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If I attended “An Hour with Anne Carson,” at the Vancouver Writers Festival yesterday.
If Aislinn Hunter introduced her, using the unlikely but nifty words “betweenity” (purloined from the Brontës’ letters, she said) and “blacksmithery” (source unclear).
If Aislinn Hunter spoke of Anne Carson’s writing’s “fierceness, a fearlessness framed in exquisite craft.”
If Anne Carson then said she had never had an introduction that used the words “betweenity” and “blacksmithery.”
If her miked voice had what seemed to me to be intensity in restraint.
If Anne Carson said she was glad to be back in Canada if only to get a proper bran muffin.
If she then read an essay written in a kitchen in Ontario in winter.
If it was called “Merry Christmas from Hegel,” and if it was, post Nox, a meditation on stillness.
If she admitted, perhaps untruthfully perhaps not, to not understanding Hegel.
If she said she will paraphrase Hegel badly.
If the essay described, with what seemed to me to be aching restraint, what she called “snow-standing” amid the stillness of conifers.
If the text only mentioned Hegel briefly.
If she wrote something like, “The world subtracts itself in layers.”
If she also described that subtraction as something like, “shadow on shadow in precise velocities,” which might be an image of Hegelian negation.
If she said afterward that she wouldn’t be able to answer any questions about Hegel.
If people applauded because it was a beautiful essay and her reading was very beautiful.
If the essay was called “Betty Goodwin Seated Figure with Red Angle,” and if it was written for an issue of Art Forum.
If the right title is “Seated Figure with Red Angle (1988) by Betty Goodwin (by Anne Carson).”
If Anne Carson said, “The form is kind of whacked out.”
If by form she meant her essay not the painting.
If she also said that she wanted to find a form or a syntax that suited her own inability to have an opinion about Betty Goodwin’s painting.
If she never said, Ut pictura poesis.
If the form she chose was to write the whole thing in conditionals, seventy-three of them she said, including mention of horses and Freud, each of the seventy-three beginning with the word “if.”
If the idea was to open up to the sentence “the space in your mind that is prior to opinion.”
If I heard in her sense of “opinion” what Plato calls pistis, “belief,” a subordinate form of doxa, “opinion,” but she did not say this, and I may be both pretentious and wrong.
If she said her conditional essay “was fun to do but will be intolerable to listen to.”
If no one believed her when she said this.
If it wasn’t intolerable, not at all.
If she wrote, “If body is always deep, but deepest at its surface.”
If this made me think.
If she also wrote, “If artists tell you art is before thought.”
If by that she meant Betty Goodwin specifically, but I also took it to mean herself.
If everyone applauded again because she was wryly brilliant and provocative.
If she went on to read from Autobiography of Red and red doc>.
If there was more heartfelt applause.
If she took a bow.
If people asked her questions.
If she took another bow.
If she autographed my book, “Respectfully, AC.”
If I could thank her.
Also on Sound Cloud, I have uploaded some audio of my paper, “Ecologies of Estrangement: Robert Bringhurst and Anne Carson Translating Antigone,” which I delivered at Beyond the Nature of Culture: Rethinking Canadian and Environmental Studies, a conference held at the University of British Columbia from 28-30 September 2012. It’s currently being expanded into a chapter, developing connections and contrasts between Carson and Bringhurst by assessing their work on Paul Celan (and Celan’s fraught relationship with Martin Heidegger’s poetic philosophy), and connecting their ideas on translation to Walter Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator.” In this conference paper, the focus was narrowed to an investigation of the tensions between concepts of poetic ecology and poetic economy. To set things up, here is the opening paragraph, which also works something like an abstract:
Finding intersections between the aesthetics of Anne Carson and of Robert Bringhurst, if you are at all familiar with their extensive bodies of translations, essays and poetry, might appear counter-intuitive at first. Carson’s bittersweet, media-savvy postmodernity seems obviously at odds with Bringhurst’s latter-day highbrow modernism. Her work weaves its genealogy through Gertrude Stein, while his lineage derives from Ezra Pound. Her interest tends to be drawn by the fraught epistemic terrains of language, his by its ontic capacities. Her default to a bittersweet wryness contrasts rather markedly with his typically mindful seriousness. Still, a critical collision of their work – around their different translations of the “Wonders are many . . .” chorus from Sophokles’s Antigone (lines 332-375) – might prove educational as we try to think through the complexities of how we, as human speaking subjects, aspire to frame the natural. Both Bringhurst and Carson exploit the divagations within the process of translation to call radically into question the results of human technē, and use this foundational Western text to voice critiques of the limits and the reach of poetic and cultural craft, of what people have done and have failed to do for their world.
For my academic work, I have been trying to clean up and organize my curriculum vitae, which can be a depressing enough task, sorting through the welter of what I have done and what I have failed to do, what’s still available and what’s slipped from view. I interviewed Anne Carson for Canadian Literature in 2003 (ten years ago!), as part of a special issue on her work I was editing for the journal (number 176). I had been googling myself (embarrassing enough to admit) to see if I could find some electronic, on-line and/or accessible versions of any of my publications I could link to, and I came across UNSAID, which bills itself as “The Journal of New and Lasting Writing.” There you go.
And, in its issue for September 11, 2012, they have reproduced my interview with Carson, “Gifts and Questions.” You can check out the original issue of the journal here, too. It’s gratifying to come across things like this again. I remember Carson as gracious and wry, a real pleasure to speak with. And smart.