Friday, March 8, 2013

Songs of Innocence & of Experience: Epistolary Review, Anne Carson's Red Doc> (Alfred A. Knopf, 2013)

Dear (r),

Sequels are kind of terrifying.  (C.f. Songs of Innocence and of Experience, c.f. The Fault in Our Stars.)  Sequels to books you really, really love are even scarier.  You know, dear (r), how impatiently I waited for Knopf to release the much-anticipated sequel to Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red.  You know with what eagerness I snatched up the first uncorrected proof to cross my path.  & then of course you know that I traveled with the book for over 12,000 miles (wouldn't Geryon be proud?) trying to work up the courage to read it.

Because here's the thing--doesn't Herakles vanquish Geryon?  Isn't that kind of the point?  & when Herakles' (would you write Herakles's?) labor is reimagined as first love--loss of innocence & traveling to a volcano & learning to fly in an airplane & maybe also with your own wings & then there's that amazing closing image where there is somehow an oven built into the side of the volcano & bread baking but also like this question of eternity--then what happens after that?  If first love destroys you, & that destruction creates you, then what happens in the sequel?

To read an artful answer, with just enough spoilers, I'll point you to this gleeful review by Rosecrans Baldwin.  As Baldwin will tell you, the answer includes PTSD, & a concentrated focus on mental health, and enough ice caves to balance out the hottest volcano.  There are also a couple of great new characters--an artist named Ida, a mythical bovine who really seems to get what's going on--in addition to the characters we remember, who are almost completely re-imagined.  This is to say that while sometimes G sounds like an older Geryon (Am I/turning into one of those/old guys in a ponytail and/wings he thinks sadly (55)) there's also a boldness here that is at times unfamiliar (He shoots his wings to/their fullest expanse and/screams once as he leaves/the ground (135)).  The effect is estranging:

/ are you

meeting someone/ yes /
who / a stranger / how will

you recognize each other /
is a strange way / strange

to both of you / that

would have been a
problem / it's no longer a
problem / no


Echos of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Spicer.  Carson's intertexts are new and strange in this chapter: Beckett; Proust; Daniil Kharms translated by Matvei Yankelevich.  The form & format, too, have shifted: a dramatic chorus; vertical columns of short-line verse.  The verse novel/drama unfolds over new (textual, emotional, ecological) landscapes, a sequel as echo (not postscript), a song of experience.

Red Doc> by Anne Carson
Bookmark by Noël Lily Da

As the final lines of the book tell us, things are what they are ("Well not every day/can be a masterpiece./This one sails out and out/and out" (164)).  With Red Doc>, we may not get too many answers, but at least

The journey continues,