NOTES TOWARDS A RAREFACTIVE DEMARCATION OF THE ADAGIOS QUARTET'S PURLIEU
To Demetris Tsimperis with a Thousand Kisses Deep
"It is not easy to free
myth from reality."
— Earle Birney, "The Bear on the Delhi Road"
The following loosely related sequences comprise an associationally exploratory enterprise rather than a traditional linear essay. In their meanderthal way, these informal divagations may well provide readers with sharper illuminations and keener insights into the work-in-progress's overarching aims, challenges, tasks, motivations, and procedures. A goodly portion of the text's tentative investigations involves specific endeavourments intending to both support the tetralogy's foundations and reinforce its scaffolding's raison d'être.
Deriving from the original Athenian dramas, the notion of the tetralogy accurately applies to the Quartet under construction. In this respect, it is of no small importance the ancient spectacles occasionally excluded their complementary satyr or comedy in favour of presenting nothing but tragedies on the Attic stage at the Dionysiac Festival.
Over time, the focus of burlesque satyri (gods and gods' doings, particularly Dionysus) shifted to include mortals of heroic proportion; and, then, again, later still, the focus shifted further away from the doings and undoings of the gods, admitting of just plain folks, ordinary people, hoi polloi, contemporary anybodies, members of the masses possessing next-to-nil in common with the gods that ought to have remained the only subjects suitable to the scope of the satyri. To silence the criticism that these plays ought to address and explore gods' comings, goings, doings, skewings, and screwings, Aeschylus introduced the concept of the tetralogy in THE ORESTEIA's inaugural presentation; consequently, his fourth dramatic piece, Proteus, never found, followed the trio of tragedies comprising his seminal work.
In view of historical veracity as well as an accurate aesthetic subsuming poetic authenticity, I deploy the noun, tetralogy, because its associational, etymological, and philosophical aspects most adequately communicate the Quartet's key features and elements. With BOOK TWO, Orestes' Lament (as well as the first and previous completed work, Iphigenia's Song), formal rhetorical exigencies and psychological affinities create echo pools among themselves at the eddying edges of their compass (rather than simply interweaving and pan-universally shaping its various [cross] currents).
Impossible to exclude or overlook in this context, Plato’s star student, the polymythic, er, polymathic Aristotle (384-322 BCE), proved himself to be sublimely well-versed in metaphysics, biology, politics, ethics, logic, physics, literary criticism, aesthetics, meteorology, and psychology (to identify but a few of the disciplines he mastered over the course of his 62 years on the planet). In conceiving and creating the first systematic guide or handbook on the persuasive art, Ars Rhetorica / The Art of Rhetoric (350 BCE), the ancient scientist and philosopher effectively circumstantiated its constituent elements while simultaneously ascribing value to its central doctrines.
Aristotle defined Rhetoric as "the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion." As far as Aristotle was concerned, inventio — its ways, means, methods, and messages — must be understood as the vital and vigorous heart at the centre of the persuasive art; thus, in Aristotelian terms, Rhetoric is an architectonic (rather than a productive) art; the Greek supported his affirmations and confirmations with his sense that Rhetoric’s essential characteristics necessitated both implicit and explicit dependence on three kinds of proof, basically described as Pathos (emotional appeal), Ethos (the rhetor's character), and Logos (predominantly involving rationale, logic, and reason).
As Peripatetics know, Aristotle placed invention, or the discovery of the appropriate lines of argument, at the very centre of the communicative enterprise; thus, Logos, involving the discovery of solid rationalisations for the construction of a convincing "argument" (predominantly in The Trivium), can only be considered as the organising principle, the basic Law/Word, so to speak (since it cannot be defined in either its linguistic or sacred aspects). Pathos concerns an argument's emotional values and correct appeals to same; naturally, Ethos depends upon the character of a given speaker, the speaker's "influence," as it were.
In the very first sentence of The Art of Rhetoric, Aristotle reveals he considers its opposite to be Dialectic; anyone can ascertain "a truth"; on the other hand, not everyone possesses the skills and talents to communicate it. That's what Rhetoric accomplishes.
Expanding upon Aristotle's argument, the Roman Quintilian (circa 93 CE), elected to codify Rhetoric's five distinctive elements — inventio, dispositio, pronuntiatio, elocutio, and memoria — in his twelve-volume Institutio Oratoria and, until the 16th century, when Petrus Ramus argued in his 1555 Dialectique, both invention and disposition were more appropriately examined as elements of philosophic disquisitions while the remaining trio of divisions — language, delivery, and memory — more correctly constituted the discipline now known as Rhetoric, the one-two TKO deriving directly from Aristotle and Quintilian.
Given the rhetorically driven aspects inherent in the concept of Logos, the Adagios Quartet encompasses a way of seeing (and hearing); examined in view of its specific logic essential to an understanding of each of its four books as independent entities as well as intertwingling entangulations vis-à-vis crucial events, collective contents, key concerns, and spectacula varia, the work's intermeshing narrative lines punctuate both its intrinsic and extrinsic templates. The Quartet talks the tetralogical talk while walking the Eliotic Via Dolorosa (or Crucis) Walk. In the same way River (1995), say, looks to The Waste Land as its scaffolding framework, the tetralogy currently under construction keeps its eye on front-and-centred formal considerations, its ear on Eliot's Four Quartets, and its pan-universal heart on specific architectonic methods, means, foundations, movements, moments, connections, and madnesses obviated by mythologicalities within ever-changing parameters on the time-space continuum.
Despite its unsubtle title — not to mention its myriad associational allusions and echoic strands — the Quartet's circumscriptive interplay ought only to serve its lexicologically sonic (or aural) aspects. In this respect, correlatively speaking, actually hearing Beethoven's A Minor Quartet, particularly its central movement, Molto Adagio, may serve to reinforce the musical masterwork's pair of balanced movements flanking either side of the vital and radiantly vibrant heart of its enterprise (Quatuors Cordes 15; Opus 132; Movement 3).
Eliot, by the way, chose the title for his last major work deliberately; he had already incorporated rather more tentative musical notions and structures in his creation of The Waste Land, a feature which lead some critics to consider that composition a symphonic work of sorts (despite the fact it is, in my opinion, better understood as an epyllion); but, as he matured, Eliot grew bolder and, at one point, as early as 1931, he wrote to Stephen Spender, "I have the A Minor Quartet on the gramophone, and I find it quite inexhaustible to study. There is a sort of heavenly or at least more than human gaiety about some of his later things which one imagines might come to oneself as the fruit of reconciliation and relief after immense suffering; I should like to get something of that into verse before I die."
In 1959, Eliot told an interviewer, "The Four Quartets: I rest on those." Perhaps his greatest achievement, the sequences published together in 1943 as Four Quartets (and named only after he'd completed its constituent parts), are loosely structured on Beethoven's later string quartets, especially the last one, the A Minor Quartet. (A string quartet includes two violins, a viola, and a cello. The term also refers to a composition written for these four instruments.) In his Borromeo Quartet Programme Notes, Eric Bromberger conveys something of the essence of the later work:
Each of the late quartets has a unique structure, and the structure of the Quartet in A Minor is one of the most striking of all. Its five movements form an arch. At the center is a stunning slow movement that lasts nearly half the length of the entire quartet . . . The third movement [Molto Adagio] has a remarkable heading: In the score Beethoven titles it "Hymn of Thanksgiving to the Godhead from an Invalid," a clear reflection of the illness he had just come through. This is a variation movement, and Beethoven lays out the slow opening section, full of heartfelt music. But suddenly the music switches to D major and leaps ahead brightly; Beethoven marks this section "Feeling New Strength." These two sections alternate through this movement (the form is A-B-A-B-A), and the opening section is so varied on each reappearance that it seems to take on an entirely different character each time: each section is distinct, and each is moving in its own way. (Beethoven marks the third "With the greatest feeling.") This movement has seemed to many listeners the greatest music Beethoven ever wrote and, perhaps the problem of all who try to write about this music is precisely that it cannot be described in words and should be experienced simply as music.
While Beethoven's A Minor Quartet sounds a dominant chord in Four Quartets, my quartet's soundtrack, as it were, originates in the maniacally funereal ambience of Shostakovich's near-overwhelmingly oppressive Quartet Number Eight as well as the later recorded compositions of Leonard Cohen, particularly Ten New Songs, a co-creation of Sharon Robinson and The Maestro of Melancholia.
In the vicinity of the vision where the sky's no limit, trail-blazing, well-spoken, creation-praising, coolly smokin' Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), the one-and-only distinguished English and Communications pioneer professeer above and beyond the call of beauty consistently reminded his secular and scholarly audiences Modernist poets invariably include all five divisions of Rhetoric (inventio, dispositio, elocutio, pronuntiatio, and memoria) in their creations. Additionally, iterated McLuhan, insofar as seamless form, appropriate content, and precise wordweight values enter the equation, a poem can only be considered a success if and when it organically justifies the essential quality swathing the inevitable value of each of its constituent parts. Change a word or grammatical element? If the communicatory aspect doesn't suffer, that laggardly language gets unceremoniously turfed at an early stage of editing, honing, shaping, and refining a given creative work. its means, calibrations, methods, revelations, motivations, inspirations, equivocations, and seducementations become seamlessly transparent in the very synchro-meshing lock job under construction.
Move one word? Delete one comma? Gads! Gimme a brick . . .
If neither substance nor style droops, drags, nor draws unseemly attention to itself as figure, turn, trope, or scheme, say (by recklessly colouring outside its formal lines and preconceived restraints and constraints all poets determine a priori), whether it's apparent to anyone else or not, actually, it misses the mark by a mythic mystic mile. That's that. Licketty-splat. A beautiful, efficient, and well-wrought poem always stands the test of time sublime. The medium-message maestro astutely observed successful epyllia (mini-epics) of the Modernist persuasion, without exception, feature dislocationary or fracturous divisions that do not follow traditional regulations nor classical specifications by compositional rote. The astonishingly vatic man among millions introduced the world to our darling-dear's seer-clear theoretical peer-view mirror. Small wonder he held The Trivium - Grammar (mastery of facts), Dialectic (logic), and Rhetoric (persuasion) - in such high esteem.
(Incidentally and evidentially, the Canadian's comprehensive observations concerning Rhetoric's role in Modernist poetry partially inform, frame, and shape my own view of the creative act and its governing aesthetic impulses, challenges, exigencies, tasks, targets, disciplines, demands, and principles.)
River, an epyllion, was written with McLuhan in mind, at least in terms of the fact he believed the vehicle to be the most holy and precisely appropriate route modernist poets ought to take; thus, some of the piece's dominant composite characters do double, treble, or four-fold duty when it comes to the complementary pairings as well as a functioning fray of an array of primary speakers all wrapped up and enmixtured with McLuhan, Tiresius, Hopkins, Ecclesiastes, King David, Irving Layton, Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath, Anna Akhmatova, Freud, A. J. Levin, Dmitri Shostakovich, Seferis, Emma Roberts, Boethius, cummings, Leonard Cohen (and, beyond the window? A frost of melting diamonds. River's aural counterpart, in fact, is Leonard Cohen's 1992 sonic masterpiece, The Future; thus, while reading River in tandem with listening to The Future, astutely and acutely attuned individuals will hear a trebling tremble of sorts, a tonally resonant third component of the work I consider the warm-up act for the epic I now write. It is not by accident River, an epyllion, contains five sequences and takes the story surrounding Agave, Pentheus, Cadmus, Semele, et. al. as its template while, simultaneously, it attends to aspects of The Waste Land), a feature which may provide further explanation for the methods and messages of the current composition under construction in terms of both Aeschylus and Eliot's Four Quartets.
Richard A. Lanham articulates the tension between homo seriosus (serious man) and homo rhetoricus (rhetorical man). The former "possesses a central self, an irreducible identity. These selves combine into a single, homogeneously real society which constitutes a referent reality for the men living in it" (The Motives of Eloquence. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976). The latter, though, is an actor; his reality is public, dramatic; the lowest common denominator of his life is a social situation. He is thus committed to no single construction of the world. Rhetorical man is trained not to discover reality but to manipulate it. Reality is what is accepted as reality and, of necessity, contains only what is useful (as opposed to useless in the sense David Jones regarded utility, for example). Fittingly, Leonard Cohen encapsulates his understanding of the real versus the unreal when he avers, paraphrastically, the older he grows, the less inclined he becomes to glibly accept the current version of reality, such as it is (or isn't).
Cicero, in De oratore (55 BCE), again provides the most influential (and concise) explanation of the art's stages: A given rhetor must first hit upon what to say (inventio); then, the speaker must manage and marshall said discoveries, not merely in orderly fashion, but also with a discriminating eye, as it were, on the argument (dispositio) and the way in which it must be most appropriately arrayed in the adornments of style (elocutio); after responding successfully to these demands, the orator must keep them guarded in memory (memoria) plus, in order to finish with a flourish, must additionally deliver them with effect and charm (actio). "Human beings are not born but fashioned," said Erasmus (1466-1536). His observation might well serve as a rather eulogistic epigraph for both humanism and homo rhetoricus.
Rhetors depended on certain topics in their invention processes almost without thinking about them. Cicero's domain included definition, similarity, difference, contraries, antecedents, consequents, contradictions, causes, effects, and comparisons. Of the five canons of rhetoric, style follows invention and arrangement but precedes memory and delivery. If invention is the engine of rhetoric discovering relevant and appropriately measured techniques or, as a Modernist might say, locating the form unquestionably and essentially necessary for the content which itself finds its form-fitting perfection in its making and shaping, arrangement its skeleton, memory its brain, and delivery its muscle, then style is its soul. Without style, a composition exists solely as words on paper. Style enables the rhetor to deliver not only cogent thought but also appropriate emotion conveying both the concept and the contextual universe in which it lives.
Naturally, these lines of logic may explain why I’ve taken pains to belabour Rhetoric’s formal and ethical exigencies since, it seems to me, they inexorably yield to the Judgement of Paris and culminate in the catalyst for Troy’s undoing. Although the curse on the House of Atreus commences when the paternal unit of Agamemnon and Menelaus, King Tantalus of Sipylos (a child of Zeus who himself fathers a son, Pelops, for whom Poseidon possesses a heart-on but Pelops refuses his advances and avers he cannot go there, not even if it's all handed to him on a ten-foot silver platter. Nope). Pelops only has eyes for King Oenomaus's daughter, Hippodameia; but, he's faced with an almost insurmountable obstacle when Hippodameia's daddy decrees his daughter will only marry the man who beats the King in a chariot race; unlike several charioteer losers against the king (who got to kill a slew o' wannabe Hip-Hubs as part of the chariot-racing deal), Pelops ponders the conundrum; then, Eureka Caughtcha Gotcha! Ultimately, he resorts to deviosity in order to get the girl of his cream-scheme dreams. How? Well, where there's a will, there's a wail and, Myrtilus, charioteer to the king, agreedily sabotages and sacrifices his boss, favouring the idea of supporting Pelops instead. Natch, the tampered wheels fall off; natch, King Oenomaus becomes a victim of underhanded vehicular murder; and, natch, like all petty crooketeers, Pelops must ensure his marriage happens. Pas de sweat. All's fair in love and dirty laundry so, a lot of hitch man ovah-board ensues.
Poor Cur Myrtilus . . . Bye-bye, Sir Myr Cur! But, in those few precious moments prior to his death, the charioteerist appeals to the all-seeing Powers That Be (PTB): Wreak havoc, effect revenge, go after that damned Pelopsical prevaricator and his treacherously tragically slickly sick one-trick-phony schtick! Hello, Curse of the Atridae! So long, Civilisation, Sayonaradieu! Did Pelops collect on the Myr-cursifiant ticket at the ancient thick-skin-and-thicket wicket? Don't ask. Because why. Time will toll.
In his representation of the events concerning the Judgement of Paris, Peter Paul Rubens features the ill-starred young man dealing with the Goddesses Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena. Troy's King Priamus and Queen Hecuba greeted the prophecy their son, Paris (a.k.a. Alexander), would be the ruin of Troy with terror tempered by devastating tribulation; in a futile effort to avoid becoming bait for a fate worse than fate, the royal couple banishes the helpless infant to Mount Ida where he's rescued from ignominious perishment and reared by shepherds. Several years pass. Then, the aforementioned trio of influential goddesses attend the wedding of Peleus and Thetis where, it is said, the purposely and pointedly uninvited and slighted Goddess of Discord, Eris, sidekick of Ares, crashes the party and spitefully pitches one of her golden apples into the assembled multitude of guests. Inscribed "To [or For] The Fairest," it becomes the apple of the trio's eyes, the apple of discord each goddess believes is meant expressly for her; thus, Hera, Aphrodite, and Athena appeal to Zeus to identify the one most deserving of the exquisite bauble. Too smart by half, Zeus delegates his duty by asserting only Paris, the husband of the nymph Oenone, possesses the qualifications to render such a momentous decision.
Hera and Athena offer Paris riches, fame, empire, and military glory; but, when Aphrodite bribes him with the offer of Helen, he votes for Aphrodite (even though Helen's already married and Paris belongs to Oenone). What's more, Paris will have to go and abduct Helen and, in so doing, will indeed set in motion the events which culminate in the ruin of Troy.
The King of Mycenae, Agamemnon, and his wife, Helen's fraternal twin sister, Clytaemnestra (parents of Iphigenia, Orestes, and Electra), are distressed when the Athenian Helen (wife of Agamemnon's brother, Sparta's King Menelaus) is seduced by Paris and goes willingly with him to Troy (and, perhaps more to the point — Pin money, perhaps? — takes oodles and caboodles of treasures and mega-whoppings of wealth with her). Agamemnon and Menelaus, the chosen leaders of Achaia, organise the chieftains of Greece into a massive force to journey to Troy, recapture Helen, and bring her home. Achilles, Ajax, Diomedes, Odysseus, and Nestor, among others, come forth to help King Agamemnon, designated Commander in Chief of the fleet.
The Greeks gather at the port of Aulis in the country's northeast before setting out for Troy in the opening sequences of The Iliad; there, the fleet learns the goddess Artemis/Diana harbours great ill against it, not only because Agamemnon has killed a deer sacred to her, but also because he has spoken against her rather arrogantly. In retaliation, she becalms the sea, leaving the contingent incapable of carrying out its mission, the preparations for which had taken two years and involved a thousand ships as well as approximately 100,000 men (and, of course, this is the origin of the expression concerning Helen's face, the most beautiful face in the known world at that time, the one launching a thousand ships).
The soothsayers are consulted; their divinations, directions, and instructions must be followed to the letter to effect the requisite transformations. King Agamemnon, residing over the Athenian house of Atreus in ancient Greece, turns to Calchas for advice and, in so doing, learns he can only atone for his transgression by sacrificing his eldest daughter, the virgin Iphigenia. Forced to consent, Agamemnon grants Odysseus permission to go to Iphigenia’s mother, Clyaetemnestra, accompanied by Diomedes, in order to dupe both into believing Iphigenia's to be given to Achilles in marriage. Thrilled with the prospect of bringing such a great warrior into the family, the two women head for Aulis. There, of course, they learn no marriage is planned; and, what's more, the duo additionally discovers Achilles is right royally outraged his name has been used to deceive Iphigenia.
In anger, Achilles draws a sword against Agamemnon. (Most individuals familiar with this story will recognise its motifs in such paintings as "The Anger of Achilles"  by Jacques-Louis David, for example.) Achilles vows he shall become Iphigenia's protector; however, he cannot assemble an army large enough to do so (given the fact most soldiers and warriors have already committed their skills and services to Sparta’s King Menelaus); thus, in one version of the classic chronicle concerning her fate, Iphigenia's sacrificed. In another, Iphigenia's led to the altar; but, Artemis/Diana, at the last possible moment, has a change of heart. She whisks Iphigenia away to become a priestess in her Tauris temple while leaving a deer in her place so the sacrifice proceeds.
(Euripides, in Iphigeneia in Aulis, shows the young virigin voluntarily agreeing to sacrifice herself, imagining, as several scholars have affirmed, she will win the kind of fame usually reserved for men. In fact, she even refers to herself as the Liberator of Greece. Gaius Julius Hyginus, particularly in Fabulae 69, tends to favour this version of the myth as well; in his version of that reality, the sacrificial altar's aswirl in dense mist so that Iphigenia can be replaced by a doe and spirited away by Artemis/Diana.)
Nevertheless, despite the variant endings attached to the story of Iphigenia, the fact remains she's a tragic heroine, one whose life is irreparably altered so the Greek fleet can sail for Troy. Herodotus (b. 484 BC) confirms human sacrifices were still made during his lifetime; and, Agamemnon's virgin daughter, Iphigenia, was one such. Edward Tripp does write that "Iphigenia was worshipped in at least one Greek city." As well, Tripp (among other reputable scholars), believed Iphigenia to be a "a form of Artemis/Diana" herself.
While Agamemnon wages war on Troy, Clytaemnestra takes a lover, sole survivor Aegisthus, the only child not slaughtered and served up at one horrific feast (and, as most readers know, Aristotle emphasised the critical difference between terror and horror; namely, the former admits of catharsis while the latter never allows for such purgation. The lexical relationship between purgatory and purgation needs no further belabourment, given the sacrificial nature of both culture and civilisation). The couple waits a decade for Agamemnon's return. Under his command, the Greeks prevail and conquer the city. Then, in keeping with common ritualistic traditions, the troops and leaders either butcher or enslave Troy's inhabitants prior to heading home. Agamemnon returns with a captive mistress, the prophetess Cassandra, in tow; he has yet to discover Clytaemnestra has herself taken a lover, none other than Aegisthus, the sole surviving son of Thyestes.
At this point, according to Homer, Agamemnon's first cousin, the aforementioned Aegisthus, now the Queen's consort, determines he will help Clyaetemnestra murder the victorious warrior. Why? Well, there's the matter of "The Curse" on the House of Atreus, sometimes called The Curse of the Atrides. It commences with the father of Aegisthus, Thyestes, wifenapping the bitter, er, better half of his brother Atreus (Agamemnon's father); in his dispute with Thyestes, Atreus slaughters his brother's male offspring and, even more atrociously anathematic, gloats while his brother savours the tasty feast (which, he learns soon enough, has been concocted with the cadavers of his slain sons). Horrified, devastated, brain revving in overdrivenly Munchian scream-silent despair, Thyestes appeals to the gods to bring down a curse on the already maledictively accursed house of Atreus. The gods listen. Beshrewdly bedamned, Thyestes flees with the one son spared the gruesome fate of his brothers.
Shortly after Agamemnon's return, he's ambushed and murdered in the bath by his wife, Clytaemnestra. Her next target, the prophetess Cassandra, convinced she cannot change her fate, walks knowingly towards her own death. Clytaemnestra displays the king's corpse and avers "Justice" has been served. What's her motivation? Well, power corrupts; and . . .
Additionally, she does indeedly love Aegisthus; however, the mean green-greedy queen rather too conveniently insists she's only motivated by righteous revenge (because Agamemnon had endorsed the sacrificial death of Iphigenia). Horror Vacui? Amor Vacui? No matter. Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus illegally and unlawfully install themselves as de facto rulers under the contra-aegis of a specific kind of Justice prefiguring our current deja-voodoo democracies' processes.
Set in Argos eight years after the facts, the Aeschylustrous play forming the template (or providing the scaffolding) for Orestes' Lament, The Libation Bearers, opens with Agamemnon's now-grown son and his best friend, Pylades. Orestes and his sister, Electra, herself all growed up and gorgeous, have been deprived of their rightful inheritance by their mother. Orestes has been living in exile; her lux of light buried beneath a bushel, Electra has been demoted to servant in her own house.
Disguised, Orestes pays respects at the tomb of his father. While he is there, a group of women, led by Electra, comes to the grave with shows of mourning. Orestes hides himself so that he can learn the intent of the women. The women pour libations in homage to the dead; but, Electra is stunned. She finds a lock of hair (a traditional offering to the dead) on her father's tomb. This lock of hair, no ordinary lock, has the colour and texture unique to Agamemnon's children alone; thus, it must have come from the head of Orestes.
Her brother reveals himself, proclaiming he's returned to avenge his father and reclaim the throne. Apollo himself has commanded that Orestes kill the usurpers. Orestes asks the Chorus why they are making offerings at Agamemnon's tomb. The slave women tell him that Clyaetemnestra has sent them; she's suffering terrible nightmares about being bitten by a serpent she's breastfeeding. The soothsayers have interpreted her dreams: The dead are angry. Clytaemnestra, to appease the ghosts, has taken to sending Electra and the slave women to pour offerings at Agamemnon's tomb.
Orestes and Electra try to invoke the spirit of Agamemnon, working themselves into a frenzy so that Orestes will be able to go through with the act of matricide. Nothing doing. Nevertheless, Orestes makes a plan: He and Pylades, disguised, will gain entry into the palace. Electra will keep watch, and the Chorus of slave women will keep quiet but help if they can. The two men will wait for an opportune moment to slay Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus.
Then comes the single scene change, the reason for the middle break in my poem, representing the scene change from the tomb of Agamemnon to just outside the palace of Clytaemnestra. Orestes and Pylades approach the doors to the palace and pretend to be foreign travellers bringing terrible news: Orestes is dead.
Clytaemnestra welcomes them; she then sends for Aegisthus so he may hear the important news. Cilissa, Orestes' old nurse, goes to fetch Aegisthus, heavy of heart (because she had loved and nursed Orestes as if he were her own son). The Chorus hints Orestes may still be alive and insists she tell Aegisthus to come alone without bodyguards, a fact important to the two kids' plan. She weeps as she goes; and, although she doesn't understand the cryptic instructions of the Chorus, she does as she is asked. Aegisthus returns unguarded. He goes into the palace, and mere moments later, one of his followers emerges and announces that Aegisthus has been killed. That follower finds and warns Clytaemnestra.
Before she can take measures to protect herself, Orestes and Pylades come out of the palace and seize her. Orestes has a moment of indecision, but Pylades convinces him that he must go through with the act: The gods decree it. Clytaemnestra tries unsuccessfully to get him to spare her life, finally warning him that if he kills her he will be cursed. Orestes is not swayed; he and Pylades drag the queen inside the palace.
The palace doors open, revealing Orestes with the bodies of his mother and Aegisthus. He proclaims that justice has been served and justifies his actions as being ordered by Apollo. Then, he announces his intent to go to the shrine of Apollo and await further instructions. Suddenly, as his mother had warned just before he murdered her, he becomes the target of the wrath of the Erinyes, the vicious malicious horrific Greek furies raining down wrath on his head. Only Orestes sees these fearsome creatures now pursuing him. The chorus? It wonders aloud and muses in unison concerning The Curse on the House of Atreus: Will it ever be lifted?
The Adagios Quartet everywhere reflects its Aeschylian roots. It is the fruit and the flowering of exactly that tree. Iphigenia and her Song (IS) is culture (gone terribly wrong as a result of parents incapable of practising what Joseph Conrad implicitly considers to be restraint, say, in Heart of Darkness); Iphigenia is "postmodern" civilisation, our world, our terrorisms, horrorisms, incestuosities, and self-destructive impulses.
Thus, the Quartet’s first principle, its overriding elementary premise, concerns the carnage, damage, and devastation we carelessly heap upon the planet and inflict upon our most vulnerable yet, incomprehensibly and paradoxically, our most precious resource, our trusting and innocent children. (As the more astute critics of my work have correctly noted, the defining message of each of my works, regardless of medium, both descants upon and rails against the endlessly cyclical nature of child abuse.)
Because our children are so terribly damaged, more often than not, they themselves continue to hurt and harm themselves (either consciously or unconsciously). Iphigenia, in some versions of the events surrounding her life, for telling example, altruistically offers to sacrifice herself so that she may please her father and, in the process, garner fame for herself through her selflessness (which may well be considered an act of supreme selfishness). Ergo, the self-harming and utterly willing soon-to-be sacrificial victim may be equally considered a collaborator in her self-snuffing demise, in the fact she attacks herself first, in the fact she most likely felt her deed would secure and ensure patriarchal approval. (Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.)
A civilised culture rightly concerns itself with the so-called grand themes most central to it self-respect, survival, and growth; in this regard, one of the Quartet's tasks involves scrutiny or close examination within the confines of the ever-altering critical focus informing the work while simultaneously illuminating philosophical positions which yield to the location and ordering of its key features and representative elements.
The Quartet's explanatory and interpretative orientation — as opposed to its purely historical inclinations — attempts to locate and isolate pivotal junctures and critical turns-of-events which clear the way for the work's technical and textual focus; additionally, its personal versus universal aesthetic strategies as well as its perceptually episodic or anecdotal presentations involve, among other items, the notion the Quartet’s high-formalism mixes it up, gets down and dirty on the over and out, effects a sort of sashay sway among several lazily accepted truisms which ensure the work’s readability and accessibility.
In each of its four BOOKS, works, events, and trends combine with anecdotal representations or recollections alongside both private documents and topical data relating to the work’s shape and progress. Neither reportorial gloss nor mundane surveillance of the factual, the Quartet, as I see it, must function as a timely, selective, and strategic embodiment of a double-doxa discipline deployed in the interest of establishing a viable critical context which resonates with specific literary concerns and objectives as well as dominant themes of our contemporary cultural worldview. I isolate in order to integrate, analyse in order to synthesise, and dissect in order to reconstruct a moment (or an era) in our belle-lettristic history by attending to its primary features and fixtures so that I might situate seminal works and events within their cultural, traditional, and contemporary contexts.
Given what poetry actually is and does (or ought to be and do), it would be supremely presumptuous of me to expect readers wholly and fully understand it. How could I demand this type of understanding of poetry from an individual not "schooled" in what it is and why it does what it does?
Poetry, like all arts — whether scientific, historical, or literary — requires skill, assiduosity, perseverance, and acceptance of one's own sublimely supreme idiotocracy, not to mention the tools, techniques, and intrinsic demands a poem makes firstly upon its creator (some implicit; others explicit [i.e. formal demands on the genre I make, including scansion and content / contextual considerations, since an epic is a narrative]) and concomitantly, its consumer. Prior to putting a "word on paper" (also generally considered a Greek "invention" of which each reader must know a little), the mastery of the tools of the trade (plus talent, the thing granted by the Creator, the gift one must honour since it is a gift from the Supreme Being), these must be above reproach.
I sing the logos rhetoricus (in opposition to the current glut of pomo-palaverations); the characteristic structural composition of rhetorical utterances (or, loosely, logos) supplies the linguistic key unlocking the historical door which swings open to reveal a world long-gone (in much the same way King Agamemnon's palace door swings open to reveal the corpses of Clyaetemnestra and consort, Aegisthus). In both instances, the long-gone world seemingly implodes, moment by millennium, in the shape and scope of the dashed hopes, dreams, and desires percolating through a world Orestes thought he knew.
In the same way we are not able to do brain surgery because we have not spent years studying to be brain surgeons, poetry is specialised and does require knowledge along the same lines. When someone says, I don't understand poetry, it's understandable. I don't understand the mechanical nor formal demands made upon the technical skillset requiring successful surgering of a brain. On the other hand, I do understand the basics, and if pressed, could name the parts of a brain; but, I don't think I could operate on one. You see what I mean? It's imperative contemporary poets include their audiences, their works' readers, in order for the art to thrive; as well, despite the fact poetry's devalued in our times, that doesn't necessarily indicate such will always be the case.
That is why I contend "post-modernism" is actually "contra-modernism" and why it seems, to me, to be the greatest misnomer in the history of "defining" an era. The crisis of poetry in contemporary terms, at least, inevitably and inextricably involves the fact it's specialised itself out of existence. It doesn't speak to the general reader. Irving Layton called me The Last of the Great Modernists and, therefore, this may explain why I write against postmodernism in poetry, so exclusive, so in-bound and incestuous, it kills its audience by defeating its self (with the notion there is no "meaning," no personal "experiential meaning," I suppose, let alone such an exalted concept such as the one the notion of a "self" circumscribes).
With po-mo rise, er, raze, all things dealing with "meaning" are eradicated. This flattening, this changing critical focus informing poetry during the second half of the twentieth century generally, not to mention locating and ordering key features and elements representative of what I consider aesthetic strategies loosely characterised as "post-structural" in nature, did far more harm than good. Many of us disagreed with this attack — there must be some meaning in the universe because it exists. Sounds simplistic and Thomistic; but, it is the question that has fuelled philosophy for all time. Few have examined and successfully responded to it, in English, in North America, or in Canada. Irving Layton, Leonard Cohen, that's about it insofar as we are examining writers with whom you have some familiarity and knowledge.
One cannot teach another to be a poet; all one can do is provide another with the "tricks of the trade," the tradition, the techniques, its grammatic, persuasive (rhetorical), and stylistic elements. But, some one cannot teach some other to be a poet; they are or they are not. One can nurture talent and encourage its owner; but, that's as far as one can ethically go; that's the route I hope I have always taken (in both my teaching and mentoring) because that is where "the teacher" or "the mentor" role ends. Irving Layton was wise enough to know this; he taught me to teach likewise and, for his instructions concerning instruction, I shall always remain indebted.
At a crucial juncture in BOOK TWO of the Adagios Quartet, the book Orestes owns, one of its dominant speakers — immediately after the previous speaker (in French), passionately, anachronistically, and fiercely asserts, Écrasez l’infâme! — responds to the commanding rhetorical French speaker, to both amplify and expand upon what the French speaker is and does, in terms of their relationships to each other in this long poem:
"Transgrafting fatherly substitutes marks
and mimics the foundations of our self
sustaining mythos, logos, ethos, all
in the name of brute imagoes' powerful casuistry."
The response, of course, is an intellectual one; and, clearly, its speaker prefers it remain on that level, to exist in a world where "mythos, logos, ethos, all" is, indeedly, all. The enjambment brings both the "intellectualising" speaker to bear upon the idea of the "brute," "beast," "monster," et. ilk, while carefully revealing this individual knows and understands the way in which our world works (or doesn't).
BOOK TWO in my Quartet, Orestes' Lament, is written the way it is written to echo the importance of the number three, the Trinity (among other elements), as well as containing its middling break. Each syllable has a count to it, a "beat," so to speak; and, it all scans, every last syllable. Forty-five pages, two times twenty-two sequences of two stanzas (four lines each, eight lines total per page) plus two times twenty-two sequences of three stanzas or nine lines total per page alternating. At the very centre, the long poem's "turning/breaking" point, there is what we call, loosely, a representative presentation of concrete poetry but, more specifically, the strategy is and was technically called, during the Renaissance, carmen figuratum (where, e.g., a Christmas poem is written in the poetically patterned shape of a Christmas tree).
In Orestes' Lament, the centre point, page 23, is shaped thusly (and, it refers back to the first book, Iphigenia‘s Song, where the same shape or pattern exists on one of her pages); but, the fact it is shaped this way is precisely because of the subject and the way in which I wanted to telegraph its essential features and characteristics. It could be a Vee flock of geese, a school of sharks, an advancing army, a fleet of ships on an ocean voyage, or all of these:
So, it's forty-five pages, 390 lines, 3,524 words, and that's the "breaking/turning point" sequence dead-centre in the long poem, twenty-two prior, twenty-two following. All the lines scan on ten, fifteen, or twenty beats, with the obvious exceptions, including the bit above. A couple others exist; but, the long poem in toto scans on these stresses; the challenge was to ensure the constraint of the form, each line scanning, did not appear obvious nor overwhelm the contents of the poem, its narrative elements. It had to read naturally, twenty-first century naturally; thus, perhaps, its demands may serve to explain why Rhetoric’s elements feature so prominently in these jammifications.
Only six Ipighenia sequences scan along traditional lines. Why? Collectively, the sextet represents the three Fates in apposition to the Three Sirens insofar as the Music of the Spheres is concerned. (Plato notes, in his 360 BCE Republic [XL], the three Fates governed heaven's circles, each sister in the trio representing a kind of siren, each a daughter of Necessity chanting and controlling destiny. Lachesis governs things past; Clotho oversees things present; and, Atropos, the sister responsible for snipping the thread at the end of an individual's life, represents things to come.) Sea nymphs in the Mediterranean, the Three Sirens lead men to crash their vessels on the rocks (and naturally, for me, lead to a pair of Romantic German ideals of the feminine, the heroine of Goethe's Faust, and the lyric poet Heinrich Heine's golden-haired Lorelei, the siren who sits on the rock above the Rhine below the city of Koblenz, trying to lure sailors to their deaths through physical beauty and her song's irresistible pull). Paul Celan, in "Death Fugue," also refers to the woman involved in this particular aspect of that myth's underpinning structure. Odysseus avoided the allure of the Sirens by tying himself to his ship's mast and stopping his sailors' ears with wax. Robert Graves, in The White Goddess, explores elements of the triple goddess of the New, Full, and Old Moon in terms of Birth, Love, and Death.
Also, the six-set metred sequences represent the dominant characteristics of the Three Furies, in order of appearance: Resentful, Relentless, and Avenger. Often found in the company of the god of war, Mars, their heads covered with serpents and breathing vengeance and pestilence, such phenomena may well put one in mind of another trilogy integral to the creation of the Adagios Quartet, the trilogy involving measures and means of writing and reading along McLuhanistic lines relating to aspects of the Visual, Auditory, and Kinaesthetic (or Tactile).
(Samite, by the way, is a type of taffeta generally interwoven with six threads, one of which is golden. As well, the notion of the senary, relating to the number six, echoes sice, the number six at dice. Of course, both The Iliad and Virgil’s Æneid are written in hexameters, verses of six metrical feet, the first four of which may be either dactyls or spondees, the fifth regularly being a dactyl, while the sixth must always be a spondee.)
The trio of Furies engages in a contrapuntal dance with the trio of Graces (Splendour, Mirth, and Good Cheer a.k.a. Beauty, Gentleness, and Friendship). Often depicted with Venus, the nine Muses, and Apollo, such arrangements were popular as art motifs in terms of iconography.
The reason six of the Iphigenia sequences are metrically uniform involves part of what the epic, if it does succeed, attempts to do; that is, aside from telling the story of the tragedy involving the major players of the ancient House of Atreus in Athens, the work's four books concurrently contain, in their unravelling, a history of Christianity alongside a history of human(un)kind's wreckage and ruination as well as that of poetry's art, craft, and various movements, moments, or periods.
Loosely speaking, the template for my Quartet exists in what has come down to us in literary history as THE ORESTEIA, the trilogy of plays written by Aeschylus, the inventor of drama, theatre, etc., during the time of antiquity. Additionally, the epic I hope I am creating not only involves THE ORESTEIA and High-Modernist T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets, it also looks to works by James Joyce, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, Shakespeare, Homer, Aristotle, Chaucer, David Jones, and Freud (among others in somewhat circuitously contrapuntal sorts of ways and interweaving echoing strands).
Aeschylus really is the one who birthed drama, both tragic and comic. First, though, four centuries BC, the Greeks celebrated events in what were called "festivals" featuring religious song and dance. Aestivals aplenty. By the time Aeschylus began writing the very first plays in the history of playwriting, during the sixth century BC, "festivals" of a sort were already in existence. They were kindred cousins of country hoedowns, I guess. Rural, agrarian, fun-and-game times, these festivals began with Dionysus, one of Zeus's kids, who is said to have discovered "wine," the making of it.
So, the festivals were drunk-ins, sort of, the same way the sixties featured "love ins." By the sixth century BC, Athenians had transformed what you've heard called the Dionysian "orgiasmatica" — well, not that word exactly; but, now, of course, since I've coined it, that's exactly what I mean, yeah — into urban festivals, joyous, drinking, dancing, singing, snuggling, drinking, cuddling, drinking, toasting the gawd of the grape, Bacchus, and then, drinking some more, etc. These festivals also included dancing choruses competing for prizes.
Collectively, the members of the Dionysiac cult habitually recounted their godly myths by dancing and singing their stories; thus, the chorus, as we know it, told the tales. Then, one day, about 2,500 or so years ago, give or take a few decennia, a fellow by the name of Thespis, a Dionysian priest, stepped out of the chorus line and, in so doing, became the original official actor, the first player responsible for bringing dialogue into the dramatic picture (rather than adhering to accepted chorus lines of rhapsodic song-and-dancery). Although masked, Thespis spoke; he neither sang nor danced; thus, at that exact moment, Greek tragedy came into existence. Aeschylus expanded its boundaries and transformed the art by using two masked actors who interacted with each other (while the chorus maintained its role in the background).
Take two actors, one chorus, a complex plot, and Eureka! The eternal struggle. Nothing less will do. Such a presentation could be "staged" and poets could compete against one another for the prizes the winners received. Believe it or not, the first playwright/s? The job description was not simply "writing" a play, it also involved creating music, choreographing dancing, building props, and directing actors, as well as various other rather more mundane tasks.
Drama, then, was born in Athens, Greece, thanks to Aeschylus. When Athens conquered Persia (480-479 BC), the now superpower of the many Greek city-states existing as independent entities in Greece? That was the beginning, the defining moment when, quite literally, the festival, a lout-about get-to-get non-pareil, became spectacle.
Lasting four or five days, the spectacularious Dionysia of Athens became central elements and defining moments of Greek culture, as big as the Beatles. An important and integral aspect of Athenian flourishment, no one wanted to turn up missing. All wanted to go. Everywhere one looked, the spectacle's influence could be seen, heard, and felt.
Citizens would most likely say such things as, well, "Hey, hey, Happy Dionysia Day!" "Merry Dionysia!" "Hoo-Whee DD Wishes!" "Have a great D-Day!" "May this most joyous of days satisfy your divine ipse-dipsi-doodinal Dionysian loonatictoodinal side, bottoms Upsified on Dionysion DaySide," yadda-yadda-yawnerama. During that particularly knotted and besotted time in Athens, the Festival was so important, prisoners were sprung from The Big House, bizthnesses folded up, everything was about the Dionysian Festival.
Approximately ten thousand free men in Athens attended the festivities, bringing along their slaves and dependents (wives and kids); the events were staged in an enormously huge theatre space that had room for about 17,000 spectators. On each of the three days, the audience watched three tragedies and one satyr play (a light comedy involving mythic themes or events), as well as a full-blown comedy. Five "events" per day for three days, then. Lots to see and enjoy.
THE ORESTEIA, by Aeschylus, is the only surviving complete trilogy that we have. (Although the three Sophocles plays dealing with the Oedipus myth are sometimes called "The Oedipus Trilogy," Sophocles never presented those works together and, in fact, wrote the plays separately over the span of decades.) At the end of the festival, the tragedians were awarded first, second, and third prizes.
For modern readers, the Chorus seems odd, now; but, it was never seen as "naturalistic" anyway; Greek drama was highly stylised, the actors wore masks, the performances incorporated song and dance, and the chorus "told" the story, expanding, explaining, remarking, judging, observing, clarifying, and opining on the actions of a given play. By the time we get to the sequences providing the content template for my Quartet, the chorus was made up of slave women who were said to have worked for Clytaemnestra, Iphigenia's mother. The chorus, in this instance, is loyal to the other two children, Orestes and Electra, because of what had ostensibly happened to Iphigenia.
The chorus hates Clytaemnestra and the lover she took, Aegisthus. The chorus interacts with the actors in these works, playing a crucial part in moving the story forward. So, the trilogy which provides the basis for the content, the events in my "epic," what I've called THE ORESTEIA, contained three plays, all written by Aeschylus. The Libation Bearers — the play involving Orestes — was not divided into acts and scenes the way, say, Shakespeare's works were, later; but, at one central moment, there is a single scene change near the middle of the play. Hence, the graphic "turning point" poem I describe above. It is in the approximate middle of my second book of my epic because it is the only scene change in The Libation Bearers (or Orestes' story).
In the final "Notes / Masterpiece" essay in the book I now write, "Leonard Cohen: Master of Song," part of the argument of that chapter involves exactly this element, that Ten New Songs is an epyllion in the call-and-response couplings of the songs. Thus, the logic for Ten New Songs being Ten New Songs resides in the fact there are ten tunes, each a set, organically arranged and ultimately opening out into its formal framework, the epyllion. What I find surprising is that not one person has ever considered the fact I wrote that essay knowing full well it would be a couple of years before I could do the book. Nobody seems to have figured out, if I put all my cards on the table, there would be no reason to write the TNS chapter (and, the five chapters plus Intro are what the book addresses/explicates; that is, Cohen’s five masterpieces, Various Positions, I’m Your Man, The Future, Ten New Songs, and Dear Heather). Natch, it's written the way it's written in order to ensure nobody rips it and claims it as their intellectual property.
Would you show your whole hand if you were seated at the table playing the holy game of poker? 'Course not. The 'Net has made theft a helluva lot easier. One of the challenges I had to address in composing those "Notes" involved ensuring the work was burglar-proofed, impossible to steal, let alone pilferise. If anyone else writes about TNS in terms of TDC, they will have to answer to me.
You know, no woman in the history of English-language poetry has ever penned a successful epic; thus, I could not ignore this irrefutable first fact of that irresistibly compelling siren song.
Essentially, the structural demands of the form necessitate recalling John Milton's masterwork, Paradise Lost (penned to justify the ways of God to man). Classically, an epic opens in medias res and, by the conclusion of its first half, events precipitating its dramatic opening reveal themselves. Consider this in relation to the alphabet: Commencing around E, readers discover various precedents and can piece together the narrative by the conclusion of J. Thenceforth, the poem proceeds chronologically (in narrative time). Invocation, prophecy, dream, allegorica, scenic variation, the celestial visitant, and decriptive lists galore feature prominently in its pages.
Think compression. (Surely, you gist.) A portrait, a rendering, a snapshot of the contents of the mind of the world, an attempt to justify the ways of human(un)kind to the Creator, the lists combine linguistic, literary, and historical blends of the truth at one bloodied centre. Now, with three of the four BOOKS comprising my contemporary "epic" completed, I can more confidently assert, World Class or Go Home! If the Quartet does comprise an in-depth analysis of the particulars of the writing of a wide-ranging selection of authors from all parts of the country and world in all disciplines who have significantly contributed to creating (and recreating) our nation’s contemporary literary consciousness enriching our understanding of ourselves, each other, and the grand themes civilised cultures continually monitor and evaluate with an eye, always, towards renewal, growth, and vitality, who could ask for more?