Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Syntax Club: "XXIV. Freedom"

Due to a technical snafu involving Blogger's auto-save features (ok, one part a technical snafu, one part me having too many tabs open and inadvertently trying to compose a new post on top of an old one), the prior incarnation of this post wound up getting accidentally replaced with a blank page. What follows is an expanded re-working, though not exactly the same content (important life lesson: don't compose things directly in Blogger!).

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?


In the wake of his breakup with Herakles, Geryon begins work at a somewhat boring archive job; Geryon continues to experiment with photography; Herakles drops a call to Geryon, ensuring our young gayboy protagonist that what he truly needs is freedom; despite his increasing awareness of the relative awfulness of Herakles Geryon continues to find himself transfixed by the boy.

Herakles is...sort of a lot, isn't he?

Very much so! Herakles is most certainly a tiresome lad. If we can draw perhaps one life lesson from this text, it might be something like "don't seduce someone younger than you, encourage them to abscond from their life to your hometown, unceremoniously dump them, and then phone them up a while later to state that freedom is what I want for you."

What role does freedom play in all of this?

It seems like that might be a major thing, given that Carson chose it as the title for this section (one of the longer, more memorable, more charged ones), yeah? The question of how Geryon is or isn't free is an interesting one; Geryon seems aware of his death/demise (and that Herakles' might play a role in it) from a very young age--recall that addition he made to the story in his composition journal as a young boy. And in the Stesichoros-Red-Meat sections we saw that his mother had a pre-existing knowledge of his demise, as did the Olympian gods, which is to say that all of this is fated, maybe. But worth considering as well that the ancients had a slightly different notion of freedom than we do, and that might open up some new avenues of thought. If we think about Plato, for instance, we get a sense of freedom slightly less concerned with political and inter-personal behavior (our general reference points for freedom as English-readers probably living in Western liberal democracies). "Freedom of an agent from impediments to a goal," yes, but also "the rule of reason over the soul unimpeded by desires." What goals/ends is Geryon set towards, and what foundational factors are advancing/impeding that? And what exactly is Geryon's soul--and what impedes it? Might be interesting to think about the myriad ways Geryon is othered/rendered monstrous here (artist, gayboy, shitty abusive brother, weird conception of internal and external, likely synaesthete, literal wings, etc). Of course, this is a very tentative line of analysis--Plato isn't the only ancient reference point for freedom, and furthermore Plato is further removed from Stesichoros than we are from the American Civil War, so we probably shouldn't lean too heavily on a strict reading.


Geryon's life entered a numb time, caught between the tongue and the taste. (72)

A nice alliterative pairing, and I also appreciate the light assonance of numb and tongue. Caught is an interesting verb choice too--nothing can quite literally be caught between the tongue and the taste (whether it mean taste as in morsel or as in sensation), but it works well here because it reinforces both the awkward stilted-ness of this time in Geryon's life and his odd sensory experience of the world.

The documents
had a forlorn austerity,
tall and hushed in their ranges as veterans of a forgotten war. (72)

Forlorn austerity is a bold choice--if this were an MFA workshop people would write it off as overwrought, juvenile, teenaged--but I think it works well here; I also find myself intrigued by the pivot or movement accomplished by in their ranges, which transforms the shelving system into a martial image.

A yellowing 5x7 index card
scotch-taped below each button said EXTINGUISH LIGHT WHEN NOT IN USE.
Geryon went flickering
through the ranges like a bit of mercury flipping the switches on and off. (72)

So much to love here! Consider flickering. As a verb, this continues the sense of the previous, literal image (the index card with EXTINGUISH): the lights that need extinguished when not in use probably flicker, yeah? But attributing that particular action to Geryon allows Carson to maintain the memory of that literal, physical register (the crappy lights in the library) through the action--the quick, slight, movement of a teenager in that environment flipping the switches off. But flickering also lets her pivot mid-sentence to a simile which gets at not only Geryon's physical actions but also his emotional, mental, developmental, existential status: a bit of mercury. The verb can serve simultaneously as a link and a pivot, allowing Carson to maintain a steady register relating to the physical actions in a specific scene while also dropping in a dense metaphor to gesture at Geryon's broader state.

His mother reached out
a hand to touch his head but he ducked sideways (73)

Well characterized teenage behavior, I think. Very few adults would duck sideways to avoid being touched--we might lean back, or reach out a hand to stop somebody. Ducking along a parallel axis neatly encapsulates the sprawling energy of an adolescent body in the world.

Herakles' voice went bouncing through Geryon on hot gold springs. (73)

Hot gold springs are what drew me to this one. We can tell from the general narrative that Geryon undoubtedly finds Herakles "hot" in a general sense, but we also get the feeling that Herakles is some kind of jock-twink-hybrid curly-haired blond Adonis yeah? Precisely the sort a young sensitive gayboy like Geryin would find to be an all-encompassing, feel-it-in-parts-of-your-abdomen-you-didn't-know-you-had kind of hot. But Caron actually avoids direct physical characterization of Herakles throughout the work, generally--we get this knowledge through a kind of associative characterization. Gold springs, although used here as part of a metaphor for an emotional experience, indirectly communicates information about Herakles' likely appearance. It might seem silly to spend this much time thinking about this sort of effect, but then again this is a work about adjectives...

{NB: heterosexual readers, if you are unfamiliar with the word "twink" please use extreme caution when Googling}

Don't want to be free want to be with you. Beaten but alert Geryon organized
all his inside force to suppress this remark. (74)

The first sentence is a straightforward example of how authors use sentence fragmentation to convey the patterns of internal thought (this is a very old technique). The second I found interesting for the somewhat atypical placement of beaten but alert, which lacks the typical connective tissue (punctuation or conjunctive something or other) one would use to include that information).

He saw the doorway
the house the night the world and
on the other side of the world somewhere Herakles laughing drinking getting
into a car and Geryon's
whole body formed one arch of a cry--upcast to that custom, the human custom
of wrong love. (75)

The use of asyndeton (deliberate avoidance of conjunctions) in the first few lines does a neat job of showing Geryon's train of thought; the repetition of the, absent anything else to join these nouns emphasizes the painful rumination of our sad teenaged Geryon. The asyndeton with Herakles laughing drinking getting into a car does similar work (and note the implications achieved with that enjambment--exactly what Herakles is getting is thrown up in the air for a few moments). I especially love the last two lines. Upcast is such an interesting choice, and parsing out the senses of it give us a variety of meanings: Geryon literally arching bodily upwards in emotional pain; his metaphorical (or literal) cry thrown upwards; and Geryon's story (and his pain) being thrown up into a different or new light: a mythic light, an archaic light--didn't Stesichoros undo the latches holding things in Homeric fixity and let adjectives float up, after all? And of course that final appositive is a killer way of drawing out emphasis, especially because Carson withholds the meaningful semantic portions from the initial noun the appositive modifies (we don't know what custom until it gets reiterated, renamed as the human custom of wrong love).


Associative Characterization

Indirectly communicate physical information about a character, scene, or object by accumulating related connotations in metaphors relating to that character, scene, or object (see: how get the sense that Herakles is likely a blond Adonis type via things like hot gold springs).


Use a verb to extend the range or scope of a physical action or scene (see: how we get a note about extinguishing the lights and then Geryon flickering down the hall to turn them off.) Use that same verb to work in, mid-sentence, a metaphor or simile which works in the established range/scope but also pivots to communicate new information about a new dimension (see: a bit of mercury, which relates not only to Geryon's physical movement but to many other things as well).

Tomorrow, assuming I don't blow up the blog again, we do "Tunnel" and "Aeroplane."


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

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