Friday, May 29, 2020

Syntax Club: "XVIII. She"; "XIX. From the Archaic to the Fast Self"

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 has a strange flash of...confusion, insight, something relating to the sight of Herakles' mother's bedroom and the word she; Herakles' grandmother speaks at some length about Woolf, Freud, and magma; our senses of interiority and exteriority start to coalesce in a more coherent way around these central volcanic images: interior as hot, as pressure, as waiting to burst, maybe?; Geryon kind of gets dumped, though the full heft of this won't totally hit him for a little bit.


What's the significance of She?
The sight of the bedroom itself is striking to this adolescent boy in an obvious way--it's full of ~overtly feminine things~! But there's something slightly deeper at work with regards to Geryon's sense of self, of inside, and how that relates to his understanding of gender (think back to the slow ascent up the stairs we saw a few sections back). I don't quite have a totally secure read on it yet, but feel free to offer up thoughts of your own.

How should we read Archaic and Fast Self?
This is a formative moment for Geryon, right? A moment of transition, maybe, one way of being has ended and another has begun. The relationship with Herakles' has thrust him into the realm of romantic suffering quite suddenly, and so he leaves behind the archaic, the old times of his youth, for the fast self, the stable, fixed self of the present moment. But note too that there's a potential ambiguity here--you can read an implicit {Self} as attached to Archaic, which, given the opening aphorism about reality as a sound might open up some more interesting avenues for us to think about. And note too the whole range of senses fast might mean here: alternatively quick, stable, morally loose, scandalous, etc.

What's up with Freud and Woolf in these ramblings?
An occasion for Carson to do some Carson-ing, first and foremost (love it or hate it, sweeping, expansive recombinations of Big Name literary & historical figures is one of her main *deals*). But also a good jumping off point for our internal-external thinking--probably not a coincidence that these are Ms. "Existence is a Semi-Transparent Envelope of Consciousness" and Mr. "Popularized the Idea of the Unconscious."

And lava and interiority?
Yeah, there's a lot of pressure resting on this metaphor. We'll see more volcano stuff later on, but I think these sections are where the metaphors finally start to congeal in a helpful way for me.

How is Geryon a man in transition?
Obviously there's the transition to adulthood, but we might think about other ways to: a figure written by a transitional author (Stesichoros); a figure transitioning between literary modes (Carson's fake Greek poetry vs. her novel-in-verse); and of course he is a man interested in sex with other men, and those are always liminal figures of a sort.


Who am I? He had been here before in the dark on the stairs with his hands out
groping for a switch--he hit it
and the room sprang towards him like an angry surf with its unappeasable debris
of woman liquors, he saw a slip
a dropped magazine combs baby powder a stack of phone books a bowl of pearls
a teacup with water in it himself
in the mirror cruel as a slash of lipstick--he banged the light off. (57)

So much going on here! The use of asyndeton (deliberate omission of conjunctions) in that long list of unappeasable debris is an excellent way of mirroring the psychology of this teenaged boy seeing such a room. But I also find the structure fascinating, especially that loooooong second sentence. We have 4 basic elements to it, each structured around he {verb}: 1) he had been here 2) he hit it 3) he saw 4) he banged the light off. The parallelism allows a sprawling, massive sentence to feel both smooth, neat, quick, and even in a way well-ordered. (I know I keep banging on about parallelism, and making such a big deal out of a simple syntactical device might seem pedestrian or sophomoric to many readers, but I really do think sentence mechanics are under-discussed in CNF spheres, so I'm going to keep banging away). I like the way the middle pair are joined with just a single comma, and I like how that pair is attached via a dash: 1--2,3--4, basically. A nice patterning.

Reality is a sound, you have to tune in to it not to just keep yelling. (60)

My friend Lela liked this sentence so much she made it her Twitter bio when she first read it, so I'll let her speak a few words: "A very succinct way of talking about the manner some of us live in the world versus maybe the manner we should live in, in terms of imposing ourselves on reality or listening to it, and I think accomplishing that almost self-helpy idea through this metaphor is pretty graceful."

where hardworking dawn monkeys (60)

Dawn is what struck me here; the time of a day (a feature of the setting) is re-attributed to an agent acting within the setting. Carson keeps sliding the role of adjectives around on us (think back to, say, boy neck for comparison): moving atmospheric information to those acting in the atmosphere.

Like the terrestrial crust of the earth
which is proportionately ten times thinner than an eggshell, the skin of the soul
is a miracle of mutual pressures.
Millions of kilograms of force pounding up from the earth's core on the inside to meet
the cold air of the world and stop,
as we do, just in time. The autobiography,
which Geryon worked on from the age of five to the age of fourty-four,
had recently taken the form of a 
photographic essay. (60)

Register shifts, obviously--moving again from thinking about the interior in geologic & technical terms (crust, proportionately thinner, kilograms of force) to aesthetic & metaphysical ones (soul, autobiography). I do especially like the juxtaposition of the sentence about the autobiography with the one about force, and how she refrains from "explaining" that particular move (and interesting too to think about how acquire a broader, larger narrative distance every time the autobiography comes up). Just in time, as well as that fact that we are a thing that stop, has a lot of potential valences; play around with the meaning in your head a bit and a lot of avenues start to open up, no?

Geryon's heart and lungs were a black crust. (62)

In Geryon's autobiography
this page has a photograph of some red rabbit giggle tied with a white ribbon.
He has titled it "Jealous of My Little Sensations." (62)

These two are also interesting in terms of distance and register--we move from a very intense, very close, very emotive black crust which unifies Geryon's experience directly with the volcanic metaphors to a more distant view requiring us to do a bit more intepretation or speculation about an older Geryon (after all, he didn't make the photograph in that exact moment, right?). Tracking Geryon's relationship to time and how that intersects with the narrative and/or lyric distance might be a good project.

Compose a sentence with a structure mirroring that of Caron's long sentence describing Geryon entering the room. Pick a single subject, 4 different verbs, and unite them in a single sentence where the 2nd and 3 clauses are penned in with dashes & joined by a comma.

Adjectival Sliding
Move information about setting or atmosphere to instead describe an actor within that setting or atmosphere (see: dawn monkeys).

Next week's plan (assuming I don't get off schedule again):
Tuesday: AA and Memory Burn
Wednesday: Fruit Bowl and Water
Thursday: Freedom


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

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