Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"Dying is easy. Comedy is hard."

Dr. Johnson asks, "I wonder what you'd say about the role of difficulty in reading books like The Cantos, Finnegans Wake, Ulysses, Zukovsky, Gravity's Rainbow, WSB, The Wasteland, the S-Cat Trilogy, even Illuminatus! (Just today someone on Internet labeled Illuminatus! as 'unreadable.')?

"Why do you think some readers ENJOY difficulty, while others not only dislike it, but disparage it?

"My main model has to do with personality 'types' and predilections, but I'm not wedded to this as my main model. What say you?"

I've thought about your question, and I don't think I have a good answer.  (You have a knack for asking questions I have difficulty answering.)  I think vanity plays a role. People like me like to feel superior by reading at books which seem difficult, alas.  I only had a slight interest in "difficult" books before I started reading Bob Wilson.  He got me interested in Finnegans Wake, Ulysses and The Cantos, and as with the tar baby, I've had trouble letting go of those books.

I think part of the appeal of these kind of texts come from their sense of humor, a kind which seems to only emerge out of this kind of chaos.  (At one point late in The Cantos Pound say he'll have to study some Greek to write the poem, but so will the reader.)  I also have a fascination with what kind of book fascinates those whose minds fascinate me.  Bob remained fascinated by Finnegans Wake, Ulysses and The Cantos for decades, and Tim Leary remained fascinated by Gravity's Rainbow for twenty-plus years.  I would like to understand what they saw in those books.

It struck me once thinking about the Jumping Jesus Phenomena that Joyce and Pound marked the first time that people lived through an information doubling, and they created styles of writing to try to deal with that experience.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Classic Coke

The Seer of Cleveland asks, "Q. Who are your favorite classical authors, i.e. authors who wrote in ancient Greek or Latin?"

Answer:  Ovid.

Longer answer:  Ovid, Catullus, Propertius.

More reasonable answer:  Well, thinking about your question I realized how much Ezra Pound shaped my notions about classical literature.  He suggested no adequate translations existed in English for most Greek literature, so I've read very little Greek literature.  (It doesn't take much to get me to chose slack over study.)  I loved Pound's translation of The Women of Trachis by SophoklesI never finished his version of Elektra.  The book didn't appear until I had passed out of one phase of my Pound obsession, so I didn't have the drive to finish it.  I do love the excerpt from the Agamemnon translated by Dallam Simpson which Pound included in Confucius to Cummings.  And I love Tom Lehrer's theme song to Oedipus Rex.

I love Arthur Golding's translation of Ovid's Metamorphosis and Christopher Marlowe's translation of Ovid's Amores, although I've only read each of them once all the way through.  I've read bits of Gavin Douglass's Aeneid which fortunately just came back in print.  I would like to get that.  I plan to begin rereading the Golding in 2013.

I've just begun rereading the Zukofskys' translation of Catullus.  I've struggled reading a little Catullus in Latin, but I find it very humbling.  I have trouble with the scansion, etc.  For Propertius, I've only read Pound's "Homage."

I also like some of the medaeval scholastic writers, whom I don't really think of as "classical," but they did write in Latin (at least sometimes): Meister Eckhart, Richard St. Victor, Abelard, Scotus Erigina, but I've read very, very little of them.