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Short Conditional Take on Anne Carson

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 she then read an essay on a painting by Betty Goodwin.
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.

Audio: Kathleen Jamie’s "Sabbath"

Because of time constraints, I wasn’t able to finish my lecture to my first-year class on Prose Non-Fiction at the University of British Columbia on Wednesday, October 3, 2013. I was set to talk about Kathleen Jamie’sessay “Sabbath,” from her collection Findings(2005), but I had to finish up some discussion of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. So, about a week later, I have tried to wind things up with this improvised audio podcast. I was talking in my lecture about forms of framing, and frame narrative, as well as Satrapi’s sense of a divided subject, and I wanted to dovetail some of these ideas into my reading of Jamie’s brilliant essay. One recurrent theme in Jamie’s work is the shortfall of language — she suggests that poetry, that writing itself, emerges from (and in) this shortfall. Instead of a frame, she creates a kind of frayed, open-ended counterpoint in “Sabbath.” She addresses the complexities of place and displacement, of the monumental and the entropic, of the global and the local, and the challenges of translation, of multiple, partial and incommensurate discourses. And she does all this in a language that is limpid, engaging and open-hearted.