Short Talks

I went to hear Anne Carson read. She is a classical scholar, poet, and essayist. I’m sure there’s a label for what she does–odd syntax, sometimes odd formats, a bit of scholarly snarkiness, and sometimes very beautiful language–you can read a review of her work here. Here’s a sample from a book titled Short Talks:

On Walking Backwards


My mother  forbad  us to walk backwards.  That
is how the dead walk, she would say. Where did
she get  this idea?  Perhaps from a  bad  transla-
tion.  The dead, after all, do not walk backwards
but they do walk behind us.  They have no lungs
and  cannot  call  out but  would  love  for  us  to
turn  around.  They are victims of love,  many of

I really didn’t know what to make of her work, so before the reading, I asked a few students (this was at Stanford), whether they were studying her, and how they approached her work. The said their professor had said to be open to the work and take what you can from it. So I sat with open ears in the audience. Ken Fields gave a marvelous and very laudatory introduction, including students’ reaction to NOX, an elegy for the author’s brother, based on an elegy by Catullus, including photos, memorabilia, etc. and released as an accordion sheet of paper in a box (a box of NOX, Dr. Seuss might observe). Ken quoted several of Carson’s zingy one liners, like this one from Red Doc, her latest book: ““You could take the entirety of the common sense of humans and put it in the palm of your hand and still have room for your dick.”

Carson read a couple of her Short Talks. and then said she had just finished reading Proust in French and would read 59 numbered paragraphs about Albertine, the love interest in the novel. She said she numbered the paragraphs for two reasons; I remember one: to give the listener hope. I found the reading interesting, but would have been very satisfied with 19 numbered paragraphs about Albertine, and a lot more hopeful.

4 thoughts on “Short Talks

  1. I really felt like “On Walking Backwards” was being narrated from within. Like
    something I had always known. An Incantation, a prayer-like thing.

    I laughed outloud when I read the common sense dick sentence.

    Snarkiness, or something round then jagged.

  2. Here’s a quote from Anne Carson that I think about every time I put pen to paper or finger to key: On writing: “we’re talking about the struggle to drag a thought over from the mush of the unconscious into to some kind of grammar, syntax, human sense;
    every attempt means starting over with language, starting over with accuracy. i mean,
    every though starts over, so every expression of a thought has to do the same. every
    accuracy has to be invented….i feel i am blundering in concepts too fine for me.”

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