Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red

July is almost over, and I have to be back on campus August 15th, which means my research leave combined with my summer vacation? almost over! And with it will go all hope of catching up my reading blog. So short and sweet (or quick and dirty) will be even more the practice around here for the next few weeks.

A quick nod to Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse which I read on the plane going to the conference in Fredericton back at the end of May. (since then, I've also been picking my way through her beautiful, sad, poignant,
scholarly
erudite, and colossal Nox, but that's another story/post).

The introduction alone is worth the price of admission here. Savour the humour of this opening sentence and its wry and extravagant understatement: "He came after Homer and before Gertrude Stein, a difficult interval for a poet."
In fact, these first four pages made me yearn to read them aloud to a first-year class. Indeed, I've promised myself that I will teach this to a 100-level class at some point, for the dubious pleasure of insisting that they work their way through such scrumptiously dense thinking, such keen analysis of language. For example, "What is an adjective? Nouns name the world. Verbs activate the names. Adjectives com from somewhere else. The word adjective (epitehton in Greek) is itself an adjective meaning 'placed on top,' 'added,' 'appended,' 'imported,' 'foreign.' Adjectives seem fairly innocent additions but look again. These small imported mechanisms are in charge of attaching everything in the world to its place in particularity. They are the latches of being."
Hmmmm? Just starts the wheels turning, doesn't it? Wonderful stuff.
And by the time she finishes explaining who Stesichoros was, what his long poem, recovered through fragments, tells us about a winged red monster killed for his herd of cattle, we are already captive, eager for her to carry on and offer her version of this ancient tale.

I could spend years in her version, wondering where and when I am, wandering the globe, the centuries, meditating on the artist's role, the lover's journey, the monster's place in the world. The pleasures of the word, in both sound and image, are myriad here.  It's not an easy book to read, but these pleasures pull readers on through confusing, mysterious overlappings of space and time, and the love story is compelling. And the setting, the author's knowledge, will make you wish you'd studied Classics; at least, it did me.
So much more I could say "Had I but world enough and time" (to quote that seducer-poet, Andrew Marvell). . . .
Have you read this? Or any Anne Carson? If not, you're missing out. If yes, do tell, please . . .

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