Monday, December 22, 2008

omnia mea mecum porto

OK, first of all I want to say that I think Virginia Heffernan's review of Sarah Vowell's book was monumentally unfair, mostly because she seems to have a problem with Sarah Vowell's personality even more than her writing, and because she criticizes Vowell for things that ... don't make sense. Witness:
Vowell’s whole alt-­everything vibe is just dated enough to be cringey. And then there’s her Great Plains accent: can something so wholesome-soundin’ be real? And her politics. Perfectly early-millennium coastal (green, be good, Obama, etc.). Can she really take pleasure in plumping for an autofill ideology that’s so widely shared?

In other words, "I am writing for the New York Times, and I get really annoyed when people are pro-Obama. Also, those people with accents. They really piss me off."

If the above paragraph makes no sense, read Serena's last entry. All will be revealed. She also links to the review.

Anyway, back to The Odyssey. It is something of a domestic epic, but that's why I prefer it to The Iliad, I think. It's like the longest white-text in the world.* But the where-are-they-now is an essential part of the epic. There are a lot of homages to the Odyssey -- some are respectable and some aren't -- but The Odyssey itself is an awful lot of "Hey, I wonder what happened to Helen and Menelaus AFTER THEY GOT HOME!"

And the truth is, I wondered! So thanks, Homer. You are way more awesome than that woman who wrote the sequel to Gone With the Wind.

All right, but really. Why is Odysseus, who of course matters in The Iliad but is hardly the main event, interesting enough to warrant his own spinoff?

It's because he's the only hero "regular people" can cotton to. The readers don't have god given invincibility, we're not launching any ships with our faces, and we don't have any prophetic powers. But everyone can believe they're clever (even if it's not true), and Odysseus' cleverness and tenacity allows him to endure an entire epic's worth of trials. And he's always just wanted to be home with his wife in Ithaca. There's a drive to stay in and later to return to his normal life that's immensely endearing, especially for people trapped in the details of the day-to-day. Quotidian doesn't look so bad when the alternative is fighting off cyclopes.

Also, this is very silly, but as a 22-year-old without any real long-term goals decided on, I look at The Odyssey and I think: HEY, he has a goal! Look at what you can achieve when you know what you want! I just need a goal!

Then the music swells. It's a pretty good time.

*"White-text" apparently doesn't have a Wikipedia entry, so I'm pretty sure I made it up, but I mean the little addendums to biopics, when they have white text on a black screen saying "Richard Nixon never left his house again. In 1978 he published his 1,000 page autobiography." Know what I mean? Well now you have something to call it too. If that's the kind of thing people talk about. Oh god, forget I said anything.

1 comment:

Serena said...

So--hypothetically--if I told you that I had read that sequel to Gone with the Wind... but not actual Gone with the Wind... would you still want to be my co-blogger?

I'm, uh, just wondering.