Wednesday, 5 December 2018

I’ve been reading Alberto Moravia…

I’ve been reading a few of the novels of the Italian writer Alberto Moravia – Conjugal Love, Boredom, Contempt and The Voyeur. They’re all good and share themes of intellectual, creative and male impotence. Boredom – about the obsession an artist develops against his instincts for a teenage girl – is the best of the novels; The Voyeur – about the intellectual, political and sexual antagonisms between a French literature professor and his father – is the least interesting.

Contempt is the novel Jean-Luc Godard filmed in 1963. I've previously written about Le Mépris here. The film is fairly faithful to the book and where it deviates from it, it enhances it. Le Mépris is, in fact, a sensational work of art. Both the film and the book, as I said in my previous post, are ‘among other things, a meditation on Homer’s Odyssey, [and] a celebration of Mediterranean landscape’. The story involves a struggling writer employed to write a screenplay of The Odyssey. He is unenthusiastic about the project, but takes it to earn money to impress his beautiful wife.

In the novel, the German film director Rheingold, explaining why he's interested in making a film of The Odyssey, says that ‘the Anglo-Saxon races have the Bible and you Mediterranean peoples, on the other hand, have Homer… To the Mediterranean peoples, Homer is what the Bible is to the Anglo-Saxons.’

Elsewhere in the novel, the writer Molteni objecting to the German director’s modern, psychological interpretation of The Odyssey says that the northern European wants to change Homer's ‘bright and luminous world, enlivened by the winds, glowing with sunshine, populated by quick-witted lively beings, into a kind of dark, visceral recess, bereft of colour and form, sunless, airless.’

Indeed, the ascendancy of the Bible over Homer is the greatest catastrophe to have befallen Greek civilisation. ‘Bright and luminous’ Greek culture was superseded by a culture formed in deserts and caves. In fact, if anyone wants to appreciate how repellent and un-Greek Biblical culture is, then one only has to read – as I have recently read – the climax of the Bible, Revelations, and compare the personality of John the Theologian and his nauseating, emetic ravings, with that of Odysseus, ‘a man’, as Moravia says, ‘without prejudices and, if necessary, without scruples, subtle, reasonable, intelligent, irreligious, skeptical, sometimes even cynical.’