Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Music within The Wreckage of Agathon by John Gardner


Agathon was a "famous and respected" Athenian Seer in ancient Sparta ruled by the tyrant Lykourgos. Agathon became "the foulest man alive, by any reasonable standard: a maker of suggestions to ugly fat old cleaning ladies, a midnight prowler in the most disgusting parts of town. . . and lived, whenever his onion patch had nothing in it but burdocks and brambles, by foraging in the garbage tubs behind houses."

For no immediate reason, he was led away to prison, and Demodokos, a follower that he nicknamed Peeker, accompanied him with his jug. (Peeker: "Was it my fault that he couldn't carry his own damn jug? . . . I may be an old man myself sometime, thought I doubt it. 'All right,' I screamed, 'all right!' So they found out I was his follower, and put me with him in the cell.") They coexisted in a rat-infested prison cell—"a sprawling gray-stone mass of buildings filled with sickness and misery, honeycombed with windows like bugs' holes, and smoking here and there, day and night, like a garbage dump."

Agathon feels he has been "disloyal to everything [he] knows." He abandoned his wife and children, his city, his art."

In "The Wreckage of Agathon," by John Gardner we find another passage of ancient music overheard, and like Grendel, who listens unobserved and is utterly transformed, Agathon listens “clinging to the ledges [of her window on] the polished stone by [his] fingertips and toes.”

“Tuka sat, facing away from me, and her movements, as she played, were not like those I saw when she played for an audience: it was as if, now, she was inside the music, moving only as the music moved, swaying for an instant, hovering, sometimes touching the dark wood beam of the harp with her face as though the harp, too, knew the secret. I was torn by contradictory emotions, like the music, and, like the music, I turned them over and over, as if by feeling them intensely, not with my mind but with my body, I might grasp them. I felt outside time, as if all things merely temporal, coldly dianoetic, were of no importance.”

The sound of secrets. A Dionysian image grasped by the body outside of time. Harpists do that sort of thing. Agathon hears music intended for practicing, for communing with sound and the harp itself; as a voyeur, as an outsider.

In prison he remains an outsider who transcribes his prior world onto scrolls. He writes of his memories.

Agathon continued to listen: "the music moving in my chest like wind, like annulate waves, the cold night air moving softly across my skin, until my fingertips and toes ached from clinging, and I climbed back down. When I saw her by daylight it was as if what had happened in the night were unreal. The girl I had seen at her harp might easily have been anyone or no one, a spirit, but this daylit girl was Tuka, my friend, almost sister."

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