Saturday, August 09, 2008

Bad Epic

I've been thinking about my Next Big Project. Well, sort of. It changes frequently. It's a fun little exercise, to imagine completely uncharted work (as opposed to at least twice-charted work which is what most first books are).

Last week, hanging out in London with a particularly entertaining group of Renaissance friends, I mentioned to them that I was anxious about the lack of a chapter on epic in my current book project. One friend understandably asked me why no epic chapter, then? My immediate, unthinking reply was that Elizabethan English epics a) aren't classical enough for the likes of my book and b) just aren't that good. In fact, they're hideous.

My second, only slightly more considerate reply was that no one really did classical epic right until Milton, who then undid it- everyone before (Spenser et al) really just did Romance with a dash of epic. Think of Thomas Mann's analysis of Beethoven's late piano sonatas in Dr Faustus (or just bear with me here): In doing, surpassing and then un-doing the epic, Milton finished the epic, just like Beethoven finished the sonata. Anyway, said charming friends immediately collectively decided that my next book would have to be about these pre-Miltonic attempts, and they also decided that its title would be Bad Epic.

The funny thing is that I think in some way, they might actually be right. I already teach acourse on epics, from Homer to Philip Pullman. I'm obviously interested in questions of genre and pushing those boundaries. And I have Greek (and am perhaps a little too proud of that fact). Better, it's the perfect response to the question "why is there no chapter on epic in your book?"

"Funny you should ask. Well actually, that's my Next Big Project."

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