28 January 2012

Thirty-First Situation: conflict with a god

Georges Polti wrote a book not quite a hundred years ago called The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations. When you consult this manual you are amazed and fascinated by the classification scheme. You probably have to have a touch of madness to be a taxonomist of any sort. Not that I don't appreciate such things. I suppose I'm more of a 'lumper' than a 'splitter,' but I love reading this bizarre little book. It is a lot of fun to play the game and think about all the various situations he describes. Stories are about love and death. Not much more than that. I could have said sex and violence, but it's the same thing. Squeezing thirty-six different plots out of those four fundamentals is an accomplishment. Nutty, but that's OK. The clincher for Polti, though, is the impossibly overwrought prose, leaden with allusions and drowning in names and references in foreign tongues. You can hardly get through three sentences without gagging or guffawing, which makes it brilliant. I picked up my copy for fifty cents or some pittance at a the local library book sale. I love discards. Where else can you find treasures like this? Here's part of the discussion of the Thirty-First Situation, or "conflict with a god":
This remarkable grouping has been in our day almost entirely ignored. Byronists as we still are, bon gré mal gré, we might yet dream of this superb onslaught on the heavens. But no! -- we treat even the evangelical subject of the Passion, while we pass by, this genuinely dramatic situation, and content ourselves with sanctimoniously intoning the idyllo-didactic phrases which preceded the sacred tragedy, -- itself left unseen.
I think they invented WTF as means of textual commentary far too late. Isn't that fabulous? It's the sort of writing, because of the fact that it is actually real and has been reprinted as recently as 1973, that makes me believe crazy stuff like what Dan Brown cooks up in his DaVinci Code books. Part of the problem is that that original work is in French, and this is a translation (by Lucille Ray). But only part. This Polti guy is a kook, but a well-read one, and it is hard not to enjoy his obvious sincerity. I've actually learned a bit about literature as well. He uses examples of his plot types or "Situations" that reference the famous Greeks like Euripides and Sophocles, which inspired me to get some books and read them both. Here's a few of the other Situations: Ninth, Daring Enterprise; Sixteenth, Madness; Twenty-Fifth, Adultery; Thirty-Sixth, Loss of Loved Ones. There are a lot of ways one could slice-and-dice the various forms into which most of our stories fall. It would be pointless, because you cannot classify the infinite. The human heart, head, and soul make a lethal combination. That trinity can generate quite a variety of mayhem, be it good mayhem or bad mayhem, and it all makes for good stories and plots. Whoops, I mean Situations.

16 January 2012

Speed's Trail

West of me, about a mile and a quarter as the crow flies, is a high knobby peak. It didn't have a name until today. The USGS topo for Yreka says it is 1154 meters (3786 feet) high, which is 344 meters (1129 feet) above my house. We hiked up there in honor of Martin L. King, Jr., and discovered a sign that read "Speed's Trail" and below that "Speed Jones, 1923-2007." I guess we'll call it "Speed's Peak" from now on. The combination of roads and trails that zigzag to the top could keep you busy for months, but we managed. Speed's Peak is the highest of a northwest-to-southeast trending group of four knobs that drop successively to 947 meters (3107 feet) in about three-quarters of a mile. It's a funny little fingerling ridge that seems only remotely connected to the commanding Humbug-Mahogany Point-Gunsight Peak prominence that marks the eastern terminus of the Klamath Mountains. This little cluster of steep, rocky hills is a popular playground. Kids paintball in the lower parts, dirt bikes crisscross the midsections, hardy mountain bikers leave tracks at the junctions on the wide saddles, and a few hikers push on to the top. There are abandoned party spots and homeless hideouts amidst the scraggly cedars and skinny pines. It's not in the guidebooks, but it is a hell of a view and a good workout. I got lost trying to make sense of the geology. I could see cobbles of quartzite, and broken masses of phyllite, chert, and possibly schists. The rocks were green with what I think was chlorite, and there was lots of serpentinization. Large clusters of dark stuff bewildered me. The map was no help, lumping it all into "Mezosoic meta-sediments" and other non-committal verbiage. I suppose it's not the rocks that matter, but the story of how they got there. We got there by putting our boots on and huffing and puffing and sweating on this cold but calm and sunny day.