Friday, August 14, 2020

Syntax Club: "XXXVI. Roof"; "XXXVII. Eyewitnesses"

Syntax Club: Autobiography of Red

As any Syntax Club readers may have noticed, I've been away from the project for a bit due to being repeatedly, violently unseated from the saddle of "responsible, organized, productive life" by an opponent known as "attempting to provide remote instruction to high school students during a pandemic". Things are settling down a bit, so let's see if we can't close this thing out in the next week or two.

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?


The boys have arrived in Lima, which Geryon finds at various times soiled, white, dull, and red (his experience of the city is both a little empty and a little oppressive); the boys hang out on a rooftop where Ancash's mom lives with her small pot operation; Geryon continues to find himself smitten by Herakles, especially when he eats mangoes while shirtless; Herakles attempts to leverage this attraction a little bit, but Ancash directly shuts down an performative attempt to escalate the tension in this triangle; Ancash sees Geryon's wings for the first time and tells Geryon that he may be related to a local legend involving volcanoes, wings, immortality, and eyewitnesses--ones who went and saw and came back.


We've talked a bit previously about the relationship between adjective and mood--how does place fit into this?

Given that each destination, so to speak, in this work has a significant vibe/ambiance (the faux-Canadian hometown of Geryon doesn't feel like the volcanic island of Hades which doesn't feel like Buenos Aires which definitely does not feel like our current destination, Lima) it seems reasonable that we could extend some of the thinking about mood (the thing which makes us aware of our being-in-the-world, the point of rupture, to point where an adjective latches) to location as well (especially given that several of the places, Lima in particular, have strong color associations).

What's up with all this volcano stuff--Geryon is immortal? He's from a volcano? Huh?

The myth Ancash relates about the eyewitnesses will never be quite totally "resolved" in a straightforward literal sense (but if you were expecting that I have no idea how you have made it this far into this book/project without screaming). The most relevant bits to think about, maybe: the relationship between myth and immortality (Geryon exists for us as a myth, obviously, but this is the first time he has been seen as a mythic figure in his own world, maybe); the act of regarding and what that means as an eyewitness, one who went and saw and came back; this is maybe a good time to flip back to the Dickinson poem which opens the novel-in-verse, actually.

A soiled white Saturday morning in Lima. (120)

Soiled is my point of interest here. One the simplest level it works to indicate the particular type of white that the Saturday morning is: dirty. This sense ratchets up a few notches if you consider soiled and white as coordinate adjectives applying independently to Saturday--not just a dirtied white, but dirty in itself--dirty laundry, maybe.

Ancash's mother had the roof divided into living,
sleeping and horticultural areas. (120)

There's something mildly amusing about the way the list is closed out with horticultural rather than, say, gardening, which would be the obvious parallel.

under the dull red winter stars of Lima. (121)

Lima seems a much more ambiguous, at times malevolent place to Geryon. Here I am especially fond of the little unexpected thrill one gets when seeing the adjectives dull and red being applied to winter of all things.

Juice ran down his face and onto his bare chest. Geryon watched a drop of sun
slide past Herakles' nipple and over his belly
and vanish into the top of his jeans. (122)

Two noteworthy things here: the capacity of polysyndeton (deliberate over-use of conjunctions) to mimic the gaze of our protagonist as he watches fruit juice run down the shirtless torso of his lover(?) and into the band of his jeans. Geryon is watching it move past the nipple down the chest into the pants, and each sequence in that is yoked on with an additional and, mirroring the slow, tense gaze of Geryon's drifting downwards towards Herakles' crotch.

But I also love how Geryon internalizes the language Herakles had previously used to describe the fruit--like eating the sun--as he stares, solitary and struck.

Saturday went whitely on. (125)

A lovely use of a deliberately opaque, resolvable adverb.

Down alleyways where stinging sea fog
hung in clots over the cobblestones. (125)

I have frequently heard alliteration maligned in workshops (variably as pedestrian, heavy-handed, juvenile, all of the above), but Carson uses it well, often in pairs. Consider here, how stinging sea fog is separated from clots it forms over the cobblestones by the verb hung. Two pairs of alliteration describing the same thing, the fog (S&S and C&C) with a verb as hinge (so maybe SS:CC).

The Pacific at night is red
and gives off a soot of desire (130).

Soot of desire is excellent in that it feels natural on the tongue & obvious to the mind despite being a rather arbitrary abstraction or projection. Somebody who cared more about realism (i.e., not me) might have something to say about the pathetic fallacy or whatever here.


Coordinate Adjectives & Multiple Meanings

Pair two or more adjectives in a way where they can be read either as coordinate adjectives or not while still contributing to the same general mood or description. See: how soiled white Saturday can refer either to a particular shade of white, to Saturday being both soiled and white, or both.

Physicality & Moods

Attribute to a physical thing an outpouring or expression of a mood which it could not literally have. See: the Pacific giving of a soot of desire. Avoid minimizing or evading the absurdity or abstraction or fabulist vibe this creates, and instead run with said vibe and see what you can get out of it.


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

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