Over a ribald pint I gathered in the literary critics on Homer. And instead I'm given over to nostalgia, touching the old books that I bought when I knew nothing but did not know it unlike now when I know nothing and know it. I began to read from Sam Tannehaus's Literature Unbound and admired the words for their erudite sophistication; the philosphy hardly mattered. I was into the baroque and so the profusion of profundities were enough.
Gently I handle the mass-market paperback from the '80s, $3.50 for the slim volume. I relish the fact that now I've heard of Mr. Sam; back when I bought the book he was as no-name to me at least. He seems now to be a semi-sane voice albeit from the liberal side of the aisle. Experience has taught me to have low expectations of academics.
I then moved my hand down book row to a trifecta of Updike nonfiction and I am again in awe at the ocean of matter he's produced, the relentless sea of words, words, words, forming sentences, sentences, sentences. Sentient sentences. I always picture, when seeing the Updike books, of me in my old age, dottering through page-by-page, like a mad scientist in his laboratory, seeking the goal of having read all of Updike's literary criticism.
I pick up the Kenneth Rexroth and enjoy the fine brevity regarding Homer. I call up wikipedia on my computer and read about him. It's hard to believe that before the Internet we could not easily get something like that. With wikipedia, I learn more than I need to know, about his marriages, politics, and some lit crit on his own poetry.
There are types: Augustinian or Thomist, Dickensian or Dostoevskian, comic or tragic. I think of my friend Hambone and how he loves Dostoevsky - like the late Richard Neuhaus - and in both there is a pugilistic tendency, a thirst for the fight. And then I think of myself and other Dickens fans, many who are of perhaps a more settled disposition. We long to recline inside a poem, or rest in the byzantine twists and turns of a Dickens novel.
Rexroth opines on Homer's classics and The Odyssey sounds much like Dickens rather than Dostoevsky:
The Odyssey is entertainment. It is enterainment of the highest order, but it is difficult to imagine anyone saying, 'Reading The Odyssey changed my life fundamentally.' The Illiad can be read only superficially as entertainment. If we make ourselves available to it, it confronts us with a vision of the nature of reality and the being of man. The Illiad says: 'This is life. It is trgic, and if it has meaning, that meaning is an incommunicable mystery; it can be presented, but never explained.' The Odyssey says: 'This is life. It is comic, and it is full of meanings. These meanings are all the multiform techniques for living; they can be learned by work, intelligence, and a canny conscience.'Excerpt taken from Classics Revisited by Kenneth Rexroth.
Tragedy is posture; comedy is an activity. If one read enough comedies, they might change one's life fundamentally. Life as comedy can be learned; as tragedy it can only be assumed. Most men are predominantly one type or the other; an individual's view of life is seldom equally balanced between tragedy and comedy. However, the dramatic artists of the world's literature have usually written both; they have realizd that there are two faces of the coin of life...