Loads of Learned Lumber

Friday, June 8, 2012

Anne Carson, _Nox_

I JUST NOTICED that Loads of Learned Lumber has now passed its fourth birthday; first post was May 21, 2008.  I am also now at just over 200 posts.  Not too shabby, eh? True, I have but a single follower--a follower, moreover, who I'm not even sure does much following (give me a call, Richard!); but a milestone's a milestone.

Anne Carson's Nox feels like something one shouldn't even be reading. It is a kind of collage-book she put together as part of the process (I would guess) of mourning her brother, who was estranged from her family--though "estranged" sounds as if there were some kind of blowup and sustained hostility, when what happened was that he took off for Europe in 1978 to avoid prison and simply neglected to stay in touch with his family, despite their persistent efforts. Five phone calls in twenty-two years, I think Carson says, plus postcards every year or so. I'm not even sure she laid eyes on him after 1978.  It's a book about the definitive absence of someone who was already for-all-intents-and-purposes absent, an intimate stranger.

Nox includes part of a page from what may have been his sole complete letter, a few of Carson's written-out memories of him, a few snapshots from their childhood, accounts of Carson's talks with his widow. There are also some reflections on the idea of truth in historical writing; Catullus's famous poem on the death of his brother; Latin-to-English dictionary entries for each of the words in Catullus's poem (an astonishing number of which are specified as participants in idioms involving "night" or "death"); and Carson's translation of the poem, which appears twice, the second time blurred beyond legibility.

Little of that seems utterly private and personal, so why did I feel as though I shouldn't be looking at it? Well, what the reader is actually handling is a painstaking photo-reproduction of the unique book Carson made, with visible evidence of staples, glue, bleedings-through of ink, gashed pages, all printed on one continuous piece of accordion-pleated paper stock.

Is it the evidence of Carson's hand that makes me uncomfortable reading the book? Yet I think that were I to come across the original book itself in a museum, say, nothing would feel strange; it would be powerful and moving.  But the facsimile...there is something unheimlich about it.  It feels like snooping, even though the book's publication must have been Carson's idea. Or like handling a dead person's clothes.


Spacebeer said...

I'm following you, Scott! (This is Kristy S. by the way)

Theobald said...

Thanks, Spacebeer!