Tuesday, December 27, 2016

torrents raging down from the mountains

The tally is at 99 books so far, and work is shuttered until the end of the year, so I expect it'll be 101 or so by the end. I've found I've been reading a bit much, and have diverted into watching...not TV, exactly, though I am very slowly working through Luke Cage and The OA, and occasionally Justified. The latter has, for a wonder:
  • a 15-year old playing a 15-year old, who...
  • is transgendered, and...
  • Asian.
American film and TV has been thoroughly appalling here, particularly about the latter two: transgendered roles are routinely given to cisgender actors, Asian characters are turned into white characters played by white actors ("whitewashing"), and, lest any permutations be left out, Asian characters are still nominally Asian characters, but are still played by white actors ("yellowface").
["Teenagers not playing teenagers" doesn't bug me much, since it doesn't erase an already-marginalized group. For an added twist, it also seems to date to early film days, as with 1944's The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, starring the then-18 Diana Lynn as the 14ish Emmy Kockenlocker. (You know I do not make these things up.)]
As if to scrub The Vorrh from my imagination, I've been binging through Julie Czerneda's Trade Pact Universe books.

I'm still reading J The Iliad at bedtime. It goes along for a while setting up the story, listing, as J put it, "everyone who ever thought about occasionally thinking about the Trojan War," and rather suddenly Shit Gets Real™:
Now Strife hurled down the leveler Hate amidst both sides,
wading into the onslaught, flooding men with pain.

At last the armies clashed at one strategic point,
they slammed their shields together, pike scraped pike
with the grappling strength of fighters armed in bronze
and their round shields pounded, boss on welded boss,
and the sound of struggle roared and rocked the earth.
Screams of men and cries of triumph breaking in one breath,
fighters killing, fighters killed, and the ground streamed blood.
Wildly as two winter torrents raging down from the mountains,
swirling into a valley, hurl their great waters together,
flash floods from the wellsprings plunging down in a gorge
and miles away in the hills a shepherd hears the thunder—
so from the grinding armies broke the cries and crash of war. 
Antilochus was the first to kill a Trojan captain,
tough on the front lines, Thalysias’ son Echepolus.
Antilochus thrust first, speared the horsehair helmet
right at the ridge, and the bronze spearpoint lodged
in the man’s forehead, smashing through his skull
and the dark came whirling down across his eyes—
he toppled down like a tower in the rough assault.
As he fell the enormous Elephenor grabbed his feet,
Chalcodon’s son, lord of the brave-hearted Abantes,
dragged him out from under the spears, rushing madly
to strip his gear but his rush was short-lived.
Just as he dragged that corpse the brave Agenor
spied his ribs, bared by his shield as he bent low—
Agenor stabbed with a bronze spear and loosed his limbs,
his life spirit left him and over his dead body now
the savage work went on, Achaeans and Trojans
mauling each other there like wolves, leaping,
hurtling into each other, man throttling man.
Soooo...that's horrifying, in a way that is totally appropriate to the poem, and less so for a high-anxiety kid to fall asleep to, even one who laughed at "Whichever contenders trample on this treaty first / spill their brains on the ground as this wine spills...!". Because, you know. Brains.

Anyway, Anna has always done on-the-fly editing when reading out loud, so now I skip over the (occasionally lengthy) verses of people dismembering each other. He does want to know who dies so he doesn't get confused later, though I'm pretty sure almost anyone who dies--Patroclus being the least escapable exception--is then forgotten for the rest of the story.

Iliad's gore obviously fits the setting, but above that, it's not the least bit casual. Homer bends his obsession with detail and mighty command of adjectives to paint a scene of human beings who suffer in ways we can recognize ("flooding men with pain," "Screams of men and cries of triumph breaking in one breath, / fighters killing, fighters killed, and the ground streamed blood," and the several lines describing each death), but are simultaneously dehumanized by the battle, at once contributing to and consumed by a bloody, impersonal, greater whole ("as two winter torrents raging," "like wolves, leaping, / hurtling into each other").

That's right, folks: my Computer Science degree came thickly wrapped in a liberal arts education. I'll be here all week.

If you read the above verses and think, "That is fucked up. Why aren't these soldiers traumatized?", then you'll be satisfied to learn that there is a persistent undercurrent of scholarship on just that topic. The marvelously-titled "The Rage of Achilles and PTSD in Antiquity" is a fine entry point.

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