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Archive for September, 2008

Which Iliad redux

I finally finished my Teaching Company course which was great! Like all the best courses, it seemed to move the walls of the mind, to rearrange the furniture.  I’m still trying to absorb and process it all.  The problem with TC is the lack of a forum to discuss the ideas; however, I’ll write more about the course later.  In my earlier post “Which Iliad” I wondered why Prof. Fears did not give a preferred translation.  In the last booklet accompanying the set, however, there is a detailed bibliography.  He lists the Lattimore translation with the following recommendation:  “This has rightly been called ‘the finest translation of Homer ever made into the English language.'” So, there you have it.

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John Banville

I’d been wanting to read Banville’s The Sea for awhile and finally got the chance.  It was pretty good.  The seaside story of the narrator as a boy and his relationship with the Graces, the eccentric family summering in a big rented house, is great, but loses much because of the constant switching between the narrator’s more recent past with his now-deceased wife and his morose, unfocused present situation.  I’m a little sick of these stories that dig around in the past, ever-so-slowly getting to the point, the great tragic event or whatever happened to change the narrator’s life.  It seems that the story from the past ought to be enough to be told outright as it was in Atonement, for instance.  In this case, it ended up seeming like a rather slight thing, that maybe should have been a short story instead.  That said, Banville is a wonderfully detailed writer in that he probes deeply into a scene, until every detail (many of them unsavory it must be said) is captured.  His writing is lush and beautiful and many scenes and lines that stay in the memory (“things endure, people lapse”).  He often writes about ugly things and his realism can be jarring, given the flourish of his prose.  I started making a list of words that I needed to look up:  flocculent, scurf, gleet, strangury, plus a reference to a so-called “Bard of Hartford.”  A google of this last brought up a review of this book! I had to keep digging to determine that the reference is to the poet, Wallace Stevens.   The feeling for the quotidienne reminded me of his fellow Irish writer, and one of my favorites, Iris Murdoch.  Yet, he seems awash in melancholy, where she seemed to view life in an essentially more cheerful way.

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