To Be Or To Have Been : That Is A Different Question

(Warning, this is about as related to Shakespeare as any other turn of any of his phrases, but it’s as good a place as any to braindump something I’ve been thinking about.  I’ll try to make it as Shakespearey as I can. :)) There’s an expression among writers, I’ve lost the original source, that goes “I don’t want to write, I want to have written.” In a strangely ironic twist I’ve often found myself using a related example in regard to books when I’ll say, “I don’t want to read it, but I want to have read it.”  The author of these books is almost always Dan Brown, by the way. :)   I once pitched to a friend a similar concept for movies, where you could rip the audio track from a dvd, and then listen to that the same way.  For dialogue heavy movies you could still get the general plot, recognize the famous quotes, and be able to say that you are familiar with it. Even though you never saw it. I realize this morning that this philosophy could be extended to just about anything.  I don’t want to eat, I want to have eaten.  I don’t want to sleep, I want to have slept. I don’t want to do, I want to have done. Is it the journey, or the destination?  Hamlet’s question is deeper, but precisely because we can’t experiment with it.  We can’t both be and not be and then decide for ourselves which is better, we can only hypothesize about it. In its own way, my question is quite related to his.  After all, doesn’t “to be” imply some level of awareness, of actually paying attention to your own life?  If you’re just going through the paces, always considering the future at the expense of the present, are you really “being”? I don’t really have anywhere I’m going with this, just wanted to throw it out there. I’ve had times when I’m awful at this, and I was reminded of it when speaking of audiobooks and I told the story of how I used to listen to them and 2x speed in the car for exactly the above reasons – I wanted to have read it, but not to read it.  Reading is supposed to be enjoyable, and yet here I am deliberately shortening that portion.  It’s just not right.

10 thoughts on “To Be Or To Have Been : That Is A Different Question

  1. Actually, I think this topic is very "Shakespeary", Duane.
    Re: Shakespeare, look at the number of whiz-bang short-cuts available on the net–ways to do without actually doing. Ultimately, they lead to incomplete/inaccurate information, false impression, lack of understanding, an inability to perceive and reckon with the whole for what it's really worth.

    Things like Shakespeare,(or reading a book,thinking, understanding most anything worthwhile) take some investment of time and effort.

    To Do IS The Way TO Be–to Journey IS To Do (If I'm allowed to bastardize Lao Tzu)

    As Yoda said-"There is no try; there is only Do or Not Do"

  2. …Or is it..Do or Do Not? 🙂 Sorry Star Wars geeks.

  3. :-O You know, in writing that I never even thought about the now most obvious example — how many people out there can honestly say, "I don't want to read Shakespeare, but I want to have read it?" It certainly sounds alien to us because it's exactly what we've chosen not to do, we've instead thrown ourselves into every last punctuation mark. But I've certainly run into numerous people, in numerous contexts, who fit the example to a T.

    I'm not sure if the site is still at all active, but there was once a project called "43 things" where people posted the goals they wanted to accomplish, and others who'd done it would encourage or discourage them, depending on whether it was worth it. "Read the complete works of Shakespeare" was a very popular goal. At the time (several years ago), I honestly took the position of discouraging people, because I think I realized (without this level of clarity) that people merely wanted the accomplishment of having done it, and would not get nearly the sort of experience out of it that they should. Very rarely in life will you get to apply your knowledge of Timon of Athens, for example, unless you hang out in certain circles. I think these folks should expose themselves to a sampling of Shakespeare, certainly – the more the better. But that whole "read it just to say I read it" thing doesn't do it for me.

  4. It seems to me that there are 3 possible reasons for studying/reading/watching anything: for the credentials, for the knowledge, and/or for the experience. Let me give a few examples, and I apologize if it gets too long.

    1. If you do it for the credentials, your main goal is to sound smart and cultured. You read Shakespeare so you can complain that everything is a rip-off of him. You watch Kurosowa films so you can drop casual comments about them at dinner parties. In general, I think this is pretentious and a waste of time, but I know that I do it sometimes.

    2. When you do it for the knowledge, you just want the information in your brain. Sometimes we do this for practical reasons (to learn a new skill, for example), sometimes we do it for others (I follow football because my husband likes to discuss it), and sometimes we do it for “cultural literacy.” This is the reason I’ve read many books that I knew I wouldn’t like. I wanted to know how the book fit in the grand scheme of literature, and I wanted to understand what people were talking about when they referenced it. A lot of people read Shakespeare for this reason, and I think that’s very respectable.

    3. The best way to read/watch something is to do it for the experience – to do it simply because you love it. This is the way I love Shakespeare, and I assume you feel the same way. This is the reason I can read some books and watch some movies over and over. This is the only reason I can see to travel the world. (This is the reason some people play sports, while I only do it for the benefits.)

    So, I guess what I’m saying is, sometimes we gain knowledge for the journey, and sometimes we do it for the destination. There are situations where each make sense. Sorry to ramble.

  5. The curious thing about your points, Lisa, is how to distinguish between 1 and 2? Isn't it quite possible/likely that while people expect they are pursuing #2, they are really more guilty of #1? (Funny how that could swing us back to our good geek / bad geek thread.)

    I like your term "cultural literacy", and have used it myself. It's one of the reasons I use the Dan Brown example, because I could care less about the books and don't expect them to be good, but when the topic of conversation comes up, I would like to participate. However I'm not the one to start the conversation, just so I can prove I read it. Perhaps that's part of the difference? (As I re-read your points I think you did indeed say exactly what I just did – that point #2 is more about having the knowledge at your disposal when it comes up, whereas #1 is more about proclaiming look how much knowledge I have!)

  6. Lisa, I certainly don't discount any of the components in your analysis, but:

    1-A What about doing something because you feel that, in the overall scheme of things,for whatever various and sundry reasons, it's vitally important?

    When it comes to Shakespeare, the other things you mentioned also apply, but not necessarily for the reasons you gave–at least, not in quite the definitive (and sometimes negative) way you stated them.

    1) I have to do it for the credentials. Otherwise no one will take me seriously when it comes to teaching. Therefore, I would get no opportunity to pass on what I've learned, and no opportunity to learn more about how to better pass it on. (see 1-A)

    2) Knowledge–the more the merrier; the more to pass on; the clearer one can be about the what they're attempting to pass on. The more tools available to employ. (see 1-A)

    3) Experience=knowledge==credentials=1-A.

    When all motives are intertwined, an ulterior one must take a back seat.

  7. Thanks for the clarification. I tried to break the three completely apart, but you're right JM, most of the time two or three motivations are working at once.

    And I probably was too harsh on the "for the credentials" motivation. Like you said, Duane, the real difference between #1 and #2 is how you use the knowlege. Cultural literacy is always a good thing, but in some hands, it can be a dangerous (and, by that, I mean annoying) weapon.

  8. Great post. I don't think you need worry about not being Shakespeare-y enough. Hamlet too want to have been! Think about the play's end.

  9. Great post. I don't think you need worry about not being Shakespeare-y enough. Hamlet too want to have been! Think about the play's end.

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