Thursday, May 21, 2020

Syntax Club: "X. Sex Question"; "XI. Hades"

Syntax Club: Autobiography of Red

Apologies again for the skewed schedule, but in good news I am now ~done~ with grading for the term and ~mostly done~ with peripheral end of year tasks, so hopefully things will be smoother for the rest of the novel. Please see here for previous installments of Syntax Club; feel free to post comments and thoughts and sentences you love here on the site or Twitter; if you try an exercise feel free to Tweet some of your results using the #SyntaxClub tag.


--How is this work essayistic, or possibly of value to essayists?
--What is distinctive, noteworthy, excellent, or interesting about the sentences in this work?


Geryon's relationship with Herakles approaches a new. identity-sorting fulcrum--sex--although the relationship doesn't arrive there yet, Geryon and Herakles embrace a renegade youth that is somewhere between artistic and low-grade deliquent; Geryon and Herakles prepare to visit Herakles' hometown of Hades, which features a central geographic metaphor: the volcano.


What's valuable to an essayist here?
Probably less we can learn on the broad essayistic level here in these two short sections, though there is another interesting aphoristic move at the start of the Hades section (the claim, or mantra, or whatever they spraypaint on the high school wall. Going to focus more so on sentences today.


Cold night smell
coming in the windows. New moon floating white as a rib at the edge of the sky. (44)

There's an interesting omission here; Carson completely drops the articles most people would lead with. Not a cold night smell or the new moon--just the thing itself: cold night smell and new moon. On a "craft" level it's an easy, neat way of shortening and sharpening the sentences, but it also renders these two pieces of imagery more lyric, more ecstatic, more mythic; removing the particularizing articles has (at least for me) an effect that makes the images totalized, super-saturated, etc. Interesting to think about in light of how adjectives in this novel are, after all, latches of being (and ones unhinged or let loose by Stesichoros). And interesting too that we get night as a sort of category adjective, similar to boy neck from the Red Meat portions (I need a better phrase for this thing I keep describing so poorly!), in the first sentence, rather than cold night's smell or smell of cold night or etc.

He was fourteen.
Sex is a way of getting to know someone,
Herakles had said. he was sixteen. (44)

Strong, clear, simple use of syntactical parallelism to communicate the important and powerful difference in position between our two young gayboys in a very small number of words.

Hot unsorted parts of the question
were licking up from every crack in Geryon,
he beat at them as a nervous laugh escaped him. (44)

I love the sheer strangeness of this one--the question's parts are hot and unsorted, but also capable of licking up through cracks--images setting us up for all the fun volcano time we will have together later in the novel, maybe--but ultimately these hot unsorted parts are things to be beaten down. Again it seems Carson has a fondness for wide and fast movement when doing descriptive or metaphoric work.

Not touching
but joined in astonishment as two cuts lie parallel in the same flesh. (45)

A different sort of omission: rather than removing articles Carson leaves out the actual grammatical subject of the sentence (what exactly is not touching but joined? the two boys), giving us a long fragment containing that fantastic, astonishing comparison to parallel cuts. There's a definite power to casually dropping in such a bomb.

is something you know instinctively at fourteen and can still remember even with hell in your head
at sixteen. (46)

This particular aphoristic move exists on multiple levels: the ALL CAPS representing what is getting literally spray-painted segues to normal typography as Carson expands on the actual claim in a more essayistic fashion. Notice the way she uses you as a universal stand-in (a very common thing for us essayists, I think). And note too how it's possible to make a long, relatively elegant sentence with a minimum of punctuation.


Compose several descriptive sentences (or select several from an existing manuscript). Experiment with re-writing them in ways that deliberately omit normal grammatical features (articles, subjects, predicates, etc). See: cold night smell and new moon, or not touching but... for examples. Play around with what tonal or thematic effects you can heighten in this way.


Tomorrow we do Lava & Somnambula


Will Slattery helps curate things here on Essay Daily. He tweets on occasion: @wjaslattery

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