When Cadmus, the King of Thebes, wanted to find his lost daughter, he sought out Proteus, son of Poseidon. Proteus could change his shape at will, and legend had it that if you could wrestle Proteus successfully he would finally assume his true form and be obliged to answer one question. Thus the adjective âeoeproteanâe meaning âeoechangeable.âe Such is the work of Anne Carson. And, while wrestling with it may not exactly expose its true face, the variety of forms combines into an exciting collage.
Collage is uniquely demanding of viewer/reader/listener. It is an art of boundaries and border crossing âe" an hermetic art. And Carson does the wee god of the crossroads proud. Something of a trickster herself, Carson is simultaneously poet, essayist, and classicist, with such hard-to-classify works as Plainwater (a collection of poetry, prose and imagined conversations), Autobiography of Red (novel, poem and retelling of an ancient myth) and Beauty of the Husband (an essay and story written as 29 tangos).
Decreation, Carson's latest, is a playful, even mischievous, collection of works ranging from poems to scholarly ruminations on sleep to libretti and a shot list for a film. This protean variety is held together within the frame of Simone Weilâe(TM)s notion of decreation âe" a form of selflessness or means of negating of the self in order to approach or pass into the divine. Perhaps comparable to the state of no-mind that Zen Buddhists aspire to. Many of Carsonâe(TM)s poems and passages have the feel of Zen koans âe" at once abundant with wisdom and troublingly disruptive of received knowledge. As with a poem composed entirely of open-ended conditional statements:
If red is the color of italics.
If italics are a lure of thought.
If Freud says the relation between a gaze and what one wishes to see involves allure.
If you cannot remember what word you wrote.
If art is the servant of allure.
All poems are a kind of riddle that invites response. And all art should leave something to the viewer/reader to imagine, to work at, to engage with âe" a dialogue that is an ongoing act of creating. Collage is particularly suited to this in that the borders lay exposed and must be negotiated as part of the dialogue. Even if that is only the momentary need to note that a border is there, a decision was made here to join this disparate pieces.
It is up to the reader to judge whether this is a good joining, one that works. But regardless of the reader's judgement, the exposing of boundary decisions opens the possibility of asking how the decision might have been made differently.
How much more fearsome this dialogue becomes when decreation is suggested âe" one of the participants now includes death. In this way Carson draws up that unique Spanish energy that Lorca famously wrote of: duende. It is a dance with death, a flirtation, a romance. Not to be treated lightly. But it is a sublime dance whose beauty goes beyond pleasure in art, beyond joy and sorrow. It is a fierce creative/decreative energy that is overflowing with possibility.
Decreation feels like the destination that Carsonâe(TM)s last few works have been leading to. There is a disquieting ferocity here with numerous opportunities for the reader to join in the making of meaning. I am reminded of Lorca's description of a singer who rose one evening and sang with duende: sweeping the ground with its wings of rusty knives. Not what is ordinarily thought of as beauty, but sublime nevertheless.
Reading Decreation is hard work. And it is good work.âe"chris cavanagh
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