Friday, March 21, 2008

The Dancer from the Dance

Framing is a device whereby writers may take a work from the past, build upon it characters and circumstances of current relevance, then proceed to forge a conclusion. The notion of framing has been with you much of this year because of a persistent combination of students in classes asking questions about the practice, thoughts of your own about a short-story cycle, plus the reappearance in various book reviews you've written. Most recently there was the association between Richard Price of Lush Life, and Honore de Balzac of Pere Goriot fame and of course Balzac's use of Lear as a frame for Goriot.

Was it thus coincidence that you were drawn to An Iliad by Alessandro Barrico? Did it have anything to do with a discussion you had with Liz Kuball about her project to interview ten photographers on her blog site, and the highly personal and craft-related questions she contrived for each of her interviewees? Was it influenced by your buddy Ernest Sturm from the Department of French and Italian at UCSB, who had just gone from a work (in French) Du Critique, to a play that reminded both of us of Beckett and collaterally evoked a longish discussion about individual process? And what about your table-thumping encomium about W.B. Yeats and his process, causing Ernest to bring up the editorial oversight on Eliot's poetry not only by Pound but by Vivienne Eliot?

Yes to all the above, to the point where you are aware that the specifics of craft cannot be taught to another, they can be hinted at, approached obliquely, yes, even absorbed by constant work. So here you are, thinking about a story cycle framed on The Odyssey, featuring a character based on Odysseus but not nearly so eloquent, an actor returning home after appearing in a Broadway production of Troilus and Cressida. The thing that got you onto the idea in the first place came after one of the stories appeared in a small journal and someone noted that the protagonist's last name, Bender, was a neat analog for the translation of Odysseus' name, a man of many turns.

Fun by all accounts. Some of the stories are done to your satisfaction and, you notice, one of them, written before the connection to The Odyssey appeared to you, uses the first line of Kafka's Metamorphosis as a framing device: After a night of uneasy dreams, Matthew Bender awoke to discover he had turned into Cindy's boyfriend.

That will have to go. Cindy may turn out to be Circe. Maybe not.

But while we're on the subject, and simply to get it down on record, what other frames come to your mind as a trampoline for a contemporary landscape?

And of course your first answer is The Canterbury Tales, with its richness of characters, its unrelenting display of voice and satire, its presentation of an index of the human condition that has changed little in six hundred odd years. You can see John McCain as the Knight, and what splendid mischief to frame The Pardoner's Tale and your everlasting favorite, The Wife of Bath. Of course you yourself would be cast in the role of Melibee, he whom Harry Baily cuts off early in his tale because, "Thy drasty rhyme is not worth a toord."

The unwritten law in framing is not to have the effect or outcome rely on the framing; just as the original stood erect on its own for you, your use of it must stand frim on its own legs, its own voice, its own portraits of individuals.

All right. There you have it. Perhaps more will reveal itself to you as you essay the review of Barrico's An Iliad.

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