Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Function of Art (In Life and in The Odyssey)

     Fiction has always fascinated me. Maybe not paintings so much, but I understand the appeal and can appreciate it for what it is and what it's trying to convey. Fiction though, has always been a cornerstone in my life. Since I can remember, I've always wanted to be a writer. That might be a lie actually, I think there may have been a point in my kindergarten years where I wanted to be a paleontologist, but only because that was Ross's profession on the show Friends. I try to spent at least a half an hour a day writing, I often don't, because I'm lazy, but that's generally the intent.
     I don't believe myself to be a pretentious person, more often than not, I'm practicing in the delicate dance of self deprication. I think that's important so that I don't sound like something of an ass when I say that I believe the things that I write to be art.
     This is not because they are particularly good, or that I even think they are very good. More often then not, I shut off my computer in a rage or toss my notebook across the room as though it were hot potatoe. 90% of the time, I write bad stories, but that's just the thing, they're still stories. I think what I write, and in more general terms, what anyone writes, qualifies as art for the simple reason that the writing means something emotionally to the person telling the story, even if the work is terrible and nearly incomprehensible to others.
     As an example, I have written an insane, novel length story about how the destruction of the moon dooms the Earth. To anyone else, this would be incomprehensible rubbish, but to me, it's a reflection on what it means that my high school career is coming to a close and that the people I've spent the last six years of my life with will all be going their seperate ways. This applies to myself and no one else, it helps me to deal with my on again off again fear of change, and i sincerly doubt it would mean this or anything to anyone else.
     Better writers can and do make their own stories with their own meanings really mean something for the people reading. The best of fiction offers reflections of life in all it's forms, both grand and minute. This can apply to all types of fiction, be it literature, movies, spoken anecdotes, or dare I say even television, yes, television. I do love television.
     Storytelling in all of its forms is a cathartic medium and an emotional art. It is in this way that art applies to "The Odyssey", Homer's sprawling, expansive epic concerning loyalty, determination, and the major players of Greek mythos.
     At it's heart, "The Odyssey" is a story about storytelling. The main chunk of the book, detailing Odysseus's adventures as he tries to return home to Ithika, is told through the frame of Odysseus telling the story of his tribulations to the Phaecians in return for their kind hospitality. Even past this, large sections of the story are told through the frame of storytelling, often times, the reader has already seen the events play out, and the story is in exchange for hospitality. Clearly, the art of storytelling was regarded highly in Greek culture, as it was often given for hospitality, one of the most sacred aspects of common life.
     So why include this in the text? At somewhere in the neighborhood of 450 pages, "The Odyssey" clearly does not suffer from a lack of girth. Homer doesn't have to begin the main action of the epic through a framing device. Other than to act as a plot device in giving him a ship to go home, the Phaecians play little role in the rest of the novel. Clealry, this implies a greater signficance in Greek culture to the art of storytelling.
     But is there any catharsis in this? It could be argued that telling of his trials is something of a release to Odysseyus. I tend not to lean in that direction, as there is little evidence in the text, but I think it's certainly a possibility to be considered. Odysseyus clearly cares deeply for his family and for his homeland, so it's concievable that just the telling of how hard it's been to return home would be enough to effect him proufoundly.
     That's kind of a stretch though, but I think that's ok. If it's not ok to be wrong on a blog, then there can't be a lot of places where it is ok. Especially not Jeporady, I hear you don't win any money if you're wrong on that particular game show.
     Instead, I think I'll move away from my earlier point about how the point of art is to provide catharsis for the writer or reader. That's what I believe, but not necessarily what the text presents. It can't all line up I suppose. So I think I'll close by discussing how the role of storytelling has changed throughout the years and decades and centuries. Clearly, the role has changed through the years. In Greek times, one of the best things you could do for a person is provide them with shelter and hospitality, in exchange for this greatest of deeds, the benificiary would be awarded stories. Today, if someone does you a monumental favor, let's say saves your life, you can't quite repay them with a story.
     Let's say Bob is walking down the street. He's not paying attention, instead he's listening to his iPod or daydreaming about outer space or something along those lines. Because of this, a truck is bearing down on him and he doesn't see it. Being the brave heroic type that he is, Sputnik steps in and pushes him out of the way, saving his life. (I have always loved the name Sputnik and plan on naming my first born child that, regardless of gender or the mother's preference).  Bob realizes what has just happened and showers Sputnik in gratitude. "My god," he might say, "you've saved my life. I can't thank you enough, whatever can I do to repay you?"
     Sputnik, being in the business of saving lives because he's attempting to compensate for a fear that he doesn't care about anyone but himself and is nothing more than a selfish clod, has no interest in a reward of any kind. "Don't worry about it," he might say, "It was nothing."
     "Of course it was something!" Bob would say, "I tell you what, I know how I can make it up to you- let me tell you the story of the time I got jumped by shirtless holligans outside Franklin pool."
     As Bob tells the story, Sputnik might stare in amazement, incredulous that anyone might think a story could possibly be on par with saving a life. He might even start to regret saving such a person in the first place.
     Clearly, storytelling isn't held in quite the same stature that it was when "The Odyssey" was written. Why is that? What has changed and why has it changed? Why isn't art as important as it once was?
     Throughout this blog, I intend to explore the following question- "What is art and its function in our lives?" Is Odysseus repeating his story art? Is it important that he does so? I have no idea right now, but I suppose that's the point.

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