Saturday, April 11, 2009

“identity memory eternity your constant themes” (149)

Anne Carson succeeds in being totally unconventional. She takes up conventional topics such as time, passion and identity, but she also turns conventions upside down. The Canadian classicist and poet was probably the first writer in history ever to retell the episode of Herakles and Geryon from Geryon’s own experience. Hercules becomes an inhumane monster through his personality and behaviour, while “Geryon turned all attention to his inside world.” (30) and thus rises to immortality. In the myth, Geryon was killed by Hercules, but Carson re-imagines a destructive love affair which ends by Hercules breaking Geryon’s heart – “Your heart of my death!” (100). “He forgot for a moment that he was a brokenheart/ then he remembered.” (70). They have a good time together, but Geryon knows that Hercules will never know him back.

“What Geryon was thinking Herakles never asked. In the space between them/ developed a dangerous cloud.” (132)

“... I will never know how you see red and you will never know how I see it. / But this separation of consciousness / is recognized only after a failure of communication, and our first movement is/ to believe in an undivided being between us. ...” (105).

Geryon’s redness and wings stand for his creativity. His redness is his inmost being, his selfhood, but Hercules dreams of him in yellow. Geryon survives through art. Carson turns the myth into the recording and surviving of pain through the viewfinder of poetry. Wings are portrayed as the Platonic image and the creative aspect of love. The beloved might not be worth the pain, but wings lift the true lover’s soul into immortality. While Geryon records all the details of life through the lens of his camera thereby keeping the only secret which is immortality. Pictures are the language which helps Geryon to express himself, since “Raising a camera to one’s face has effects/ no one can calculate in advance.” (135). As a child he feels alienated by language and prefers photography as a means of expression, since “Photography is a way of playing with perceptual relationships.” (65). Exemplary for that is the fly which is floating in a pail of water looks drowned but with a strange agitation of light around the wings. The picture portrayed the fly as being almost alive and somehow immortal. Producing a self-portrait and autobiography, Geryon secures his own immortality.

Besides all that Carson also wrote a profound love story – “a reverie on the mystery of one person’s power over another, seen through the double lens of scholarship and verse” as Ruth Padel put it in her review “seeing red”. Carson writes a sweet and extravagant tale and gives lyric poetry an epic grandeur. Hence she ends up producing a hybrid work of poetry and prose – a verse novel.

In the aforementioned review Ruth Padel describes Carsons’ language as the “language any poet would kill for: sensuous and funny, poignant, musical and tender, brilliantly lighted”. I could not agree more. At times I had difficulties identifying myself with Geryon. Of course I see myself in him when he is seeking for love and his true selfhood, but the events that occur and experiences he makes are sometimes very unfamiliar – cases of defamiliarization, I would say – and I felt even awkward at times. But what I truly and ardently loved was the language Carson uses to describe feelings and thoughts. Here I share my favourite examples with you: “[...]there it was one of those moments/ that was the opposite of blindness. / The world poured back and forth between their eyes once or twice.” (39), “She listens / to the blank space where / his consciousness is, moving towards her.” (48), “but such a cloud of agony poured up his soul he couldn’t remember / what he was saying.” (68), “He lay on his bed at night listening to the silver light of stars crashing against/ the window screen.” (84), “And for a moment the frailest leaves of life contained him ain a widening happiness.” (97), “We would think ourselves continuous with the world if we did not have moods.” (98), “habit blurs perception and language” (107), “There was neither excitement nor the absence of excitement.” (125), and “I once loved you, now I don’t know you at all. He does not say this. / I was thinking about time – he gropes - / you know how apart people are in time together and apart at the same time – stops.” (141). Alice Munro spoke for me when she claimed that: “This book is amazing – I haven’t discovered any writing in years so marvellously disturbing.”

We learn in Autobiography of Red that things must be viewed from different angles in order for us to grasp their worth and meaning. The title suggests that the text is an exploration of particularity and that there are several different ways to be. This is also true for Geryon’s identity construction. Geryon, the only winged red creature, finds himself in total disorientation time and again. On the one hand, his red surrounding symbolises his personal Hell since he spends so much time alone, humiliated, and without a clear sense of being. He is shy, sensitive and senses his difference to others. He is fixed with the inner. But on the other hand, Geryon is a “philosopher of sandwiches” and makes readers sympathise with him during his seek for love and identity. Hence, he is never alone as we side with him. Nevertheless he is a subjective character in a world of subjective reality. He enters a world of ambiguity, where all objects are challenged and made into subjects. He is unique, removed from the world and not subject to its reality. He is unlike other human beings and challenges the convention of the typical human character. He refuses objective routes and finds his own way, creating his own subjective reality, as we see in the example where he refuses to enter the classroom conventionally. Because of all that Geryon is unable to exist in the world of objectivity. Carson depicts a world that lacks convention which is mirrored in her writing style, which constitutes its own patterns not following any conventions of writing or pervious examples. She uses line spacing in random places, neglects punctuation and reworks the original myth. The following passage outlines Carson’s writing process - mediating between subject and object - quite well:

“What if you took a fifteen-minute exposure of a man in jail, let’s say the lava / has just reached his window? / he asked. I think you are confusing subject and object, she said. / Very likely, said Geryon.” (52).

Hence, Geryon has become the subject of his own myth and autobiography. Instead of losing his identity in death, Geryon finds his identity when he flies. His flight can be seen as his final release from all outside objective realities. By flying he achieves true subjectivity. The story is about Geryon’s transposition from object to subject in various ways. In conclusion, everything depends on the experiences and beholder in whose eye reality exists.
“The eye empties.” (140)

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