Saturday, July 11, 2020

Syntax Club: "XXXI. Tango"

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?

After his meal with the philosophers & his jovial self-identification as a philosopher of sandwiches Geryon finds himself startled awake at 3am by a sudden unreal, panicked mood. Geryon things about Heidegger's argument about the use of moods, namely that we would think ourselves continuous with the world if we did not have moods and how it is state-of-mind that discloses to us that we are being who have been thrown into something else. Geryon explores Buenos Aires at night and ends up at a small, dark tango bar staffed by a gnome and featuring a tango singer with whom he will discuss whales, psychoanalysis, how tango is not for everyone, and the question of who can a monster blame for being red. During the course of his conversation with the singer Geryon has a sudden and intense flashback to a memory involving both a high school dance and his brother.


What does it mean to be thrown, anyways?

The short of it, roughly: we find ourselves arbitrarily propelled forward into a world in which we have no control over the circumstances; the nature of being-in-the-world is such that this is a continual process and condition, not a mere starting point; there are ways in which mood can disclose our thrown-ness. NB: I almost certainly messed up something in that explanation, Heideggerian colleagues are more than welcome to send lengthy technical and tendentious clarifying remarks, which will of course further cement their nature as Heideggerian. 

The long of it, with somewhat more rigor: "As Dasein, I ineluctably find myself in a world that matters to me in some way or another. This is what Heidegger calls thrownness (Geworfenheit), a having-been-thrown into the world...To make things less abstract, we can note that disposedness is the a priori transcendental condition for, and thus shows up pre-ontologically in, the everyday phenomenon of mood (Stimmung). According to Heidegger's analysis, I am always in some mood or other. Thus say I'm depressed, such that the world opens up (is disclosed) to me as a sombre and gloomy place. I might be able to shift myself out of that mood, but only to enter a different one, say euphoria or lethargy, a mood that will open up the world to me in a different way. As one might expect, Heidegger argues that moods are not inner subjective colourings laid over an objectively given world...For Heidegger, moods (and disposedness) are aspects of what it means to be in a world at all, not subjective additions to that in-ness...In noting these features of moods we must be careful, however. It would be a mistake to conclude from them that moods are external, rather than internal, states. A mood “comes neither from ‘outside’ nor from ‘inside’, but arises out of Being-in-the-world, as a way of such being” (Being and Time 29: 176)."

An alternative, somewhat less serious, visual representation.

What's the relationship between mood and adjective gestured at here?

Mood for Heidegger, as Geryon mentions, is the thing that reveals that we are not contiguous with the world--we are thrown into it, we don't "fit", we are not a neat little piece of the world but things arbitrarily thrust into it again and again.

Given that Carson described adjectives as the latches of being in the introductory essay, I think this text is attempting to stake out a line of thought in which adjectives serve a role similar to mood: they make us aware of the lack of contiguous-ness of our experience. Encountering the adjective-as-latch on the page complicates and throws into relief our experience of a text (and all the concepts, signs, signifiers, gestures, etc within) makes us aware of a kind of thrownness the same way a mood makes us aware of being thrown into the world.

This is perhaps what makes Stesichoros so valuable--his unexpected, wild, unchained used of adjectives (in contrast to the relative fixity of the Homeric subject and all its epithets). Our boy Stesi threw up all the latches at once, sending everything floating, severing the bonds which purported to keep things neat, tidy, and organized. Stein did similar work too, recall, through varieties of repetition and syntactic play.

Carson seems to think this is valuable: how many times have we talked about inversion, subversion, unexpected qualities in the sentences of this book? She slides possessives into adjectives, coins new words and phrases constantly, turns physical descriptors into broad categories and vice versa, and so forth.

It seems, maybe, that for this book at least the literary experience of an adjective should be like Geryon's understanding of Heidegger's bit about moods: not something smoothly and seamlessly latching us to the world but something which tosses it all up in the air, all loose and shining but aware of the ongoing, contingent, anxious process of our existence (and doesn't that work as a description for our protagonist Geryon himself too?--that young man, red and winged, adrift between inside and outside, full of both ecstatic possibility and resurfacing dread).

What do we make of the insertion of the memory of the dance & the brother into this psychoanalytic tango bit?

There's a kind of melancholy, a kind of nostalgia, a kind of tenderness, and a kind of horror to this memory, certainly. Given that it comes up during this section on mood and pyschoanalysis it seems likely that we should be thinking about his relationship with his brother as a type of throwness. There's also the question of the communicability of a human experience (see: the whales), I guess. I'll try to come up with something more concrete about this stuff later down the road.


Under the seams runs the pain. (98)

The return of the aphoristic statement! Note how the sharp use of the article the in this sentence without indicators of possession or context (no info on whose seams, which pain, etc) gives a kind of mythic dimension, a sort of intense gravity to it. A good trick, but maybe one to be careful with in our own writing.

Empty street below gave nothing back of itself. (98)

I like the absence of initial article here: not an empty street or the empty street but just empty street; it works well to communicate the particular mood of Geryon & the scene he finds himself in. Also some nice structural balance, what with the light alliteration and the way the verb gave neatly slides in as a pivot.

Somewhere (he thought) beneath
this strip of sleeping pavement
the enormous solid globe is spinning on its way--pistons thumping, lava pouring
from shelf to shelf,
evidence and time lignifying into the traces. (98)

Gorgeous use of an em-dash to extend a sentence (I am 110% on Team Em-Dash, as well as on Team Semi-Colon, though I know many people loathe them). I also appreciate the movement that happens after the dash. Pistons thumping and lava pouring are straightforward, fairly "close" physical descriptors for tectonic activity, though the former is more metaphoric. But within this same unit marked off by the dash she also moves into a thoroughly abstract realm: evidence and time lignifying into traces is as much a comment on mood and being-in-the-world as it is to anything geologic. But it doesn't feel out of place at all! Carson's ability to neatly slide the philosophically expansive stuff in next to more "ordinary" physical or metaphoric description is great.

They tore clear and clicked and locked
and unlocked, they shot
their eyebrows up and down. They leaned together and wove apart, they rose
and cutaway and stalked
one another and flew up in a cloud and sank back down on waves. (99-100)

Strong use of polysyndeton (deliberate over-use of conjunctions: and and and and and and) to simultaneously emphasize both the literal busy activity of the musicians as well as Geryon's odd, unreal, psychological experience of watching them.

It was a typical tango song and she had the throat full of needles you need to sing it. (100)

The phrase the throat full of needles is a killer way of describing a certain type of voice, no further elaboration needed.

Sweat and desire ran
down his body to pool
in the crotch and behind the knees. (101)

Sweat and desire, our compound subject, share the verb ran even though the sense in which each runs is different: sweat physically, desire metaphorically. Yoking them in a single compound subject is neat way of expressing related physical and emotional activity.

His eyes ached from the effort of trying to see everything without looking at it.
Other boys stood beside him
on the wall. The petals of their cologne rose around them in a light terror.
Meanwhile music pounded
across hearts opening every valve to the desperate drama of being
a self in a song. (101)

The question of seeing (yourself, your lover, your brother, the world around you, the relationship between internal and external, the way being and time operate) is a big one for this book, and the first line here introduces that neatly. But (if you will permit me a somewhat crass, semi-serious interlude) given the start of the next line (other boys) it also gestures at a very important gayboy skill: knowing how to check out other dudes (at parties, at dances, at gas stations, in locker rooms) without them realizing you are checking them out, to see without looking. My straight friends are often shocked when I tell them that many gayboys considered developing this skill a formative part of adolescence.

In a more serious vein, the petals of their cologne rose around them in a light terror is an excellent way of giving image to the murky dread heat of a teenaged dance, and the image of heart valves opening to the pyschic drama of being a self in a song is a fantastically charged, brave, indulgent in the best way move.

From the stainless steel of the kettle a small red person
in a big jacket regarded him. (102)

There's probably a whole book's worth of content to be written about how Carson uses the word regarded in this book. Let me know if you have particular thoughts on how gaze, image, etc (and in this example displacement/reflection thereof) are working in this book.

Who can a monster blame for being red? (104)

That's the fundamental moral and intellectual question of the book, maybe. I suppose all we can say for now is that the question of Geryon being red is similar to the question of the how time is like a harpoon from a few sections back: it's been thrown, and all we can say is that it will arrive.


Compound Subject Yoking

Unify a physical and a non-physical thing into a compound subject and then describe an action for that compound subject with a single verb that works in both the physical and non-physical senses (see: sweat and desire ran down).


Next week we'll be doing 4 parts instead of 3, as I kind of want to make sure we mostly wrap up this project by early August:

--Kiss, Fastforward
--Roof, Eyewitness


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

No comments:

Post a Comment