Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Syntax Club: "XVI. Grooming"; "XVII. Walls"

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 and Herakles have what seems to be their first major sexual encounter (implied as an oral one) which leaves Geryon feeling not as a wounded angel but instead a magnetic person; i.e., the sexual encounter is a locus of agency and power--but it should be noted that many readers interpret the title ("Grooming") given to the sexual encounter as a complicating factor. Immediately after their sexual encounter, we see Geryon and Herakles at work painting the town red via rambunctious, perhaps pretentious graffiti; this nocturnal behavior ultimately emphasizes Geryon's limits and (perhaps inevitable, structural, cosmically fixed) distance from Herakles.


Does Carson's occasional use of the 1st person plural relate to the essayistic vibes this book sometimes gives you, Will?

Probably, I think--take a look at the opening of "Grooming"; that's a sweeping move, alright, and the use of the 1st person plural we makes it impossible to not at least consider the sentence in light of nonfiction, or hybrid, or metafictive, or "all of the above" spaces. I guess you could call it an authorial or narratorial interjection, but it's not doing the work we typically associate with those interjections in "normal" or "traditional" or "realist" fiction, so I'm inclined to read it in a hybrid way. Especially since this particular moment feels in some ways akin to her aphoristic gestures.

What do we make of the title "Grooming"?

It refers most literally to the goofy gorilla game they play together, clearly, but given Geryon's history there are obvious possible tensions to this word when used to introduce a sexual experience. Though, of course, Carson also wants us to bear in mind that Geryon isn't that wounded angel figure. Feel free to share thoughts on how it should be read if you are so inclined.


As in childhood we live sweeping close to the sky and now, what dawn is this. (54)

Wildly expansive, 1st person plural sense of involvement, a lush breathlessness to that final phrase. Thoroughly Carsonian.

Herakles lies like a piece of torn silk in the heat of the blue (54)

A straightforward simile in terms of structure, and easy enough in terms of connotation (silk seems a neat fit for a young lover), but Carson wants to keep us on our toes--and she delays the twist until the very end. Did you think this simile demarcating the opening bounds of this heated sexual experience would end in red? You were wrong; interesting how Carson withholds the pivot until the last word of that concluding prepositional phrase.

Geryon thinks for some reason of going into a barn
first thing in the morning
when sunlight strikes a bale of raw hay still we from the night. (54)

I adore the sheer strangeness of this mental moment, and how she guilelessly leans into it (thinks for some reason) instead of explaining it.

Geryon felt clear and powerful--not some wounded angel after all
but a magnetic person like Matisse
or Charlie Parker! (54)

Again and again, for a very finicky and slippery sort of work, we often get sentences that are remarkably sincere and guileless. In this case, Geryon's experience of feeling clear and powerful is given via unabashedly clear and powerful markers: wounded angel, magnetic person, and that final, totally sincere exclamation point.

That night they went out painting. (55)

A nice contrast to the previous section's opener, both in terms of syntax (long and short) and concept (dawn and night).

Geryon did an early red-winged LOVESLAVE on the garage of the priest's house (55)

Early is an interesting modifier here; it can take on several meanings in that LOVESLAVE is literally early in the sequence of graffiti they are painting in-scene and in that it implies Geryon has a category of work one might call early--we get glimpses of his future, adult, artistic career, maybe?

The night was wide open
and blowing headlights like a sea. (55)

Similes are one of the most guileless of figurative techniques generally--they take something metaphoric and use that central like to clarify the metaphor's, almost didactically giving it an unmissable hinge. But notice how she skews things again at the end. Night and sea both as wide open, sure, easy and obvious--but blowing headlights?

Geryon watched the top of Herakles' head
and felt his limits returning. Nothing to say. Nothing. He looked at this fact
in mild surprise. Once in childhood
his ice cream had been eaten by a dog. Just an empty cone
in a small dramatic red fist. (56)

Small dramatic red fist has excellent internal vowel sonics. I also like that this is the only (I think?) reference to the dog in the novel-in-verse proper. And note too how Geryon's awareness of his limits returning, of his inexplicable interiority, gets a little bit of free indirect discourse treatment through the use of the fragmented nothing to say and nothing.


Section Openers

Take something fragmented or multi-sectional and compose short, 1-sentence interludes of some kind opening each fragment or section. Strive to set up a dichotomy or schema of some kind in these openers. Play around with what thematic and structural effects you can achieve this way. See: what dawn is this & that night.

Unexpected Simile, Terminal Position

Draft a simile or two describing a feature or scene or moment or whatever in one of your current projects, and find a way to skew the simile or make it deeply unexpected towards the very end. Avoid deliberate unexpectedness in the first portion of the simile--save that pivot. See: Herakles in the heat of the blue, or the night and the sea both blowing headlights.


Tomorrow we do She and From the Archaic to the Fast Self


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

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