Friday, July 22, 2011

Odysseus and Infinite Variety

I am reading Zachary Mason's The Lost Books of the Odyssey. Introduced as lost fragments of the epic tradition, Mason's novel is a collection of vignettes. Every few pages we are treated to a new episode, and to a new Odysseus. For while the character is always recognizable, Mason is not content to leave him unaltered. But, like the myths of the Greeks themselves, the Odysseus of The Lost Books is acceptable in all his varieties. The contradictory decisions, the twisting of tales, and the subversion of established and expected tradition are all tools of the postmodern novelist. What I find striking is that they were also tools of the ancient poets. The ancient Greeks, in many respects, would have appreciated our postmodern philosophies. Ideas that shift the locus of authority from author to text to something beyond the text would sit well with the poets at least, even if tut-tutted by the philosophers. Mason's novel is a delight, and I am pleased that I assigned it to my classes this summer. I think much can still be made from myth, and more importantly from the idea that myth is contradictory truth, told differently by each teller and yet recognizable by all.

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