Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Merry, Not So Contrary

I absolutely loved this book! Merry is the girl that lingers inside of each and every one of us, trying to get out- a dark shadow of misery and resentment and manipulation. I love the relationships within her family that Bernheimer set up. Merry's denial of her misery is what proves this novel so amazing and made it such a page-turner for me. 

The Complete Tales of Merry Gold

I love love love this book. Yes, triple love. To me, Merry is the dark side in us all. She is selfish, and cocky, mean and manipulative, alcoholic and self hating. In a way she's the tragic hero. Despite her character flaws and sociopathic tendencies I couldn't help rooting for her. Maybe it was our joint love of vodka and sarcastic judgement of others, but I felt connected to the character in the sense of being able to fully picture her and her motivations in my mind. I kept imagining this wonderful Tim Burton inspired character. A little girl with pig tails and black bows who goes around causing havoc. The evil Eloise if you will. I absolutely loved her description of the the joggers and their running suits indicating, " I am a member of Team Loser." She has such a wicked wit, that I both admire and love.
On a structure note, I found the lack of chronological order to fit perfectly with the story. Bernheimer jumps back and forth between POV as well as Merry's childhood and adulthood, crafting an intricate "pattern" of story. At first I found this frustrating as their was little footing for the story but as soon as I let go of attempting to make sense, I easily jumped back and forth throughout Merry's life. I think this fits nicely with the rhythm of Merry's emotions throughout the novel. She goes from elated to depressed and back up several times throughout the course of the book. This peak and collapse pattern conveys the confusion of the story further as well as the unraveling of Merry's life.

Themes in Merry Gold

First of all, the more I read this book, the more that I like it. I thought it mixed the thought-provoking darkness of the Brothers Grimm with a modern, alcoholic twist. Merry Gold is an extremely frustrating character who I just wanted to move in a positive direction with her life. Then I realized that Merry is exactly the kind of person who does not have a forward or backward progression, but rather just goes in circles of happiness and being forlorn, with many adventures in between. At one point in the novel, Merry literally runs herself in circles to prove to her sister that she prefers making patterns to fitting in. Merry exclaims, "'Don't I have cause enough to make patterns?' I would ask her. 'I've collapsed on a sidewalk, woken up in a hospital, and now been sent here to live with you. I can't even scald my own fingers (Merry Gold 94).'" Merry cannot fit into regular society, so she weaves her own world both physically and in the fabric that she sews. At the end, I wouldn't say she was necessarily content, but she seems intrigued by all the fantastical elements in her own life. It was these images of her hanging herself by a shoestring, or being turned into a flower that brought her world to life for me.

One of the other major themes I noticed was the use of animals. When we asked Kate what the animals were used for, she mentioned the prevalence of them in most fairy tales. Looking back through the book, I found even more mentions of them, simply in descriptions such as "she had eyes like a snake." Or, more noticably, Merry can talk to mice and sews shirts for frogs. It is this connection to the wild world that makes this novel a true fairy tale; most humans do not associate daily with animals, let alone sew clothing for them or talk to them. I think Kate points out a loss our society has suffered in our rejection of animal contact and even when Merry cannot find happiness among humans, she at least finds satisfaction with her animal friends.

Three, Three, Three

Through out the second half of "The Complete Tales of Merry Gold" I noticed Bernherimer used a sequence of three items. It first appears on page 62 "Out of my window, I watch their mother prepare the dirt for some plantings. She appears to have bought some flats of daisies, marigolds, pansies." This is obviously a play on words of marigolds= Merry; pansies= Ketzia; and daisies= Lucy. Another instance is on page 80 when Merry is talking about her two friends from Design School, Semyon and Tibor. "Tibor made some infants' caps by decapitating stuffed animals and gutting them: monkeys, lions, and dogs." The next instance is on page 87, "The second and third day the child came and went again." Next on page 91, "When I was a very young child, I would wake my dolls up, three-in-a-row in their pink dollhouse bedroom." Bernherimer continues this sequence of three on the next page "I would line up three outfits in three different sizes, on three little chairs in their room; I myself sewed these outfits." Page 93, "I had a big pile of clothes I had made for class and would wear everything: woolen pants, knitted sweaters, furry caps." These are just a few examples of the usage of the sequence of three.

What's so special about the number three? I looked up the number three on wikipedia (So I know it may not be the most "accurate" source of information, but it's nicely organized) and it said that there are three Greek and Roman gods, one each ruling, Heaven, Earth, and the Underworld. It is often believed that people die in threes (this only impacts the people you interact with on a day-to-day basis). So what does this have to do with the book? WELL, that is a good question. I think that the definitions I listed above can be related to the text because in a way, Merry Gold, is the ruler of the underworld- she is constantly talking up a good game and is a bully. Ketzia is the ruler of the earth, always doing as others tell her, especially Merry Gold. Lucy is the ruler of the Heaven because Merry Gold and Lucy get along better than Merry Gold and Ketzia, she agrees to play the games with Merry Gold.

As far as the definition of people dieing in threes and how this relates to the text... hmmm... um, I'm not sure about how this relates to the text, I guess I just thought it was an interesting random fact.

The Avant Savant gets kinky...

New book. And so comes the habitual google. I was directed to many a blogs and an interesting theory approached my periphery of literary analysis. And in the fog of the googling blog arose The Page 69 Test. or sometimes traded in for the The Page 99 Test. For discussion purposes, we shall gold star the original school of thought: The Page 69 Test.

It's as simple as a pie, unless you are Keri Russell.

One book determined on one single, solitary page.

Whiz threw through the pages like a whisper through a batch of marigolds, and we are now on the determinant page 69 and all of discussion will rely solely on this one page. Revolutionary? Revolutionarily lazy?

However, I think this is trusty barometer. I love this book and I love page 69. It is smack-dab in the middle of my favorite chapter of the piece and it is build-up to some of my favorite lines:
"I remember being exhausted. I remember seeing my face stare back at me from the black window. I remember the shiver of the cold on my spine. Sometimes snow would blow into the room and cover our bodies."

Wonderous. Her writing is as meticulous as Merry Gold, the seamstress. There is a lot to be explored in the straddling page 69. With just the quote above, it brings many themes present throughout the text. The parallel structure of three is utilized throughout. Kathleen, I know has touched upon the whole concept of the grouping of three. These three lines of four show the make-up of the three. While life usually moves in three, the make-up is not entirely connected. As the first two lines proceed the "I remember" with -ing verbs and the third one proceeds with a noun. Even within the simple syntax of the middle of the page 69 demonstrates a faulty and phony bond that Merry Gold aches about whether it be with her parents, her sisters or her two best friends. She may feel a place and an order at one point, but she will always disappear from this equation, usually from her own nature to distance herself from the constantly evolving world around her [she wants to immobilize herself (the whole talk of cutting off her legs on page 92 and her fascination with the wooden-leg neighbor)].

Another element to explore within this page is the concept of color. Like autobiography, it is purposeful. We are told later on and maybe before I cannot place at the moment that Merry revels in the grey area, but many times she must encounter stark colors to that--many times it is the color of black and white, marrying the hueful extremes to mate grey. There is black in this scene with Danilo and then it contrasted with the white girl in the white dress who falls through the white ice. Leaving as always Merry Gold in the dichotomy, in the grey. The grey slithers throughout the piece. We usually, through nurtured connotation, perceive the colors in an inanimate sense; black as evil and white as pure. The grey is the slime we see coating Merry and her intimate interactions with men. Danilo is a creeper, how cavalier is he with making her a puppet, making her dance and engaging in something as so innocent of having Merry place her head on his shoulder. The actions contrast in the underbelly of emotion. It's a simple act, convoluted in the "narrowed eyes" of these hard characters like Merry and Danilo.

Oh gosh, there is so much. Questions to be had on this page: why is Merry (cold rhymes with gold ever notice that, came up with that right now--has to be purpose too since coldness is always what she is) Gold, with a name reminiscent of the flower, always compared to animals and insects and flowers? Is there purpose to her eating the leg of the chicked, as leg has been a focal point before?

Look one page and I am writing a novel. yet. a. gain.

Brilliant job Kate; you passed The Page 69 Test. This book is a gem--and with a glimmer in the cold light--a eerily-warm beauty.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Merry Gold

I enjoyed this novel, especially chapter 23 "Merry Comes Back". I think that the trees being fake, the daughters having to straighten their curly hair, and her restlessness in her childhood bedroom showed how Merry feels about her life and the unfillfulment in it. I felt compassion and anger for Merry Gold as she tried to find happiness, only for her evil ways to get the best of her.
I thought this book was brilliant! Bernheimer is completely honest about the thoughts of an older sister. Though Merry appears to be malicious in her actions (especially toward Ketzia) I think all of us who have sisters or close cousins have done mean things to them which we regret or put in the back of our minds. I absolutely loved the mention of the "Triple C" children's clothing and Merry's fascination and knowledge of various flowers. I would like to know which fairy tale this book most resembles? I thought it was sort of similiar to the three wicked stepsisters (Merry being one of them) and Ketzia being Cinderella? Anyway, just an idea.

Merry Gold

I thought this book was fantastic, once I got past Merry's evil ways. In any case, when a young girl is cutting of the legs of dolls and cutting off her sister's hair; one begins to question her stability. But actually it caught my eye right from the start when she had the Vodka, I knew there would be more to that tale to come. I think Merry persuaded me to dislike Ketzia after a while because she was so weak and Merry so strong. But it is so real because I sometimes see my self as Ketzia, and my older siblings as milder versions of Merry. I don't think Merry ever had total control of her own life, and for that reason, she always ended up with Vodka as her only way out. And so just as the many characters from fairy tales, she probably wished that she could disappear several times. I think the fact that Peter neglected her from the beggining, she thought that she would never be loved, and so it didn't matter whether she was nice to anyone, or formed any meaningful relationships. She had no where to go and nothing to do, but be a misfit to get some sort of attention. I think her ballad tells all, "she was unrecognized...and so Merry turned away"

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Interview with Kate Bernheimer

1. What is the significance of using titles for only some chapters? Is there a pattern that we could not find?

The chapters that are titled are based on the fairy tales listed at the front of the book; so only the chapters that are based on specific fairy tales have titles. Many of the titles themselves are based on the traditional fairy-tale titles.

2. As a reader who is unfamiliar with the particular fairy tales that parts of the novel are based off of, is my understanding of the text lacking in some way? Am I missing some links to the novel? Is my understanding compromised due to my lack of knowledge in this particular genre??

I hope that the opposite is true. I hope that the novel offers a sense of familiarity with the unfamiliar; that is I hope that one way to understand the novel would be through an intuitive reading. To encourage intuition, as with all the novels in this series, I carefully selected tales which I assumed most readers would not know, and with which I myself was not as familiar with from my childhood. I do this for many reasons, but one of the most basic reasons is that I want to sidestep the reflexive associations that I, and readers, might have with the more well-known stories. I do not assume that readers have any specialized knowledge in fairy tales, and I certainly hope that the books are easily comprehensible without any such knowledge. That said, a reader who has an awareness of the tropes and history of fairy tales might glean different things from the book than a reader who only knows fairy tales as a faint and familiar memory from childhood, or from popular versions. I hope neither reader is compromised by the incompleteness of each of these books; if you sense missing links, it is probably because Merry herself is missing links in her own story. The novel is, in part, about the implicit failure of personal narrative to tell a whole story. There is no whole story, and that's sad.

3. What is your intention with using animal imagery throughout the novel?

Well, I love animals. So that's the simple answer, but animals, of course, are very important in fairy tales; neither toad nor snake, bear nor hedgehog, is lower than a human on any scale of earthly significance. The culture in which we live, by which I mean 21st century American culture---provides little contact between humans and other species, unless you count the giant cockroaches with whom I am now intimately familiar down here in the South. I lament that distance between humans and other animals, and I populate my novels with many creatures out of adoration and longing. I would say the same reason exists for why I use many plants in my novels.

4. What is Merry's obsession with amputation about? What is this based on? Could it perhaps be symbolic of her desire for power?

That is an interesting interpretation of Merry's obsession with amputation, that is is symbolic of a desire for power. Because I don't have very much philosophical distance from my characters, it is hard for me to objectify them enough to know the answer to questions like this; I inhabit the characters in a very deep abstract and emotional way, so for me they don't exist as symbols, but as realities. Merry is obsessed with amputation because she is obsessed with amputation is what first comes to mind when that quetsion is posed to me and I'm surprised, but it is posed to me a lot. I think her interest in missing limbs has a lot to do with fear and powerlessness, her sense of herself as missing some significant part of herself, which she is. She lacks empathy (though I could also read her as deeply empathetic, to the degree she cares enough about people in the end to keep herself away from them). She lacks memory, she doesn't know what happened to her in childhood. She lacks knowledge: she doesn't know why she is how she is.

5. As the author, which of Merry's frustrations, characteristics, or experiences can you most identify with?

As the author, I identify with, i.e. am deeply interested in, i.e. am intellectually and emotionally invested in, all of her frustrations, characteristics, and experiences, and the conclusions I draw from them about the human experience. Obviously, I consider the contemporary human experience, in the industrialized and developed world, to be rather problematic. As to her specific failures and predicaments, they are all things I have experienced, whether in my imagination or elsewhere.

6. How did you select the name Merry, particularly this spelling of the name?

I knew her name from the moment I began The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold, the first novel I wrote in this particular series. The names just came to me, by which I don't mean to imply anything mystical. I was quite pleased when I realized Merry's name was Merry; Merry Gold, of course, invokes Marigold, and that made me glad.

7. How and why did you select the images you did? (We loved them, by the way!)??

Thank you so much! I work painstakingly on selecting the images, on Merry's behalf. There is intuition at work. I know that I want to depict certain feelings with the illustrations. I select illustrations that feel special to me, and that come out of instances in the novels where I feel a rising out of the novel of an idea just as in a fairy-tale book, the illustrations depict not necessarily the character who is the main character, but maybe a wee rat in a corner of the tale, glowering out. So in the chapter where Merry lives briefly with her little sister, Lucy, and starts hearing things, in partiuclar mice talking to her, the image I chose is from NASA, a photograph of a spiral galaxy that some scientists thought looked like a mouse. I wanted the image to have a cosmological feel, but also reflect Merry's particular brand of madness; she's a girl who hears mice talking, so of course she'd love (as I did) that a galaxy might resemble a mouse, and also that scientists might think so. In Merry's world, that would provide some proof that she was not insane: See? Even scientists recognize in mice the meaning of the universe! There are certain images that will appear in each novel in this series; each book contains a Halloween picture of the character herself, for example. I have coded reasons for this, one of which is that the books are about female disguise.

8. Why do shifts occur in POV throughout the novel? Do the shifts have to do with Merry's emotional involvement in a particular scene/story/fairytale? (For instance, is first person used for the more involved fairy tales?)??

The books are in part designed to invoke the multiplicity of a fairy-tale collection; there are the tales, but there is always also the spectre of the editor or translator who collected the tales, and then there is the illustrator, and the book designer, and so on. Fairy-tale books are objects in themselves---a fairy-tale collection is not generally remembered only as text, i.e. as just words making stories. This is Merry's collection, edited by her, in a sense. The chapters with the titles are the chapters based on fairy tales; those chapters are told in the first person, as they are Merry directly narrating events of her life through a fairy tale lens. The chapters that are in third-person illustrate a particular moment in time through a more distant historical lens. The first-person chapters narrated by the seamstress are meditations on time and story, more reflective, less experienced than the fairy-tale chapters. Then there are the pictures, and the reprinted fairy tales; these are hand-selected by Merry for the book.

9. What is your inspiration for writing, studying, and supporting the fairy tale genre?

I consider fairy tales to be of tantamount literary importance---perhaps the single most influential body of work on hundreds of years of literature. I also think fairy tales contain the secret of the world, which is that it is violent, insane, beautiful, transient, fated, and almost gone (and so ever-after). It seems to me that while our culture reveres fairy tales recycling their motifs and tropes again and again it fails to recognize their deeply transformative power. As an academic, I find now that many of my beloved colleagues have little awareness of the scholarship being done about fairy tales, which of course is a deeply felt effort to preserve and celebrate this intricate, political tradition. So as a novelist, children's book author, editor, and occasional creative scholar, I seek to celebrate the genre in every way that I possibly can. Fairy tales might survive the great reading decline, if I have my way.


Wednesday, January 23, 2008


It definitely took a stretch of my mind to wrap my head around the Autobiography of Red; however, once I got past that, it was good. The fact that color was not a visual, but yet a sound, kept me very interested. To know that the blackness of the night could be heard, was eerie, but so intriguing. And even the gold that shined so brightly in happy moments, showed a very nice use of color. Beyond that, the relationships spoke volumes to me. How that the smoking of Geryon's mother affected him directly, was interesting. The fact that his lungs always hurt so much, yet she was the smoker, was awesome. It strikes me that the cover of the book wasn't red, but yet a plain picture of the volcano. I think Geryon was truly trying to find himself throughout this book, and as he erupted and things did not work out for the best between him and Herakles, he moves into a new stage through his photography. He always liked the night, disappearing, and the overcoat to hide him. He takes a rather striking photo that I can picture of the man curled up in fetal position (himself), and I see that he blooms throughout the book. Though the pain he was to take from his bother, his lover, and the world; shaped him to a beautiful man, from an ugly monster. It's true that the journey is sometimes necessary!

Autobiography of Red

As I've said before, (and those of you who have read my own personal writing can attest) I don't do deep and ambiguous well. I have a hard time taking writers seriously who think putting four words and a semi colon on a page is a story. I like words, lots of words; to me brevity is not an enticing story teller. That being said, I have to hand it to Carson. I think she did a pretty impressive job creating an intriguing story through short verse. It was amazing reading it and thinking "I don't know what the hell is going on," yet finding myself turning the page regardless because on some level, despite the lack of context clues, I was intrigued by what was next. I understood just enough to keep reading and to, in a way, fill in the details myself. That is not to say Carson lacks details. What is ironic about her style is that every page is filled with detail, just not in a concrete sense of the tool. Beautiful imagery and descriptions are used to evoke emotion as well as character struggle but as far as setting-time, place, galaxy etc. the content was purposefully vague. It was a weird dichotomy of exactness and estimation all at once. I could see what she was saying I just couldn't for the life of me place it anywhere. Again, this both irritated and intrigued me. I found myself fighting the logic of putting clues together in an attempt to "figure it out" as I progressed further into the novel. By the end, I just had to come to the conclusion that it's not suppose to add up. The fact that monsters wear T shirts and have sex and for the most part live in a world not unlike ours, was a bit hard to picture but easier than I thought to accept once I made up my mind to let go.

Autobiography of Red

The style used in Autobiography of Red made the work challenging to read through yet was refreshing in that it is a style I have never seen used in any other work. Coupled with the unique lines of verse was the curious character of Geryon. What first struck me about this work was how both the style and subject matter utilized such a strange menagerie of physical description, dialogue, and sequence of events. Had the work been written in a more traditional, prose format, I believe it would not have been as successful overall. Also, the lines of verse truncate events and thought processes, which adds to the ongoing curiosity generated by Geryon's unique qualities.
A scene that struck me as particularly peculiar was the scene early on where Geryon moves into his brother's room and soon engages in some type of incestual action with his brother. Little information of Geryon's brother is given as a lead up to this encounter, which makes the event profoundly perplexing. Also, Geryon's mother is an interesting character. The only time where I found clues at this "world" that Geryon is living in resembles reality is through description of Geryon's mother. This is illustrated on page 34 where his mother shares a conversation with a friend on the phone, which Geryon overhears as he sits nearby.
Overall, Anne Carson's work was enjoyable, yet makes me question what exactly she is trying to say in this work. It is incredibly imaginative, however, which is something I appreciate among modern writers. Perhaps closer reading or more commentary/context would relieve this confusion and allow me to see a fuller picture of Carson's creative intentions.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Anne Carson

While I am an English Writing major and have always considered myself someone who loves reading, I have always been weary of nonconventional pieces such as Anne Carson's "Autobiography of Red". I guess I have always been intimidated by books that did not follow the standard patterns that I was introduced to when I was younger and so am very familiar with. I was really hoping that this course would introduce me to/force me to read books that differ from the forms that I am used to, and here I am getting this on our very first book!

I agree with a lot of you when I say that I really picked up (and this surprised me a bit) a large since of emotion from this book. I couldn't believe at first how much the character of Geryon struck me. Carson's writing is so universal that I was able to relate to this character in a way I didn't think was possible after discovering that he was a "winged red monster". Someone (I forget who) posted below and described her reaction to the book as a sort of "coming of age". I think that is a really intersting description for this book and it helps me see Geryon in a different light. Perhaps that is part of the reason why he is so relateable. Whether he is a winged monster or not, he is dealing with a lot of the emotions that we have either experienced ourselves, or read several other characters who have dealt with the same types of things.

Ann Carson

Reading Ann Carson's "Autobiography of Red" was an interesting experience for someone who has only been exposed to conventional styles of writing. At first, it was difficult for me to get into the flow of the novel and see it as one continuous piece of writing. That said, I thought that the language she uses is exceptionally beautiful, and certain passages struck me as particularly significant in the way she uses words to represent ideas that don't necessarily go together. For example, on pg. 84 she says, "It was the year he began to wonder about the noise that colors make. Roses came roaring across the garden at him. He lay on his bed at night listening to the silver light of stars crashing against the window screen." I found that throughout the novel, Carson describes ordinary things and ordinary acts in ways that make them come alive.

Carson's Use of Sight

Diving into this novel, I was also skeptical about the style in which Anne Carson chose to write Geryon's story. However, after the first few pages I was completely entranced by how she utilized descriptions in order for us, as readers, to experience Geryon's life.
Carson used her descriptions to emphasize Geryon's experience of the outside world particularly using the sense of sight. One thing I noticed about this novel was the small amount of verbal interaction between characters, most especially on the part of Geryon. It made me feel like I was looking at the world through a paper bag with only two holes for seeing all the while muffling my voice.
She successfully makes the reader feel Geryon's mental oppression while revealing much about other characters in Geryon's experiences.
Similar to the passage we read in class by Gertrude Stein, Carson wrote this novel in a form that lays out a mental process. It showed the observations that one would make through senses as well as the ability of the mind to jump from one thought to next without any progression.
I thoroughly enjoyed the way that Carson wrote this novel and would like to read some more of her works. It is extremely different from other novel types and more cleverly reveals the personality of the characters than other books I have read.

Autobiography of Red

When I first began reading this book, I was slightly afraid that it was going to be a book where everything was strange simply in order to prove its right to be called "avant." Given the structure, translation of the past into modern, and the hints as homosexuality, this book had the option of giving into a stereotypical, avant novel. However, I thought it used subtle messaging and complex imagery to establish the nuances of its characters and a deep plotline. I really appreciated the fact that Carson approached difficult topics in confrontational, yet tactful manner.

Although it was alarming, I believe the scene between Geryon and his brother and the sexual abuse which happens, is pivotal in order to understand the rest of the novel and the development of Geryon himself. Without knowing all of his past, it would be impossible to put together a clear representation of who Geryon actually is. Also, I feel that society is more apt to veer away from a topic as controversial as child abuse, particularly since it was his brother who was abusing him.

Also, the unique structure of the book allowed for the meaning of red to come out within the book. Frustrated by his past and, I think, his repression of anger toward his brother and hidden homosexuality, Geryon is forced to literally see red at every turn. He reads about it, he looks it, and he talks about red throughout the entire novel. Without release, he is forced to live in a red world and conform to its standards. Also, I loved the usage of the one-liners at the beginning of each section because they set the mood for the words that were to come. My personal favorite was the line, "Under the seams runs the pain," because I believe it encompasses the entirety of the novel within its words. Geryon is a character to be pitied and has to suffer throughout the novel, with occasional bouts of happiness. However, all of this pain is "under the seams" and no one can access it or know about it except for Geryon.

Anne Carson

After reading this book, all I can say is that I felt a true amount of sadness for the main character Geryon. I felt that he mostly wanted some type of love and meaning in his life, but was never given the ability to be understand who he was because of his environment. I felt that at the beginnging of the book, all Geryon wanted to do was love his brother and at the end, his brother ended up being the worst influence in his life. It was sad to be that as a young child he was constantly tormented of his lack of intellegence and his unwillingness to like his brother. For example, "Your stupid you can't tell time can you? How old are you anyway? What a jerk. Can you tie your own shoes yet? .....(30), and the torture continues thoughout the book. All I could do was just feel bad for Geryon, and hope that his situation would eventually change.

I felt that that the book was written in a way that at first it was hard to understand where it was going, but as I finished I began to really enjoy the structure and how it all came together. However, I was not too please with the sadness of the life of Geryon. Sure, it is suppose to be a book about the hardships of his life, but did it all have to be so sad? Why couldn't there have been more of a light at the end of the tunnel?


I believe that Anne Carson did an unbelievable job portraying emotion in her novel, "Autobiography of Red." Initially, we are introduced to Geryon as a shy, introspective child that yearned to find his place in the world. His brother proves to be depraved as he abuses Geryon, taking advantage of his innocence, and refusing to help him decipher the maze that was elementary school. Geryon's mother, although she loves him dearly, is removed from Geryon as she seems to be a lost soul, as smoke clouds her reality.
Geryon is troubled and alone. His idiosyncrasies prevent him from assimilating into society. The pain his brother inflicted upon him both mentally and physically, prevents Geryon from maintaining the natural urge to socialize. "He lay very straight in the fantastic temperatures of the red pulse as it sank away and he thought about the difference between inside and outside. Inside is mine, he thought."(page29)
Geryon seeks solace in a compassionate stranger that he meets at a bus stop to New Mexico, Herakles. Geryon falls in love with Herakles, as he proves to be different than any one Geryon had ever been exposed to. Yet, Herakles breaks his heart. Carson illustrates his state of unrest beautifully when he comes home from his stay with Herakles. Geryon laments that there has never been any fruit in his mother's fruit bowl. Consumed with emotion he begins to cry, which eventually ends in shared laughter with his mother. He is experiencing such conflicted emotion, and as a reader, I felt as though I was right there with him, sharing his pain.
I find it very interesting that the yellowbeard's topic for his dissertation was emotionlessness which parallels with Geryon's penchant for knowledge. Geryon is perpetually questioning the status quo, challenging time and space. He consistently asks, "What is time made of?" I found yellowbeard's answer both intelligent and thought-provoking. "Time isn't made of anything. It is an abstraction. Just a meaning that we impose upon motion." (page 90) I also think that Geryon was satisfied, but rather puzzled by this definitive answer.
When Geryon reunites with Herakles and Ancash, his relationship with Herakles is inevitably not the same, as it proves to be a little jaded. Geryon continues to take pictures that reveal the truth to him. He seems discouraged at times, and even notes to a passing llama that he will eventually amount to nothing. Yet, Geryon presses on for meaning. His depressive states do not hold him back from discovery. At the end of the novel we see that Ancash views Geryon as a person capable of great things, as he encourages Geryon to use his wings, to discover himself and the world around him.

Autobiography of Red -- A very quick intro to Avant Women Writers!

As a new addition to the class, I'm quickly trying to catch up with the reading, so please excuse my brief comments on Anne Carson's book.
I had no idea what to expect as I picked up this book but I have been pleasantly surprised. Geryon, though quite a difficult character to identify with (as a young, male, red-winged monster), connected with me in ways I never anticipated. His tormented love story with Herakles is powerful and my absolute favorite part of the book is when they first meet as Herakles steps off of the city bus. Carson writes, "Herakles stepped off the bus from New Mexico and Geryon came fast around the corner of the platform and there it was one of those moments that is the opposite of blindness. The world poured back and forth between their eyes once or twice" (39). Though not really a traditional love story, I can't help but be attracted to the odd relationship these two form.

I think this is a book that needs to be re-read to really grasp its meaning. With every re-reading, the reader has a chance to grab something new from the text -- something relevant to life.

Confusing things: the significance of red in this book--obviously it is important, hence the title. Can anyone help me with this? Also, the monster thing -- is Geryon the only one who is a red winged monster? Are others monsters? Do people think it's weird? Does it even really matter?

Thanks! Happy to be a part of the class.

Universally unique

First, I was pleasantly suprised at how much I ended up enjoying Carson's book. While there are a million different things to say about it, for the sake of not taking up too much blog space, I'll concentrate on a few for now. When I finished, one of the things that struck me most was how relatable, how universal, the story is despite its uniqueness. When it all comes down to it, the story began as a retelling of a myth from an unheard perspective, and it turns into a unique coming-of-age story about a character simply trying to find his place in the world, find his identity and hold onto it, become a "master" (so say the couple references to the gaucho pgs. 80 and 93) of his internal and external environment, both of which he is constantly questioning in a philosophical way. I think Geryon's curiousity about the world and his instinct to want to be able to control it is what makes him a relatable character (despite the fact that he is a red monster with wings =) ).
This is exaclty why I enjoy his hobby of photography. Photography is all about perspectives and angles (p. 65: "Photography is a way of playing with perceptual relationships"); it also has to do with control, which is why I think Geryon likes it. He can stop time (p. 93: "Much truer is the time that strays into photographs and stops.") in a way that conveys his individual interpretation of something, that is then preserved for someone else to look at and make their own individual interpretation- but the photograph began with what he saw. Note Steisichoros' comment in the interview: p. 147, "No I mean everything everyone saw everyone saw because I saw it...I was responsible for everyone's visibility." Part of Geryon's problem along the way is that he often sees the world from his "lens" only, and it takes the input of other characters to help him gain perspective and grow up, learning to appreciate life more and look at it from different ways.
Carson reflects the same kind of idea in her language. In particular, she describes the environment a lot in impossible terms but terms that convey clear moods and feelings and also offer a new perspective. (While I, too, marked a lot of the same favorite lines as you guys, this one here shows what I'm trying to say) On page 70, “Outside the natural world was enjoying a moment of total strength. Wind rushed over the ground like a sea and battered up into the corner of buildings, garbage cans went dashing down the alley after their souls.” It’s not just raining and windy out; garbage cans don’t just blow around- it’s a moment of empowerment and garbage cans have souls. It’s very abstract but at the same time offers a clear meaning (if that makes any sense- it's kind of paradoxical I guess). Other lines I liked that do the same type of thing: p. 44 “a sound of fishhooks scraping the bottom of the world”; p. 60 “Like the terrestrial crust of the earth which is proportionately ten times thinner than an eggshell, the skin of the soul is a miracle of mutual pleasures.”; p. 64 "it was like a handful of autumn.”; p. 84 “Four of the roses were on fire. They stood up straight and pure on the stalk, gripping the dark like prophets and howling colossal intimacies from the back of their fused throats.”; p. 108 “The sound was hot as a color inside”; p. 133 “The sky rushed open before them- bowl of gold where the last moments of sunset were exploding." Much like Geryon's photographs, Carson's descriptions, use of adjectives and similes, convey a thousand words and offer several different interpretations. This sort of multiplicity made the novel even more enjoyable I think.
Sorry, this is way longer than I planned, but the last thing I'll say is I really loved the intellectual/philisophical aspects of the book- the parts that deal with questions of time, space, and distance; questions such as "How does distance look?"; "What is time made of?"; or the conversations/thoughts about: the erotics of doubt and skepticism; "does a man with a harpoon go hungry?"; the limits of form and the importance of how you use it; reality is a sound you have to tune into; etc... I particularly liked this part when Geryon was on the plane to Buenos Aires: p. 80 “Outside a bitten moon rode fast over a tableland of snow. Staring at the vast black and silver nonworld moving and not moving incomprehensibly past the dangling fragment of humans he felt its indifference roar over his brain box.” “A man moves through time. It means nothing except that, like a harpoon, once thrown he will arrive.”

Anne Carson

I've read one of Anne Carson's short stories before and I really liked it but this book was dramatically different in style and subject. Carson's descriptions were strong in language but I never really got a clear picture of the world Geryon lived in or what he looked like exactly. I also found that Carson language sometimes confused me even upon a second reading. I thought the book jumped around a bit too. I was never sure what year it was or how old Geryon was, but that might have been Carson's intention. The most confusing part of the book was the interview at the end that did not give any real answers so I was wondering why it was placed at the end. I would think something at the end would wrap things up for the reader and clarify the verse but I was further confused. While Carson's sometimes confusing writing in the book initially turned me off to the book, her beautiful descriptions kept me reading (besides the fact that I had to keep reading for class); i.e. "Then the rock silenced him. It pitched away on all sides utterly blank except for one crazed blackish unit of intraplate light bouncing from rock to rock as if looking for lost kin" (63).
-Becky Slinger
I am a huge fan of Anne Carson. Upon opening the first page and reading the quote from Gertrude Stein, "I like the feeling of words doing as they want to do and as they have to do," I had shivers running down my spine. This book and I became fast friends; the sentences were dripping with strength from the voice of Anne. Although difficult to read, Carson paints a tremendous picture of Geryon's character and the troubled soul that is lurking inside of his monster body. I was confused at times and although I can interpret poetry pretty well, this was really difficult. I really enjoyed the mark of transition in character that Carson does when Geryon shifts into his creative realm. 

The only thing is .... sorry if this is immature, but...  er...Geryon and his stick- is he, a.. homosexual? Let me know. Sara G and I want to know.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Thinkings from your local Avant Savant...

The beauty of avant writing is that the discussion is limitless--and also with its limits. Ok, let me recoil for one second. If avant writing was limitless piece of literature either this state of freedom reigns for one page or its entire text. But I suppose if the work's limitless was momentary state of freedom--flooding with numerous discussion--this state either had an unanticipated reason for such or it had nothing of the sort. If this state had a unanticipated reason that reason was Sara G and her post tonight or maybe her utter pretension and hamminess to imitate Ann Carson the reason was not that.

Alright. I had my fun. Carson's "Autobiography of Red," like every text we will luckily encounter this semester, it will take us for one real funky ride and Ann seems no reason to fight or begin this trend. With only reading one other text of this semester (that being Carol Maso's "Ava"), this is pretty much in a class of its own. As "each" shall be. In rudimentary glean, they can chalk up some comparison, but the divisions within the text are their apparent differences.

I don't want to go on for days and I am still in the process of a creative work for this piece--which Ann, you are making my fingers feed off your creative verve. Two things that struck me for my discussion is the concept of adjective (and the adjective RED in specific) and the integration and connection of the cigarette/smoke within this text. What is your own theory on the adjective? Carson describes this genre of word as "latches of being" as they "are in charge of attaching everything in the world to its place in particularity." Adjectives ground nouns and verbs in purpose, specific, defiant purpose, no? But I was thinking, maybe, we are giving these bad boys too much clout. Adjectives muck a lot up no? Loaded, bloated, swollen adjectives muck a lot up no? The question is thus now: are they latches or are they leeches? Do these linguistically-inclined nomads have the right to have their own innate purpose and livelihood? Would hell be as foreboding of a being or even be a being with its simile of adjectives of "as the sun is high." What is your general verdict on the adjective? If Stesichoros undid and detached the adjective, why does Ann Carson latch on one singular adjective (RED) to Geryon (noun) and his world (another noun)?

Next on the agenda. The cigarette. This was a character all on its own. I just loooooved it. To me, in our concrete world and need to place validity in such concrete touch, material is a very personal thing to us humans and especially in our day and age. Page 40, VIII. Click section is a particularly good example where the cigarette and his mother are in sync with their discussion. The cigarette partakes in general discourse and reactive the the situation at hand as it experiences the ups and downs of their conversation. With the final punch of the line, the cig and mother puff up hard once more. The the next section following the character of the cigarette overwhelms her devotion to her sun as "she was not looking at him but past him as she stored the unlit cigarette in her front pocket." She knows she must quit and Geyron has accepted tolerance. Even once put away, it still has life. As they grapple with the concept of distance and its dependence on light, the light in thought is of that a match for the cigarette. The life of the cigarette demeans any deep philosophy out of the life around them. This may also lead itself to the dissatisfaction seen in Sex Question section. The mom has full attention on the cig not him, thus sex becomes his attention equivalence for the void his mother's neglect and probably from the ambiguous relationship with his brother. Whatcha all think?

This is a piece you have to work for but there is just some shots of loveliness that you can not deny. Some are:
they jumped forward on the back of the night.
up against another human being one's own procedures take on definition.
facts are bigger in the dark.
they recognized each other like italics.
the huge night moved overhead scattering drops of itself.

Some of my faves.

Random closing thoughts: Why does Carson precede the autobiography with a poem from Emily Dickinson? Why is Geyron living in a sedentary (or as constantly described motionless) world?

Ok, seriously. I'm out. Sorry for this bulky piece; I hope many have the same questions.
ciao ciao, Sara G.
I really enjoyed "Autobiography of Red"; I found it really refreshing & interesting in style and structure, as well as in content. I thought it was really original, and its flow and style really got me. It totally kept me reading to the end. But I think I especially enjoyed its basis in Greek myth. I'm not sure how many people are familiar with Greek/Roman mythology, but I've always found it pretty engaging, so it was cool to see the myth of Geryon and the Tenth Labor of Herakles (aka Hercules) translated into this story and style. I appreciated the flipped protagonist-antagonist relationship (Geryon as the protag and Herakles as the antag)--it even gave the myth this cool new dimension--like it challenged a lot of other myths that I know. If Geryon could be the "good guy", then it's totally possible that the other "monsters" from mythology were too. Sort of a "there's two sides to every story" thing. I know that Carson's work was just loosely based on the myth, but her new "translation" was really what got my attention. As a writer, it opened up all these possibilities, since there are an infinate number of myths out there just begging for a retelling, an update--something like what Carson did for Geryon. Really cool. I'm glad I got to read this, and got inspired by it. I don't know that I could write in verse, but it's certainly something to strive for.
As a reader, I felt that Anne Carson's book was carefully crafted, but missing a crucial section on being tempted by a female. Or did I miss something? (I know there was mention of his mother's breasts and the assistant librarian's daughter's foot.) Is the reader meant to believe that Geryon is indeed gay? Or that his sexual abuse as a very young boy by another male makes him believe that he is meant to be with men, since he became comfortable with the male intimacy early on. Even if Geryon tried engaging in romantic relationships with women, they probably would not work out because he is so sexually and emotionally confused. It was sad witnessing a sensitive young boy transform into a young man and continually be taken advantage of throughout his life by male "predators."

Volcano Symbol

Anne Carson's style of writing is interesting and engaging. The story of Geryon and the monster  within him was original. The style was difficult for me to get into due to the tradition i have with conventional styles. I thought the sexuality of Geryon and his relationship with Herakles was an interesting dynamic.  I am wondering if his sexuality relates to the volcano symbolism in the story. I know it sounds naive of me but I wondering what the symbolic meaning of the volcano?


I had a hard time with Stesichoros. Stesichoros did not seem to flow with Geryon's story. It seemed unnecessary and out of place. I would have enjoyed the novel more without beginning and ending it with Stesichoros.

I enjoyed that Geryon was a monster. It made his character more interesting and made him easier to relate to. I think everyone sees themselves as a monster at some point, alienated in some way (perhaps not as alienated as Geryon feels). I was happy for Geryon on page 144 in his conversation with Ancash:

There is one thing I want from you.
Tell me.
Want to see you use those wings.

Someone finally recognized that Geryon is not just unique, but special. He needed that compliment to give him confidence. I guess I just typically like stories with happy endings, and this ending made me think that Geryon was going to go places and become an exciting, independent, and confident little monster.
I was first drawn into Autobiography of Red by Anne Carson's powerful descriptive imagery and her uses of the color red. I paid particular attention to the theme of subjectivity throughout the book and I think the story revolves around Geryon learning that things in the world can be interpreted differently by different people. Throughout the book he questions abstract things such as time and even concrete items like a fruit bowl. An exmaple of Geryon realizing that things in the world can be viewed differently by different people is when he attends the volcano with Herakles' grandmother. She finds the lava dome beautiful, while Geryon calls the scenery terrible rocks. With his realizations Geryon finds that it is true that, "There is no person without a world" (82). I think Geryon finds his identity in flying to the volcano to become an eyewitness and I enjoyed this new ending to the story.

Something I was interested in was the poem by Emily Dickinson that appears in the front of the book. This poem is also quoted in the section where Geryon flies to the volcano and alluded to in that section's title. Emily Dickinson is mentioned throughout the book and one of her poems is even the subject which Herakles and Ancash are studying. I was just wondering if anyone else had any insight to the significance of the poem and Emily Dickinson to the book overall.

Fragments and Comedy in Lists

I really liked how Anne Carson blended poetry and prose into this story. I also liked how she took a mythic tale and put it in modern time. But, for me, the most interesting parts, and probably the most creative, were pgs. 9-14 and 18-20: the sections called "Fragments of Stesichoros" and the "Appendix C." In the "Fragments" section, there was no punctuation, rather a capital letter of a word in the middle of the sentence signified a new line/thought. In grade school we're taught that fragments are something to avoid, but in the creative world they're embraced. I thought pgs 18-20 were interesting how it was in a list format, making it easier to follow the story. I also thought this section was comical because of the continuing inner debating by the speaker. The way I heard this section in my head reminded me of a modern crime report.

Although my overall opinion of the book is still to be determined, I appreciate the research the author did to turn this mythic tale into a modern idea.

For my creative piece, I want to use a theme of this book that is about how the main character is red living in a black and white world, and the contrast that creates.
I enjoyed our first trek into the avant-garde. Since the novel was written in verse it seemed to jump through space and time easily without having to explain the transitions. The novel was also void of the "unnecessary" and we were left with the raw story of a young man's life. This form worked well for me for the most part, but there were a few times when I would have liked to know more or have stayed in the scene for a little longer.
I also thought that turning the original story into a romance between the two young men was an interesting idea. Another thing that caught my attention was that no one seemed to notice much that Geryon was red, but were surprised when they found out he had wings.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

when/how did plot events develop?

in my reading of Anne Carson's, Autobiography of Red, I kept returning to this question: when/how did plot events develop?

what do i mean? well, sometimes in my own writing i will have a particular plan in mind for a piece of work. i'll have the major plot events mapped out (to some extent), and i feel rather in control of the work. other times, i like to begin with just the beginning and see where the initial idea takes me. i feel less in control of a piece of work when this is the case, but inot necessarily in a negative way. both patterns have worked for me @ one time or another; they are just differnent systems, i suppose.

while reading Carson's book, i kept wondering when and how she decideed to make particular shifts in the plot or to develop new events? a huge example of this begins on page 125, XXXVII. EYEWITNESS. did Carson plan all of the preceding plot events after selecting this particular group of events? or did this event-- Geryon finding out about his origin-- stem from the rest of the plot events?

(hope this makes sense. its not really a question, more so a comment, i realize this. but did anyone else have questions similar to mine? in your own writing to you have a style or a pattern for developing plot ideas?)

Sunday, January 13, 2008


Avant Women Writers: A Conversation
ENLT 390

Required Texts:
Kate Bernheimer, The Complete Tales Of Merry Gold
Jenny Boully, The Body
Anne Carson, Autobiography of Red
Thalia Field, ULULU
Kass Fleisher, Accidental Species: A Reproduction
Christine Hume, Alaskaphrenia
Stacey Levine, Frances Johnson
Carole Maso, AVA
Joyelle McSweeney, Nylund, The Sacographer
Selah Saterstrom, The Pink Institution

Hyper-texts available on-line:
Debra DiBlasi, Jiri Cech
Shelley Jackson, My Body
Stephanie Strickland, Vniverse

(Strongly) Recommended Texts:
Catherine Kasper, Field Stone
Vanessa Place, Dies: A Sentence
Lidia Yuknavitch, Reel to Real
Debra di Blasi, The Real Chronicles of Jiri Cech

Course Description: Unlike many English literature courses, which tend to focus on the "dead, white male," this class flips the old paradigm for something new: female writers who push the limits of writing as an art form who are still alive and kicking and writing and challenging! This course invites the conversation between reader, text, and writer to emerge as a new "possibility-space" for the study of literature. Students will engage in active dialogues with these avant women writers through author interviews and blog participation. It is through this interaction that we can learn how and why these women are "avant," why they do not submit to the status quo but struggle against it fiercely. We will be exploring texts by and conversing with writers such as: Anne Carson, Shelley Jackson, Carole Maso, Stephanie Strickland, Kate Bernheimer, and Lidia Yuknavitch.

Course Requirements: This is not your ordinary literature course. For one, this will be a very reading intensive course, but more importantly, the goal for this course is INTERACTION and CONVERSATION! Every writer that we will read this semester has agreed to correspond with the class as a whole, and through this dialogue, I hope to form a conversation between you (the reader) and the writer and the text.
Students will break into small groups for presentations of author interviews. Even if you are not in a group that is presenting a certain author, you are more than welcome to contact them. In fact, they welcome it! Each group will present two authors/books.
Within 48 hours of the presentation, the group must post the notes from the conversation with the author on-line on our class blog. In addition to the transcription of the text, group members are expected to respond to the ways in which the conversations have changed your view of the text. Keep in mind, conversation is meant in the broadest manner here. Conversations may be between: you and the text, you and the writer, the text and the writer, the class discussion, or even the dialogue between your reading of the text and your own creative writing.

Students will submit a creative response for each class.

In lieu of a final exam, you will be required to write an 8-10 page research or analytical essay based on these or other “avant” texts.

Grading: Your grade will be calculated as follows:
Creative responses: 30%
Group presentations: 25%
Final essay: 15%
Participation (both in-class & blog): 30%

Creative Responses: Rather than require you all to write response essays or journals, instead, I would like for you all to respond to each of the readings that you are NOT presenting on with a creative project of some kind. This can range from, but is not exclusive to, a short story or poem to a painting to a mix cd to fabrics. If you’re uncomfortable doing a creative response, you’re welcome to write a 2-4 page analytical essay on the text as long as it is NOT a book report!

Conversing with your Community: Because I believe it is absolutely important to have a knowledge of and support for community arts, in order to receive an A in this course, you MUST attend THREE community arts events (poetry readings, plays, art openings, etc.) and write a short response to each. Think of this as another method of conversation.

This calendar is subject to revision.

Jan. 15 Introductions & definitions: Our first conversation
Why only women?: Our second conversation
How did we get here?
Divide into groups; set presentation calendars

Jan. 22 CLASS CANCELLED: reschedule?
In lieu of class, we will be discussing Carson’s Autobiography of Red on the blog. Each student must post once and comment on someone else’s post.
Carson, Autobiography of Red, (We’ll also discuss Carson on Jan. 29 so don’t fret.)

Jan. 29 Bernheimer, The Complete Tales of Merry Gold

Feb. 5 Levine, Frances Johnson

Feb. 12 Boully, The Body

Feb. 19 Maso, AVA

Feb. 26 Yuknavitch, Reel to Real, selected stories
selection from Place, Dies


Mar. 11 Field, ULULU

Mar. 18 Fleisher, Accidental Species

Mar. 25 McSweeney, Nylund, The Sarcographer

Apr. 1 Strickland, Vniverse
Jackson, My Body
DiBlasi, Jiri Cech

Apr. 8 Hume, Alaskaphrenia
Kasper, selection

Apr. 15 Class cancelled for Notre Dame’s A Festival of Our Own.

Apr. 22 Saterstrom, The Pink Institution

Apr. 29 Last day of class