This is the WASTED BLOG. For my main author website, click this link.

Awards: WASTED won the Read it or Else category in the Coventry Award and was runner-up in the North East Book Award. It is longlisted for the Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for the Manchester, Grampian, Angus, and RED Awards.


Tuesday, 11 May 2010

THE OEDIPUS PUZZLE

The Oedipus story is an important Greek myth and is a story that really annoys Jack. And me!

Today I'm over at Lucy Coats's fab blog talking about it - do go there and read the story. Does it annoy you, too? It a very frightening story if you believe it. So I don't. 

Jack hates the story because it tries to show the powerlessness of human beings to avoid their fate. He says,
"It tangles me up – like, if he’d never been told he was going to kill his father and marry his mother, he’d never have done it, and yet it was only trying to avoid it that made it all come true. If he’d ignored it he’d have been fine. I hate that story. It’s … I don’t know … cruel. It gives us no power or choice at all. Just makes everything pointless."
Jack doesn't believe in Fate (quite rightly, in my view). He wants to believe in free will - the idea that we make choices of our own. We all need to believe in free will, no matter how philosophers and scientists try to prove to us that it's impossible.

I hate the Oedipus story because it proves nothing. It hangs on a ridiculous coincidence which you'd only believe if you believed that everything was laid down. It claims to show that we cannot escape our fate, but there is no such thing as fate.
"For nothing is decided. The Oedipus story is an exercise in thought, a nonsense story not of the real world. And the only way to deal with it is not to believe it. Same with Farantella the Fortune-teller: if you believe her, you are doomed. If things turn out to fit with her prediction, it will only be a coincidence."

"The prophet who messed up Oedipus’s life was doubtless also wrong very often, and it’s a shame Oedipus’s parents didn’t guess that."
 As far as I'm concerned, since you cannot know the future, for reasons to do with chaos, the butterfly effect and quantum physics, a story based on knowing the future is just that: a story, not of the real world. Of course, I love stories, even ones that are not of the real world, and we can derive meaning from them. But the thing about this story is that we're supposed to read a real-world truth into it. It wouldn't annoy me if it didn't seem to have such power. It's a false power. It makes us worry about the wrong things.

So, read the Oedipus story as a myth, not a story of power. It has no power except to tangle and cause fear. And I strongly recommend that you only have your fortune told if you don't believe in such nonsense. As Jack and Jess discover in Wasted, "the only way to deal with it is not to believe it."

Thanks to Lucy for inviting me onto her blog for the day. Do go and comment there, too. She has loads of interesting stuff about writing and also her pet expert subject: myths.

4 comments:

catdownunder said...

Ah right. I get to read this towards the end of Tuesday rather than the beginning. I just went and read the COB's comments on Oedipus - and recommend them. But I will also ask, "What if...?" Go and see what I mean!

Ellen Brickley said...

Great post, Nicola. Oedipus Rex was the first play I had to study in university and it always annoyed me, although I enjoyed parts of it.

I'm also now following Lucy's blog :)

Catherine Hughes said...

I first read the play in French. Oddly, I loved it, just as I adored 'Les Jeux Sont Faits' (The Die Is Cast) which is Sartre's take on destiny - or rather (if I recall correctly) the inabiliy of human beings to change their behaviour even when it really, really matters!

Translated into English, I didn't like them. Strange, huh?

Laura Marcella said...

I've always looked at this story as eschewing choice. The king and queen didn't have to abandon Oedipus. Yet they chose to believe the prophet. Same thing with Oedipus later with his adopted parents; he left the city where he'd been raised fearing what the oracle said was true. He and his bio parents made a choice, and it was to believe the prophets rather than their own logic.