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Notes Toward a Gone World: Reading Radicalism in Ancient World Literature

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March 1, 2017

How do we read? Is it enough in The Scene to talk about radical poetics from the perspective of what writers intended to say as they wrote and published. They wrote for whatever purpose they intended, but does that mean we should feel bound to read as they wrote? Big Question. But think of Great Literature itself–ok, canonical literature–from a radical perspective. (You define “radical”). And, of course, I’m concerned, really, with literature of the Western world.

What if we all read the Great Literature of the past the way the radical critic and scholar Jan Kott read Shakespeare? As Peter Brook said, Jan Kott “is undoubtedly the only writer on Elizabethan matters who assumes without question that every one of his readers will at some point or other have been woken by the police in the middle of the night.”

So here we have Homer screaming through the centuries to us about Achilles vs. Agamemnon vs. Hector and the horrors of ARETE–the essence of Homeric manhood.Really? That’s the story? Should Achilles have stayed in his tent? Look at those long Homeric similes. How do you read those things? Like everybody else? Or not?

Or Sophocles dramatizing Destiny/Fate, Creon and the machinery of the political state ready to crush Antigone, ready to crush us. If you really want to get down to something that hits home, read Aeschylus and Euripides the way some supercharged zig zag director today would stage their plays.

Or the dialogues of Plato and especially those in and about the trial of Socrates. They crawl under our shirts, under our pants and up, up, up terrifying us as 21st century readers because  we see The Terror as the STATE executing its citizens for crimes of the mind.Be careful what you THINK!

How can we read Aurelius and Augustine today?—How to live in a police state? Be not perturbed.

Even Dante and the descent into the Inferno. Can you imagine real Horror, true Horror that makes Stephen King stories into baby board books?

Chaucer? ah, the human comedy. But why do we laugh? Or any old comedy, really. The Comedy of Errors? That’s life, folks. Have you ever seen a Feydeau farce?

Or Machiavelli—look around you, folks. Go downtown.

Castiglioni?—true Renaissance life; studied nonchalance? Ha ha! take me to the funny farm!

Where am I going with this way of reading? I don’t want to think about it. (Ok, let’s think about it. Follow The Scene.)

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