“Why then did the burden feel intolerable? What was it that I carried? I realise now that the past does not dissolve like a mirage. I realise that the future, though invisible, has weight. We are in the gravitational pull of past and future. It takes huge energy – speed of light power – to break that gravitational pull.”
Each time we tell a story from our lives we tell it anew. Aspects may remain but nuances change. Our present is heavy with all that has gone before and all we aspire to become. We each carry the weight of our individual worlds.
In the introduction to Weight, the author writes
“When I was asked to choose a myth to write about, I realised I had chosen already. The story of Atlas holding up the world was in my mind before the telephone call had ended.”
Thus we get a retelling of the tale redolent with Winterson’s personal experiences of living under the burden of her upbringing, and the great effort required to be someone who does not meekly follow what is be expected. Atlas’s burden was a punishment for daring to defy the gods. Winterson wished to step out from under the world she had been moulded to inhabit.
“We lie helpless in the force of patterns inherited and patterns re-enacted by our own behaviour. The burden is intolerable.”
The story opens with an exploration of space and time, the creation of the universe. It introduces Atlas, the offspring of Poseidon and Mother Earth. Atlas was one of the Titans, half man and half god. He resided within the perfection of Atlantis until this was no longer enough.
“Everything that man invents he soon turns to his own destruction. You could have chosen differently. You did not.”
Atlas fought the gods for what he regarded as his freedom. His punishment was to forevermore carry the weight of the world he loved on his shoulders.
The reader is then introduced to Heracles, the Hero of the World. This hero is depicted as unusually strong whilst embodying every weak trait known to man. He is crude and lacks control of his desires and appetites. His part of the story makes for unpleasant reading.
Heracles asks for Atlas’s help, offering a trade that could suit them both. Having got what he requires he tricks Atlas and leaves him with all of time to mull over the lessons learned.
The writing is a mix of the poetic, the profound and the playful. Contemporary elements are woven through to good effect. Heracles’ self-centredness, his ability to quash feelings of guilt over his behaviour, is all too recognisable.
“Every man assumes that what is valuable to himself must be coveted by others.”
I particularly enjoyed the denouement which neatly brought the myth into the modern realm.
Any Cop?: The tale was not as wholly satisfying to read as The Penelopiad, the previous Canon I reviewed, but the layers and musings provide a thoughtful retelling.