polutrope: (sleep is for pussies)
I'm currently reading selections from the de Goncourt journals, which are, well, often casually misogynistic, but also a fascinating look into the literary world of 1850s Paris. The de Goncourt brothers are fairly clearly mediocre talents who hang out with better writers, like Flaubert, and the journals are full of clear attempts to be aphoristic, which often miss the mark. But then sometimes they come out with something like this:

I feel convinced that every political argument boils down to this: I am better than you are, every literary argument to this: "I have more taste than you," every argument about art to this: "I have better eyes than you," every argument about music to this: I have a finer ear than you."

all of which is very true and very depressing. It's a chestnut that it's easier to critique than to praise, but one that's always held very true for me. It's very easy to be dismissive of things that you don't like, and wonder how anyone could ever like them. Personally, I love tearing things down, especially when they're hilariously bad (see also: my post on the guy who was really into the Real Historical Merlin and really this whole tag) but I do try to stay with things that are objectively bad. And yes, I do believe in the concept of "objectively bad." The Merlin book, for example, has shoddy research and is clearly written from a parti pris.

"Objectively bad" is harder in fiction, obviously, and the distinction needs to be made between "I don't like it, but it's good," "I don't like it because it's bad," "I like it but it is bad (guilty pleasures)" and "I like it because it is good." The first category is the hardest to fit things into, I think, because it's easier to find faults in a work than in yourself. I think for me at least Kazantzakis' The Odyssey: a Modern Sequel falls into this category. It's beautifully written, or at least translated, and it's a pretty good imitation of Homer, but I couldn't finish it because I detested his characterization of Odysseus. I also have trouble with "I like it but it is bad" - I suppose Sword of Attila works, but I am willing to lower my standards for things that aren't supposed to be Great Works of Fiction. The prose is readable, the characters are decent (no heroes you want to shake out of frustration, no cardboard cutout villains), so I don't think you can legitimately call it "bad," just "not literature" - but it had no pretensions to being literature, so you can't fault it for that.

In fact, I think most of my guilty pleasures are just things that are low culture and not trying to be high: operetta, trashy fantasy novels, trashy historical fiction. Of course, it's possible to be bad even admitting lower standards: The Blending series, despite some gorgeous cover art is truly awful. The first sentence is "Lorand stood in the farmyard just at dawn, watching the sun rise like the great ball of Fire magic it was," and it just gets worse from there. The characters are awful, the world makes no sense, and the prose is terrible. It also shades into "so awful I like it," but that's another story.

On another note, it really makes me wonder when people praise the worldbuilding in "Europe with fantasy names!" books. Not when it's like, Generic Medieval Setting, which is annoying but can be tweaked to make it interesting (and to be quite honest, I don't really mind medieval fantasy, as long as you make an effort), but when it's actually, literally Europe but with different names. Like the Kushiel series, or Guy Gavriel Kay's Sailing to Sarantium. I liked Sailing to Sarantium, I really did (although not enough to read the second one, but that's partly because I was broke), but you can only really praise the worldbuilding if you don't know the first thing about Byzantine history. Like, the fact that there was a Byzantium. And I know people are, you know, less into Byzantine history than me, and don't know about the who Amalsuntha thing, but really, Kay takes most of his plot points whole from history. I'm not saying I hate the idea, although it does make me wonder why you can't just write a historical novel with magic, but it's not good worldbuilding.

So to be completely elitist, because I believe that is the whole point of this post, I do have more taste than you. Or well, not "you" you, but the general person.
polutrope: (sleep is for pussies)
School started a while ago, I guess. And I guess it's been going fairly decently, though I'm not as into it this year as I have been. For one thing, it cuts into my reading time, and when I do read I'm really sleepy. I don't know about the rest of you, but I have very short patience when I'm sleepy. Not always in a snappy way: in fact, I am like a happy bear when I'm sleepy. What I have little patience for is media of any sort. I can only watch TV when I'm not tired, which is annoying, because otherwise it would be a great way of killing time. I can barely listen to music; only my very favorite songs can penetrate the fog surrounding my brain. And books. If I can even look at them, I get snappy with them more easily than I did over the summer, say*.

So now I am tired and really only read at meals** or when I have some spark of intelligence left in my sad brain (not often). I was reading A Pillar of Iron for three weeks or so. And it was ok, I guess. I might have been either more or less annoyed with it if I had read it in one or two sittings. It was about how Cicero was a perfect martyr whose only crime was loving his country too much and swerved from dull to awesome every few pages.

Then I started The Volcano Lover and was pretty annoyed by the style, and again I couldn't tell if I'd like it better when I was more alert or if it would grate on me in any mood. I made it about 15 pages. Now I'm 100-something pages into City of Saints and Madmen and well, it's not bad or anything. There's some pretty decent world-building, and the man can actually write decent English, though I have some quibbles with his chosen narrative voice. But really, the first story is about a man who falls in love with a mannequin in a store window. And didn't Hoffmann do that already, minus the slightly forced humor? The second is a history of the city, which is interesting, but in my current state at least, the humor grates on my nerves.

So I'm never entirely sure what's me and what's the sleep deprivation when I don't like something, for now.
*and even over the summer, I was harsher than I usually am. I had a lot of books to read; even if you read fast, it's not worth reading something you don't like at all.

**because I have no friends who aren't paper and ink, duh
polutrope: (sleep is for pussies)
Oh, look! It's my favorite things in one place: Phèdre and theory of translation!
so of course I did a long analysis of it. )
polutrope: (in ur troy!)
IDK, Antigone fanfic? )
polutrope: (sleep is for pussies)
We're putting on Hippolytus in Greek, as I may have mentioned once, and I just bought a copy of Racine's Phèdre, because I love it to bits and realized that I don't own it. So of course I'm thinking about both of them a lot. It's really a shame that the Racine is based on Hippolytus; it would be much fairer to it if I could read it alone and not as an adaptation of the Euripides. It's not that I like it less, only that I keep comparing it, and weighing the interpretation of the characters.

And it's sort of on this basis that I've decided Phèdre's weaker. The addition of Aricie isn't just "lame" because she has no character at all (which she doesn't); it would weaken the play even if she were the most dynamic character imaginable. It changes a conflict of ideologies, of Hippolytus' inflexibility against Aphrodite's power, represented by Phaedra, to a choice between two women.

That is to say, there is no possibility that Hippolytus will agree to the nurse's request that he take Phaedra as a lover. He hates women and loves his chastity. By creating a Hippolyte who loves a woman, Racine makes the opposition not between two life-paths, but the more normal, and thus if not less interesting, less extreme, choice between one woman and another. There are, of course, moral differences between choosing Aricie and Phèdre - Phèdre is still Hippolyte's step-mother and the wife of his father - but it's not the choice between absolute purity and sexual activity that Hippolytus is forced to make.

Both plays, of course, are products of their time. Hippolytus, like much of Greek drama and epic, warns against the dangers of inflexibility and stubbornness. (Of course, because if Euripides wasn't an atheist, he certainly didn't like the gods, Hippolytus is also about the impossibility of pleasing a goddess who would destroy a man simply for not choosing to follow her path. Even then, Hippolytus' crime isn't only not engaging in sexual activity, it's really the long speech about the evils of women. Without that attitude, he would be acceptable; but in that speech he shows that he doesn't just choose to abstain from Aphrodite's realm, he scorns it and hates it, which is always a bad move.)

In any case, products of their time. Euripides treats subjects that Greeks were accustomed to see in the theater; Racine writes the story that a 17th century French audience wants to see - a love story, couched in the specific and formulaic language of the French Classical theater. Racine could not have written a play with no love story; it was, like someone saying "hélas" at least three times, a requirement of the form.

For me the conflict between who Hippolytus is - a man who chose chastity and Artemis - and who Aphrodite, goddess of all that he hates, wants him to be is much more interesting than a love triangle. But they're not really comparable and perhaps shouldn't be; and yet I can't help it.
polutrope: (in ur troy!)
So I'm pretty sure I'm on the Analyst, book-nine-is-an-insertion side. And that's unfortunate, because it's clearly less interesting than trying to fit in Achilles' characterization here and in the rest of the Iliad, but I really think it just doesn't work. Maybe Achilles, as characterized in book I, would start to question the values of the society; I don't know, but I kind of doubt it. But he wouldn't question the entire concept of trading blood for material objects. For one thing, the quarrel is one that he's started, over a material object. For another, his plea to his mother is "make the Achaians come to me with threefold gifts" once they realize that they can't live without him.

Then there's the fact that he claims that Agamemnon has not offered him anything in book 11; you could excuse this as a slip of the poet's mind, except that book 9 is kind of long for that. A classmate of mine argued that Achilles is so angry that "in his reality" there has been no embassy, and that, much as I respect him, just makes no sense - perhaps in a 19th or 20th century novel, but not now. As a general rule, Homeric (and actually, most fictional characters for a very long time) are telling the truth unless it's specifically noted that they're lying; such a manipulation of the truth would be unthinkable.

I definitely think that reading Achilles as a hero defending his principles doesn't work; through the rest of the poem, he's very invested in the system of time. Why, all of a sudden, would he reject the system he fights to uphold? The only reason to withdraw from fighting over Briseis is because it's a mortal insult; but if you can't trade goods for a man's life, and death comes to all equally, then how is it such a great insult?

On another note, I kind of read Achilles' statements in the beginning of his speech as sour grapes, but I think that's anachronistic too.

This is the situation in which that time machine would be very useful.
polutrope: (in ur troy!)
Paul Veyne's "Did the Greeks believe in their Myths" is one of the better books I've read lately,¹ although it didn't quite speak to what I wanted to know. Unfortunately, I think what I want to know is unknowable: that is, if you went up to the average 5th century Athenian and asked him "do you believe in Zeus? and if so, is the Zeus you believe in the same one who seduced Leda and Semele?" would he say yes.²

Since that's pretty much impossible to figure out, Veyne writes about the attitude of historians to myth - for example, Herodotus' essentially uncritical acceptance of the historicity of the Trojan War or Heracles. On the way, he hits some points that were really more interesting than his main idea (which was, I think, that the Greek or Roman historians could believe and not believe in the myths). For example, he notes that we as modern readers tend to think of the Athenians as a monolithic "cultured populace," which, if you think about it for more than a second, can't have been entirely the case.

I think we're using different definitions of "believe;" he speaks of "believing in" Madame Bovary³; I wouldn't use believe about a work that was created to be a fiction. I might believe that such characters might exist, but I hardly believe that Madame Bovary herself once existed in whatever miserable provincial town that novel's set in. For me, one believes in a god or a cause (but of course, "believe in" and "believe" are different). That is to say, I believe that the earth is round; I don't believe in God or studying for tests.

There is one point I disagree with him on, and it's not really central to his argument - that the Greek myths have no chronology. His analogy is "asking whether Zeus seduced Danaë before he ravished Leda is like asking whether Tom Thumb's adventures took place before or after Cinderella's wedding." That's hardly accurate: fairytales take place in what may in fact be the same world - surely its stock characters are the same - but they have no interconnectivity.

Homer, most likely drawing upon tradition, has Odysseus meet heroes in the underworld and Nestor speak of his time fighting alongside the great heroes of yesterday; thus, Oedipus and Theseus must have had their existence before the Trojan War. As he mentions often, the Greeks made little distinction between history and myth (and if verifiable history was missing, a myth would do nicely); therefore, myth is a history, and as such has its own (mostly) internally consistent timeline.

¹OK, it didn't have much competition; Nagy may be an expert in the field, but Pindar's Homer is bloated and uninteresting.
²He would probably say "what? and can I have five drachma?"
³He is also amazingly and adorably French the whole way through. He also talks about the "voluntary blindness of husbands and parents."*
*Speaking of "adorable," he quotes his child as saying "Papa, so all the houses aren't already built?"


Apr. 2nd, 2008 03:49 am
polutrope: (work habits)
Because this is totally better than actually working on my paper due in four hours:

There is no reason for Achilles to refuse Agamemnon's gifts in Book Nine. By giving Achilles gifts, Agamemnon admits that he needs him, and that he was wrong to take Briseis. The gifts, by the way, are worth much more than the slight merits - (from memory) seven tripods [and one tripod, as we learn from the contest, is better than a woman], seven Lesbian women as well as Briseis, one of his daughters to wife, and seven cities. (I think it's a feature of Agamemnon's character that he goes too far in everything: his wrath against Achilles was excessive, but so are the gifts he is willing to give in order to appease him.) Further, Agamemnon subtracts from his own kleos by giving up his own prizes, which the Lesbian women are. He's admitted that Achilles is greater than him and he is willing to lose kleos, which is what Achilles wanted - for Agamemnon to honor him. There's no point in asking Thetis to ask Zeus to destroy the Argives if he's not going to go into battle (unless he actually wants all of them to be killed, which I doubt he does).

Since Achilles has what he had prayed for, the only reason for him to refuse is plot. If he went back to the war at this point, Patroclus wouldn't have to go for him, and would'nt be killed. But the only reason for Patroclus to die is for Achilles to go back into the war, which, if he had gone already, wouldn't need to be forced.

Sure, Achilles states reasons for not going back into battle: because he thinks that Agamemnon is still taking too great a share, because he himself has no quarrel with the Trojans - but then why doesn't he go home? One could argue that it's because he does want to fight, and that his reasons are really excuses, but then why doesn't he leap at Agamemnon's offer?

Depending on how you feel on the authorship of the Iliad, it's a case of et annuit Homer or of a place you could point to as evidence for multiple authors. Say the scene of the embassy is in one version, and the compiler[s] liked it very much and wanted to keep it, but also liked the Patroclus situation we know and love. Perhaps in a different version Achilles took the offer and got killed, as was his fate anyway.

Whether or not it points to multiple authorship, I do think it's interesting that Achilles doesn't take the offer. Maybe I'll write my extra credit paper one that.
polutrope: (academia)
Anthropology is hard.

Anyway, there's always a question, to me, of how conscious the average person is of the "deep inner meaning" of rites - and if they're not conscious of it, is it really there? For the most part, the anthropologist is a foreigner, and even when he's not, they're better educated than the people he's studying. And so, he's not a part of the community, and looks at things they do every day from an analytical point of view.

I'm sure we do things - being afraid (but, and this is another problem, it's often less "afraid" than "aware of the fact that it is a noteworthy event") of black cats, perhaps - that a foreign anthropologist might think were terrible meaningful and important, but I would say, Oh, I just do it because I always have.

That doesn't necessarily make the custom invalid (although that is a very infelicitous phrase), but I don't think that one should base the idea of the current society on the rites practiced.

(This made even less sense than I usually do, because I have no idea what I'm talking about!)
polutrope: (Default)
As a disclaimer: because La Rondine is the only opera that has more than one recording and no libretto online, I haven't read it, but I know what happens. It is entirely possible that the librettists screwed it up entirely.

Anyway, when summarizing Rondine, the first thing everyone says is that it's a "watered-down Traviata. Magda, like Violetta, is a courtesan with a heart of gold, but at the end, instead of dying, she turns and walks away from her lover. Now, OperaChic says that that's "terrible anti-climactic."

I suppose it is - but it resonates for me, perhaps because renunciation and sacrifice are the Themes that practically guarantee that I will dissolve in tears, unless (and sometimes even if) it's done really badly.

Further, Violetta dies. She doesn't have to deal with the consequences of her noble sacrifice. She doesn't have to grow old and realize that M. Germont was wrong, she hasn't found anyone else; that she's alone and misses Alfredo. She doesn't have the time to reconsider her choice - is some strange girl's marriage worth the love of her life? She dies, which solves problems both for her and Alfredo (although not in the Dumas - we meet the Alfredo-character when he digs up Marguerite's body so he can see her one last time).

So, I think that Magda's choice, without death, is possible more heart-wrenching, at least for me, and it's an ending without the high melodrama of a Traviata.

(This is not to say, of course, that La Rondine is a better opera. It's not at all, but I don't think it's fair to dismiss the ending as anti-climactic.)
polutrope: (Default)
So, I had my first experience of La forza del destino last night.
Why two work and one doesn't )
In sum, oh, Francesco, you used to be the one who didn't write terrible libretti! How could you do this to me?
polutrope: (Default)
My new favorite book is the "Ultimate Opera Quiz Book" and my favorite quiz is "Extra! Extra! Read all about it!" which sets plot points as tabloid headlines, and you have to guess the opera. Some of my favorites:

4. "Future ruler slays girlfriend, rival, self as pop watches."

10. "Strong-man act brings down house."

12. "Terrorists slay dozens at wedding."

14. "Royal wedding (finally) planned in capital."

19. "Count killed - Mystery woman sought."

23. "End of world predicted."

28. "Fire destroys celeb's home - arson suspected."

31. "Woman starves to death near Big Easy."

My other favorite, though I can't come anywhere close to actually answering it, is "Ultimate Wagner." Two questions. The second is "List, in order of appearance, every character in the Ring.
Answers )

Also, I feel really bad for not really liking Sills' voice.

Also also, Caro mio ben has been stuck in my head for about a week. :(
polutrope: (Default)
Because it's summer and I have nothing better to do, I've been fixing some of the gaping hole in my knowledge of history. Admittedly, the way I'm going about it involves reading the first book at the library with an interesting title, but it's better than nothing.
Historical Thoughts )


polutrope: (Default)

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