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POETRYETC Home

POETRYETC  2001

POETRYETC 2001

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Subject:

The epic: pros and cons

From:

Mark Weiss <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Poetryetc provides a venue for a dialogue relating to poetry and poetics <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 20 Feb 2001 15:41:36 -0800

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (39 lines)

I promised myself after a week at the bottom of a canyon that I wouldn't
enter into any really dumb topics, but those ae what we seem to be stuck
with. So here goes:

The Myth of the Hero's Journey, as transmitted by Wagner through Neitszche
through Jung by way of Campbell (with a tip of the hat to Eliade--an
unsavory lot for the most part) is a subset of the Rite du Passage and is
universal. A paraphrase: your ignorance or mistakes or simple growth cause
problems and you learn how to deal with them or die. Not in itself very
interesting except to those (like the above-mentioned) who get off on the
fact that We're All the Same (for Wagner the We was Germans) except for
those pesky Jews. Novel or poem or epic aren't very interesting if the
characters don't change. What's interesting, as in most human affairs, is
the differences, the particularities, that no two stories of change are
ever the same.

So not a very good defining trait for a genre. It happens that the epic as
understood in the West was conceived in the beginning as an origin myth for
the group that told it--the hellenes begat Hellas, and then hero was a
forebearer or a member of the class of forebearers. Virgil was quite
self-conscious about this--he was trying to borrow for Latin culture's
inferiority complex the parenthood of Greece. In the 17th century Europe
erupted with epics whose heroes had, like Aeneas, had escaped the flames at
Troy, all aimed at creating a myth that at once defined the inhabitants of
a given country as a more coherent set than merely those who happened by
accident to inhabited the domain of a particular ruling bureaucracy and in
a few cases even spoke a common language. Somewhat like what's going on in
the Balkans these days. Nationalist, or at least statist, propaganda, and
exclusionary, or at least exceptionalist, to the point of racism. Wagner's
adaptation of the Niebelungenleid is a later example, as is Omeros. The
sense has been that the political unit has no legitimacy if it's not united
by a commonly accepted legend.

What relevance does this sort of project have to the world as most of us
know it? Why would any sane human being want to do this now? Isn't it
rather like aspiring to write Ivanhoe?

Mark

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