Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Syntax Club: "XXVII. Skepticism"; "XXIX. Slopes"

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?


While in Buenos Aires Geryon finds himself thrust into contact with a somewhat unpleasant philosopher known as the yellowbeard; Geryon attends a conference on skepticism with the yellowbeard, which serves as an occasion for some loose, fragmented work on Carson's part re: the Stoics, time, and the correct human disposition to being in the world.


How much does the philosophizing stuff matter throughout this book? Do I need to look up skepticism and stoicism or whatever?

I would generally say that when reading an Anne Carson book the philosophical or philological or etc content matters as much or as a little as you want it to; I have enough of a background in some of this stuff to understand that she isn't full of shit & that serious synthetic meaning can be parsed from it, but also I find (to borrow an expression from a colleague of mine) her approach to be "demandingly broad" at times. Chew it over and dive down rabbit holes if you want to, but also I don't think it will make much of a difference re: the experience and value of the text itself if you don't.


Buenos Aires was blurring into dawn. (85)

Love the careful work with the verb blurring here, especially when paired with dawn (normally a site of clarity, so interesting to see it paired so here).

The yellowbeard had already taken hold of the chair. (85)

Identifying this character strictly as the yellowbeard both emphasizes the awkwardness Geryon experiences with regards to the man's appearance & renders the philosopher in classical-adjective-epithet-stuff: he becomes co-extensive with his physical trait (as the classical Geryon does with Red Stuff).

The gas-white winter sky
came down like a gag on Buenos Aires. (87)

Gas-white winter is a nice little bit of alliteration, and the sudden enjambed violence of the gag descending in the rejet is lovely.

the whales afloat
in the moonless tank where their tails touched the wall--as alive as he was
on their side
of the terrible slopes of time. (90)

The use of the em-dash as a kind of balance or pivot is a strategy I adore, though I understand many people absolutely hate it. Additionally, terrible slopes of time is both sonically pleasing and a nice way of succinctly describing the kind of horror that comes with thinking about being a body in time too much.

It was the hour when snow goes blue 
and streetlights come on and a hare may
pause on the tree line as still as a word in a book. (91)

Goes blue is a fun choice for this work, given the concern with Other Colors As States Of Being, but I also like the elongation and wide sense of descriptive and figurative movement in this sentence.

the yellowbeard strode up and down
his kingdom of seriousness bordered by strong words, maintaining belief
in man's original greatness--
or was he denying it? (92)

Kingdom of seriousness bordered by strong words is an excellent way of describing academic conference pretension, no?


Physical Characteristic as Character Identification

We have done a few exercises similar to this before, but repetition is good for the soul. Take a physical characteristic and use it in a noun form as the exlcusive identifier for a character or agent in a scene (see: the yellowbeard, whose yellow beard becomes his identity to Geryon).

The remainder of this week, in 2 parts:


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

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