Saturday, January 31, 2009

Liking the Ancients

My current project involves compiling an encyclopedia of literary criticism, from antiquity to the present. I resolved to do the classical part first, because I as the most apprehensive about it and thought it would take the most time. This is not because I am averse to the Classical world--I have taught enough on the field to be at least superficially competent (if no more) in it, but because my image of ancient literary criticism as unglamorous: The highlights of Aristotle and Longinus, enriched by the centuries of latter-day reflection on them, and aside from that a lot of rhetorical handbooks and aids to eloquence I would have to slog through. Imagine my surprise on actually enjoying the classical part of this project, and having it take longer not because I had to plod through it but because I actually found it enjoyable. One of my real discoveries has been Porphyry's allegorical Interpretation of the Cave of the Nymphs scene in Odyssey 13. I had known OF this as an example of allegorical interpretation, but had not thought to put it crudely, about ho it allegorized what it allegorized. That it addresses a liminal point in the poem--between Odysseus's adventures and his homecoming--only makes more interesting its reading of the cave as a liminal point between the material and ideal. This stuff is good after all.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

For Whom The Bell Tolls

    John Updike's death, deservedly, received significant mention last night on all three nightly newscasts. This was striking in an era where so many niche TV channels, not to mention blogs and websites, make cultural issues less urgent for the already weakened networks to cover. This left me wondering what other writers will receive this coverage on their passing. Philip Roth and Toni Morrison, surely. J. D. Salinger, largely for extra-literary reasons. Who else? I am not sure about joyce Carol Oates or E. L. Doctorow...

Let me know who you think will be covered by the news. This is a descriptive, not prescriptive question: in other words who you think WILL be covered by the news, not who you would LIKE to be covered. Despite the recent David Foster Wallace tragedy, it might be better to keep it to those writers who actuarially have a good chance of dying anytime soon. Will any writers from abroad have their deaths covered in the 23 minutes of a daily US network newscast? Gabriel García Márquez is the only possibility I can think of....