Thursday, May 14, 2020

Syntax Club: "III. Rhinestones"; "IV. Tuesday"; "V. Screendoor"; "VI. Ideas"

Syntax Club: Autobiography of Red

Sorry about the schedule shuffling on this week's posts (I'm in the midst of "high school final exams" season). 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?


Carson presents us with various scenes from Geryon's youth, which emphasize his close relationship with his mother, his odd experience of the world, and the general asshole status of his brother. We see Geryon both struggling to communicate his experience of the world verbally and attempting early forays into art (composition journal, tomato sculpture, etc.)


What's valuable to an essayist here?

These sections are pretty straightforwardly (well, as straightforward as anything Carson does) narrative/novel-like; Carson doesn't lean too heavily on the Big Idea or Aphorism toolkits in these sections. However, the continued references to interior/exterior are worth thinking about as essayists (and "interiority" is kind of our whole deal, right?). Additionally, the ways in which she skews narrative distance back and forth (sometimes the style is closely imitating Geryon's mind, a la free indirect discourse, other times it is a removed-but-opinionated narrative style) are useful to think about. Essayists don't have precisely the same relationship to narrative distance, but distance is still a major factor for us.


rhinestoning past on her way to the door. (30)

Interesting type of conversion here; rhinestone, a noun, becomes a verb: rhinestoning (Google tells me this is called "anthimeria"; the inverse, using a verb as a noun, is of course our good friend the gerund). Conversationally we do this all the time, but mostly with boring technology nouns: Skyping, Zooming, Facebooking, etc. Using it for an actually interesting noun is powerfully evocative here.

He knew he must not cry. And he knew the sound
of the door closing
had to be kept out of him. (30)

I love how Carson alters the structure of these sentences to communicate something about agency. Both have the same subject and basic action: he knew. The first sentence is a straightforward, internal imperative: don't cry, man, that'll make it worse. But the second sentence renders him passive and emphasizes his emotional powerlessness; the sound had to be kept out of him, but how? and by whom?

He chose to pass over this distinction. (31)

Note the narrative distance: the voice (can we say the voice *is* Carson? This is a novel, sure, but the narrating voice feels co-extensive with the author we see in the nonfictive sections--maybe that's how this is an essay after all!) is observing, editorializing maybe with a bit of humor.

said the fruit bowl. (31)

But here we get a very different sort of humor (identifying the voice with the bowl covering the kid's head), one much more embedded in the visual experience of the scene. I'm finding the sliding sense of distance more and more interesting throughout this read-through.

Geryon's brother was regarding her with one eye closed his mode of total attention. (33)

Interesting here to note that Carson, famously fancy and pretentious and etc, is actually often kind of a minimalist; there's no punctuation setting off his mode of total attention. Normally you'd do a comma if you were working in a "normal" style, or a colon or a dash if you wanted to perform a bit and draw attention to it, but Carson gives us no mark at all! I'm reminded of the 2 or 3 times in my education I had to read the Hemingway story about the abortion--"Hills like White Elephants?" something like that--and how he uses omission or removal in a similar way.

Maria (34)

Probably worthwhile to track who gets names and who doesn't (i.e., mother and brother).

He had ripped up some pieces of crispy paper he found in her purse to use for hair (35)

A "close" moment in terms of distance; Geryon thinks of it as crispy paper, the punchline is, as we learn at the end, that he's cut up a 10 dollar bill.

Outside the dark pink air
was already hot and alive with cries. (36)

Dark pink air is a great example of Carson's tendency to combine contrasting or conflicting elements (obviously pink can have darker and lighter shades, but it's odd to see it together like this, no?). And hot and alive with cries is a fantastic way of describing Geryon's odd, strange, spastic, lyrical, probably synaesthetic experience of the world.

neatened his little red wings and pushed him
out the door. (36)

A pleasingly wholesome moment, honestly, given how tough Geryon has it.

Geryon had a little red dog Herakles killed that too. (37)

I love how Carson breaks the form (QUESTIONS is followed by ANSWERS is followed by FINALLY). And note again the punctuation minimalism--Herakles killing the dog is simply set alongside the fact that Geryon had a dog in the first place, no explict linkage or relationship established outside that final too. Greatly sharpens the pathos.

Also: what's actually up with Geryon? Or rather, the Geryons? This version is not quite the same as the one from the fake Greek poetry, but both versions seem to have a mystical awareness or sense of cosmic fixity or something (recall that novel-Geryon hasn't actually met Herakles yet).


Conversion, Antimeria, Gerunds

Compose a sentence on a topic of your choosing (or select a pre-existing one). Rewrite the sentence in at least 3 different ways, striving each time to use verbs as nouns (these are gerunds: swim becomes swimming, eat becomes eating, etc) or nouns as verbs (general conversion/anthimeria: rhinestone becomes rhinestoning, etc). Note that because of the way English makes use of -ing for present participles too it can be tricky to tell at a glance how any given -ing word in a sentence is functioning. Typing this has reminded me why I am very grateful to no longer teach 8th grade grammar for a living.


Next week's schedule, God and Final Exam Grading willing:
Tuesday: Change, Click, Space and Time
Wednesday:Sex Question, Hades
Thursday: Lava, Somnambula


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

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