An­ti­quated love

au­thor ANNE CAR­SON on genre-bend­ing and what eros has to teach us

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - Casey Sanchez I For The New Mex­i­can

Au­thor Anne Car­son on genre-bend­ing and what Eros has to teach us

Flu­ent in the nu­ances of clas­si­cal Greek, Anne Car­son is a lit­er­ary cult fig­ure whose nov­els in verse dig up the real and myth­i­cal fig­ures of an­tiq­uity (Sap­pho, Her­cules) and plop them into mod­ern set­tings, both mag­i­cal and mun­dane. Her ground­break­ing 1998 book, Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of Red (Knopf), a nov­el­ized epic poem, reimag­ines the Greek myth of Geryon and Her­cules. Sen­tenced to per­form a dozen epic feats as penance, Her­cules’ 10th la­bor in­volves him jour­ney­ing to the end of the world to slay the gi­ant Geryon and steal his cat­tle. In Car­son’s rein­ven­tion, Her­cules’ name has been Hel­l­enized back to Her­ak­les and his en­vi­rons shifted to Canada — hockey prac­tices and Three Dog Night sin­ga­longs fig­ure in the nar­ra­tive. Most tellingly, in this re­boot Her­ak­les has not come to steal Geryon’s cat­tle and split his skull, but to fall in love with him be­fore break­ing his heart.

In Car­son’s ver­sion, four­teen-year-old Geryon ap­pears as a meek, red-winged mon­ster, the sort of high-school pho­tog­ra­phy-club loner who would eat lunch sit­ting in front of his locker. Her­ak­les, a six­teen-year-old ma­cho drifter, springs into Geryon’s life at a bus de­pot around 3 a.m., fresh off a Grey­hound from New Mex­ico. Car­son sum­mons up the elec­tric­ity be­tween the two awk­wardly matched teen boys: “They were two su­pe­rior eels/ at the bot­tom of the tank and they rec­og­nized each other like ital­ics ... The world poured back and forth be­tween their eyes once or twice,” she writes, nail­ing that lit­er­ary sweet spot be­tween Homeric verse and Har­lequin ro­mance.

Car­son will speak at the Len­sic Per­form­ing Arts Cen­ter at 7 p.m. Wed­nes­day, Oct. 26, as part of the Lan­nan Foun­da­tion’s Read­ings and Con­ver­sa­tions se­ries. It may be one of the few op­por­tu­ni­ties her fans get to hear the au­thor ex­pand on her craft. She de­clined an in­ter­view re­quest with Pasatiempo and is known for her re­luc­tance with the press, hav­ing granted only a hand­ful of in­ter­views in her 30 years as a poet, es­say­ist, and trans­la­tor. Even her own book-jacket bio reads like a sar­cas­tic take on Sto­icism: “Anne Car­son was born in Canada and teaches an­cient Greek for a liv­ing.” But per­haps the ret­i­cence is all a part of Car­son’s sub­ter­ranean public­ity strat­egy. Her cult fig­ure sta­tus was ce­mented some­where be­tween the 2004 ref­er­ence to her book Eros the Bit­ter­sweet on The L Word (where its men­tion kicked off a make­out se­quence) and her po­etry about Lou Reed be­ing per­formed in 2013 by the guests at his wife Lau­rie An­der­son’s Thanks­giv­ing Day din­ner, just months after the mu­si­cian’s death.

Nearly all of Car­son’s writ­ing is fix­ated on ex­plor­ing the con­tours of the an­cient Greek con­cept of Eros — a word whose ori­gins, she ex­plains, are lo­cated in a de­sire to have what one lacks or can­not fully possess. Like her poet and philoso­pher pre­de­ces­sors in the an­cient Mediter­ranean, Car­son be­lieves that Eros has much to teach us about the real­ity of the world and how to love in a uni­verse filled with am­bi­gu­ity and un­met wants. Cou­pled with her wildly in­ven­tive word­play and a gift for ex­pan­sive metaphors that often over­take their orig­i­nal sub­ject, Car­son’s writ­ing cap­tures her char­ac­ters in the full throes of find­ing them­selves for the first time.

Here is Car­son writ­ing about Geryon and Her­ak­les on the cusp of con­sum­mat­ing their re­la­tion­ship:

Her­ak­les lies like a piece of torn silk in the heat of the blue say­ing, Geryon please. The break in his voice made Geryon think for some rea­son of go­ing into a barn first thing in the morn­ing when sun­light strikes a bale of raw hay still wet from the night.

Car­son’s in­ter­est in the clas­sics dates to back to her un­der­grad years at the Univer­sity of Toronto, and a year at the Univer­sity of St. An­drews in Scot­land, where she stud­ied an­cient Greek un­der Ken­neth Dover, a fêted clas­si­cal scholar known for his trans­la­tions of Thucy­dides and Aristo­phanes, as well as for Greek Ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity (1978), a wa­ter­shed work in un­der­stand­ing the sex­ual mores of an­tiq­uity. She earned a PhD in clas­sics, writ­ing a book of es­says on ro­man­tic love, pub­lished in 1986 as Eros the Bit­ter­sweet.

Though her writ­ing ca­reer did not be­gin un­til the au­thor was in her late thir­ties, Car­son has more than made up for lost time by writ­ing 20 books in a pro­lific fu­sion of gen­res — trans­la­tions, es­says, nov­els in verse, frag­men­tary prose-po­ems — on a full deck of top­ics. Econ­omy of the Un­lost (Prince­ton Univer­sity Press, 2002) is an ex­tended con­tem­pla­tion of the an­cient Greek poet Si­monides of Keos, who was the first lit­er­ary artist in the West­ern tra­di­tion to ac­cept pay­ment for his work, and the “po­etic econ­omy” of Paul Ce­lan, a Holo­caust sur­vivor whose terse, nearly mono­syl­labic po­ems seem to be at war with the no­tion of lan­guage it­self. Men in the Off Hours (Knopf, 2000) en­gages in cul­tural time travel. Its frag­men­tary es­says and prose po­ems imag­ine con­ver­sa­tions be­tween Vir­ginia Woolf and Thucy­dides on the na­ture of war. In an­other piece, St. Au­gus­tine is rei­fied as an art critic, as­sess­ing the paint­ings of Ed­ward Hop­per and his late-night diner crowd of lonely-hearts. Car­son has also pub­lished sev­eral fresh trans­la­tions of plays by Aeschy­lus sand Euripi­des, and has writ­ten a se­quel to Au­to­bi­og­ra­phy of Red called Red Doc (Knopf, 2013), which fol­lows Geryon into mid­dle age, where the au­thor notes that “to live past the end of your myth is a per­ilous thing.”

De­spite, or be­cause of, the bizarreness of her ma­te­rial and her seam­less fu­sion of an­cient and mod­ern lit­er­ary gen­res, Car­son’s work has been highly rec­og­nized by book-prize com­mit­tees. In 1996, she won a Lan­nan Lit­er­ary Award. That prize was fol­lowed by her 1998 des­ig­na­tion as a Guggen­heim Fel­low. In 2000, she was awarded a MacArthur Fel­low­ship.

If her work falls out­side the bound­aries of most known gen­res, Car­son’s read­ers make up a unique lot them­selves. They must be at ease with an es­say turn­ing into a poem mid-sen­tence. They must have a hearty appreciation of Greek art where the plays of Sopho­cles have no more an im­por­tant role than the pan­els of sex scenes on vases. And above all, they must be lovers of am­bi­gu­ity — in both verse and life. Over 30 years ago, Car­son laid this all out as a slightly sub­con­scious writer’s mis­sion state­ment in her first book of es­says, Eros the Bit­ter­sweet: “In fact nei­ther reader nor writer nor lover achieves such con­sum­ma­tion. The words we read and the words we write never say ex­actly what we mean. The peo­ple we love are never just as we de­sire them. The two sym­bola never per­fectly match. Eros is in be­tween.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.