ricardienne: (tacitus)
So I started Pierce Brown'a Red Rising -- basically, it's as if Brown read the Hunger Games and thought, "you know what this needs? More gritty manly realism and more angsty chosen-one manpain. Let me take care of that." Our hero is a young, hardworking everyman "Red" (ie low-caste) in a hardscrabble mining colony in District 12 on Mars in a future that uses classical names for everything; when his beloved wife is executed for a simple act of defiance, he falls in with The Rebellion and learns that Everything The Government Tells Us Is a Lie: Mars has been terraformed for centuries, and while his people labor in slavery beneath the surface, the ruling elites of the Capitol the Gold caste lead lives of absurd excess.

Where I am right now, our hero is undergoing a process of having his body remade into that of a Gold so that he can infiltrate the Hunger Games the academy where the sons and daughters of the elite fight it out in brutal game of survival of the fittest in order to determine who dies and who goes on the be the next generation of Ruthlessly Evil Overlords of Mars. Okay, yes, it's terrible, and I am really annoyed that the whole plot is motivated by manpain over the Death Of My Beloved, My Angel, The Gentle Light of My Life Whose Beauty and Inner Strength Made Life Worth Living. But (a) the writing isn't awful and (b) I have an obligation to read all the terrible faux-Rome sff.

Anyway, there was this paragraph:
“My body is not all that changes. Before I sleep, I drink a tonic laden with processing enhancers and speed-listen to The Colors, The Iliad, Ulysses, Metamorphosis, the Theban plays, The Draconic Labels, Anabasis, and restricted works like The Count of Monte Cristo, Lord of the Flies, Lady Casterly’s Penance, 1984, and The Great Gatsby. I wake knowing three thousand years of literature and legal code and history.” (ch. 12)


So...a mix of "classics" and made-up "future classics", but I don't get the narrative that they are trying to tell -- apart from the fact that, uh, I guess the only books that survived into the future were the contents of an American high school English classroom? This kind of passage seems like a great place to briefly tell a narrative what this future-evil-privileged society values and fears. Apart from the fact that I don't trust the author enough to be sure that when he says "Ulysses" he means James Joyce and not the Odyssey (ditto for Metamorphosis: Kafka's Die Verwandlung or Ovid's Metamorphoses?), I don't really get what this set of texts is supposed to do: the Iliad and Anabasis makes a certain kind of sense as classics for a military elite; I suspect that (the?) Metamorphoses(?) is a nod to the transformations that the elite of this society undergo to become superhuman (but...I'm pretty sure that either Ovid's or Kafka's would be on the "restricted" list as far as messages about metamorphosis and society and the fate of the human when s/he is forcibly transformed by (unjust) power structures. Ditto Sophocles. For fuck's sake. Have any of these people read the Antigone?). The Odyssey is probably there because this is all about our hero's love for his wife.

However, I think that overall, these are pretty terrible lists to represent a ruthless, power-hungry, corrupt class of Rome-emulating rulers. Where the fuck is Thucydides? Where's Machiavelli? Where's Ayn Rand? HOW CAN YOU HAVE REALPOLITIK WITHOUT THUCYDIDES? (and where's Tacitus? How can you have imperial Rome without Tacitus. YOU CAN'T.) Where's Lucan? I bet this society would love Lucan. And, of course, let's not even ask why this is completely euro-centric reading list.

I also think that one could be cleverer with the whole "restricted reading" list, although it hangs together a bit (themes of dystopia, Hobbesian excess, and revenge). I mean, 1984, Lord of the Flies...can you be more cliched? Put some real protest writing or anti-injustice writing on there. Make a more explicit allusion to your antecedent of the Hunger Games (wouldn't that be clever?) Or put the Aeneid (!!!!!). When I write a trashy ya dystopia novel about a futuristic oligarchy that models itself on Rome, remind me to throw in an aside about how the Aeneid is a deeply subversive and restricted text because of Vergil's problematization of empire and ambivalence about power. We'll call it The Revenge of the Harvard School.
ricardienne: (heiro)
From Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, 5.11.34:

Some people distinguish analogy from similarity; we consider it a subset of this trope. For "as one is to ten, so is ten to one hundred" is certainly based on similarity, and "a bad citizen is just like an enemy." Although these things often go too far, too, as for example: "if it is shameful for the mistress of the house to have intercourse with a slave, then it is shameful for the master to have intercourse with a slave girl."


The other thing I've been reading today (well, apart from 2.5 pages of a really tedious German article about the origins of "the garment of vanity" (lit: "the chiton of empty glory") (it's the last piece of clothing/passions philosophers remove, in case you were wondering)) is a book of short stories and poetry of John M. Ford: he likes his sci-fi/modernized antiquity, and I do too! The poetry I am not so into, with a few exceptions. The couplets about various topics in physics are very nice. An excerpt:


open/oscillating universe
So will it stop, or not? The answer tells
Much less about the stars than of ourselves.

Planck epoch
One flash when gravity was consummate--
No era spans less time, or greater weight.

quantum leap
The particle is here, and then is there --
But never in between. How does it dare?


I also like the "Sf Clichés: A sonnet cycle" (there's a reason Lois McMaster Bujold is almost the limit of my interest in sci-fi, and that reason can be succinctly summed as "space feudalism!"):

1: Galactic Empires
One would not think that Empire could survive
As starships Roman cavalry displace;
The politics of Space must needs derive
From Einstein's time, Planck's heat and Riemann's space.
Yet "history repeats," some (heedless) say,
Analogies persist, however crude,
And democratic notions all give way
To fealty and service, fief and feud.
The Empire will not die, as mortals must,
The purple of their robes is colorfast;
Their golden age untouched by moth or rust,
And liberties, it seems cannot outlast
The paper image of a narrow Rome
Bestrode by cardboard Caesars dressed in chrome.
ricardienne: (Default)
I started reading Corneille's Cinna, or The Clemency of Augustus yesterday, in translation, until they skipped a scene with the note that "this is always omitted in performance so we omit it here." So then I found an on-line version in French and finished it tonight in that. I'm pleased that I can still pretty much read French without a dictionary (maybe one word every 10 lines or so I had to look up to get the exact meaning). I also am very pleased with the play. Incidentally, the supposedly always-omitted scene was awesome: Augustus being whiny and angsty and Livia trying to talk sense into him. Actually, all of the men were pretty angsty and whiny, compared with the extremely sensibly Livie and extremely single-minded Émilie. There is probably something there in the background about different standards of intellectual activity/worry for different genders. I was struck by how reversed it is from what we tend to be told are "normal, maybe even biological" tendencies for men and women in terms of who agonizes and second-guesses and who is determined and strong-minded.

I think my translation may have been exceptionally crummy, because I started enjoying it so much more in the original, although that tends to happen. My memory of classical French drama had been that it was fairly static and not terribly interesting in terms of characters, but that was not the case here.


Finally, and maybe most of all, I was impressed, in the way that I shouldn't be anymore, but how nuanced Corneille's dealing with the whole Augustus issue. One expects it from Seneca (or does one? -- Well, in this case, one does, because Seneca is saying "EVEN Augustus, who was part of this horrible thing in his earlier days was merciful on the occasion of…"), but I have a bad habit of assuming that later generations, particularly if the are writing for Sun King, take Augustus at face value. Which is stupid, I know, and I shouldn't keep being surprised. But anyway, even though everything got kind of assimilated into an anachronistic divine-right happiness by the end, much of all the characters' speeches were quite ambivalent. Even Augustus was gripped by self-doubt ('though this is in Seneca, too): he was as much in need of the Augustan Myth as anyone else. I was going to comment that I was surprised at Livia's general sensibleness in this play -- not how she's usually written at all -- but then here she's the one who comes out and lays down the Divine Right law, promises the Golden Age, etc. In a way she's still completely in charge of everything that "Augustus" (as opposed to Octavian) means, which is v. appropriate.


On a completely different note, I got Miles in Love out, mainly to read "Winterfair Gifts." I think the cover art is getting worse as the series goes on: here M. is clearly taller than Ekaterin, and in spite of being several steps down the staircase from her! (I am not going to comment on the red latex gloves or the Star Wars costuming.)
ricardienne: (Default)
I should make this a proper post, and not just a quasi-list sort of thing; lists are so much less effort. The two projects for this month off are supposed to be reading (some) Herodotus and practicing enough to make a good tape and get into a good summer festival. The giant Greek Lexicon, slightly less giant Greek Grammar, similarly-sized Commentary to Herodotus Vol. 1, and small Oxford Herodotus Vol. 1 are sitting on the floor. And they haven't been opened yet.

Instead, I've been reading other things: Sunshine, Catherine Asaro, and Tristia. I liked Sunshine a lot: it reminded me that Robin McKinley is a good author. I had been put off, for some reason, by Door in the Hedge, and had sort of been ignoring her. But Sunshine (which the library somewhat bizarrely shelves in Adult Fiction) was lots of fun: good characters, interesting alternate universe, un-obvious (at least to me) narrative trajectory… It also demonstrated the observation I have been formulating about vampire fiction: if the vampires are subject to some traditional handicap (i.e. sunlight, crosses, silver, running water, compulsive counting, etc.), the novel will likely be good. If they are not, it will probably be crummy. If I lived in Thursday Next's world, I might be able to get it named after me: Ricardienne's Axiom of Vampiric Representation

I picked up the first couple of Catherine Asaro novels because they looked like they might be Bujold-ish sci-fi, or maybe Elizabeth Moon-ish (i.e. Space Opera in the Galactic Fleet sort of thing, which sees to be the only kind of Sci-fi I read). I'm about one and a half in, and well, obviously I kept going and probably will keep going. I'm not sure how I feel about them. Looking at her dates, Asaro is clearly influenced by Bujold (and probably by Moon, too); and it also reminds me very strongly of the juvenile-fiction Firebird books that [livejournal.com profile] existentialgoat introduced me to, but without the strong religious subtext. I am finding them a little disturbing. There was a discussion on Sheroes once about the early Vorkosigan novels as borderline-horror in some scenes, and I think it's much more so in Asaro's books. Really horrific things happen without the characters being able to face them with a sense of "but we can change this and fix what is bad" (as in Bujold) or "this is an anomaly and is not the way things normally happen, but only when the Militant(ly insane) Patriarchy gets in charge for a moment" (as in Elizabeth Moon). Also, most of the main characters are part-computer, which is a little weird (and only gets weirder as the obligatory romance starts to heat up).

I think I like the Tristia because Ovid is so whiney in them: it's cold, he's lonely, life is horrible, the barbarians might attack, it's cold, it's in the middle of nowhere, he wants to go home, ktl., as they say. I start to feel a kindredness with him, because I like to whine, and I don't like leaving home. (The degenerating scale of hardship might legitimately continue from 'Odysseus to Ovid' to 'Ovid to me' I think.) At the same time, I'm sort of surprised that any critical source I look at (admittedly, not a terribly broad or recent number) takes him completely seriously. I don't want to deny the awfulness of his position, to be 'relegated' to the furthest away end of nowhere and be made to stay there for the rest of one's life. I think I can imagine being so desperate and willing to say anything in order to get the sentence lifted as to write five books of whines and abject pleas. On the other hand, poetry! Figured speech! Ovid, for crying out loud! It may have been appealing to a certain generation of editors to imagine that he was completely contrite over those nasty trifles of his youth, or that his desire to come home and depression suppressed any literary consideration but "will this make Augustus relent?". I just don't think that covers it at all. What did it for me was actually not the Ovid-Augustus relationship, but the Ovid-wife one. I was getting cranky at how self-centered the elegy on his departure was: why does he think he should be the center of his wife and household's universe when he clearly has other things on his mind besides them? Why does he deserve all of this adulation?* But then, he compares himself Theseus! He seems to be citing Theseus/Perithoos, but in the context, it's impossible not to think of Theseus/Ariadne.** And now the 'dutiful wife dutifully mourning her husband's misfortune' scenario is a little bit skewed, because we're also thinking about Ovid as the betrayer and not the victim anymore. And furthermore, all of the praise of Augustus is so over the top that it must be at least a little ironic: it's impossible to imagine Ovid writing it sincerely, and hard to imagine, if he was faking it, Augustus, assuming he even read the thing, taking it to be sincere. When he writes that "the worst punishment is to have displeased you," this is just not true false, and contradicted by statements in the poem elsewhere. Besides, sincerity or even the impression sincerity to an intelligent reader, was not exactly the literary goal of the time. And you know? Exile may have sucked, but if Ovid retained his amazing metricization and versification skills, is it that likely that he would have lost the ability to write figuratively? Q., as they say, E.D. and I'm going to bed.



*Because he's a Roman male, yes, I know.

**Also, this is the poet who had written Letters from Mythological Women to the Men who Screwed them Over, which did include Ariadne to Theseus, I believe.

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