Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Syntax Club: "XIV. Red Patience"; "XV. Pair"

Syntax Club: Autobiography of Red

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 finds himself inexplicably transfixed by an especially unusual volcano photograph (entitled "Red Patience" involving a fifteen minute exposure; Geryon finds that his wings are struggling anew (a pain not felt since childhood) as he and Herakles find themselves this odd pair engaged in a mutual sort of watching; in other words, our adolescent protagonist is reckoning with time, intimacy, distance, and vision.


What's valuable to an essayist here?

Probably gonna start shifting the question approach up tomorrow, since ultimately I am starting to repeat in unhelpful ways, but for now let's emphasize that these sections are doing significant work about the nature of time (long photo exposure) and the relationship between distance, sight, and intimacy (Geryon's relative inability to render himself as anything other than odd to Herakles, the ways in which his wings serve as a locus for difference, otherness, monstrosity, etc). The latter of those is something more or less all essays grapple with in a way.


A fifteen-minute exposure that recorded both the general shape of the cone
with its surroundings (best seen by day)
and the rain of incandescent bombs tossed into the air and rolling down its slopes
(visible in the dark). (51)

Gorgeous elongation, but I'm most drawn by two things here: the sonic & connotative choice underpinning bombs (emphasizing the sudden, violent spectacle through an explosive and a plosive--that puff of air with the b providing a nice contrast to the more languid incandescent) and the ways in which the parenthetical interruptions provide a sort of dichotomy (day & night).

Geryon could see a row of pine skeletons
killed by falling ash. (51)

and ash moving down
and pines in the kill process. (51)

Skeletons killed continues the violent connotations from above, but notice how Carson recalls, extends, reworks it into willful strangeness later on: killed becomes in the kill process.

he kept going back to it.
It was not that he found it an especially pleasing photograph.
It was not that he
did not understand how such photographs are made.
He kept going back to it. (51)

Significant & effective use of repetition here (he kept going back to it; it was not that) to emphasize both the intensity with which Geryon is drawn to the photograph and the inexplicability of the draw. I like too that we get what can be called a chiasmus or antimetabole (repetition of elements in an inverted order; an AB:BA pattern; don't stress too much about which one is which, many rhetoricians and scholars use the terms inconsistently).

His wings were struggling. They tore against each other on his shoulders
like the little mindless red animals they were.
With a piece of wooden plank he'd found in the basement Geryon made a back brace
and lashed the wings tight.
Then he put his jacket back on. (53)

Variance in syntactic length is what struck me here--Carson is describing a single situation/sequence of action (Geryon's wings are bothersome and so he makes a brace to restrain them) with sentence patterns more or less Short->Long->Long->Short (similar to our ABBA chiasmus action above). Interesting that Carson confines the moment of commentary (like the little mindless red animals they were) to the long and keeps the short sentences framing the whole action simple and direct.

The jacket shifted. Geryon peered out. (53)

We saw a similar move to this--Geryon being a little obscured, rendered partially in terms of a moving or speaking object--in some earlier sections with the fruit bowl. Interesting that Carson chooses to repeat the move here, especially given that the next section will contain the first sexual consummation of Geryon and Herakles' relationship.

Parenthetical Pairs
Compose a single sentence which contains two different parenthetical interludes that somehow serve as contrasts or counterpoints on the level of diction, subject, or theme (see: day and night above).

Recall and Rework
Establish a through-line of diction across several words (see: the violence implicit in skeletons, bombs, killed by falling ash, etc) and then recall and rework the same through-line later on in a passage (see: how killed becomes kill process).

Short Long Long Short
See how imitating Carson's syntactic variance affects the pacing of your own writing; describe a single sequence or action in short and long sentences according to an ABBA pattern (and maybe experiment with it the other way, too).


Tomorrow we do Grooming and Walls.


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

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