Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pygmalion and smoking guns

OGCMA0962NOTPygmalion_Kazan or NOT?

Reviews of Ruby Sparks, a July 2012 film by Zoe Kazan, has me wondering about matters of smoking guns, again. Does the filmmaker intend for her film to be categorized in the Pygmalion tradition? If critics say "Pygmalion" and the film's creator didn't intend it as such, does the film still "count"? Does anybody care?  [My slide.]

Rene Rodriguez (Miami Herald, 9 Aug 2012) observes that "the premise of Ruby Sparks, which is a clever riff on Pygmalion, explores what happens after [a young novelist] magically conjures up his dream girl (the how is never explained) and discovers that he can make her do anything he wants simply by writing it into his novel." Like Rodriguez, Stephen Holden (NYT 24 July) also links Ruby to Pygmalion in particular.

Calvin Covert (Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2 Aug 2012) is less definitive in his assessment of the narrative's heritage. Zoe Kazan's film, he writes, "takes the premise of a hundred wish-fulfillment romantic comedies — wounded young creative guy revitalized by pretty, effervescent kook — and deconstructs it while delivering a smart, funny, challenging, dark but hopeful love story."

Since I haven't yet seen the film, I am still caught merely wondering whether Kazan knows that she's written a Pygmalion. As I read the "rules" of adaptation codified by Linda Hutcheon, I bolster my own views with the expectation that a classical adaptation tends to inform the reader that the narrative is adapted from the mythological source. Failing such acknowledgement, the narrative similarity is reduced to archetypal allegiance.

When I do watch the film, I'm going to look for clues that Kazan, the granddaughter of the noteworthy auteur, is aware of her narrative's descent from Pygmalion.

Just fussing.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pisanello, "The Vision of St. Eustace"

I had not made a connection between the remarkable story of St. Eustace and the Death of Actaeon. An article in Grafton and Most's The Classical Tradition (Harvard 2010), s.v. "Actaeon", has me rethinking it today.

St. Eustace a medieval chivalric saint, was out hunting alone in the woods when he encountered a magnificent stag between whose antlers the hunter perceived a shining manifestation of the crucified Christ. This brought about his conversion to the life of Christ. Like St. Hubert, who experienced a similar vision, St. Eustace is celebrated in frescoes in north Italian Benedictine convents of San Benedetto Po and San Paolo at Parma.

The tradition that modifies the myth of Actaeon into a Christian allegory begins with the 14th-century Ovide Moralisé, which makes Actaeon into a Christ figure who is wounded, killed, and turned into a hero in the face of divine opposition. Because "chivalric tradition considered stags royal animals, as the most regal of victims, they prefigured Christ's kingship as well as his suffering and death." (I.D.R in Grafton & Most.)

 Eustace's sighting of the crucifix is similarly transformative and surprising, like Actaeon's. For more deliberate hunting, compare Pisanello's to Boccaccio's 14th-century treatments in "The Nymph of Fiesole" and "The Hunt of Diana", which transform Artemis/Diana from a vindictive nature goddess into a divinity who preserves virginity and represents divine purity. Actaeon's pursuit in Boccaccio is a deliberate search.  (Grafton & Most)

The painting by Pisanello (1487), owned by the British National Gallery,  seems to bear little direct connection to the Actaeon myth. Probing it further might make for interesting results. Actaeon as Christian forebear?

Friday, August 24, 2012


Alan Howes ruffled lots of west-London feathers in 1952 with the creation and public placement of his Aphrodite. Public reaction was vociferous and negative. Howes' Portland stone treatment of standard iconography shows the goddess binding her hair in a pool-side scene. The sculpture was nicknamed "Bulbous Betty" and branded a "sacrilege to Aphrodite" in articles published in local press.
For more on this, click OGCMA0142NOTAphrodite_Howes

slide by RaM