Monday, January 09, 2012

Rexroth on the Odyssey

Kenneth Rexroth in Classics Revisited makes an apt note of the contrast between The Ililad and The Odyssey:

"The Iliad says: "This is life. It is tragic, and if it has meaning, that meaning is an incommunicable mystery; it can be presented, but never explained." The Odyssey says: "This is life. It is comic and it is full of meanings. These meanings are all the multiform techniques for living; they can be learned by work, intelligence, and a canny conscience."

Rexroth asserts that "Tragedy is a posture; comedy is an activity. If one reads enough comedies, they might change one's life fundamentally. " Rexroth addressed the Mahabharata, which I'll examine later, but I wonder how he would have considered the Ramayana or the Lao variation Phra Lak Phra Lam or other examples of Ramakien.

But ultimately, I find myself intrigued by the choices of tragedy or comedy that Rexroth believes these two Greek classics present to us. Somehow, there are moments where I feel much of our modern literature is stuck, and we can attain neither well in our latest works. This doesn't mean we shouldn't still aspire to such, but I would be hard pressed to hold many contemporary works alongside the world classics at the moment. I would certainly be fascinated how Rexroth would read Harry Potter or Cujo.

Naturally, I find myself lamenting this even as a certain college whose football team is the Titans has opted to eviscerate its humanities department without an inkling of the irony.

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