martes, 10 de noviembre de 2009

The Decameron #1.5/10: Boccaccio for Dummies


Boccaccio (anticipating the 1970s roadie look, natch)

At the risk of offending more critically-attuned sensibilities (I feel I must apologize in advance to the likes of Amateur Reader and our good friend Emily but not to those hordes of silly bloggers who insist on calling "the classics" a "genre"), it seems to me that one's appreciation of a story really only boils down to two things: what does the writer have to say and how does he or she say it?  Everything else is fluff...or worse, "theory."  Although I've begun my own reading of The Decameron fully expecting to enjoy its stories on their own as entertainment, I'm such a dummy that I'm not sure yet what Boccaccio will have to say during the course of the work or how he will say it.  Will he be didactic, a total trickster, or a totally "didactic" trickster like his 14th-century contemporaries the Arcipreste de Hita and Chaucer?  Complicating matters, I have some basic questions going in (How important is the plague as a backdrop?  Why did Boccaccio break with poetry to set these stories down in prose?  How was a work of this size disseminated in a manuscript culture?) that even a freshman in a survey class could probably answer for me after a couple of sections.  Why share this with you here?  First, I hope to be able to answer these questions by the end of this project--thinking out loud now should help me remember better later. Second, it gives me an excuse to cite a wonderful sounding title (Guido Almansi's 1975 The Writer as Liar: Narrative Techniques in the Decameron) that has turned up as a result of my usual hastily-conducted researches.  Perhaps Almansi will be of assistance with some of these preliminary questions.  In the meantime, I'm now done reading 15 of the 100 stories in The Decameron, having just finished enjoying the infamous tale of Andreuccio da Perugia whose red light district-visiting/tomb-raiding exploits are much more "instructive" than anybody really has a right to expect.  Hey, have I told you lately what a riot this guy Boccaccio is?

4 comentarios:

  1. Have we told you what a riot you are? This does not sound at all like complications to me but the setup for a tremendous read. You do not know what to expect. You may have to waffle through historical subtext. Sounds like the thrill of reading. Red light district and tomb raiding in one short piece? Who could ask for much more from a story from the classics genre (just kidding)? Love when you think out loud.

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  2. what does the writer have to say and how does he or she or say it?

    That's pretty much it.

    ¿Quién es Arcipreste de Hita? (Google, Google). No kidding. A la biblioteca!

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  3. I likes me some theory from time to time, but I still agree that what the writer's saying and how they're saying it are the most important things in a book. And I also agree that it can be distracting & disorienting not to know the basics of an author's context. I hope Almansi talks a lot about the plague! :-)

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  4. *Frances: Ha, thanks for providing me with the biggest laugh of the day with that classics genre quip of yours! As for the other things you said, wow, I'm truly grateful for the encouragement. Thanks a lot!

    *Amateur Reader: I'm glad we talked! And although I still haven't come across a decent English translation of the Arcipreste's Libro de buen amor, it absolutely slays me that one of the most "postmodern" works I've ever read is a medieval Spanish poem written in a now defunct rhyme scheme. Anyway, hope your library trip was fruitful.

    *Emily: Almansi has said next to nothing about the plague so far, but he's a witty fellow for an academic and has been very engaging on the narrative tomfoolery end of things. Endearing traits both. JSTOR has some articles on The Decameron and the Black Death that look promising, so maybe that's the route I'll take for that topic when I get tired of just being amused. Later!

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