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Ben Miller - English 213
Friday, 17 April 2009
moon-lit, sun-starved thoughts

As I creep through another 900 page epic under Dr. Sexson's suggestion, I am utterly astonished at how real and surreal the book is at the same time.  This makes me wonder at the reality and surreality of how the past possesses the present; it does so almost expectedly, yet in ways that seem unbelievable when they happen.

Because this book has possessed me for the last couple weeks I have to blog about it, even though it's not technically part of the class reading list.  Then again, there really isn't any piece of literature that doesn't deal and connect with classical lit in some way or another.   

Peter Matthiessen's masterful novel, Shadow Country turns the knuckles white while under scrutiny, a scrutiny that's impossible to stop.  Thinking about the broad theme of our classical lit class, I am amazed at how the past within the book possesses the present within the book.  Being 900 pages there is plenty of room to develop a story line that succeeds in such continuity; but this novel does so so naturally it's erie.  Although I have yet to finish the entire novel, a three part saga, as I slowly flip through two-thirds of it I have an edging inclination that I unconsciously know where the novel is headed, generally speaking - Mr. Matthiessen has surprised me on numerous occasions already.  But leaning on how Dr. Sexson described the destination of our classical lit class, as we return to the beginning with Demeter and Persephone, I have a feeling Shadow Country is going to come full-circle in an astonishingly apocalyptic manner.  

The first book deals with the present and surrounding circumstances of Edgar Watson's lifetime around the arrival of the twentieth century: his numerous wives and many children, his plantations, his neighbors, his crop-hands, and his legend.  There are references to his history from the other characters but the main focus of book one revolves around the immediacy of E. J. Watson's life, and most importantly conflicts.  

In fact Matthiessen foreshadows Watson's death in the prologue, which is relived at the end of book one, and so the book is imbedded in the past from the beginning.  

After Watson's death, however, things get much more confusing, distorted, and complicated.  Which brings me to my amazement with Matthiessen's technique and stye of hi writing in Shadow Country.  There are not exactly numbered chapters until book three, and even then they appear to be used sparingly.  There are chapters of viewpoints, or perceptions - perceptions of what people think are the truth.  From these intricately layered perceptions it becomes the reader's responsibility to piece the puzzle together, cliche I know.  But in book two the reader gets the assistance on one of Watson's sons, Luke, or Lucius, a name which appeared in our most recent classic lit text, The Golden Ass. Chances? One in Threeee!  There definitely seems to be some sort of transformation of Lucius in Shadow Country, which has yet to be fully developed.

I'll keep blogging about this novel as I flip to the end - yes, I realize we were supposed to give a running commentary of The Golden Ass, but rules are meant to be broken, circumferences meant to be stretched.

 P.S. There are a number of different quotes dividing the separate books.  One that I really liked was by none other than the man who coined 'negative capability,' John Keats.  I'm not sure exactly what work of his this quote is from, someone let me know if they have an idea, but I think it relates well to classical lit and is simple absolute, eternal: "A man's life of any worth is a continual allegory - and very few eyes can see its mystery."            

Posted by bmcycleski at 2:37 AM MDT
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