Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Randomizing Anne Carson

Friday night (May 4), I went to see Anne Carson at the De Young Museum. She’s part of a reading series that is being curated by Paul Hoover.

I wanted to be more thrilled about it. I read Plainwater when I was a freshman in college and it truly changed my life. I put that “truly” in there abashedly, confessionally, in spite of myself because I am well aware that Plainwater has rather infamously (well, I don’t know, Carson is smart enough to think that kind of fame is funny) “changed the life” of a character in Showtime’s “The L Word”. I never saw that episode (or the show for that matter (which is not to say I would not lustily consume it the way someone who does not have TV gorges on TV at stray moments when visiting friends’ houses), but I imagine the scene as follows: bookish, straight girl breathes this line kind of earnestly and then the too-cool-to-be-dykey lesbian with TV hair says “Wanna make out?” or something like that.

Anyway, so maybe I wasn’t thrilled to be going to the Anne Carson reading because she has become infamously pop culture in this way. There’s a Slate article that talks about how Carson’s notoriety via “The L Word” is all predicated on this idea that she is some type of ambiguosly sexual writer who champions the idea that woman should push themselves to the limits of arty eccentricity which, in TVland automatically means doing it with whatever gender that woman does not normally do it with.

As Slate puts it,

“The L Word mistakes Carson's expansive, anthropological interest in desire for its own self-dramatizing, gender-bending-as-identity-exploration, anti-commitment tack. (Jenny, the young woman whose life Carson "practically changed," justifies her infidelities as the natural outgrowth of being "interesting" and a "writer.") The mistake is easy to make”

When, in reality, Carson is overtly carnal in-a-mortifications-of-the-self-way. That is to say,the Decreation essay I am reading by Carson now, talks of Marguerite Porete, a zealot (virgin no doubt) who burned at the stake because the Church found her writings so heretical. They are sexual metaphors somewhere in the vein of (I admit, the logic is so fractal in that kind of spirituality, I can’t explain it here) communing with the self in order obliterate it and merge with God. To not even love God, for that would be a conceit of self that separates the self from God, but to unself. B the end of the essay, she writes herself ina circle so as to look at the paradox within writing of the self and God--the conceit of writing in general. A sort of fractal negation that is couched in true absence.
It is not about feminism’s begiing sin Sappho or even a 13th century visionary such as Porete. They are fake women inasmuch as the self is a kind of fake.

So in the end it is important not to be fooled by fake women. If you mistake the dance of Jealousy for the love of God, or a heretic's Mirror for the true story, you are likely to spend the rest of your days in terrible hunger. No matter how many pages you eat.
-- Carson, Decreation

With that fleshy bite at the end, the iarge of eating pages. Unfortunately, as with the noun self, we only the one verb that is desire; however, the desire of trendy erudite drama in “The L Word” and desire in the Carsonian arc toward thinning out the self should not be conflated.

So why wasn’t I thrilled to see Carson? Maybe, I feel that my adoration of her is some kind of dirty secret since it seems that if you mention her around Bay Area writing scenesters there is a little hiss, like water on the pool deck in summertime.

Which was probably where I was seated—on a plastic deck chair, the kind that makes stigmata on your ass in 90 degree Tampa May (nothing chic there) the very second Carson changed my life, a few blocky lines form Plainwater—something about writing on a wall with a fish heart, which glows, and doing that to be as wrong to someone as possible. It is not so much the language or the image, because as you see, I only partly recall those lines or that depiction. It’s the something about Anne Carson being this weird, maybe chilly, maybe stuffy, Canadian (Canada stylized in my mind as a thin line, big country, blue ice, grasses borne back in a stiff wind the way the word Quebec sounds staid and refreshing all at once) and yet giving me all at once this jolt, the what! And then the What? Of that fish heart being wrong which turned my head, fitted in a new art and gave me a further geometry or a mathematical tool, like d = 2 x r become a the area of a cube I never knew. All of a sudden, the phenomenology of popcorn ceilings, south FL stucco and red tide became more graphable on a grid of the self. Here was some text other far more flexible than Wuthering Heights or St. Teresa, given my location, that I could apply to the vanishing line and the turgidness of light at Sunset Beach, where my grandmother lives.

I guess all of that, a perceived literary disdain, was what was making me unsure, unfeeling about the reading. I have a way of letting perceived literary disdain taint things. Notions somehow that I have been duped and that the things I thought I loved that the things I love are not particular enough, do not cut the line closely enough. And even though I dismiss these ideas straightway, they get in enough to blunt my enjoyment of the work, the writer in question, etc. So there you go, I’ve discovered why I was not thrilled to see Anne Carson read. A woman whose ghost I banked my choice in graduate schools, not to mention, a move across the country, upon. (I knew she had taught at CCA and had also worked on her opera there and so even though I knew she would be long gone by the time I enrolled, it clinched the decision for me—the school must be worth if she thought. never in my life have such a huge practical decision in that way, based o t eh projected good esteem of a mind in a body no longer even resent in the space I had yet to consign myself to. Silly and quite exhilarating in its belabored capriciousness, I must say.

Anyway, having flushed that all, I can now be thrilled in retrospect about having seen Anne Carson read on Friday night I can recount some small details about the thing itself. By having seen her read, I mean it. It was all very multimedia, a big screen with dancers behind her as she read what seemed to be interlinking sonnets—but were really some live and some prerecorded looping pieces of a few sonnets (that is to say they are not “linked” in the conventional textual sense—this work does not exist as a text) about pronouns, alienable and alienable nouns in different cultures i.e. sometimes in some cultures penises are alienable while bananas are not (could “Queer as Folk” take that one on maybe?), plush ponies and secret drawers in English chests. It is just so easy to list all the torrid things you see, the fodder for new Showtime dramas I guess, but the mesh under all that, the lines by Carson I don’t recall were all glassy, ironic. and having to do with god and it was for them that the former set was any good. The dancers in the film time echoed all that jerky boingy fleshy mismatched outfit Chrissy Snow shorts kind of steps. There was a lot of focus on their feet. Naked feet with bulging award veins and feet, somehow more exposed in plain little white socks. All the feet moved as if they were separate bodies. In and of themselves.

The best thing was Ann’s randomizer. Paul Hoover announced that this is how the guy was credited among Carson's list of tech support etc. When I first saw the randomizer, in the middle of her reading, I though it was a woman. It was dark and my vision is poor. Randomizer wore a baseball tee shirt with pink sleeves and had grey hair that streamed over his face. He came out on stage, took Anne's hands for just a moment as she read, and did a little step with her. The, a while later, he crawled out on hands and knees, and for a moment, Anne came out from behind the podium and sat on his back ever so lightly, side saddle style, facing the audience. When it was time for questions, the randomizer sat in the first row and helped Anne field questions suggesting new one’s of his own. It seems he has brought John Cage into her life.

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