Thursday, March 22, 2007

Yeah, son. Parzival. I've been putting this one off but anticipating it as something as central to my being as is Goethe's Faust. Parzival is the fool, who succeeds in his grail quest by luck and randomness and who pierces God's heart (or is pierced by God) and magically wins the day. The grail is portrayed as the philosopher's stone, with no connection to the body of Christ, as a greenish sacred stone, lapis lazuli or something or other, which brings eternal life/food and drink aplenty.

Too bad I was entirely off-base. First - the downside. Parzival bored me. Half of the time Gawain ruled the story, ninety-eight percent of the time ideal monogomous courtly chivalric love colored every single aspect of the story, the remaining sentences (due to this new translation?) contained Wolfram's awful method of elaboration ("No richer pfellel-silk was ever brought from Ipopotiticon or from the vast Acraton or from Kalomidente or from Agatyrsjente than the silk that was used for his adornment") well as the constant use of passive voice, which bores a reader to tears......
The weird grail mysticism (even including the Castle of Wonders, analagous to the grail castle) takes up so little of the narrative that I found it was hardly worth trudging through all the duels and lovely maidens and lavish pfeffel-silks to get to. Parzival's holy ritual that makes him lord of the grail? Minimal coverage is given to the specifics of such a thing (damn this passive voice). It's possible that I actually had Troyes' "Perceval" in mind, which elaborates on the figure of the Fisher King (and a more Christian grail), but it too apparently turns into a Gawain tale (Parzival and Gawain probably represent the holy and secular realms, which compliment each other harmoniously). Just really wasn't what I had hyped it up to be, and it's difficult to place it as the greatest medieval work next to the Divine Comedy as the introduction states.

But there's an upside. By abandoning the mysticism I began to detect the propaganda at work in Parzival, and the role of the audience in insuring the tale's survival. Parzival isn't the lucky fool to fulfill any sort of magical anecdote....only finding adventure (and the grail castle) by wandering aimlessly as if that subverts rational attempts at seeking the mysteries. He's the daydream of a poor knight, who constantly proclaims his own illiteracy, or at least his own very modest education, and he's the ultimate role model for Wolfram's audience, masses of poor uneducated warriors who deem themselves poetic and the women who adore them. Parzival just happens to be the most handsome knight on earth. Every woman he comes across is hotter than the last. He never loses a joust, though he has zero miliary training. He wins lands, ladies, castles, and finally the grail simply because it chooses to call on him. By riding his horse into the forest will no will of direction he comes across half naked damsels in distress. All this from a boy raised in seclusion, uneducated but with lots of heart. It's almost a sports training montage. Wolfram's hyper-chivalric code pleases both a raping and pillaging warrior and a very modern courtly woman, where the ultimate relationships are monogamous yet battle-inspiring. The survival of the story is a very medieval and brutal contest. So many have been lost; only by perfecting the desires of the mass audience (now seems a detestable practice) can they be hailed as today's classics.

I enjoyed Antoinini's "Blow-Up", I read plenty of Borges, I heard "Hopscotch" is one of the greatest novels ever, I finally got around to Cortazar. Maybe that's too much namedropping, but my friends and I have elaborate theories about the interconnection (interconnectiveness?) of everything that's, well, awesome. You'll run into familiar folk on these paths, etc. Kindred spirits have laid out specific paths for you to follow, something or other. Anyways, at first I felt let down. These stories seemed so elusive. The first half of the book, with "Axolotls", "The End of the Game", "Continuity of Parks"......all were sort of nice in their own way, written absolutely beautifully, but left me wanting. By the end of the book I came around to appreciate that wanting, I guess the author succeeded in filling me with a sort of desire for his narratives in a way that became positive. The ones that stand out are "The Distances" - where a woman travels to save someone she's been seeing in visions only to become her when the two finally meet, "The Gates of Heaven" - a sort of requiem for "And God Created Woman", "At Your Service" - a wonderful play on words with a maid taking a job to stand-in as a grieving mother at a funeral, "The Pursuer" - the story of a mad genius of a jazz musician; absolutely one of if not the best short story I've ever read, and "Secret Weapons" - another brutal reincarnation story (there are several of these in this volume). I'll be recommending this to all sorts of people in the future.

Lastly, I had this great idea to go back, now that I'm older, and read another Thomas Hardy novel. I've always thought of myself as an admirer, forced to read Mayor of Casterbridge in high school and enjoying how incredibly bleak he can be. At some point I also read Jude the Obscure, that may have been in college (not as great, but still capital B Bleak). But damn and hell if Return of the Native wasn't sappy and melodramatic (starting to understand claims that Hardy is the ultimate misogynist......hell even if he's a feminist here he's a tedious sap, I can't even use the term "Romantic" because that would be a compliment). I felt like I was reading a trashy Dickens novel for housewives (no offense to housewives). I quit halfway through even though it was mildly enjoyable, honestly I had set myself up for something with more substance. Remind me to remember that the blurb stating that a novel is "probably the most representative of an author's work", means that it sucks.