Monday, November 07, 2005

written saturday, halfway through anne carson's the beauty of the husband:
one thing that has made me hesitant about approaching anne carson's work after reading plainwater, was a sense i had of its own predestination. preferring a little more tension in the word and line, and feeling like it could go anywhere, i found carson's work made me feel like i am being shown my assigned seat for a beautiful ceremony about to take place in front of me. or maybe i was a few rows back.

that said, i love watching her mind range over any number of themes and how she pulls seemingly disparate strands of quotation, antiquity and human motives of desire into relation in a deceptively plain prose style. the questions she leaves open are each a pandora's box within a teasing shadow of a plot (here in the beauty of the husb). the poet voice of intimacy that makes the reader check her impulse for truth... it's a brillant dance, like this run:

An ideal wine grape
is one that is easily crushed.
Such things I learned from the grandfather
when we sat in the kitchen late at night cracking chestnuts.
Also that I should under no circumstances marry his grandson
whom he called tragikos a country word meaning either tragic or goat.
and today:
i think she's using this subject matter (lying, unfaithful spouse) as a way of exploring how language we recognize- "I can't live without you"- is not as straight-forward in meaning as it would seem, because the husband says things like this but his behavior shows them not to be true. because the author speaks in similarly "clear" statements, cultivates an engaging plot, characters, etc. with such an intimate voice, the reader is tempted to think it autobiographical. also a temptation due to its ambiguous categorization- her own title suggests both fiction and essay, while the publisher's mark for bookstore shelvers denotes it as poetry. since i'm certain we can't expect carson to have suddenly become sharon olds, and there are too many layers beckoning from this text to comfortably reduce it as such, the person-ness of this text seems to exist as another reiteration of desire, the reader's, for truth, that seems possible for fulfillment and then not, much like the speaker's back and forth in loving someone who only occasionally and conditionally seems to accommodate this desire.

i know there are a lot of books i haven't read that formalize one's thinking about language and desire, our desire, as users of language, for meaning, purpose, clarity, stability, understanding, mastery. and among the many relationships to be found between language and the body, the word made flesh in genesis for starters. these are a few of the things i scratched in the margin as i thought about the disappointment of those desires with the signified/signifier rift. (once upon a time i frustrated many a student with texts like these, i remember a few begging the rest in the conversation to just shut up about postmodernism and let things be true.)

wasn't it wittgenstein who posited the idea of language as a game? it is posited in this book that the husband and wife regard their relationship as a game, and, it is also noted that the cultural function of games has long been to test the will of the gods. elsewhere in the text, (it says that only gods really understand language, humans understand it in a very compromised way "(find exact quote)"...and later in justifying his actions, the husband says, "i never lied to her. when need arose i may have used words that lied."


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