Syntax Club: Autobiography of Red
As any Syntax Club readers may have noticed, I've been away from the project for a bit due to being repeatedly, violently unseated from the saddle of "responsible, organized, productive life" by an opponent known as "attempting to provide remote instruction to high school students during a pandemic". We only have a few sections left--keep an eye out for those over the next week.
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 crew head off from Lima to visit Huaraz in the high Andes; Geryon spends most of the ride engrossed with the edge of Herakles' face, engrossed in the cloud of familiar distance between them; once ensconced in the mountains the boys find themselves struck by the sharp relations of their new elevation; Geryon fears that he may be disappearing but that the photographs were worth it, at least in part because raising a camera to one's face has effects no one can calculate in advance.
The relationship between Geryon and Herakles seems both intense, overwhelming, perma-bonded and also insubstantial, clouded, ephemeral. What's the relationship between intimacy and distance at work here? And does that relate to our central photography metaphors?
Carson has a book on eros as a kind of absence, or gap, or lack (hence why it is so frequently cast as a bittersweet, driving force in classical works). I suspect something similar is at work here: Geryon is undeniably latched on to this boy, like it or not, but the cloud between them (which Geryon is aware he shouldn't return to) is a kind of abyss or gulf: not diveable, not navigable, not resolvable. Interesting too that here Geryon is focused in this section on edges and relations, which suggests a certain lack of interpersonal connection, or continuity, or something maybe.
Is all this volcano stuff going to resolve into something more concrete eventually? It's kind of hard to keep track of all the balls Carson throws in the air, especially while we also attempt some kind of essayistic-something.
The increasingly frequent (almost annoyingly so) volcano conceits do start to resolve very soon, I promise!
Geryon was in the back seat watching the edge of Herakles' face. (131)
A beautifully effective line which captures the relative emotional position of Geryon in physical terms: behind the object of his desire, watching it but unable to be watched in turn, lingering around the edge. Though now that I think on it more it strikes me that faces don't actually have firm edges per se--more of a folding in, not a clear and sharp boundary demarcation.
He had dreamed of thorns. A forest of huge blackish-brown thorn trees
where creatures that looked
like young dinosaurs (yet they were strangely lovely) went crashing
through underbrush and tore
their hides which bell behind them in long red strips. (131)
Tons of fast, energetic movement to this dream sequence. The initial object of focus is set up in clear, simple, colorful language which gives way to agents within it (the dino-like creatures), we get a brief interlude or intrusion from a voice (Carson's? Geryon's? the ghost of Stesichoros'?) pointing out how lovely the creatures are before they rip themselves apart and render themselves only as smatterings of color, as long red strips--which brings us back to the initial focus, the thorns.
Geryon watched children in spotless uniforms with pointy white collars
emerge from the cardboard houses
and make their way along the edge of the highways laughing jumping holding
their bookbags high. Then Lima ended. (132)
Alternating syntax length (long->short) made all the more intense by the asyndeton which gives us a single stream of verbs: laughing jumping holding their bookbags high. The effect is set up to mirror Geryon's gaze in the backseat, plowing by all these faces before they plunge out of the city.
Even when they were lovers
he had never known what Herakles was thinking. Once in a while he would say
Penny for your thoughts!
and it always turned out to be some odd thing like a bumper sticker or a dish
he'd eaten in a Chinese restaurant years ago.
What Geryon was thinking Herakles never asked. In the space between them
developed a dangerous cloud. (132)
In addition to the characterization being amusing, there's a strong but subtle parallelism at work here: Geryon had never known while Herakles had never asked what the other was thinking. The seeming vacuity or flatness of Herakles' responses (bumper sticker, Chinese food) is framed by a parallel structure emphasizing the disparity of their positions. Interestingly, the movement of this jumps backwards quite suddenly, giving us a broader view: what lies between them is not just vacuous but dangerous--some kind of cloud.
that darkness had descended but then the car rounded a curve and the sky
rushed open before them--
bowl of gold where the last moments of sunset were exploding--then another curve
and blackness snuffed out all. (133)
Dropping in a particularly lush piece of description (bowl of gold) via em-dashes at precisely the moment a character would have observed or experience the thing being described is a neat way of working in some imagery.
It is very high. The altitude will set your heart humping. The town is held in a ring
of bare sandrock mountains
but to the north rises one sudden angular fist of total snow. (134)
Sudden angular fist of total snow deserves praise for its richness, its imaginative easiness, but also the unexpected movement of its internal logic. Also: has our you returned to the text now?
It rises in sharp relations
of light towards the first of snow. (134)
Sharp relations of light is lovely in three ways: it provides an excellent visual image of the street; it recalls and reinforces the language of photography, the discipline practiced by our artist-protagonist; and it also reinforces the shape and tenor of the romantic & sexual pairing (now more of a triad, maybe).
I am disappearing, he thought
but the photographs were worth it.
A volcano is not a mountain like others. Raising a camera to one's face has effects
no one can calculate in advance. (135)
A lot of essaystic movement here, mostly a function of the pivot to metaphor and aphorism in the last two lines. We start with a character reflecting on a situation and then step back to a narrating (or essaying) position which provides simple, understated fact (a volcano is not a mountain like others) and uses that as a springboard for an aphoristic gesture (raising a camera--though we're talking about more than just literal camera here, aren't we?).
Append or embed a particular intense or lush moment of imagery into the middle of a sentence via em-dashes (see: the bowl of gold as they are driving).
Highlight a contrast in the positions (intellectual, emotional, discursive, whatever) of two or more subjects through a parallel structure (see: Geryon had never known while Herakles had never asked).
Will Slattery helps curate things here on Essay Daily. He tweets on occasion: @wjaslattery.