Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Ingrid Rowland Gets the Point about Ariosto

I count myself a big-time Ariosto fan; he seems to have an almost limitless capacity for ease and good nature, a kind of insouciant brio--all while banging his head against the wall of what must have been a thankless day job.

Nice to see that Ingrid Rowland gets it.  Appraising (in the current New York Review of Books) a new translation, she remarks on how all epics bear an aura of remembernce: Homer tells us of how there were giants in those days.  Tolkien, she says, tells of  harkens back to an age when "the crags, plants, and creatures in wild places were magical because the whole earth was magical."   Of Ariosto's great Orlando Furioso, she says:
[D]espite its monumental length, its heroic subjects, and its atmosphere of changing times, Orlando Furioso is anything but elegiac in its tone; it is the sixteenth-century version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a send-up with biting social commentary, outrageous adventures, over-the-top violence, a sexual merry-go-round, and humor at every level from the most refined to the most sophomoric. Most Renaissance jokes are as lame after five centuries as their modern equivalents will prove to be, but Ariosto can still make anyone laugh.
 Veering close to the too-easy grasp at relevance, this sounds to me pretty much right.  The word that always comes to my mind is "jaunty."  The only thing close to it I know of in English is Byron, specifically the Byron of Don Juan.  I'm sure there are great libraries of commentary on the point but I can still remember my own flash of recognition when, on first reading Ariosto, I thought "Oh!--I've been here before!"

They say that tragedy is comedy seen at  distance--if it happens to me it is tragic, if to you, it is merely funny.   And that comedy is the way of coming to terms with the past, of letting go.  And if one must let go, I can't think of a better way to do it

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