Saturday, March 22, 2008

Fun, Games, and the I of the Beholder

One of my favorite faculty mates at the University is Aram Saroyan, a fondness that has foundation in my regard for his writing, some of the politics that inform his writing, and traces I have seen and heard of relating to his passion for teaching as well as writing. Some of my fondness comes from the fondness I had for his father's work, the fun and learning I derived from the time when I tried to write in the same basic style as the elder Saroyan and, of course, the disastrous time when I appeared at a writers' conference as the second banana to the elder Saroyan (to say nothing about the times when I have been invited to the William Saroyan Writers' Conference in the Saroyan home town of Fresno.

A great fan of the elder Saroyan's short stories, I thought I'd pretty well kept pace with all his work, I mean all of it. But Barnaby Conrad loaned me a work I'd never heard of, a work in which William Saroyan wrote obituaries for individuals, many of whom he did not know but had come to wish he had known. It was an odd, quirky work as indeed William Saroyan was an odd, quirky writer. I very much fancied the collection and discovered quite by accident that it is Aram's favorite work of his late father.

One more example of how point of view influences narratives, even funerary narratives. I am also aware of this intriguing potential from my reading of Alessandro Baricco's An Iliad, a retelling of The Iliad from the point of view of twenty-one characters who appear in the version produced by the putative Homer.

This is pleasurable if disjointed noodling about the wondrous mischief inherent in telling a traditional myth/story/narrative from the point of view of an interested bystander. Lear comes to mind as a possibility, causing me to wonder how the elder Saroyan would have gone at it. I am also made aware of some of the followers of Agamemnon in The Iliad, reminding me without too much reach of General Petraeus and indeed John McCain, (R Ariz).

Which brings us to the question of the teller's intent. Many individuals relate stories to cast themselves in a redemptive role, others to recast history to the point of exacting revenge. I am fascinated by John McCain (R Ariz) and his inability to distinguish Shia from Suni, Iran from Iraq, and his sense of having to get back home to the U.S. to bone up on some economics if he is to be the fiscal conservative of his claims, but more to the point of various narrators who are more or less stuck with being apologists for him, spinning his error-ridden concepts as mere gaffes that are of no consequence. Right. John is answering Hilary's telephone at 3 a.m. and can't find his glasses with which to read his briefing.

Let's leave it for the moment at this, a kind of lit crit in which we look at some established narrative--Moby-Dick? The Scarlet Letter? Babbit?--through the most unlikely eyes, therein to draw absurdist, Becketian conclusions.

But the dreams and plots whirl along.

Like suppose, for instance, instead of the three old harpies, Macbeth comes home to find three bag ladies sharing a brown bag of California red, proclaiming All hail, Thane of Cawdor, only it will no longer be Macbeth, it will be Bill Clinton, and the only way out will be for him to go after not Malcolm but Barrack.

Well, let the mind boggle a bit.

1 comment:

z said...

All Hail the Chief!