Friday, May 8, 2009

Autobiography of Red - silly criticism though I liked it

Anne Carson’s verse novel Autobiography of Red is a rewriting of the Greek myth of Geryon. At least, this is what Carson pretends it to be by adding to the novel a rich frame about the myth by the greek author Stesichoros. According to the myth, Geryon is a red winged monster, the keeper of a cattle of red bulls. He is killed by Heracles whose tenth labor was it to steal that cattle. Carson rewrites this myth from the perspective of the monster or rather the victim.

The story is about a boy who is reputed to be also a red winged monster. However, as the story goes on, the reader can very well imagine that this pretended monstrosity and redness is simply a complex of Geryon who feels different. When Geryon is a child, his elder brother sexually abuses him. Paradoxically – or typically? – later, as he “makes it somehow to adolescence” (39), he is gay too. He meets Heracles and they have a relationship. This relationship does not last; Heracles breakes it off, and brakes Geryon’s heart. But is this already his death, as in analogy to the myth? And what about the cattle? Actually, one could ask several times all through the novel what exactly the reference to the frame is. It says there “Arrow means kill” (13). Of course it could be like Amor’s arrow and Geryon’s death can be understood in a figurative way as his lost of a big love and the consequent death of something inside him. But is that not too simple? What follows does not happen in the novel at all, not even in a figurative way: “It parted Geryon’s skull like a comb Made / The boy neck lean At an odd slow angle sideways as when a / Poppy shames itself in a whip of Nude breeze” (ibid.) The only thing that could be found is maybe that a Poppy is red… .

There are more such examples that show that there is a certain inaccurateness between the story and its frame and Carson knows that. Thus her Stesichoros says at the end of the interview: “so glad you didn’t ask about the little red dog” (149).

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