Walter Pater – Marius the Epicurean (1885)

In lieu of a plot summary (which would amount to very little: Countryside, Flavian, Aurelius, Rome, Fire), some questions:

How is their a built-in poetics in a novel that consciously moves away from poetry to prose…as the form appropriate to late Rome (historically transitioning from Paganism to Christianity)?

The novel searches for the good in terms of particular generic aesthetics (porse, poetry, philosophy, etc..): so what exactly is the relation between poesis and ethos? And even though it’s about different genres, there is a question about the form of a novel that tries to hold all these genres together. For instance, what about plot? What about character? Can we think of the interiority of Marius, Aurelius, Cornelius, Flavian, etc.? Relate this to the larger question fo inside and outside…is there a counter-psychology at work that disallows the very production of the “novelistic?” Is this what it means to write a properly historical novel? Need to think about how the past and memory work together (the act of remembering doesn’t really enter the picture, but rather casts it homogenizing hue over the entirety of the novel: Greece, Rome, Shakespeare, Goethe: all exist within the same representational field. Perhaps relate this to Waverly’s “sixty years since” or Middlemarch’s “thirty years” or the practice of historical fiction-making in Scott’s Redgauntlet.

It is impossible to measure the distance between discoure and story. Contrast with Dorian Gray, which is plotless but turns into an adventure novel at the end. Marius does have a fire at the end but it doesn’t resolve much.

Talk about how narrative authority is established–the spatial or temporal distance that is necessary for taking up a narratorial position.

Is Culture synchronic (structural) or diachronic (historical). The answer is always something like structural-historical. Is infinity a synthesis of these positions?

Chapter 5 is about the golden book, the book of books. It plays a crucial role in Marius’ education–in short, “it awakened the poetic or romantic capacity…It made, in that visonary reception of every-day life, the seer, more especially, of a revelation in colour and form” (38). Relate this to the yellow book in Dorian Gray, and also to the golden water in Mill on the Floss, and the golden hair of Sydney Carton’s imaginary son.

Talk about the politics of pastoral: what does it mean to treat the Greeks like children. Discuss the difference between mode and genre. Pastoral mode in a novelistic genre?

How does Pater’s history of a historical transition tell the history of a contemporary transition? What happens when the ontological “perpetual flux” of elemental forces overflows: abolishing historical coordinates and the division between subject and object? And how can one form an ethical relationship to this flux? Does one join it, experience it, attempt to represent it? Can relate this Auror Leigh.

 

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