Thursday, September 3, 2009

What I read over summer vacation

(Forrest Bess, Variations in Time, 1964)

I do what I’m told. So, when Balthazar asked that I read The Transformations of Lucius Otherwise Known as The Golden Ass (Robert Graves’ translation, adapted to modern language, a must.), I did.

A common worldview held among New Yorkers is that we each have a will, and it is this will that directs much of our lives. Discerning leftists among us will like to qualify this statement by noting that social class, race and gender also determine our course in life. Yes they do. But, even from this modified viewpoint, it is generally agreed that we individuals and groups of individuals have agency, and it is this agency that permits us to make decisions and act.

Dive into our summer reading, however, and the world becomes a less controllable place. Taken as a given is that we mortals coexist with apparitions, gods and deities; we drink potions and have portentous dreams; there are slaves and there are masters, eunich priests, bandits and whispering winds; and in our every experience, there is extraordinary violence and punishment, but also unutterable mysteries.

The gist of the story is this: a man of some stature gets his hands on a concoction that will turn him into a bird. But, as fortune has it, he becomes an ass instead, and spends a year experiencing his own sundry misadventures and encountering those of others.

Does this make the world a more luscious place to read about and visualize? You bet. Can it be a part of better art making that goes beyond folksy allegory? We’ll see.

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