Thursday, January 22, 2009

"Like a body wholly body"

Another factor in my shameful posting delinquency is the death of my laptop. I think it needs new parts, for which I am deeply reluctant to pay. I have this old desktop, but it is not only extremely uncomfortable to use, but also itself very dicey -- as a matter of fact, it just died as I was typing that. Way to prove my point, desktop. Anyway, my home computer situation is distinctly unreliable right now. And I am feeling whiny about that, as you can probably tell. Sorry.

Man. And that introductory essay -- which I finally finished -- was embarrassingly awful. I felt like I should read it because I don't have easy access to a lot of scholarship on the works that we're reading, and besides, the authors are two very respected classicists... but wow. Here's an example:
The Agamemnon coils, tightens; the light in the dark is strangled off at last. The Libation Bearers plunges out of darkness towards the light -- the disaster that plunges us into darkness once again. The Eumenides sweeps us through a phantasmagoria of light and dark, of darkness breeding light, until the night brings forth the torches of our triumph, like the torches of that Fury Clytaemnestra, "glorious from the womb of Mother Night." Night and day are mother and daughter, suffering and the illumination it can bring. For the energy of the Furies is as great with order as the energy of Dionysus. They are his wild maenads gathering moral force. They are the Mean Dynamic. ("The Serpent and the Eagle," 81)

Seriously, Robert Fagles? No, the entire essay is like this. Here's another choice quote: "Athena is both the Victor and the spirit of the loom; and as her citizens raised her robe to the wind, like a sail to buoy forth their ship of state, it may have symbolized the fabric of Athenian society, resilient and controlled, which they bestowed upon posterity" (91).

Yes. "Like a sail to buoy forth their ship of state." And I thought Seamus Heaney's introduction to Beowulf was bad. I had no idea. None. I'm not sure whether to blame W.B. Stanford or to chalk it up as another case of poets-can't-write-prose syndrome. (Wikipedia calls Fagles a poet, and his obituary in the NYT mentions that his B.A. and Ph.D were in English, but I'm not really sure whether he wrote much apart from his translations. Either way, they count as poetry, because they are beautiful and poetic and not super-literal anyway.)

Fiona said that the writing reminded her of graphic novels, and I can totally see that. The diction is very intense and very, I don't know, all-encompassing, like it's trying to say everything that can be said about the Oresteia, but compressed into 84 pages. Eighty-four interminable pages.

When I finished the essay and started Agamemnon, I realized that it's the same version we read in Hum 110. Going through the syllabus archive, I see that Reed first used the Lattimore and then the Lloyd-Jones before settling on the Fagles, perhaps because they don't use his Iliad or Aeneid. In any case, I wish we'd chosen a translation that I hadn't already read (you may have noticed that I enjoy comparing), but it doesn't much matter. I just wanted to re-read it because I felt like I didn't remember it particularly well.

One more thing about the introduction -- well, I could say a lot more, but it's almost midnight and I still have real work left to do. The authors use a ton of quotes throughout. For some they cite sources; for others they just use quotation marks and, I don't know, assume the reader gets it? So of course half the time I don't. But. "The Furies will generate life; Athena will lead that life to social victory. Together they express a 'blessed rage for order' " (85).

This refers to a very famous, very excellent Wallace Stevens poem that you may know already; if you don't, you should read it because it is amazing. It's probably on our booklist, but you can go ahead and read it now.

More soon.

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