Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Syntax Club: "XXXII. Kiss"; "XXXIII. Fast-Forward"

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 decides he does not want to be one of those people who think of nothing but their stores of pain and explores a bookstore where he encounters both an evil Walt Whitman and, quite unexpectedly, a grown-up Herakles. The young men sit down at Cafe Mitwelt along with Ancash, Herakles traveling companion who is helping Herakles with a a documentary on Emily Dickinson--a documentary which necessitates that they record the sounds of volcanoes. Geryon finds himself struck by and sensitive to this reunion (and to the new, possibly erotic presence of Ancash), but it is not totally clear how he will respond just yet.


Adult Herakles seems slightly more put-together somehow: artistically ambitious, slightly more social aware, maybe, no?

He certainly presents better in this section, and seems to more grounded and stable and aware, but that may or may not hold up through the rest of the book.

So the volcano stuff is a big deal, huh?

One of the central conceits of the book, and probably one we will need to unpack in greater detail after we finish the read-through if we want to fully understand the essayistic implications (I'm planning a longer, more coherent, less scattered analysis for the finale of Syntax Club).

For the time being let's try to track the relationship between interior (mind) and exterior (world) as we see it operating. Obviously the relationship Carson wants us to think about with those two is one of pressure (volcanoes, fissures, cracks, explosions, etc).

Is this gonna be...a love triangle thing?

When I read this text I notice an intense & energetic interest between all 3 of our young men (Geryon/Herakles/Ancash) in these scenes; readers less gay than I have told me they didn't notice any of that starting until much deeper in the novel; make of the triangle what you will, I suppose.


A healthy volcano is an exercise in the uses of pressure. (105)

Fun to see Carson recalling an unexpected verb from the previous sections (the question of time exercising Geryon) and here converting it into the noun form exercise. Fun too to think of a volcano--a vessel for sudden cataclysm--as an exercise! One element of the conceit being set up here might be "how is Geryon's existence in the world a form of pressure", but that certainly isn't the only direction we can take this.

Geryon sat on his bed in the hotel room pondering the cracks and fissures
of his inner life. It may happen
that the exit of the volcanic vent is blocked by a plug of rock, forcing
molten matter sideways along
lateral fissures called fire lips by volcanologists. Yet Geryon did not want
to become one of those people
who think of nothing but their stores of pain. (105)

Another effective example of register shifts; Carson juxtaposes internal emotional content with geologic metaphors, but refrains from explicitly linking them or breaking down the connection. Our sentences are roughly set up in an ABA pattern. The first and last units are dealing with the cracks and fissures of Geryon's inner life, which Carson identifies directly as stores of pain. But the long sentence in the middle adopts the geologic language absent any explicit turn to Geryon's own pysche--this sentence, dropped in the midst of Geryon's pained internal reflections, works both as a literal descriptor of the subject these young men are discussing (volcanoes) and a continuation of the broader conceit.

He put on his coat, belted it formally, and went out. (105)

The phrase belted it formally is fantastically revealing (especially due to that adverb!), since it implies that Geryon has multiple different styles of belting his wing-hiding overcoat & chooses more or less formal ones depending on his mood.

Heaps of romance spilled their bright vapor
onto the pavement from behind plate glass. (106)

Heaps of romance which spill out onto the pavement is a wonderful concretization of the mood of a particular street.

Kissing makes them happy, thought Geryon. (107)

_____ makes them happy is a frequent comment for Geryon--what makes Geryon happy, I wonder?

He was trying to fit this Herakles onto the one he knew. (108)

A major issue as we continue: these 2, Herakles and Geryon, have both been thrown (like harpoons, recall), and it's not clear yet what their final shapes might be.

Herakles' gaze
on him was like a gold tongue. (110)

Another example of associative characterization (recall how Herakles is constantly surronded by golden imagery and metaphors without Carson giving us direct physical description of him), and the slide from gaze (visual sensation) to on him was like a gold tongue (tactile sensation) neatly shows how sensitive, how prone, how intimate, how frankly horned up Geryon finds himself here.

The effort it took to pull himself
away from Herakles' eyes
could have been measured on the scale devised by Richter. Call us,
we're at the City Hotel, said Herakles.
The Richter scale has neither a minimum nor a maximum threshold.
Everything depends on
the sensitivity of the seismograph. Sure okay, said Geryon, and threw himself
out the door. (110)

Another example of Carson's tendency to drop in conceits but minimize the explaining-thereof; she mentions the link between Geryon's sensitivity and the Richter scale exactly once (i.e., the effort to pull away), and then alternates between dialog and literal descriptions of the scale.


Register Shifts

Work in a particular register of language (geologic, biologic, astrological, psychological, occult, religious, whatever works for you and your project) as a conceit for a particular emotion or thought an essaying voice or narrator or character might experience. Alternate between sentences which broach the experience directly and sentences which use only the register set aside for the conceit (see: how Carson moves between Geryon's cracks and fissures and the more precise geological accounts of vents and fire lips).

Recall & Reuse: Section Openers

Open a particular section (or chapter, or paragraph, or whatever unit you like) with an unexpected word choice (see: the question exercised Geryon from a few days back). Use a different form of that unexpected word choice to open a section later on in the work (see: today's opener about a volcano being an exercise).


The rest of this week, in 3 parts:

--Roof, Eyewitness


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

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