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Cabell's Jurgen Speaks to My Heart
When I was in high school I just liked this book because it was bawdy and picaresque. The older I get, though, the more I return to it and the more it speaks to my life. I only recently realized that it's a comment on Goethe's Faust, too. But then despite several starts I've yet to read Faust all the way through and I've read Jurgen four or five times.
Because of Jurgen I've read other books by Cabell, and even acquired a fairly rare set of his works. I haven't read them all yet, but I've read some. Some are just entertainments, but in others he melds good storytelling with something deeper. His Figures of Earth, for example, is not only a funny book, but it says much that's painfully true about our existence that I've never heard another author say. The way he mixes satire and humor and wit and a statement about humankind all together is something I aspire to in my own writing.
From Jurgen I got the first outside confirmation that someone other than me found life to be a profound dark comedy. I already felt this, but didn't trust in my own feelings. In school I was encouraged to see life as a very serious affair, and to dismiss the comic point of view as being pleasant but trivial. But I didn't and don't believe any of that in my heart. Jurgen helped me listen to my heart.
As it happens, I don't think there's really anything to be done about it. For better and for worse, my writing is at least somewhat comic even when there are serious issues at stake, and I can't change who I am or how I see things. But I've also learned over the years that comedy and tragedy are very close. The difference is not so much one of subject matter but of attitude. Both can encompass serious issues. And while tragedy is the mode of regret, comedy is the mode of forgiveness.
Without intending it, I find that everything I write turns out to be about folly, illusion, self-deception.
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