Journal Entry 5
Capti: A Hoffmannesque Menippean Fable from America
Stephen Berard has recently finished his new Menippean fable, the first in a planned heptology. This fable is based in a very loose and often ironic way on two tales by the German romantic author E.T.A. Hoffmann: Prinzessin Brambilla and Das Fräulein von Scuderi. It is not at all necessary for the reader of Capti to be familiar with these tales—although there are indeed a few jokes which will escape those who have not read the Hoffmann works.
Very generally, it can be said that the author mixes old with new. He superimposes thoroughly modern themes and thought patterns on ancient literary genres and styles. Berard’s hexameters emulate Juvenal, Lucian, and Lucretius. In the prose portions of the first chapter he often uses long, involved, sometimes misshapen sentences of a somewhat Apuleian sort in order to reflect the characters’ emotions, confusions, and a generally rather Fellini-esque sort of exuberance. The style, however, varies from passage to passage. The poetic verse forms evolve gradually from hexameters to medieval meters to modern blank verse...which in turn is meant to represent changes in, or the outright dissolution of, the world of the various protagonists as well as providing a pleasant lesson in modern poetics for those wanting one.
Although Berard has chosen an ancient literary form called the Menippean Fable, he has derived many of his compositional principles from Hoffmann himself, the inventor of fantastic realism and great-grandfather of the now popular magic realism. In magic realism—among whose principal exponents have been Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Miguel Angel Asturias, Jorge Luis Borges, Richard Brautigan, William Burroughs, Italo Calvino, Carlos Fuentes, and Virginia Woolf—a given story will normally seem realistic, although here and there, just under the surface of things, some kind of magic is at work. In Hoffmann’s earlier fantastic realism, however, which Berard is cultivating in this book and will continue in the following ones, realism alternates with utmost fantasy, and it is the job of the reader to establish the connections between these two modes.
The Sphinx Heptology will carry with it the message of quantum holism. In telling his amusing stories, Berard is endeavoring to propagate that famous notion, repeatedly confirmed by physics experimentation, that each so-called "part" of the universe is simultaneously both the part and the whole, that everything in the cosmos is directly linked with everything else at the quantum level, and that things happening "here" are expressed one way or another in all "places", that indeed, due to the proven phenomenon of quantum non-locality, the idea of "separate places" is an illusion...or, when seen in their wholeness, they are parts of a virtual hologram whose information is contained in no space. Berard has found fantastic realism, of all literary styles, to be the most appropriate for conveying these ideas to his readers.
Recommendations and Reviews (more forthcoming)
"It [Capti] is unmistakably magical realism, and should sit nicely on the shelf with the works of Italian writer Italo Calvino or American novelist Thomas Pynchon. ...He writes poetry that is sharp and wonderfully vivacious." --Thomas Banks, Multilingual Magazine, #126 Volume 23 Issue 2
"Professor Berard has accomplished the almost unimaginable feat of composing a lengthy satire, stylistically inspired by the Greek genre known as Menippean, i.e., a mixture of prose and poetry, and by the witty E.T.A. Hoffmann. Inspired by these two, he has composed an American satire that opens with hexameters satirizing, appropriately enough, that most American of institutions, Disneyland. The author’s command of Latin is truly virtuosic and I would say of his impressive achievement, as Cicero did of Lucretius’s poem, that it is ‘multis luminibus ingeni, multae tamen artis,’ a work ‘marked by many flashes of genius and much skill.’ Readers who have lamented that Apuleius, the mad-cap, linguistically virtuosic author of The Golden Ass, did not follow up his novel with another similarly delicious work, will rejoice when they discover in Professor Berard, a twenty-first century Apuleius." --Dr. Albert R. Baca, Emeritus Professor, Department of Modern and Classical Languages, California State University, Northridge, CA 91330 USA
“In this twenty-first century of ours there are still Apuleii. Stephen Berard offers to readers of Latin a Milesian tale in which prose is mixed with hexameters, novel with philosophy, the clear with the arcane, modern subjects with ancient style, and all this with enormous linguistic facility and imaginative richness. Those familiar with Ernest Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann will recognize in this work the ‘fantastic realism’ which that writer is said to have invented and with which Berard openly declares an intimate familiarity. While you tackle Berard’s use of language, which is not always easy, you will find yourself, as it were, dear reader, in something of a Fellini-esque river.” --Dr. Guy Licoppe and Francisca Deraedt, editors of Melissa, Brussels, Belgium
"Stephen Berard, already the author of some Latin-language works (such as the physics book, De philosophia quantali deque institutione publica), although he has quite ingeniously borrowed certain elements from the works of ancient writers, is nevertheless always very much his own man when composing verses and shaping his prose. His narrations are polished, witty, and clever. This extremely skilled professor of Latin uses language that is sometimes grave and sometimes comical and so fluid that this novel, whose language is unique in the variety of its vocabulary and its modes of expression, seems extremely well suited to attracting the attention of readers. Indeed it is to be hoped that fortune will smile on this work and this writer, who, it is fair to say, has ‘won the the palm’ with this Menippean." --Vittorio Ciarrocchi, "Grex Latine Loquentium" participant and writer
Three sample chapters:
Titles of the entire Sphynx Heptology:
Fabula Menippeo-Hoffmanniana Americana
CAELA PONE CAELA
See Latin side to read the author's occasional commentaries and answers to readers' questions.