Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Sarah at Romancing the Blog

We've touched on the similarities between the "opium of the people" and the "prozac" of the "addicted" reader, i.e. religion and romance novels. Today at Romancing the Blog Sarah's been taking a closer look at the parallels. As she observes,
Romance is often derided for being addictive to its readers and for being repetitious. Critics argue, “How can you tell what’s basically the same story again and again without repeating yourself?” and the implied answer is that romances obviously ARE all the same and it’s precisely the repetition that’s addictive, and that the addiction is a bad thing.

Our analysis of this hymn can show us that romances provide us the comfort and the excitement of repetition with a difference. We’ve got the security of the “formula” or conventions of romance (the meeting, the conflict, the happy ending), with the interest and uniqueness of a new story each time we read a new romance.

The illustration is from Wikimedia Commons and is taken from Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé's Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany. It is a depiction of the opium poppy, or Papaver somniferum.


  1. For me, it's the fascination with the human condition. I can go to dinner with 10 couples and ask each pair how they met and got together (or how they fell in love) and I'll get a different and fascinating story each time.

    And yet they're all couples, so according to those critics, shouldn't I be bored, knowing how they ended up? They met, they fell in love, they're still together. But the way it happened, the journey is what it's all about, and I always find it interesting.

    Yetushenko says it best in his poem "People":

    No people are uninteresting.
    Their fate is like the chronicle of planets.

    Nothing in them is not particular,
    and planet is dissimilar from planet.

    And if a man lived in obscurity
    making his friends in that obscurity
    obscurity is not uninteresting.

    To each his world is private,
    and in that world one excellent minute.

    And in that world one tragic minute.
    These are private.

    In any man who dies there dies with him
    his first snow and kiss and fight.
    It goes with him.

    There are left books and bridges
    and painted canvas and machinery.
    Whose fate is to survive.

    But what has gone is also not nothing:
    by the rule of the game something has gone.
    Not people die but worlds die in them.

    -- Yevgeny Yevtushenko

  2. That poem by Yevtushenko reminds me a little bit of what John Donne had to say, though he was coming at the issue of the importance of the individual from a somewhat different, much more religious, point of view:

    all mankind is of one author and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God's hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another [...] No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

  3. I love that phrase "repetition with a difference". And the comparison to hymns is fascinating.

  4. Thanks, Jane! That phrase keeps coming back to me in my scholarship.