Literature: December 2006 Archives

The Iliad

| | Comments (14)

Not so much a review as a rant. I'm only a short way into it and I remember why I found it such difficult going the first time.

I know I'm going to get blasted for it, but I'm going to lay it on the line. Was there ever another group of whining, self-involved, petulant, petty, pugnacious, undisciplined, unlikable people in all of literature. From Achilles who goes off to sulk in his tent until his friend is killed and then emerges to slaughter Troy's finest and do his darnedest to disgrace him (thank Heavens Thetis missed a spot), to lying (aka wily) Odysseus, and arrogant, egotistical and ultimately useless Agamemnon (once again, one finds oneself cheering Clytemnestra on). Ultimately what Achilles succeeds in doing is showing us what a belligerent, bellicose boor he is. As for Odysseus, wily Odysseus, the less said the better.

What an unpleasant lot, thoroughly deserving of whatever is dished out. Add to that quarrelsome, petty, ignorant, and foul-tempered gods, goddesses, minor nymphs, seers, you name it.

Indeed, a thoroughly unpleasant exploration of a thoroughly repugnant side of human nature.

And absolutely perfect for Advent because it shows a glaring, harshly revealing picture of humanity in the depth of the fall with no sign of the redemption we know so well. And what is frightening to me is the way modern society seems to be assuming more and more of the characteristics of the foul society that Homer praises.

At least The Odyssey had monsters and witches to take your mind off of how really awful Odysseus is as a person.

I know, I just got drummed out of the Classics clique and have lost all my credentials--but I sure get tired of being told how really great this is (and it undoubtedly is) without the clear picture of how really repugnant nearly everything Homer writes about is.

Bookmark and Share

How Fiction Means

| | Comments (2)

Some people just don't "get" fiction. It's all made up, right? So how can it say anything that is true?

That is an excellent question, one that I'm probably not the best-equipped to answer, but one that I think about a lot and speculate on.

Fiction that is properly composed does not tell you anything at all, except by implication. The writer of a great work of fiction shows something and leaves the reader to experience that event. In every great work of fiction the reader experiences some everyday things and some new things. These new things are the nucleus around which new thought occurs, if the reader is inclined to treat them so.

In "The River" by Flannery O'Connor, the young protagonist is followed as he witnesses and is driven by the experiences of Church and baptism. So driven is he that he meets his fictional destiny in the course of the story. In that moment the reader is left to wonder about the nature of baptism and the nature of the thirst for God. O'Connor allows the reader to experience an event that forces him or her to clarify what and how they think. She does not tell the reader what to think--although it is clear she has something in mind--but she allows each person to draw conclusions. For some, those who have little understanding of faith or longing for God, the story will seem absurd, hideous even. For others, the absurdity vanishes to be replaced by a concrete sense of what the young protagonist's desire means.

Fiction means not by telling but by showing and eliciting from us a response--sympathetic or antagonistic. Harold Bloom, in one of his books on reading the great books says that great literature is not so much read by us as it "reads us." By that, I take him to mean, that it unearths things we generally like to keep buried. Nonfiction can do this, as shown by the fact that the Bible has been the source of inspiration and constant conversion for countless people; however, in general, in nonfiction the normal attitude assumed is that of "objective scientist," testing the facts, images, and truths brought to us.

The screens for fiction are not so strong, and because fiction does not generally tell but shows, we are in the role of critics in the cinema of the mind. What we experience in reading fiction is something of the author's intent mixed with something of our own experience, and the two together lead to revelation. Our reaction to the fiction can be the measure of the impact of the revelation.

Fiction uses different techniques and different strategies to bring us to similar ends as nonfiction, an understanding of the world around us. But fiction tends to focus on hearts and minds--too often nonfiction focuses on the analytical and external. Even philosophy does not tell us so much about hearts and minds as it tells us how hearts and minds should, ideally work. Fiction tends to show us how they actually do work.

Bookmark and Share



About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Literature category from December 2006.

Literature: November 2006 is the previous archive.

Literature: January 2007 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

My Blogroll