Thursday, February 19, 2009

"Being / A Self in a Song": Autobiography of Red

At one point in Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red, Geryon, the main character, is in "the only authentic / tango bar left in Buenos Aires," and he begins to remember a high-school dance at which he stood "against the wall / for three and a half hours in a casual pose":

Meanwhile music pounded
across hearts opening every valve to the desperate drama of being
a self in a song. (XXXI, 101)

If there is any doubt about whether Carson's verse novel gains anything from being in verse rather than prose, the second line break here clears it up with the exemplary enjambment of "the desperate drama of being / a self in a song."

Read without the phrase after the break, the line picks up on the references to Heidegger that have appeared in the last twenty pages or so; music (even the banal pop of a high-school dance) lays the basis for a moment of insight into the "drama of being." With this reading hanging in the air, the next line continues by specifying a particular kind of being: "being / a self in a song."

But I should be careful about making too much out of this, because Autobiography of Red also makes fun of reading too much into things, especially in altered states (which is what the wallflower at the high-school dance is in, even if he has not smoked or drunk anything):

... He had never been so stoned in his life. I am too naked,
he thought. This thought seemed profound.
And I want to be in love with someone. This too fell on him deeply. It is all wrong.
Wrongness came like a lone finger
chopping through the room and he ducked. What was that? said one of the others
turning towards him centuries later. (XL, 136)

Be careful of finding anything too profound here, Carson seems to be warning—but even that interpretive move might be overdoing it!

In fact, one of my difficulties with Carson's book (one that I have rarely had with any other literature, whether poetry, prose, or drama) is that it simply makes my jaw drop. When I began rereading the book in preparation for the verse-novels course, I intended to read with a pencil, but I ended up just reading it straight through, without marking anything that I had not marked before (a few phrases here and there, such as "Facts are bigger in the dark"). That made three times that I had read it, and I had to read it a fourth time and force myself to highlight things in order to be able to begin to interpret it.

And frankly, even now I find it hard to interpret a book that just leaves me speechless, as in the final lines of the book (well, the final lines before the concluding "interview" with Stesichoros, author of an ancient epic about Geryon whose few remaining fragments were the starting point for Carson's work). Although my mind was less confused than it would have been if I had been as stoned as Geryon was in the lines above, and less frustrated than if I had been the wallflower at a high-school dance, each time I have read this book I have been in an altered state by the time I read these lines:

We are amazing beings,
Geryon is thinking. We are neighbors of fire.
And now time is rushing towards them
where they stand side by side with arms touching, immortality on their faces,
night at their back. (XLVII, 146)

1 comment:

  1. The more I hear about this book, the more I want to add it to my ever growing list of books-that-I-must-get. Consider it added.


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