Grendel

Posted: March 11, 2019 in Uncategorized

beowulf_vs_grendel_by_thefool432So to understand John Gardner’s Grendel, you first have to know the story of Beowulfbeowulf-translation-by-seamus-heaney . . . .and the Audiobook is here . . . . and a little taste of the Old English can be found here.  The Beowulf synopsis PowerPoint is here

John Garner’s Grendel can be found here: grendel-chapters-1-6 and grendel-chapters-7-12 if you don’t have a physical copy of the text.

What’s all this existentialism nonsense he dislikes so much?  Well, here’s my stab at it: existentialism.  And why does he hate it so much?  Well, for starters Gardner accidentally ran over and killed his brother with a tractor, so a philosophy based on the idea that there are no accidents and we choose every aspect of our destiny and identity wouldn’t exactly be his fave, ya know?  But, just like his use of astrology, Gardner points out that we would map ways through Hell with our “lunatic” and “crackpot theories.”  Sometimes we have to test our crackpot theories against real world observation and applicability.  Concluding, thanks to Descartes, that “I alone exist” (22) doesn’t really help stop the pain when someone’s bashing your head into a wall.  Maybe we all need to have an accident so we can wake up and realize this — “‘Poor Grendel’s had an accident,’ I whisper ‘so may you all‘” (174).  Secondly, if you take existentialism to its conclusion, you end up at nihilism and who really wants to be a dragon with no purpose but to “seek out gold and sit on it” (74)?

Whoa, that was intense, let’s take a break (that’s a pun meaning click on the page break for more).

“OK, sooooo, I’m really not getting this existentialism thing.”  Well, that’s why Wisecrack came up with 8 bit Philosophy:


Basically, we have no predetermined purpose, so we define it as we go. This means we are responsible for our actions and for who we are, and, if our existence has no larger purpose, we may as well find something that we enjoy while we’re here. If you like games, become a gamer; if you like running, become a runner; if you like money become an investment banker . . . you see where I’m going. But what if you like killing people? Well, according to Gardner, that’s kind of where the philosophy falls apart. And what if you can’t get beyond the thought of our own insignificance? That’s how you end up a nihilist, a dragon, or simply in despair.

Don’t worry if you don’t understand everything in this book — I’m not sure anyone really does — but try to find something you can latch on to. There are lots of levels.

Here are the potential allusions you guys and gals are looking up for your informal presentations (like we did with Fences).  Does this reference help us understand something new or deeper about the text?  What theme does it support?

Chapter 1: Aries (yep, the astrological sign stuff. There’s one for each chapter).  I’ve also wondered if there’s a good way to tie in Kierkegaard and Abraham (Fear and Trembling).

Chapter 2: Taurus, allegory of the cave, cogito ergo sum

Chapter 3: Gemini, sophistry, Scyld Shefing

Chapter 4: Cancer, the role of storytelling in traditional societies

Chapter 5:  Leo, dragons, nihilism

Chapter 6: Virgo, symbolism of apples in literature, more existential stuff and Biblical allusions

Chapter 7: Libra, the space-time loaf, Unferth and Wealtheow

Chapter 8: Scorpio, Machiavelli, French Revolution.

Chapter 9: Sagitarius . . . and that priest Ork = process philosophy.  By combining modern science (everything is in a constant state of process down to the smallest of subatomic particles) with the simple idea that we should use philosophy to come to moral decisions and temper our animalistic natures, we finally get to something Gardner likes 🙂  But no one ever listens to the blind old madman hankering for visions in the forest (yes, yes I was alluding to Tiresias there, nice work!)

Chapter 10: Capricorn, Nietzsche, and what’s with the fish?

Chapter 11: Aquarius, Geats, free will vs. determinism

Chapter 12: Pisces, Satan, angels


And finally . . . Once upon time (before John Gardner died in a motorcycle accident) some students wrote a letter to him and here’s his response: letter-to-miss-wests-class which really sheds some light on the text.  a-critical-look-at-john-gardners-grendel-11102016154606 is also a good read and confirms a lot of what we said in class.

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