Thursday, 8 December 2011

Oedipus/Hazel Motes

 Today's post comes from the talented Dawna Kemper who is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles. Her short fiction has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Santa Monica Review, The Idaho Review and other literary journals. She recently completed a short story collection and is working on her first novel.

Lately, because I’ve been reading Michael Wood’s The Road to Delphi, I’ve been thinking about oracles, and the desire to have the future spelled out at the same time that we really don’t want to hear what’s coming. (Climate change deniers, take note.) Naturally, I think of Sophocles’ Oedipus, about which Wood writes eloquently, comparing versions ancient and modern.

I was thinking about these comparisons when

another fellow traveler of Oedipus’ came to mind: Hazel Motes, the protagonist of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood, who in key ways (apart from that mother business) seems another embodiment of the King of Thebes. (This may be old news to you; for me it was a surprising and exhilarating connection between two works I love.)

Of course, the shocking, ironic self-mutilation at the climax of each man’s story is a natural parallel. But on further reflection, other similarities began to unfold. Each commits murder (on a road) of a man who’s an older mirror of himself; and it’s this enraged murder (a “self-murder”?) that turns each man’s story into tragedy. Both seek oracles for information they actually possess but have suppressed: Oedipus from Delphi; Hazel by stalking the “prophet” Asa Hawks. Both men (blindly) search for answers about who they are; there’s a deep sense of psychic dislocation in this search; Oedipus from the truth of his birth; Hazel, dislocated from a birth of the religious variety: the father-figure whom he tries to escape but cannot is Jesus.

Some argue that events within time exist simultaneously; that an oracle does not see “into” the future, but rather accesses knowledge that is there all along. At the crossroads where they met in my consciousness, were Hazel and Oedipus waiting? Rather than a place of tragic choice, is this crossroads a convergence of rich possibilities?

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