Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Picture of Dorian Gray

The Picture of Dorian GrayThe Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh how I love this book. Wilde is able to make a scene come to life like no other writer of his day, a power uniquely suitable to the written word. As a playwright, this is his only novel, and what a novel. This is a book that is indeed "poisonous", a direct challenge to our morality. Witty, sharp, disturbing... This is a book that engages, makes one ask questions about previously unquestioned ethical principles. It remains as scandalous today as the day it was released to a shocked England. I cannot imagine a time when The Picture of Dorian Gray loses it's power to simultaneously hypnotize us with florescence while repelling us in the protagonists compelling fall (or was it a rise?) into narcissism.

Oscar Wilde's most famous quote is that "all art is quite useless", and I think this quote should be given some thought before one begins.

What is meant by useless? Useless as in didactic literature? No, that won't do because some of the canon is infused with what once gave instruction and now gives pleasure.

What is meant by art? From a man considered to be an immoral hedonistic dandy, one might imagine that to Oscar Wilde life was art. Perhaps this gives some understanding of his death-bed conversion. What a depressing thought though, because this is a work that makes no apologies, a work that flows as if called from the muse of old, a work that dominates the imagination like nothing else.

Dive in to this masterwork, because anything less than a plunge may give one cold feet.

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as Candle in the Dark

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the DarkThe Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As an introduction to clear, rational, scientific thinking, The Demon-Haunted World succeeds. As an exploration of one man's passion for the scientific search for understanding, only Richard Dawkins The Greatest Show on Earth is comparable. Clearly presented here is a staple of rational inquiry; 'Occam's Razor', a theory of parsimony that can be applied to critical thinking in general, showing that the scientific method has application beyond laboratory use.

Sagan fascinates with his exploration of the roots of "Ufology", which he presents as a case of the hyperactive minds of our species infused with Cold War paranoia. The famous astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson once remarked humorously on the logical leap made by a hypothetical observer of mysterious aerial phenomenon. He pointed out that this observer first must admit that he has almost no understanding of said phenomenon, and promptly proceeds based upon ignorance that it must be alien technology. "Hey, this is beyond my comprehension and I have no idea what this is, ergo alien spacecraft!" The influence of Hollywood cannot be said to be absent in this blatant violation of Occam's Razor.

I feel the overused and often arrogant cliche, namely that "this book should be a part of the education of every child" is going just a bit too far. I will take a step back and say that this is a book that I would insist my children would read. Critical thinking is a tool that is not stressed with the vigor that it's historical effectiveness demands, and Sagan's Demon-Haunted World is as good a light introduction as I have read.

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Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Animal Farm

Animal FarmAnimal Farm by George Orwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's extremely difficult to find anything original to say about Orwell, so I won't make the attempt. The strong allegory of Animal Farm might tend to make one forget that this novella works marvelously as a "fairy tale". The power of Animal Farm lies in the vertiginous juxtaposition between the child's tale and the tale of dystopian totalitarianism. I have read that some find the story to be very funny, but I can find only very dark humor in the story rising to a crescendo of uncanny dread as I turn the last pages.

The animals think they are human. The men think they are gods.

Powerful, disturbing, and above all a vitally important literary landmark that summarizes the psychology of the Red Revolution with a succinctness that is hard to fathom surpassing, Animal Farm is genius from the socially conscious master George Orwell. Not to be missed.

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Thursday, August 25, 2011

Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Leo Tolstoy said that Russians don't write novels, at least not in the European sense of the term, and then sought to create the Russian form. A master craftsman who reworked Anna Karenina several times in the course its composition, Tolstoy's impact with Anna Karenina is much more than aristocratic romance.

Anna Karenina is a study in contrast, two books in one. A tragedy and a comedy mirroring one another. Some of the most powerful feelings are evoked by this amazing epic. There seems to me to be something very ancient about the story of Mrs. Karenina. Tolstoy explicitly denied that this was a morality tale, but it is impossible to suppress the feeling that the unique Christianity Tolstoy evinced was not a very large factor in guiding his hand. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin crudely dropped the Christianity, and praised the novel for the comic half in which Konstantin Levin shows redemption through a proto-socialist work ethic.

I found the story of Anna to be less interesting than the story of Levin. The romance between Kitty and Levin is delicate and strained which tended to make Anna seem all the more unhinged (and at times flat-out obnoxious) by the power of Eros. The highest emotional point in this book, however, is the relationship between Anna and her son. I felt the struggle she was under, the feeling of being torn between duty and passion, and Anna became elevated to near-mythic status.

Tolstoy is the master of emotional realism, creating characters that are more real, and have feelings that are more real than reality. As far as technical craftsmanship is concerned, Anna Karenina is a lesson in the form of the realist novel.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pixies and the Art of Genius

Manta Ray - Pixies
The quintessential Pixies song, if there can be such a thing(hint: there can't be). It begins with Frank, letting you know who is in charge. Kim is second with the thumping metronomic bass. By the third line, you know this will not be handed to you: "trek across the space". It will be fun, something to do with alien abduction paranoia presumably.

Oo-Oo Oo-Oo Yeah!

At 17 seconds, some neurotic sounding humming, which leads to a ripping guitar in the middle of the second stanza.

He has no memory,
Of flyers in the night!

We are now in the presence of general insanity, and if that isn't to your tastes, now would be a good time to quit.

They went away!

Who went away? Who Frank, who? Where did they come from? Where are they going to? I need to know, I need to know, I need to know!!! Make them come back, sir. I would like to meet them please. Or maybe I don't. I just don't know anymore Mr. Francis, or is it Mr. Black? So many unanswered questions.

Police they say,
My mother too,
A fish from ocean blue,
above my head at night.

As always, with Pixies we are left with more questions than answers, and this my friend is one sign that the art we are enjoying is a masterwork. Either that or we are enjoying an LSD trip. Go split the difference. Pixies are neither overly nor overtly complex. This is a good sign. Here we are dealing with a simple expression of delusional thinking, a very good sign indeed.

Certifiably genius.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

Camus: a study

Camus: A StudyCamus: A Study by Brian Masters

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Camus: a study is a clearly expressed exploration of the work of Camus, albeit remarkable for its narrowness of scope. Very little in the way of Camus's philisophical and literary influences are presented, but Masters succeeds in fleshing out some of the key ideas expressed in the major works and presents a very positive view of a man displaying both moral courage and optimism (in spite of being incorrectly labelled an existentialist or even a nihilist). This short study whets the appetite for further exploration, which is to say it leaves something to be desired; fair treatment of the sensitive absurdist is not among these. Camus: a study serves as an excellent primer for Camus's literary and philosophical output.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of SolitudeOne Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is a giant of literature. His first novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude has been called the Don Quixote of Latin America. It has been praised as breathing new life into the form, and ushered into art the form dubbed "magic realism" further mastered by Salman Rushdie.

One Hundred Years of Solitude chronicles seven generations of the Beundia family, founders of the fictional Columbian village of Macondo. In crisply descriptive and florid prose, Marquez succeeds in making us care for the deadly women of the family Beundia. This novel starts out somber, foreboding, with one of the most memorable opening sentences in all of modern literature:

"Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Beundia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice."

From that moment on, we are immersed in a world where our causal empirical conceptions are toyed with, keeping us on edge with many wonderful reality-bending suprises. This is a novel in the form of the 19th century masterpieces of English prose, with the steady beat of Latin American mythology infused with Catholic iconology. The result is like nothing seen before, while retaining the ingredients of the best of our poetic tradition.

One Hundred Years of Solitude is a modern epic, one that attempts to create the indescribable sound of our connection with reality ripping through to new worlds, and centuries collapsing into milliseconds. Relentless, largely narrative based, skip this tremendous work at your loss.

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Saturday, June 25, 2011


InfidelInfidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A moving account of a brave, stunningly beautiful woman, from African Islamic horror, to the liberal democracy of Holland. Ali shatters ideas of cultural relativism with personal experience that cannot be denied. This woman is a hero of enlightenment principles that we tend to take for granted, and Ali reminds us that for all of the problems of the west, we enjoy freedoms unimaginable to the majority of our planets human population. Intriguing is her first-hand account of the modern rise of Islamic fundamentalism in Africa; a movement of disenfranchised youth.

Ali has been marked for death by the enemies of free expression, and she holds her emancipation with such respect and gratitude that she refuses to be silenced by terror, even if it costs her her life, as it did for her film-maker/friend Theo Van Gogh. Infidel is a brilliant autobiography by a brilliant woman who evades any hint of exaggeration in being called a champion of free speech. When our press cowtows to the sensitive feelings of religious fanatics -- out of exaggerated respect for all things dealing with faith, at the cost of our most hard won freedoms -- Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an example of courage in the face of all forms of religious intimidation.

Powerful, and very important.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The God Delusion

The God DelusionThe God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can't praise a book any higher than to call it life changing. That is what The God Delusion means to me. It opened vistas of intellectual exploration to me. It taught me that atheism need not lead to nihilism.

The key argument in this book turns the tables on a deist argument best expressed by theologian William Paley. The argument is called 'Paley's Watch' and its central idea is that only complexity can account for complexity. Dawkin's simple but devastating argument against the existence of God as an answer to anything can be crudely summed up as follows: Complexity is improbable, yet to solve the problem of complexity by positing greater complexity just restates the problem on a larger scale. And we thought that Charles Darwin handled this over 150 years ago.

Richard Dawkins is for evolutionary biology what Carl Sagan was for astrophysics. Both crush the stereotypical view of science with poetic eloquence that evokes a childlike sense of wonder at the edge of reality. As Dawkins asks, "Isn't it enough to admire a garden without having to imagine fairies in it?" With Dawkins and Sagan as guides, the answer for me is a resounding yes.

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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Third Policeman

The Third PolicemanThe Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Third Policeman is a wonderfully disturbing little book, postumously published, by Irish novelist Brian O'Nolan under nom de plume Flann O'Brien. It could perhaps be described as a sort of exploration of Parmenidean paradox infused with Irish Catholic folklore. Hell is apparantly a place where bicycles are of central importance.

It is said that when the pre-Socratic philosopher Parmenides advanced his position that movement was illusory owing to the infinite number of spatial divisions and was therefore impossible, best exemplified by his follower Zeno's 'fletcher's paradox', his audience's reply was to simply get up and walk about the room. Yet it moves. The limits of rationality are contrasted with the phenomenological in the Third Policeman to comic heights, but the dark Catholic terror provides this work with a tone of vertiginous dread.

For something very different and refreshing, this is an excellent read. Philosophical satire that rewards close reading, the Third Policeman is Alice's Adventure's in Wonderland for adults.

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Monday, June 20, 2011


Ask most folks what the best Cure album is, you nearly always get Disintegration in response. They are wrong. The correct answer is Pornography, knaves. It's a great way to seperate the wheat from the chaff.

Yes music was literature long before books. Anyone who resonds "who is the Cure?" can safely be disregarded.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

On The Road

On the Road: 40th Anniversary EditionOn the Road: 40th Anniversary Edition by Jack Kerouac

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Awful. Full of grammatical errors, On the Road chronicles the stream-of-conciousness of Jack Kerouac (thinly veiled as the fictional Sal Paradise) as he travels with insipid friends, and reveals himself as a handsome bore. Kerouac profoundly lowered American literary standards, and as I read this rambling mass, the criticism of Capote -- that this was less a book than typing-- rang true.

To break new ground in literature; to defy convention, one had better have some power of insight. Without said insight, one may come across as merely disrespectful rather than innovative. Written with the vocabulary and style of an uninspired grade-schooler, Kerouac clearly lacks the genius to successfully depart in the radical new direction he attempts.

I remember as a teen the "grunge music" of Nirvana, and how it seemed so fresh. And it was fresh when compared to the pop music of the time. Now grunge music is considered an artifact that was hyped beyond it's cultural relevance factor. Time will pass, and certain artistic movements become esoteric, and certain people who can't move on become laughable. Think girls with Bettie Page hairdo's and rockabillies in general. Think Beat Generation, hipster moron's with Kerouac at the forefront.

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Friday, June 10, 2011


LolitaLolita by Vladimir Nabokov

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Turgid, pretentious tripe. That Nabokov is a skilled writer seems to be a point he intends to make with every word of this revolting book, which presents a sense of desperation and a lack of humor. It's as if he prepared a wonderfully eloquent cake made of shit, and demands you admire the cake for it's eloquence. Humbert Humbert is a disgusting lecher, and spending time with him is highly unpleasant - as much for his overblown sense of self as his pedophilia.

A Platonist might present this as exhibit A in his prosecution against poetry:

"What is the redeeming feature of this novel? I'd argue that it is as imbalanced to write with eloquence on the subject of garbage, as to write garbage on the subject of eloquence."

Humbert Humbert is a cynical pedophile who commits the unforgivable sin of being boring. Lolita is sensationalism with a thesaurus.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Stranger

The StrangerThe Stranger by Albert Camus

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The abdurdist masterpiece. Meursault is the antithesis of the emotion obsessed post-modernist who checks his feelings as if they were a thermometer registering reality, and not the result of a reactionary culture's indoctrination against the stoical, jingoistic Roman inheritance. He is not immoral, but amoral, and he sees no point to anything other than physical desire. Finally, he arrives at the conclusion that the question of the meaning of life is meaningless, that the only logical response to an indifferent universe is indifference toward the universe.

If a case can be made for the maxim that "less is more", The Stranger would be the literary example. At just over one-hundred pages, and with the most basic vocabulary of our taciturn protagonist, this novel speaks volumes on the absurdity of the human condition. It should not, however, be understood as the philosophy of Camus in microcosm. Camus's myth of Sisyphus is a succinct answer to the problem of nihilism for those with existentialist leanings. The Stranger presents this problem in spartan first-person prose wonderfully.

Best book ever.

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Selected Dialogues of Plato

Selected Dialogues of Plato by Plato

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hayden Pelliccia de-Victorianizes Benjamin Jowlett's translation of five writings - mis-titled Dialogues, as the Apology is almost entirely a monologue - selected for their literary representation of Aristocles. The first three dialogues are named for the interlocuter engaging Socrates.

'Dialogues' begins with an un-intimidating dialogue in Ion. This humorous and short writing has Socrates overwhelming a witless antagonist, who has such a broad definition of his art that he equates it with generalship.

The second dialogue, Protagoras, pits Socrates against the greatest sophist. This epistemological dialogue deals with the nature of virtue and justice, and is notable for Socrates promotion of the idea that no man commits evil willfully:

"All who do evil and dishonorable things do them against their will."

Following this idea through, we arrive at the idea that virtue and knowledge are synonymous, one of the core principles expressed throughout the philosophy of Plato. Protagoras and Socrates end in precisely the opposite positions they began with; Protagoras in the position that all of virtue is one identical inherent entity; and Socrates with the position that virtue, as equated with knowledge, is therefore a teachable subject.

Phaedrus is of enormous impact to the Western spiritual tradition. Plato has Socrates demonstrating, a priori, the immortality of the soul:

"Beginning itself cannot be begotten of anything. For if Beginning came out of and thus after something, then it would not exist from the beginning."

Here, as usual, Plato had difficulty grasping the fact that words are abstract symbols conveying our ideas of the universe, and that as such they have no objective truth value. This error of arriving at empirical truths by means of reason alone more than pervades the philosophy of Plato, it is the core of his thought, and this religious approach was a major force in stunting the growth of western science for over a millenium.

As the immortal soul espoused by Plato was of enormous influence in St. Augustine's reconciliation of Neoplatonism with Christianity, it is interesting that the means prescribed by Plato for the elevation of the soul was pederasty. I resist a cheap joke at the expense of the clergy with some reluctance.

The crescendo of Plato's literary genius is reached in the Symposium, a work comprising seven monologues on the nature of Love (personified) and the lesser plebeian love, as well as the nature of beauty. Beauty is first apprehended by the eye, which leads us to the form of an eternal, unchanging, perfect beauty of which only the intellect is capable of grasping through (what else) philosophy.

This collection is a well-annotated and readable sampling of writings from the philosopher who influenced Western thought more than any other.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

A History of Literary Criticism for Beginners

This is the first of a series I am writing on the history of literary criticism. This is a brief overview of some of the key figures and works on literary theory. I hope you enjoy it.

Literary criticism is concerned with solving some of the questions which surround the art of poetry. What is the use of poetry? What is a poet and where does his art ultimately stem from? These are two of the key questions concerning the art of literary criticism.

Until the 20th century, literary criticism was concerned almost exclusively with poetry, and poetry is still considered to be the heart of literature. However, the ideas expressed in this essay may be applied to any form of artistic expression, be it the novel, music or movies.

M.H. Abrams wrote a book called "Critical Theory Since Plato" in which he grouped literary theory into four distinct types:

1) Mimetic Theories - Concerned with the relation of poetry to the universe (nature), mimetic theories view the best poetry as that which imitates nature as closely as possible.

2) Pragmatic Theories - Concerned with the social function of poetry, the didactic function of poetry. Pragmatic theories explore the impact that poetry has upon its audience.

3) Expressive Theories - Concerned with the relationship between the poet and her poem. Expressive theories tend to view poetry as a prophetic force as opposed to the didactic force expounded in pragmatic theories.

4) Objective Theories - Concerned with the poems relation to itself, the objective theories focus on the internal consistency of poetry.


Our first great literary critic, Plato, views poetry as a dangerous force which leads us further away from the truth. Basically, Plato viewed this world as a sort of illusion. Therefore, as poetry is a mimesis of this imperfect world it is an imperfect copy of a copy, a degradation from his ideal world of forms. In Plato's Ion, he presents the poets as the spreaders of madness. According to Plato, the only poetry that would be permitted in his Republic would be of the uplifting sort: hymns to gods and heroes.


Plato's pupil, Aristotle, turns Plato's view of poetry on its head. Aristotle maintained that mimesis was a search for harmony, a force for order and balance.

Aristotle's Poetics has had more impact in literary theory than any other work. In it he introduces us to many of the terms used in literary theory to this day. Key among these are mimesis (imitation), praxis (story), and muthos (plot).

The example of perfection in poetry used in Poetics is Sophocles Oedipus the King. Aristotle insists that all good poetry must have a "propter hoc" (because of) relationship between its plot elements. This means that the muthos must be consistent, and that events must bear a causal relation within the muthos. To Aristotle, a good muthos must be imagined as an inverted V, with the peak a denoument. This peak marks the reversal of fortune for the protagonist, a peripitea (reversal) of anagnorisis (recognition). In Oedipus the King both peripitea and anagnorisis occur simultaneously for Oedipus.

The tragic hero must have four qualities according to Aristotle:

1) He must be moral.

2) His character must be appropriate to his role.

3) He must be human.

4) He must be consistent.

As he is a tragic hero, he must have what Aristotle terms a "hamartia". This has been taken to mean some sort of character flaw, but it needs not be a moral defect. Hamartia may simply be the position the character is in, for example a ruler in a play that maintains that leadership is an inherently impossible position to find oneself in. The emotions of pity and fear are aroused within us because of the third of the qualities stated above. We feel a connection to the character, and we pity his or her fall from grace, and we fear that this may happen to us. In short we become emotionally involved in a good Aristotlian hero.

Perhaps the greatest term we have from Aristotle is directly linked by him to the feelings of pity and fear we experience from tragedy; catharsis. Unfortunately, this word can have at least three meanings, and Aristotle does not define precisely what he means by catharsis. He simply maintains it centrality to tragedy and moves on. This leads to three views of catharsis:

1) Catharsis as Purgation - Where tragedy cleanses us of the emotions of pity and fear. Tragedies therapeutic value.

2) Catharsis as Purification - Where we are spiritually strengthened by tragedy.

3) Catharsis as Clarification - Where our vague emotions are sharpened through tragedy.

The role of the critic according to Aristotle was to define the elements of great art, setting up principles for the poets to use in their craft.

Neoclassical Criticism 1


During the so-called "Golden Age of Roman Poetry" (roughly 27BCE-14BCE) Horace composed his Ars Poetica (Art of Poetry). The Ars Poetica was a verse epistle, and a masterpiece of irony. Horace wrote this to the young poets in the Piso family, and it is a subtle plea for them to give up their art.

According to Horace, the literary critic was a whetstone for poets to sharpen their craft against. Like all of the neo-classical critics, Horace was highly concerned with the rules of poetry known as decorum. Decorum means that a poem should not mix dissimilar elements, nor should he mix genres. Horace humorously presents the image of the mermaid as an example of the breaking of decorum.

Touching on pragmatic theory, Horace writes that the goal of poetry is "dulche et utile" (to please and to teach). To achieve this, the poem should be realistic and concise. Plays should begin "In medea res", or in the heart of the muthos rather than containing the entire praxis. It is the key moments in the hero's downfall we are concerned with, we need not know his life story.

Like Aristotle, Horace lampoons the "Deus ex machina". The Deus ex machina was a literal device used in the ancient Greek theater, a crane used to hold an actor portraying a god into the air above the stage. This was used by many playwrights to neatly wrap up the story with a god finally setting everything to right. According to both Aristotle and Horace this was a cop-out, a cheating of the audience, and in general a cheap way to solve the problems presented in a play.

Horace speaks negatively of what he termed "purple passages". These passages are basically beautiful sections of a poem that are unrelated to the story. In other words, beauty for the sake of beauty goes against the decorum prescribed by poetry's main goal of both pleasing and teaching.

Finally, Horace maintains that a mediocre poet is a laughingstock. Only those inspired craftsmen should engage the art, all others merely pollute the pristine waters of poetry. To Horace, the poet was the creator of society, bringing us together in a civilizing force.


Although the work known as On the Sublime has been traditionally ascribed to Longinus, we now know that it was not Longinus who wrote it, and the author is now unknown. It was written in the late 1st century AD.

The sublime is the powerful language of poetry that overwhelms its audience. It is always fresh and new, and is never bombastic nor fashionable nor inflated. The sublime is the echo of the great soul of poetry. "Longinus" writes that both inherent genius and skill are involved in great poetry. Genius produces great thoughts and passion while "techne" (skill) produces the words, syntax, and figures of great art.

Again, as a neo-classicist, "Longinus" holds a somewhat aristocratic, elitist view of poetry highly concerned with decorum. The author says that the best art will seem more natural than nature itself. The sublime is always above the corrupting influences of the world. Chief among the corrupting influences listed in On the Sublime are materialism and hedonism. These influences produce a "slavery of the soul" far worse than any material prison. Finally, the author maintains that poetry is a force for morality in the world.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Three Theban Plays

The Three Theban Plays: Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at ColonusThe Three Theban Plays: Antigone, Oedipus the King, Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The magisterial Robert Fagles presents this volume of the most powerful of Greek Tragedies: the Oedipus plays of Sophocles. His introduction to Greek tragedy is beautiful, and his introductions to each of the three plays are brilliantly luminous. Historical background is provided, and the notes throughout each play make the reading rewarding and rich, deepening the pleasure and the understanding of the reading of Greek drama. In most collections of Sophocles's Oedipus plays the three tragedies are presented in chronological order of the events described. Here Fagles presents the stories in their historical order of presentation; Antigone, Oedipus the King, and Oedipus at Colonus.

Sophocles was by far the most acclaimed of the three tragedians in his time, notable for his introduction of the third actor onto the stage, thus taking much of the focus that belonged to the chorus and placing the heart of action on the characters. This makes him perhaps a more accessible tragedian than Aeschylus to an audience unfamiliar with Greek drama as these plays contain more action and dialogue.

The power of Sophocles can be more greatly appreciated with a little background on his time. Living in the "Golden Age" of Athens, Sophocles presented the familiar stories of the classical figures of Greek mythology in a manner that was highly relevant to his audience. This period of Greek enlightenment produced many new ideas, and one with perhaps the most impact was the rise of reason among the educated Athenians. As we see today in the early 21st century, there appeared to be a correlation between rising education and falling religiosity. In 5th century Athens the gods were dying.

We see hints at social commentary in the most famous of the three plays; Oedipus the King. Oedipus's wife/mother positively mocks the power of Fate as well as the deliverer of Apollonian prophecy; Tiresias. The chorus here pleads that the terrible prophecies come true else "Never again will I go reverent to Delphi". Oedipus calls Tiresias a "scheming quack", believing that he has been corrupted by the perceived usurper Creon. There can be no mistake that Sophocles was upholding the spiritual foundations of Attic civilization in the Theban plays, particularly in Oedipus the King.

One of the first things one must understand about Greek tragedy is that our attempt to understand it can never be fully completed. To the Greeks this was more than art or entertainment, the festival of Dionysus was a profoundly religious event that has no contemporary equivalent, thus these stories will always produce the effect of the alien upon us. There is the impression on reading Oedipus the King of a terrible tension between a horrible fate and the power of prophecy. We fear nothing more than the realization of Fates power, while needing its terrible force to affirm our order of the universe. This play was not held for naught by Aristotle to be the perfection of the form. It is as simple and beautiful on the surface as a placid Alpine lake, but underneath this lies the richest depth to explore. Oedipus the King is the masterpiece of Greek tragedy.

Antigone (like Aeschylus's Agamemnon) explores the unwritten laws of familial duty, and the steadfast (the chorus calls her mad) commitment to her principles and values in the face of death by the problematically portrayed Creon makes her perhaps the most heroic of the characters while simultaneously the most human. Her heroism is based upon love, and this love provides her with the strength to bear the terrible burden she carried along with her brother/father Oedipus.

Oedipus at Colonus is the swan song of Sophocles. It was performed only after his death, and it is a bittersweet tribute to the glory of Athens. Athens had by the time of the performance been brought to her knees in the Peloponnesian War. The tale of the final days of Oedipus echo the triumphs of Athenian achievements, and both go down to die in the knowledge of their immortality. Oedipus at Colonus reverberates through my mind with images of the empty, decaying ruins, victims to Time the conqueror once filled with the songs of the Dionysian festivals.

This is literature that humbles us, leaving us with a sense of awe. Eternal testimonies to the power of genius, Greek tragedy is our legacy and our cultural wealth.

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