Sunday, August 01, 2010

Anne Carson's "Nox": No Voice

I've never read Anne Carson, but after this article in the New Yorker about her latest work, "Nox," I want to.

"Nox" (Latin for "night" and also the Roman goddess of night, "the mother of sleep, fate, and death") is what Carson calls an "epitaph" for her dead brother, whom she'd barely spoken to in the over-20 years since he'd left home.

Interesting to me, first of all, is the format of the book: "The contents arrive not between two covers but in a box... Inside is an accordion-style, full-color reproduction of the notebook [that Carson had begun to keep about her brother after his death in 2000], which incorporates pasted-in photographs, poems, collages, paintings, and a letter Michael once wrote home, along with fragments typed by Carson...A mourner is always searching for traces of the lost one, and traces of that scrapbook's physicality -- bits of handwriting, stamps, stains -- add testimonial force: this person existed."

The theme of loss itself is also very powerful for me. It's, sadly, played such a huge role in my life, been more of a presence than any actual presence. Reading this article about Carson's book made me feel relieved: someone else knows what it's like to live with lack.

"Catullus...wants to memorialize the dead, but [Carson] also wonders why she does -- why we feel the need, as Catullus says, to speak to silent ashes, to assemble trivial remnants of a lost presence."

"'The poet is someone who feasts at the same table as other people. But at a certain point he feels a lack,' Carson has written. 'He is provoked by a perception of absence within what others regard as a full and satisfactory present.' In 'Decreation,' she asks, 'When an ecstatic is asked the question, What is it that love dares the self to do? she will answer: Love dares the self to leave itself behind, to enter into poverty."

"[Carson writes in her first book of]...the Greek notion...of Eros as a form of 'lack' that offers both pleasure and pain. The geometry of desire, which we usually take to be a two-way street (I love you; you love me), is actually a triangular circuitry of lover, beloved, and that which comes between them. 'The lover wants what he does not have...All human desire is poised on an axis of paradox, absence and presence its poles, love and hate its motive energies...Who ever desires what is not gone? No one. The Greeks were clear on this."

"As Iris Murdoch once wrote, 'The bereaved cannot communicate with the unbereaved.' Because the dead person is absent and voiceless (the word nox both rhymes with the Latin word vox, or voice, and contains the English word 'no'), the bereaved is always experiencing the lost through other things: books, ideas, language, memory. A sense of this is what Carson's memory book provides; its process of assemblage dramatizes the way the mind in mourning flits from pain at the specific loss to metaphysical questioning about what, exactly, constitutes a mortal life."

"...the mourner's secret position: I have to say this person is dead, but I don't have to believe it."

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The above is important for me, but also even moreso for Sandra and her love for Jim. Both an acknowledgment of her feelings for him and their historical context, and an idea of how she can pay homage to him and her feelings. (I would have sent her the Carson book directly, and e-mailed her directly about it... except that she's recently cut me off! Oh, the irony!) :)

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