Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Whom Hums The Tune

I finished red doc> by Anne Carson and (inevitably, naturally, immediately) started it over again. This new novel-in-verse is billed as a sequel to Carson's 1998 novel-in-verse, Autobiography of Red.  Somehow, I had managed to miss that book when it came out, even though it was a big hit. But this turned out to be a lucky fact, because I came equally fresh to both books together, in order, one after the other.

Discussing Autobiography of Red, Maggie Nelson (as usual) offers the most useful articulation of the weirdness and strength of this writing – "I never think of myself as a writer," Careson said in a 2000 interview with Stephen Burt. "I know that I have to make things. And it's a convenient form we have in our culture, the book, in which you can make stuff, but it's becoming less and less satisfying. And I've never felt that it exhausts any idea I've had. . . . I don't know that we have poetry anymore. You have writing of lots of undefined kinds. . . . Homer was a poet, I'm not sure if anyone else  Sappho maybe." This indifference to recent poetic history (i.e., the past two millennia) reminds me of Stein's definition of a genius in Everybody's Autobiography: "A genius is someone who does not have to remember the two hundred years that everybody else has to remember." This amnesia might outrage some, but its refusal to get worked up over ultraserious notions of literary value, along with its abstention from the anxiety-of-influence model of authorship, has given writers such as Carson an enormous liberated space from which to work. In Carson's case, the result has been a glorious paradox, articulated by Bruce Hainley . . . : "She has written a brilliant novel because she doesn't care about the novel, and some of the most important poetry of our time because she doesn't care about verse."

Single-page interludes appear like chapter breaks in red doc>.  Each interlude is called WIFE OF BRAIN and each is printed with every line centered on the page. I quote one short WIFE OF BRAIN episode below, out of context, which is not fair, but is a necessary outlet for admiration.

great illness makes great doctors or so
the CMO tells us
waited years for his Warhol
in a clinic full of Valerie
Solanases then a night of deep snow
brought an admit
4NO whose theories however balmy are a welcome
change from the reductionist voodoos of psychotherapy that
are a CMO's
bounden duty usually now
watch everyone's mood become quite lopsided
as the spark struck
by Ida flares into doom
dissension on that old tragic question who are we at the whim
of (whom?) whom
hums the tune