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Sunday, July 09, 2006

Lost Books 

They're Super Sticky

"Mikhail Bakhtin, while exiled in Kazakhstan, 'used his work on Dostoyevsky as cigarette papers, after having smoked a copy of the Bible'". I was unaware of that, but it gives a whole new meaning to something, I imagine. The review is at The Hindu's "Literary Review" and extremely interesting. The book under review is Stuart Kelly's The Book of Lost Books, obviously something worth having. Not all the works mentioned in the review enjoy the same status, however. I'm not sure that Homer's "Margitas"—most likely written by someone much later than Homer—is quite the loss it is made out to be.

Still, it's a fascinating topic. I used to have some theories about this. People have often wondered why Virgil in his final illness commanded The Aeneid to be burnt, and I think it's fairly obvious. Somewhere in there he talks about the next bit being the hard part. All the legendary stuff was pretty easy if you know a bit about ancient Latium and have the knack of stringing together dactylic hexameters. H'm... Dó you watch móvies like "Bríng me the héad of Alfrédo García"?

Anyway, I believe Virgil was confronted with something unprecedented in his work and felt that he couldn't bring it off. It's difficult to make a traditional epic about something as charged with politics as the founding of Rome. Gogol' as well. Having written Dead Souls, what was he to add? Some people think that he burnt his great manuscript because he was in a frenzy, but I think it was the frustrating manuscript that was driving him crazy. He died a day or two later. It's never a good idea to work really hard at anything.


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