon the prick of noon” – Mercutio, Act II, Scene 4, line 61

Bowdler's Family Shakespeare:

"the hand of the dial is now upon the point of noon"

That's a line that was actually recited by a student actor upon the La Grande High School stage about three years ago when we did "Romeo and Juliet". Funny, nobody said anything then.
It should be noted that the practice bowdlerizing Shakespeare has a long history that stretches back before Bowdler and lingers to the present day. It is a practice of which he may in fact have been one of the more benign exponents (he claimed only to cut text, never to add any). The notion that we will ever be free of this sort of thing strikes me as unrealistic to say the least. The effort to rid ourselves of it seems, well, Sisyphean.
What are you gonna do? Just roll on, I guess.
K

6 Comments:

Blogger adam jk gallardo said...

Technology gives us the newest version of this: Clear Play is a DVD that will bleep out questionable material from videos you watch. My brother-in-law and his family use it.

http://www.clearplay.com/

Also, coincidentally, Melissa and I were talking about Sisyphus last night as we brushed our teeth. Hmm...

5:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great analogy. Not to dance on the head of a pin, Professor, but I think that's roll 'up' when you're talking about Sisyphus.

In his essay 'Myth of Sisyphus' Camus wrote, "The struggle itself...is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

Ergo, you are probably a very happy man, KC, which is likely to make some people very unhappy--or perhaps make them happy, too, engaged in their struggle to make you unhappy. Wow, this looks like a win/win to me. Please do The Plague--really--next and keep the happiness flowing.

6:01 PM  
Blogger Kimberly said...

Hola Mr Cahill! Well, I guess bonjour - that's the extent of my French, however.

I was unaware of your blog until recently. At one point in your blog you mention that you doubt anyone's read it in it's entirety, but I have now! Some free time while my husband was on a mock trial trip and my unhealthy need to start and finish a magazine/book/blog in one sitting allowed me to be pulled into your fantastic journey through France and beyond. Amazing! I lied, I know a few more fun French words now, like trottinette and jumelles. :)

It's lovely to read a well-written blog about your beautiful family, along with your great photography. Your children are adorable and smart, and it was surreal to see them grow a few years in a few days of reading. I remember when Tess was born. Lots of other thoughts about entries so well in the past that it seemed silly to comment on them now, but suffice it to say your blog has been an interesting and enjoyable read.

Kim Wood Nolan

PS I remember seeing that your picture won in the Travel section last year! I confess often it's the only section I read in the Sunday paper. And also (random) I love your pup Sam. When you say Sam must think his name is Sammy-no, it reminds me of a joke Paul and I have - that our girl-puppy must think her name is Damn it Daisy. :)

12:01 AM  
Blogger Daniduvall said...

Kevin. It's Danielle (of ions ago, my good friend, at EOU). I am incredibly proud...of you, of your courageous cast (which includes a brilliant young lady whom I respect deeply), and of the opportunity you're giving the community to challenge itself. A top-tier skill set for success will not be produced if a young adult is not challenged with things that are questionable. Sheltered children do not bring forth good, experienced characters of judgement. I tip my hat to you, and I will be there, cheering heartily.

-Danielle Duvall

12:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Roll on, indeed, Dad. And thank you for spending the past 30 years making a difference in the world by encouraging people to think. It's less common than you might imagine! Always so proud, ♥Erin

7:34 AM  
Blogger KNScott said...

from Princess Ida, or Castle Adamant (1884)
Libretto by W.S. Gilbert,
Music by Arthur Sullivan
Act Two Opening Chorus: "Towards the empyrean heights
Of every kind of lore":

MELISSA (Daughter of Lady Blanche, the Professor of Abstract Science):
Pray, what authors should she read
Who in Classics would succeed?

PSYCHE (Professor of Humanities):
If you’d climb the Helicon,
You should read Anacreon,
Ovid’s Metamorphoses,
Likewise Aristophanes,
And the works of Juvenal:
These are worth attention, all;
But, if you will be advised,
You will get them Bowdlerised!

CHORUS of Girl Graduates:
Ah! we will get them Bowdlerised!

2:47 PM  

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