Sunday Salon: Calypso in January

Greetings, fellow Sunday Saloners!  This week has seen a colossal effort on my part to step up my blogging pace, a feat which is easier to manage during the part of the week in which I am not actually teaching.

What have I been up to all week long?

Well, there have been a few posts:
I have been embroiled in a marathon continuous reading of Homer's Odyssey, as I explained in "The Tears of Odysseus." In the end, this event was every bit as delightful as I hoped it would be. My group, ominously dubbed "Buck Naked on a Plank," was on from 11 p.m. to midnight on Friday, performing for a select crowd no doubt drawn in by the promise of our name.  And boy, did we deliver.  (Not, I hasten to add, to the point of total nudity.)

I had never realized how profoundly funny Book 5 is. It is the book in which Athena complains to the council of the gods that the immortal Calypso has hijacked Odysseus' fated homecoming, and is holding him in sexual captivity on her island Ogygia. (Calypso's named has all sorts of connotations of devouring concealment - she is generally assumed to represent the alluring danger of femininity and sexual thrall for Odysseus).  Zeus sends Hermes off to wrest Odysseus back from the loving arms of the nymph, who only gives him up after giving Hermes a thorough tongue-lashing for the gods' double-standard on mortal/godly relationships (A-OK for male gods, forbidden for goddesses).  Odysseus sets forth with Calypso's "help" and "blessing," only to be discovered by the vengeful Poseidon (still pissed about the blinding of his son, the Cyclops), who batters him with a storm until the sympathetic nymph Ino gives him a magical scarf that takes him safely to shore.  There he hides himself in the brush - like a coal burning overnight amidst a safe covering of ashes - and gets some much needed rest.

I was cast as the three immortal women who come to Odysseus' aid - Athena, Calypso, and Ino.  By the time he gets help from Ino at the end of the book, of course, he is thoroughly mistrustful of the reliability of divine aid.  After all, you never know when some too-perfectly timed assistance may end in years of sexual enthrallment on an island paradise.  It is only when Poseidon's storm destroys his ships and all of "divine Calypso's [other] gifts" (including the clothes that are weighing him down and drowning him, as Calypso's love has a tendency to do), that he makes use of Ino's hints.

I played Athena as a politician, carefully working the eternal senatorial negotiations of Olympos; Calypso as a conniving two-faced wretch who chokes on the word "wife" every time she talks about how glad she is to help Odysseus get back home; and Ino the Nymph as a eager dolphin who bobs gleefully at the edge of the hero's raft (this last improvised at the last moment in response to my colleague's dolphin-like chirping when I first popped buoyantly up at the periphery of his naval suffering).

Odysseus was a Newfie old-timer who spent more time discoursing on the harshness of fate with his tormented soul (played by a sock puppet in the shape of a friendly dragon) than talking to the goddesses who are trying to help him. Hermes did calisthenics and careful stretches before running about the auditorium, casting chairs this way and that.  Our chorus tossed lines back and forth between themselves with increasing urgency while describing the storm that Poseidon sends for Odysseus.

We left no entendre undoubled in Fagles's really profoundly sexual description of the storm (Odysseus rides the waves like a horse, stroking vigorously, and then rejoices to reach the land where men love their long oars. No, really.) At the point where Ino encourages Odysseus to cast aside Calypso's gifts (of clothing) and wear only her own magic scarf (of buoyancy?), our Odysseus ripped off his breakaway pants while the chorus sang a strip-club melody.

At the end, the MC said to the audience, "Well, I think a new standard has been set for us."

Then she said to us, "That was amazing! Gone is this idea that Homer is some work of high literature."

"That's our goal at the English Department" I replied. "Deflating high literature, one work at a time."

As a reward for our labors in the service of literature, we got this wonderful shirt, a shirt so implicitly troubling I am not sure I will ever be able to wear it out of the house.  But I will delight in it nonetheless:

What am I reading today?
  • My most vital task involves reading the first book in Samuel Beckett's trilogy of novels, Molloy, for a blogalogue with my friend JP.  He is reading them for his comp exams, and I have promised with delight to read it along with him and engage in a blog dialogue.  Then, as always, my true indolence shone through, and I fell terribly behind.  But now my blogalogue partner has posted his first entry on the trilogy, and advertised Molloy to me as "the greatest novel I have ever read," significantly increasing my eagerness to read it.
  • I am in the midst of Amanda McCabe's historical romance, The Winter Queen, which takes my romance reading out of the 19th century for once and into the court of Elizabeth I.  To be honest, this is one of my favorite places to be.  It is a period I was obsessed with as a child, when (and I hope you appreciate how embarrassing this revelation is to me) I could recite the entirety of Elizabeth's "I have the heart of a king, and a king of England too" speech.  Yup.  Sure could.
  • I am within forty pages of the end of The Sex Lives of Cannibals: Adrift in the Equitorial Pacific, so I anticipate the delightful contrast of cycling between the Beckett, The Winter Queen and the tales of remote Kiribati that make up this non-fiction book.
Apart from this, I want to finish my rereads of The Bacchae and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead for class this week.  We are having a great discussion of tragedy as a species of ritual sacrifice in my Intro to Drama class, and of how game play relates to ideas about providence/fate, luck, moral choice, and probability in my post-56 British drama class.  Is it possible to enjoy games of luck, I asked them, if you don't believe that an otherworldly providence shapes them?  Surely then it is just an exercise in tedious randomness?

Then I made them divide into groups of two and play the question game from Rosguil until they wailed in despair.

Why is this a fitting game for this play?  Because it is a world in which there are no answers, only further questions, and more than two minutes of this leaves you sunk in existential frustration.  That's my teaching strategy: a pedagogy of irritation.

Last, but not least, I am hoping to get a review of Tomorrow, When the War Began written some time in the near future, and to watch one of the DVDs I have out of (my Canadian Netflix equivalent): The Warrior, Kinsey, and Rescue Dawn.  Oh, and the pilot episode of Caprica is lurking on my Tivo, casting alluring, Calypsonian glances my way.

A busy day, I now realize.  Wish me luck...

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3 Responses so far.

  1. Mmm...I must say, you are reading some very different books! Good for you! :-)

  2. JoAnn says:

    That's quite a variety of books! I picked up a copy of The Sex Lives of Cannibals at the library sale last summer - looks like an interesting read!

  3. I am indeed, readerbuzz and JoAnn! And I finished none of them yesterday, though I read a bit of each.

    "The Sex Lives of Cannibals" is an interesting read, but not as interesting as I had hoped. It reads a bit like a blog - diffuse and meandering, if often witty and fascinating.

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