I think probably my painting notion comes from dealing with classical texts which are, like Sappho, in bits of papyrus with that enchanting white space around them, in which we can imagine all of the experience of antiquity floating but which we can’t quite reach. I like that kind of surface.Anne Carson is both a creative artist and a scholar of ancient Greek. From the captions on a series of paintings that were expanded to form her first book of poetry, Short Talks (1992), to readings of Nox (2011) performed with her partner Robert Currie and various dancers, form has played a central role in the way that Carson conceptualizes her work. But in a 1997 interview, Carson describes Eros the Bittersweet, a condensed and rewritten version of her dissertation as “possibly the last time I got those two impulses to move in the same stream - the academic and the other.”1 Although her interviewer John D’Agata insists that some would say she has been mixing the two all along,2 Carson explains, in a more formal note on method, “my training and trainers opposed subjectivity strongly, I have struggled since the beginning to drive my thought out into the landscape of science and fact where other people converse logically and exchange judgments,” alas, “I go blind out there.”3 Carson describes writing as a process of maneuvering back and forth between a space of facticity, and one cleared of everything she does not know. She describes her facts as having an activity or movement something like a tempo, rather than coming from a place of having narrative stories to tell.4 The forms fact take for her are revealed in relief against empty space: “Once cleared the room writes itself.”5 What Carson is describing here is a place for beginning; whereas she considers herself capable of capturing a plausible surface of sensuous and emotional fact, adequate to spur others to thinking, she doubts whether she has ever finished the thinking, so as to provide the sense of emotional understanding she so admires in the writers who inspire her.6
Carson has been criticized for her use of the apparatus of fact, “serious scholarly commentaries, introductions, footnotes, appendices, postscripts, and even mini-interviews,” that seem to critic Charles Simic “annoyingly didactic and futile”7 against the backdrop of Carson’s inimitable use of language. His irritation points to the way that Carson’s texts seem to anticipate and engage an imagined reader, and critics have rejoined her on these terms, taking on the critical apparatus of reader-response.8 Yet others question why this method,9 and try to step back to respond to the fracture between what is offered and what is received. Paula Rabinowitz suggests it is “[i]n all of these efforts at retrieval and exposure, of sifting through the detritus of language as the means to bodily expression, Anne Carson finds the core of poetics, the poets’ struggle to make, as she says, ‘the profoundest of poetic experiences: that of NOT seeing what IS there.’”10 It is my argument that in Carson’s work, concealment, absence, or loss creates the subject. In Eros the Bittersweet, Carson defines eros as "‘want,’ ‘lack,’ ‘desire for that which is missing,’”11 “deferred, defied, obstructed, hungry, organized around a radiant absence.”12 The lover she concludes, “wants what he does not have. It is by definition impossible for him to have what he wants if, as soon as it is had, it is no longer wanting."13 I will develop this idea with respect to three major themes: loving with respect to distance, loving and knowing, and metaphor and the poetics of self-disclosure.
1 D’Agata 9.
2 D’Agata 11.
3 Economy of the Unlost vi.
4 D’Agata 13.
5 Economy of the Unlost vii.
6 Aikin 194.
7 “The Spirit of Play,” New York Review of Books, November 3,
8 Kate Middleton, 2. Robert Stanton and Lee Upton.
9 Middleton, Litia Perta
10 Paula Rabinowitz, http://english.umn.edu/engagement/AnneCarsonintro.html.
11 Eros the Bittersweet, 10.
12 Eros, 18.
13 Eros, 10.