Exhibit 2.18

Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson

This is the first in what will, ideally, be a continuing series of poetry books and chapbooks that I'll be reading in the coming months. It's either appropriate or a little bit of a cheat that this book is "a novel in verse" according to its cover and while that may just be publishing house shenanigans, it seems appropriate even if it doesn't really mean anything.

There is a narrative here, sure. There are also characters who change, dialogue, length, and probably whatever other surface level concerns people who go about deciding what's a novel and what isn't use to make their distinctions. Even the verse is very near prose, and the experience of reading the book was to this reader a very different thing than reading a book of poetry. There is much beauty, but very little opaqueness. If anything, there is a hyper-specificity to the language which fulfills the promise of Stesichorus' use of adjectives that Carson notes in one of the pre-poem appendices.

Calling it a novel then seems completely natural and completely false. It has a novel's story but a poem's soul, with most of the pleasure coming from the language and the playfulness of the contradictions. It's a novel, but it's not a novel. Geryon is a monster, but Geryon is a boy. There are appendices, but it is as if the poem is appended to them in both order and intention. There are translations of Stesischorus, but they are clearly false and anachronsitic.

Carson's project then seemed to be to make a book out of the muddle that includes: a mythological red monster murdered by Herakles; Volcanoes; a Greek poet who wrote the definitive work on the myth, apparently in a meandering way that did little to glorify Herakles and much to humanize the red monster; translations of the surviving fragments of the myth; an interpretation/reimagining/modernization of the myth as being about love, specifically homosexual love (possibly due to Stesischorus' other writings); Canada; and, finally, Stesischorus' as meaning-breaking author.

What's surprising is how seamlessly these disparate pieces and competing purposes become a book. Put at the end, the appendices would be reference material for a modernization novel and prompt a reading about Geryon as victim. At the beginning, however, they inform the reading as an act of translation, both of the Greek into English and of Geryon into man. The interview with Stesischorus that concludes the book after a somewhat enigmatic ending to the story proper, but in a way it simply does it's part to make the book itself as much a collage of the real and unreal, poetic and prosaic, and mythological and contemporary as the source material.

One can imagine Anne Carson looking at the fragments of Stesischorus' Geryoneis and wanting to translate not just the words but the feeling of being a monster in a world of men, of being scraps in a world of novels.


Dusty said...

This is the beginning of my obsolescence, as books I've already read and written about become read by others and written about more meaningfully. What meaning can be found in a pop quiz?

Onward, I suppose. Do your worst.

A. Peterson said...

I'm planning on doing to you what I (or someone) did to the Neo Geo.