26 August 2004

Parabola magazine

Lisa picked up the recent issue of Parabola. Parabola is a magazine that is published quarterly, and each issue contains essays covering a specific theme. The theme of the current issue is "The Seeker" and the essays examine, obviously, searching.

I'm sure the editors were referencing that old Who song "The Seeker":

I looked under chairs
I looked under tables
I try to find the key
To fifty million fables
They call me the seeker
I've been searchin' low and high
I won't get to get what I'm after
Till the day I die

I read Parabola for a while in the late 90s. The issues I had covered such themes as "The Shadow" and "Rebirth" and were really pretty fascinating. Well-written essays are a good diversion from reading dense texts or longish fiction, and they can sort of shake up your fixed ideas by presenting others' opinions and impressions. I have the past eight years or so of the yearly Best American Essays anthologies and always enjoy flipping to a random selection I might have skipped the first time around. Parabola is similar but more focused: wildly different shots aiming at the same target.

An old friend of Lisa's had lost her husband last year (or two years ago?), and she discussed his longtime love of Parabola once when she was visiting. She dug through his collection after-the-event and found that the current issue her husband had been reading was about loss. I don't remember the actual theme, but it was probably the one from 2002 on dying.

Sections in every issue will invariably discuss a myth (the magazine's subtitle is myth, tradition, and the search for meaning) and analyze its relevance to life today or to human nature in general. One issue I had discussed the story of Orpheus--he led his wife Eurydice back from the underworld and, turning to look at her, broke his pact with Hades and so lost her again--and another issue told the wonderfully similar American Indian myth of Coyote and the Shadow People--where poor coyote's wife dies of an illness and he wanders with the shadow people hoping to bring her back. Even though I've already read those essays, I could read them again today and probably find something new.

I marvel at the classicists and their linqua franca of Greek and Roman mythology. They have such a rich set of stories that they can use as a shorthand for communication. Today, I think all we have is pop culture, which is useful but limiting. I personally use Seinfeld and The Simpsons and am too often in an "it's like..." situation where if the person doesn't know what it's like, the shorthand is useless. And I doubt that the range of expression from pop culture matches that of classical mythology. We can only use what we have.

[ posted by sstrader on 26 August 2004 at 7:22:41 PM in Language & Literature | tagged catcher in the rye, coyote ]