Wednesday, September 03, 2003

List time. I wanted to note my seven favorite "parable" stories. Parables--modern parables, to distinguish them from Biblical ones--are stories that feature one central image that obviously represents a larger condition, but one which is not directly identifiable. Stories of this type where the metaphor is obvious are better classed as allegories. But parables are more ambiguous, more mysterious, and I love them in spite of their lack of drama or character interaction, since that is not what these stories are about. To get the idea of what I mean, I would recommend the collection Imperial Messages: One Hundred Modern Parables, edited by Howard Schwartz

7. Jorge Luis Borges, "The Library of Babel." (1941) An indefinitely large collection of books of uniform format. Finding the one book that would explain all of the rest would make one an omnipotent god. On the other hand, for every one copy of the god book, there would be millions of near-perfect facsimiles, with only one or two words changed, but the whole meaning of the work reversed.

6. Eugene Ionesco, “The Rhinoceros.” (1959) Berenger - an average citizen in a nameless French city - is not interested in the fact that rhinoceroses are on the loose. But everyone is slowly turning into rhinoceroses….

5. Franz Kafka, "The Hunger Artist." (1911) People come from miles around to watch the Hunger Artist starve himself to death. But why does he fast? "Because I couldn't find the food I liked. If I had found it, believe me, I should have made no fuss and stuffed myself like you or anyone else."

4. J.G. Ballard, "The Drowned Giant." (1965) The corpse of a giant humanoid washes up on a beach in England, and everyone reacts to it. An unforgettable, haunting story that I read in the first Nebula Award Stories volume in 1966.

3. Donald Barthelme, "The Balloon." (1966) An enormous balloon suddenly appears above New York City, and everyone defines themselves in relation to it.

2. Jorge Luis Borges, "The Lottery in Babylon." (1941) A city in which everything is decided by lotteries. And then they decide to spice things up by adding punishments as well as rewards. Just a blindingly brilliant story. "Like all men in Babylon, I have been a proconsul; like all, a slave. I have also known omnipotence, opprobrium, imprisonment..." An indescribably delightful story.

1. Franz Kafka, "The Metamorphosis." (1913) A young man suddenly wakes up transformed into a large beetle. One of my favorite stories ever.

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