Saturday, August 12, 2006

the tip of the iceberg

Any work the caliber of a masterpiece carries a load of meaning of which its author is quite unaware.

James Bridie, the Scottish dramatist, used often to ask my opinion about his new plays. They usually seemed to me fascinating, witty, original and hard to understand. I would ask 'What d'you mean? What is it about?'

His invariable reply was 'How should I know? I only wrote the thing.'

At first I thought this was just an ironic joke. But gradually I came to see that it was profoundly true. Of course he knew in a limited sense what he had tried to say; but he knew also that, if the work were any good, his conscious intention was comparatively insignificant.

The important part of the work would have, without his conscious intention, often in spite of it, have slipped in 'between the lines.'

A masterpiece, he used also to say, is like an iceberg; ninety per cent of its meaning lies below the surface of the author's consciousness.

Tyrone Guthrie writing in his autobiography «A Life in the Theatre», published by McGraw-Hill in 1959.

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