Ulysses, Parzival and S

(link to my other contribution to unraveling the Dorst "Theseus" mystery)


Joseph Campbell's "Creative Mythology" an influence in Ship of Theseus?

If we knew what books were on author Doug Dorst's reading table in the year or two prior to taking up "The Ship of Theseus", a lot might fall in place. The Tradition Maelstrom speaks of is storytelling. S and Straka and Dorst are part o' the tradition. Dorst says he undertook a project to write a book within a book where "the book" was to be one of the classics of the 20th century. It's a booky book, he has said, where he can drop references and "hat tips" to other books. One of these mentor books is likely James Joyce "Ulysses", a true 20th century classic.
Good advice on reading "Ulysses" is to read about "Ulysses" first - pick up Cliffs Notes. Ulysses is a 900 page multi-year reading project attempting to document interior monologue with pages and pages of no punctuation. Ulysses of course is an inspiration from the Greek story of Ulysses, a man who had fantastic adventures, the bulk of the book, trying to return to his not always faithful wife, who had suitors in his absence. Dorst took the Greek legend(actually Roman) of the ship of Theseus and its question on the permanence of identity versus change over time as his inspiration. In Joyce' Ulysses, the character Bloom is weary, he rests, he has travelled, as he crawls in to bed with his wife, brushing aside crumbs another man has left eating a pastry with not much care. Bloom asks himself, Where? And Joyce instructs the printer to print a large dot on the page, to say, Here. It is the same dot Dorst uses in Ship of Theseus, on page 319, referenced from page 87. In Dorst book the dot is in direct reference to the relationship between Jen and Eric. "You can know something's right and still not choose to pursue it," says Eric, which refers to "us. obviously." The dot represents the same idea in both books.
But I was not informed of the dot by reading Joyce. One expert commentator on Ulysses is Joseph Campbell, the famous mythologist who appears to have read and understood most of the great books of history. He considers Joyce at the top of all novelists of the 20th century. Campbell's book series "The Masks of God" ends with the fourth book "Creative Mythology" (1968) practically a tribute and testimonial to the 1215 book of Parzival and the Grail Legends (including The Wasteland) by the German Wolfram von Eschenbach, considered by Campbell one of the great books of western literature, and shows that Joyce was either a fan of this story or independently developed the same themes.
Campbell emphasizes not following a known path as a central idea in the Grail legend. The Wasteland that the grail knights sought to overcome was Europe of the 12th century where authority must be followed, the right thoughts must be thought - you do not follow your spontaneous natural self. The knights who set out to find the grail, which was not a Christian theme in Eschenbach, did so out of their spontaneous pure hearts. It would be a disgrace, one of them said, to seek the grail in a group, and we should all enter the forest adventure in a different location, not on any marked path or trail. Not following anybody, but the entire adventure coming out of their own being.
Joyce in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man -
"He was destined to learn his own wisdom apart from others or to learn the wisdom of others himself wandering among the snares of the world. The snares of the world were its ways of sin. He would fall. He had not yet fallen but he would fall silently, in an instant. not to fall was too hard, too hard; and he felt the silent lapse of his soul, as it would be at some instant to come, falling, falling but not yet fallen, still unfallen, but about to fall. He crossed the bridge…"
Joyce's young man leaves the conventional religious order, where he has been offered a lifetime position, and strikes out on his own. The only proper course is to sin, according to the old definition, as a way of breaking out of the old form. He must fall.
In Dorst's book, falling is the first act of the main character S, he falls from a bridge. Throughout the book, falling is the means that the forces of orthodoxy, known as the anti-S, use to signify that someone had erred.
P 318 of Dorst (opposite the Dot) - "It's not so much the killing that exhausts S. as it is the planning and rowing and trusting and traveling and stalking and killing and escaping and rowing and sewing and sailing and writing and sailing and writing and sailing and writing and planning and rowing and trusting… Of course no matter what weapon is used… it's a defenestration that will finish him off… they fall you."
Dorst's female counterpart to Straka writes a letter near the end of her life, her final words, to Jen and Eric, who are tenaciously investigating the Straka mystery - "remember though, not every question must be answered. Matters of the past may be allowed to remain in the past; matters of the present and future may be allowed to go unexplored. The world will not end in any case. I will tell you what matters most (although you must know this already, as you know my story): it is love. When you fall in love, friends, let yourself fall. It is my fondest wish that this note finds you both happy, healthy, and falling."
It is not about duty and right so much as it is about the spontaneous direction of the heart. That is Parzival and that is S.
In Eschenbach, Parzival wanders the lonely and dangerous wasteland seeking his wife and the grail. He had both but failed to follow his own natural impulses rather than the duty that had been imparted to him and he was mystically expelled. This is the theme that Campbell elaborates for hundreds of pages.
Parzival has a half brother. They share a knightly father. The brother's mother was a black Arabian queen. The brother was "piebald, white and black, like a magpie's' plumage." (p. 434 of paperback edition. the word piebald is related to the word magpie. a bald eagle is a piebald eagle) The father left and was killed in battle. The child was born posthumously, and the mother kissed the child on the white spots. Later when the two half-brothers meet in battle, Eschenbach says, in fact they were one, and they were needlessly doing each other great harm, the Christian and the Muslim. Dorst's character V. M. Straka is a Czech. Straka in the Czech language (so I am told) means magpie.
Campbell begins talking of Wagner's treatment of Parzival, critical of his conventional approach, stripping from it its most appealing quality. Campbell quotes Nietsche, also critical, - " one recalls how enthusiastically Wagner walked, in his time, in the footsteps of the philosopher Feuerbach (1804- 1872), Feuerbach's theme of 'healthy sensuality.'" Dorst also used the Feuerbach name, a political anarchist.
Campbell mentions "The Wasteland" by T. S. Eliot, which is also referenced in Dorst. Campbell I believe wants to show Eschenbach's influence on modern writers, if not directly, by establishing the legend so securely.
Campbell directly references Theseus and the many parallels with the celtic Arthurian tales, whether they were brought in and mixed or directly derived (pages 304 -307 of "Creative Mythology"). Theseus, he reminds us, was involved with the King's daughter Ariadne. Dorst used Ariadne for the name of a ship. The King Aegeus, Theseus' father, flung himself from a cliff into the sea. He fell. The woman Ariadne is abandoned and a throne gained. Duty versus love again. "Theseus denied Aphrodite in his desertion of Ariadne, and his son, Hippolytus, a lover only of horses, denied Aphrodite absolutely." (p.307) Theseus is the only son of King Aegeus, Campbell tells us, born out of wedlock. When he comes to the palace, the wife Medea recognizes him and plans to kill him at a banquet with a poisoned cup of wine. Dorst in his book plans to kill the world's evil warmakers with poisoned wine at the final banquet. King Aegeus recognizes Theseus and strikes the goblet to the floor. Dorst has his assassin lose his taste for killing and turn aside.
The ship of Theseus legend was actually a Roman invention of Plutarch. Because of Theseus' importance in Greek history, his ship was preserved and used for centuries in memorial.
The details point to a reading of Campbell by Dorst, but the theme - the better way is to find somebody to love, be spontaneous and do what you feel, rather than the call to duty indoctrinated from childhood - is the main theme driven home strongly in a book 800 years old that Campbell believes is one of the most important in all of the tradition of western literature. It is ROMA against AMOR. The character S wanders the wasteland, searching for the love of his life. This is Ulysses, old and new, Parzival and S.
addendum 1-24-2016 Interest in the book is falling off. I dont know if a mystery was left that will be solved, or can be solved. In a lot of ways, the character of S is everyman. He does not know who he is or where he came from. He does not know what to do next. He seeks his purpose in his mate Sola, who he also does not know. He seeks his purpose in duty, in fighting the agents. But it is Filomela that tells him or wishes to tell him that his purpose is just love. Every mystery does not have to be solved. Every battle does not have to be fought. It is love and falling in love that fulfills that emptiness. None of us know who we are. We do not know where we have come. We awaken and ask ourselves, what should we do?

1-13-2017 Campbell writes at length about the Grail legend being a challenge to the church. The wasteland was a metaphor for a condition where the outer rituals were just outer rituals without heart or true spiritual basis. The Grail was not found in a church, it was carried by true virgin maidens, not clergy. The Grail was not a chalice.

p.566 of "Creative Mythology" "The main purpose of the monk's Queste del Saint Grall was to check the trend of this reawakening to nature, reverse its current, and translate the Grail, the cornucopia of the lord of life, into a symobol no longer of nature's earthly grace, but of the supernatural - leaving nature, man, history, and all womankind except baptized nuns, to the Devil.

p.60 of Ship of Theseus by Dorst - "it blows my mind the guy just takes the name and completely turns around what it stands for."

The S collective is in combat with the "new S".