Thursday, July 28, 2016

How Much Pathos before You Get to Bathos?

How much detail is enough to provoke sympathy for a dramatic portray of events in which a character experiences not mere stunning blows but repeated combinations of blows both to the body and the ego?

We call the proper amount tragedy or pathos, and having done so are reminded of the times when we've witnessed the necessary elements appear in reality and in our favorite stories. Two recent novels of considerable meaning to you, The Plague of Doves and The Roundhouse, both by Louise Erdrich, begin with a pathos so tangible, you can feel its presence and in both cases have a visual sense of it reminding you of strips of paint, peeling from a weatherbeaten building.

Since you are on the subject of Erdrich, you can recall other events of pathos, scattered among her novels and short stories, causing you to be aware of the persistent presence of one kind of suffering, say loss, or another, say the stoic acceptance of painful circumstances.

At one time in your tumultuous relationship of awareness with Sisyphus, you thought of him as a paradigm of pathos because he was doomed to an eternity of meaningless, repetitious task that bore no relationship you could see to work. 

At the earlier times of your consideration of him, whether he was indeed "still out there somewhere," pushing away at his rock, long after his actual tormentor, Zeus, had retreated from prominence, and the thought of him caused you the most internal of discomforts. This disturbed response was less out of sympathy for him than for your own sympathy for the awareness that you had no tolerance, perhaps a one on a scale of ten, for boring activity.

This discomfort was even more exacerbated by your sense of not yet having reached the point where you could see a chosen future. Your entire future seemed caught in the net of finding so much about you to be boring. Scant months later, or so it seemed, you understood what you hoped for as your future, then set off trying to achieve it, thus the transformation from boredom to the awareness of how important focus and discipline were.

Youthful confidence led you to believe in the absolute certainty of success. Thus the source of energy and determination that led you through repetitions every bit as onerous as those of Sisyphus, except that you had a certainty of growth and accomplishment where Sisyphus had none. 

The last stages of growth led you to understgand that success was outside the equation. You'd be happy, you suppose, for such successes that you don't have, but they don't matter as much as the work itself.

You are, with considerable thanks to Albert Camus and his essay on Sisyphus, a happy man with your rock. You have a long relationship with the rock and while there are times when you wish for some time away from it, your relation with it is such that when you are away from it, you wonder how it is getting on.

You have gone from that sense of self-imposed pathos to a comfortable enough detachment to allow you to wonder about the condition you begin to see about you, where too much pathos becomes its own worst enemy, bathos.

When the world seems too much with you, it is quite often enough to back away from your rock from time to time, admiring its surfaces and configuration, many of which have been formed because of the pushing and rolling of it you've done to date.

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