attended a lecture by dr jonathan shay last sunday at the memorial art gallery. dr shay uses the study of homer’s iliad and odyssey to understand the plight of soldiers today. he recommends training and various techniques of cohesion and fair treatment within military ranks in order to equip soldiers with mental and emotional equivalents of helmets and flak jackets. however, as the Q&A progressed and the audience pressed him to comment on today’s wars, it became clear that the only good solution to the problem is to minimize war, VEHEMENTLY.
dr shay recommended a reading of homer’s iliad by derek jacobi and that of the oddyssey by ian mckellan. i have heard derek jacobi read j.m. coetzee’s “disgrace” on bbc world and i have to say that i was enthralled – the experience was far richer than simply reading the book.
this lecture was offered in conjunction with an exhibition of gregory van maanen’s work. van maanen is a vietnam vet, a self-taught artist who has overcome the trauma of war by transforming it into deeply personal art. van maanen’s paintings are haunting, the central figure of a skull being a recurrent theme. inspired by mexican reverence for the spirits of the dead, van maanen has achieved the same easy co-existence of life and death in his work. though his paintings are populated by skeletal figures they are also delicate and beautiful. rather than being disturbing they are filled with vast cosmic backdrops that seem to scintillate, calming symmetry, much beauty and hope. van maanen uses personal symbols to make sense of chaos, as if he had to devise his own language to come to terms with the enormous trauma and futility of war.
his other claim to fame of course is that he is married to my friend, june avignone, a remarkable writer who can conjure up the same intensity of experience with perfectly chosen words.