Saturday, March 06, 2010

189. From the Blogora

Book: Ananios of Kleitor

books rhetoric and poetic
Submitted by syntaxfactory on March 6, 2010 - 7:10am

So I am just fascinated with a book reviewed in Rain Taxi ( called _Ananios of Kleitor_ by George Economou. It's reviewed in the poetry section of that journal, but it appears to be less than 25% poetry and 75% apparatus.

"Apparatus" is apparently a kind of misdirection. As I read the reviews, I was hoping for a work something like _Protagoras and Logos_ -- Ed Schiappa's masterful book which both makes sense of the fragments of Protagoras and makes sense of the ways we make sense of fragments. No work in rhetorical studies is more interesting to me, perhaps because I am completely incapable of doing it, than the work of making sense of authors from whom a thousand years of visits to archives might yield 22, instead of 21, pages of text in a no-longer spoken language. No wonder Bob Gaines made such impassioned arguments for the study of classical rhetoric as the study of “anything written using any medium that has survived complete or in fragments ... [including] original and copied writing on papyrus, wood, wax, or animal skin or writing on or in pottery, masonry, stone or metal... man-made objects of aesthetic, practical, religious or other cultural significance” (in _Viability_). When all of those texts could be collected on a single DVD-ROM, and still you'd have only scraps of someone as central as Protagoras, these claims are both important and feasible.

As Schiappa demonstrated, Protagoras became a site of projection, as various scholars saw in Protagoras what they wanted to see. Economou tells a similar story of Ananios. According to the review in TLS, "The fragmentary Ananios of Kleitor is an almost blank screen on to which others project their own fantasies, with the same rapacity that their compatriot soldiers and tourists approach the people of modern Greece... So, Ananios turns out to be an imaginary object of desire, endlessly recreated by his later readers."

I felt a little ripped off, to be honest, when I discovered that there was an Ananios of Clitor, that Economou has been publishing new translations of his poems in poetry journals lately, but that the apparatus is all fake.

The scholars surveyed who engaged in reading and rereading Ananios are as fictional as the interpretations they produce. Fine enough, I guess. Oddly enough, the University of Michigan has deposited the drafts of Economou's books, which include fictionalized texts by fictionalized interpreters of the real Ananios, into the University of Michigan's Papyrology library -- giving a strange kind of epistemic status to this work of fiction.

Still, I think I want to read it. The TLS review makes clear that it is an engaging read:
"The scholarly ventriloquism and the command of details are impressive, certainly, but the fictitiousness (for example “Kythe College, Cambridge”) is too visible for any reader to be fooled into mistaking this world for ours. What it actually is, however, is harder to define: perhaps equal parts academic parody, postmodern romance and prose poem, a kind of ancient-world equivalent of Nabokov’s Pale Fire. Some sequences are uproariously funny, but others are provocative, moving or horrifying. It draws to the surface the absurdity, myopia and arrogance of academic prose and the awful conjunctures of history and scholarship; but it is also an affectionate and humane tribute to the power of poetry to lend new meanings to new readers’ lives across the ages."

It's just that, now, the book will sit on a different "to-read" list. Instead of competing with the latest scholarly monograph, it will now compete with _The Avenging Mind of Steve Ditko_, by the co-creator of Spider-Man, in the recreational pile.

I'd welcome thoughts on this kind of work: the continuing "making sense" of classical fragments in rhetorical studies... whether anyone would buy a book about fictionalized scholars dueling over the interpretation of George Campbell... I'm not sure where I'm going with this, in part because I just don't know what to make of my combined sense of disappointment in the book and yet desire to read it,

--David Beard, UM Duluth

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