by Jeremy M. Downes
University of Alabama Press, 1997
Paper: 978-0-8173-5818-1 | Cloth: 978-0-8173-0841-4 | eISBN: 978-0-8173-8886-7
Library of Congress Classification PN56.E65D69 1997
Dewey Decimal Classification 809.13209353


Epic has often been seen as a dead genre, intrinsically patriarchal and nationalistic. Furthermore, the psychological model most frequently applied to the relations between poets has been a violent one--the Freudian masterplot of Oedipus slaying the father to possess the mother. The limited usefulness of such simplistic explanations of epic is readily apparent when confronted with the continuing production of epic poetry long after its so-called death; when confronted with the contemporary drive toward epic among women poets, people of color, and postcolonial poets; and when faced with epic's fundamentally recursive desire--obvious in oral epic, but common to the entire genre--to repeat rather than to kill or evade its precursors.
Recursive desire, rooted in more basic preoedipal negotiations of union and separation rather than in Oedipal conflict, provides an elegant and far more useful explanation. By rereading and substantially redefining epic in this way, this book recognizes and reinvests with meaning the vital recursive qualities of the genre. Examining a diverse array of texts from the Epic of Gilgamesh to Derek Walcott's Osmeros, from the Homeric epics to H.D.'s Helen in Egypt. The book develops a broadened, inclusive, and living tradition of epic poetry, demonstrating the continuities of that tradition across dramatic discontinuities in time, place, worldview, and technology.
Recursive Desire rereads epic tradition and specific epic poems in ways that challenge traditional notions of the genre and open up unexplored fields of endeavor to students of epic, of poetry, and of narrative. With its more powerful and comprehensive psychological model of poetic relations, the book provides readers with a new understanding of epic poetry and its vital, shifting, polyvocal array (and disarray) of textual forces.