speculations on cultural weight

From the Guardian’s review of David Moulof’s Ransom:

Why, then, despite its many qualities, does Ransom disappoint? The problem is that Malouf does not do enough with his source material. To be sure, there are some wonderful felicities of invention: a passage where Priam imagines what his life might have been as a slave, “with a smell on me that I had taken till then to be the smell of another order of beings”, is powerfully unsettling; the character of the mule-loving carter who drives Priam to Achilles is a particularly well-drawn addition to Homer’s roster; the foreshadowing of Priam’s death at the hands of Achilles’ son is indeed, as Malouf asserts, “a joke of the kind the gods delight in, who joke darkly”.

Yet none of these virtues can quite outweigh the nagging feeling that anyone who wants to read about Priam’s ransoming of his dead son would be much better off picking up Homer’s own account. When, at the end of the Iliad, a tearful Helen hails Hector as the “dearest to me of all my husband’s brothers” and salutes his “gentle temper”, we are moved because we too, having read the 24 books of the poem, know precisely the quality of the man she is mourning. In Malouf’s novel, Helen is a noticeable absentee and Hector himself little more than a cipher. As a result, nothing in the novel can compare for emotional impact with the poem’s final line: “And so the Trojans buried Hector breaker of horses.”

And, from Stanislaw Lem’s A Perfect Vacuum, the “review” of U-Write-It, a system that allows the user to reconstruct classics of world literature for potentially salacious ends:

And yet there were surprisingly few who wanted to be such “defilers.” Summers foresaw the spread of “a new sadism, taking the form of aggression against the permanent values of our culture,” but meanwhile U-Write-It was barely selling. It would b nice to believe that the public was prompted by “the natural grain of sense and rectitude which subcultural convulsions have succeeded in obscuring from our view”… This writer does not share–much as he would like to!–Evan’s opinion.

What, then took place? Something a great deal simpler, I daresay. For Summers and Evans, for me, for a few hundred critics tucked away among university quarterlies, and in addition for another several thousand eggheads throughout the land, Svidrigailov, Vronsky, Sonya Marmeladov, or for that matter Vautrin, Anne of Green Gables, Rastignac, are characters extremely well known, familiar, close, sometimes actually more vivid than many real acquaintances. But for the public at large they are empty sounds, names without content. Thus, for Summer and Evans, for me, the union of Svidrigailov with Natasha would be a horrendous thing, but for the public it would mean no more or less than the marriage of Mr. X and Mrs. Y. because for the public at large they have no fixed symbolic value… such characters do not offer a perverse or any other type of entertainment. They are completely neutral. Of no concern to anyone.

I wonder.

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~ by ironcupshrug on 01/03/2010.

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