A Lazy Day Off

Today was a lazy day for me.

I spent some time meandering around and exploring my neighborhood, plus hanging out at a nearby outdoor cafe. I couldn’t really read the Czech menu there, so I ordered randomly off the coffee section and got this espresso + ice cream + whipped cream drink. It was pretty yummy : )

day off.

I’m newly obsessed with the kindle – I’ve been reading all kinds of adventure fiction based on reinventions of old mythologies (Rick Riordan, Michael Scott….)

What are you reading lately? : )

Margaret Atwood at Emory

 

Margaret Atwood, author of great books like The Handmaid’s Tale and (personal fave) The Penelopiad, came to speak at Emory as part of our Ellmann Lectures series.

She was a great speaker with a sharp wit and good insights. She cracked a lot of jokes, shared stories of her childhood growing up in Canada, and even sang a song from one of her books!

Atwood was all about the juxtapositions, which I loved. My favorite insight from her was about our human spirit: “We want excitement and adventure. We want safety and security.”

One of her lectures centered on cartography: how every map has an edge, the border between real and unreal. Where the known is finite, but the unknown is infinite. And she poses the question: are ‘utopias’ and ‘dystopias’ a yin and yang? Do each contain parts of the other?

Food for thought.

My favorite part, ‘course, was getting her to sign my book. ;D

 

Atwood: “Here’s my advice to you. Read and read and read and write and write and write.”

Some Things I Learned from Sophocles, the Ancient Playwright

The theme of ephemeros pervades ancient Greek tragedy. The recurring premise of men as ephemeroi, creatures of a day, shapes characters’ fate and the plots of the tragedians’ works. In each play, the course of the events unfolds within a single day, and characters can either rise or fall in the quick time frame of only twenty-four hours.

Characters can all deteriorate within one day amidst a whirlwind of upheaval.

In Herodotus’ Histories, Croesus, king of Lydia, questions Solon of Athens concerning what person is an example of happiness. Solon’s response is emblematic of the entrenchment of the ephemeros concept in the ancient Greek mentality. He counsels,

“But in every matter it behoves us to mark well the end: for oftentimes god gives men a gleam of happiness, and then plunges them into ruin.”

Essentially, even the happiest of men have a precarious standing on their good fortune, and no one’s happiness can be properly evaluated until their accounts in life are complete. Daniel Mendelsohn expands, breaching out from the concept of “creatures of a day.” As Mendelsohn explains, peripeteia, or a reversal of fortunes, is a hallmark of the ancient Greek tragedies. I looove this narrative technique of juxtaposing good luck with ill fortune. He asserts:

“that, because we are only human, our knowledge is merely knowingness, our vision partial rather than whole, and we must tread carefully in the world.”

The traditional ancient Greek heroes, however, (such as Ajax, Creon, Antigone) are recalcitrant and adhere resolutely to their convictions, barreling ahead and not “treading carefully.” Both admirably and to their detriment, they refuse to compromise their values.

One prime example of the headstrong hero and the ephemeros motif is Sophocles’ Ajax. The plot of Ajax follows the line of Ajax’s fate, as he loses the right for possession of Achilles’ armor to Odysseus, and his subsequent fear of humiliation leading to his suicide. Ajax’s peripeteia sees him, a strong, respected warrior, second only to Achilles among the Greeks, crashing down to a terrible demise. The mutability implied in ephemeros is a stark contrast to Ajax’s nature. He is not able to be flexible and adapt to such marked changes in fortune.

Ajax’s inability to compromise brings about his self-destruction.

A second example appears in Sophocles’ Antigone. The chorus concludes the play with the ominous,

“Wisdom is by far the greatest part of joy,
and reverence toward the gods must be safeguarded.
The might words of the proud are paid in full
with mighty blows of fate, and at long last
those blows will teach us wisdom” (1467-1470).

The “mighty blows of fate” are the effects of peripeteia, and underscore how quickly men’s positions can change, due to their essence as ephemeroi. The chorus’ warning in Antigone echoes the words of the chorus in Aeschylus’ Agamemnon: “By suffering we learn” (120). As each chorus instructs, the sufferings of bad fortune can impart wisdom, albeit at a terrible cost.

Ephemeroi, or creatures of a day, is a description of men that focuses on the transitory nature of life, and highlights the loose hold we have on that life.

These Sophoclean characters suffer, and by their suffering, they can learn from their mistakes.

What do you think? Is there a lot to learn from the fates of the Sophoclean characters? Do modern plays impart any similar lessons?

German Poetry, Anyone?

I like poetry.

I’ve heard that German poetry is really good. That there’s something about a cacophonous language with a bit of word order freedom that makes for unique verse.

That’s what people tell me anyway. Knowing about zero German, I read the words in translation. I love that translations of so many things are available these days, but the purist in me sort of wants to run out and learn German.

(I’ll put that one on the back burner.)

My fave German poem is by Rilke:

Spaziergang (A Walk)

Already my gaze is on the hill, that sunlit one,
Up ahead on the path I’ve scarcely started.
In the same way, what we couldn’t grasp grasps us:
blazingly visible, there in the distance –

and changes us, even if we don’t reach it,
into what we, scarcely sensing it, already are;
a gesture signals, answering our gesture…
But we feel only the opposing wind.

– Rainer Maria Rilke, Muzot, beginning of March 1924

There are lots of different translations out there for this poem. I don’t really know which is the most accurate, but I do like the rendering of this one.

To me, there’s a DIY element to any kind of lyricism – a poem rises to meet and fill out the particular parameters that each reader brings to table. The same set of seemingly rigid words flexes to convey different messages to everyone.

SO! For me, this poem conveys a concise message: hope, purpose. The physical imagery is of a person at the beginning of their path, with a not yet attained end in sight. I extrapolate, imagining the onset of a journey not on that physical path, but rather a path through life with a far-flung goal ahead of you. The distance between your first steps on the path and the hill – that’s the journey part, the game plan part.

It’s a poem of a win-win situation. Because even if you don’t grasp that goal, your plans and endeavors along the path change you.

For the better.

What do you think of the poem? Any other German lit favorites out there?