Category Archives: Chapbook

Review: Nay Rather by Anne Carson

I have been on an Anne Carson reading binge lately and have also been slowly making my way through the Cahiers Series so I was thrilled when I discovered that Carson wrote Cahier #21.  Her essay in this Cahier, entitled “Variations on the Right to Remain Silent,”  includes her thoughts on the issues of resistance in translation, the untranslatable, and  the mistranslated.  Silence, which is oftentimes a problem with ancient manuscripts, is her starting point: “Silence is as important as words in the practice and study of translation.”  Carson points out that silence can be both physical and metaphysical;  physical silence, for example, happens when a manuscript of Sappho has been torn in half and there is empty space. This part of her discussion particularly resonated with me because it is one of the issues with ancient texts that my students have the most difficulty.  As I am translating Catullus this semester with my university level class, it bothers them to the point of argument, distraction and frustration when a piece of a text has been reconstructed with several possibilities from different editors.   They want to know exactly which word Catullus wrote in the original transcript and they don’t want to hear from me that such literary puzzles can be “fun” to figure out.

Metaphysical silence happens when it is impossible to translate a word directly from one language to another.  Carson’s example of this is taken from the word molu which appears in Homer’s Odyssey.  Molu is a plant that is sacred to the gods and Hermes gives this plant to Odysseus in order to protect himself from the magic of Circe.  Carson says about Homer’s use of this word and the intentional silence it engenders: “He wants this word to fall silent.  Here are four letters of the alphabet, you can pronounce them but you cannot define, possess, or make use of them.  You cannot search for this plant by the roadside or google it and find out where to buy some  The plant is sacred, the knowledge belongs to the gods, the word stops itself.”  When one encounters such words in teaching an ancient author it is difficult to convey to the students that translation is not an exact science.  It has been my experience, however, that my students enjoy the metaphysical silences much more so than the physical silences because they are able to have a debate over the metaphysical by using their previous knowledge of an author’s body of work, as well as their mythological and historical backgrounds.

Also included in this Cahier is a poem that Carson has composed about the Cycladic culture entitled “By Chance the Cycladic People.”  The order in which the lines appear in the text were determined by the author through a random number generator.  This unique strategy of mixing up her poem is a way in which Carson provides us with her own example of a poem that resists translation.  We can put her poem back into the correct order.  But should we?  Are the lines really meant to be put back into the original order or can we get a deeper understanding of her verses by seeing them in this random order?  I chose not to put them back in order but instead I noticed patterns of images and themes that reoccur throughout the verses: the sea, pots and pans, boats, mirrors, etc.   I wonder how others have chosen to deal with this poem?

At the end of this Cahier, Carson provides seven different versions of a translation from a fragment of the Ancient Greek poet Ibykos.  Her first translation is a traditional, straightforward translation of the Ancient Greek text.  But with the other six translations she limits herself to a series of specific words.  One translation is rendered using only words taken from John Donne’s “Woman’s Constancy, another translation is rendered using only words from stops and signs found in the London Underground.  My favorite is the translation of Ibykos she does using only words from p. 47 of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame.  Carson’s brilliance as far as translation and the nuances of this craft come into full play through her seven translations and we also see that she has a fantastic sense of humor.

 

Finally, the art work in this cahier is a series of drawings and gouaches by Sicilian artist Lanfranco Quadrio who was inspired by his reading of Carson’s text.  A piece of his work appears on every other page in the Cahier with verses from Carson’s Cycladic poem.  There is a primitive nature to them but they are also very colorful which reminded me of Cycladic and Minoan art.

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Filed under Anne Carson, Cahier Series, Chapbook, Nonfiction

To Grieve by Will Daddario

In 2013, Will Daddario experienced the loss of his father, grandmother, friend, and cat all within a span of five months.  In early 2014, he and his wife were expecting their first child, a baby boy whom they were going to name Finlay, but their precious gift died during delivery.  Daddario writes this short, philosophical, moving chapbook to serve as a chronicle of his grieving process and as a tribute to those he loved and lost. He introduces his writing: “While grieving, I have turned to multiple sources to guidance.  What follows here is my own attempt to act as guide for others who encounter such loss, though, truthfully, the primary audience is myself.”

What struck me the most about Daddario’s handling of grief is that he was constantly moving forward in his attempt to deal with his mourning.  This was, for him and his wife, a very active handling of several devastating blows, one after the other.  Daddario and his wife kept their own notes on mourning and, following the example of Barthes, they wrote reflections on small pieces of paper every day for a year and placed them in a glass jar.  On their son’s 2-year birthday they read through their reflections, many of which are copied here for us into his book.  On August 7, 2014, for instance, Daddario’s wife wrote:

I continue to feel as though I’ve been shot through with a cannon ball, creating a huge hole in me, and that the cannonball is lodged in my body, weighing me down.

And on July 3, 2014 Daddario himself writes:

A new phase of mourning.  Like Barthes says, the “emotivity” starts to subside, but the suffering remains.  We are four weeks to the day after Finlay’s arrival/departure.  What will the next four bring?

Another activity that Daddario and his wife do on a daily basis is to light a candle in Finlay’s room each night as the sun goes down and dedicate that quiet time of their day to reflection.  And each morning they dedicated to “tear time” which allowed them to grieve for another day that would begin without their son.  Daddario also uses reading as an activity that becomes a great comfort for him.  He has a list of 13 pivotal books that include authors such as Roland Barthes, Anne Carson, Karen Green and the poet Rumi.

One final activity that Daddario actively engages in during his experience with grief is his focus on language and unpacking different words which now had a new meaning for him.  He discusses the words solve, resolve, unresolved and buoy and how they all gave him insight into his grieving process.  His analysis of the Ancient Greek word therapeuein, which Michel Foucault lectured on, was especially intriguing to me.  Foucault says of this word:

Therapeuein means in Greek three things.  Therapeuein means, of course, to perform a medical action whose purpose is to cure or to treat.  However, therapeuein is also the activity of the servant who obeys and serves his master.  Finally, therapeuein is to worship (render un culte).  Now, therapeuein heauton means at the same time to give medical care to oneself, to be one’s own servant, and to devote oneself to oneself.

It is this last definition of therapeuein that Daddario truly grasps and practices throughout his grief process.  His self-care is active—he writes, reads, cries, discusses, lights candles, and jogs—which all are the best methods for him of being his own servant.  The biggest and most important lesson for me in this piece of writing is that in the grieving process we must each find our own soothing activities that bring us the greatest devotion to self-care.

This is a link to a conversation between Will Daddario and Kate Jaeger about To Grieve: http://uglyducklingpresse.tumblr.com/post/157616166149/who-can-read-it-kate-jaeger-in-conversation-with

This title is published by Ugly Ducking Presse, which indie press I recently discovered through their collection of poems Written in the Dark which are translated from the Russian.  I am so excited to find these brave, small publishers that bring us such profound pieces of literature.  What are your favorite small press finds?

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Filed under Chapbook, Nonfiction

The Albertine Workout by Anne Carson

albertineAnne Carson writes in the appendix to this chapbook: “Habit, suffering, boredom, memory, tea drinking, tea biscuits and the inscrutable banality of existence are topics Beckett and Proust have in Common.  They anatomize them differently.  What is located in the head, the mouth or the mind for Proust moves lower down the body in Beckett.”  Carson uses this theory to help us better understand one of Proust’s most elusive characters.

Carson ironically and brilliant writes a small pamphlet on a woman named Albertine who is present or mentioned on 807 pages of Proust’s novel.  Albertine is oftentimes asleep and her main problems from the narrator’s perspective are lying, lesbianism and being imprisoned in the narrator’s house. Since Albertine is not a common name among females in France, many critics have speculated that she is a disguised version of Proust’s chauffeur, Alfred, with whom he had a secret affair.  Carson examines fascinating details about Proust’s book and his life in order to explore this transposition theory.

Carson also provides an illuminating commentary of sexuality in Proust via Albertine.  The narrator insists that Albertine is a lesbian, all of her friends are lesbians, but she vehemently denies this.  He doesn’t understand how two women can be in love with one another and he can’t figure out what they do together so he is repulsed by what he cannot grasp.  The narrator never actually uses the term “lesbian,” with Albertine, but instead he says “the kind of woman I object to.”

Finally, the appendix, which I quoted above, is just as intriguing as the main body of Carson’s text.  In addition to exploring the similarities and differences in Proust and Beckett she also writes about the use of adjectives in a language, capture myopathy, the second paradox of Zeno, and my favorite, the difference between metaphor and metonymy.

I found Carson’s thoughts and writing engrossing and I am looking forward to diving in to more of her works.

Which Carson books would you recommend?

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Filed under Chapbook, Nonfiction, Poetry, Proust