Catherine Bush

October 31, 2013

Anne Carson: Interview

Last night I heard Anne Carson read at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto. I’ve never heard Carson read and the particularities of her presence and language held me rapt. She read first from an essay on Hegel and what she calls “snow standing,” which is pretty much exactly what it says. You go out into the world and stand in the snow. You pay attention: to the snow, to squirrels’ toe nails. But first, Hegel. When he said Reason is Spirit, he didn’t mean that reason equals spirit, Carson read. Hegel’s purpose was speculation, to put reason into relationship with spirit.

You might say he wrote as a poet might, his purpose associative and metaphoric. You put one thing beside another and a new thing is created.

Carson also read a fictional interview from a speculative TV show that she’s created called Krapp Hour (no network has yet picked it up, she told us), in which Samuel Beckett’s Krapp, of Krapp’s Last Tape, interviews people from history, in this case Helen of Troy. You say ‘yes’ a lot, Krapp says to Helen, who says ‘yes’. Then she tells a story about having to choose between the life of her dog and the lives of the women of Troy who have been deemed by the Greeks not beautiful. Her words become a devastation.

At the end of the evening, Carson, who also read from Red Doc>, fielded a question about using the interview format in her work. She said she uses it because she often doesn’t know what she thinks about things.  An interview allows her to see what two voices think in relation to each other. Out of that relationship something new springs.

All this put me in mind of an interview I did with Anne Carson some time ago, just after Autobiography of Red, Red Doc>’s precursor, came out. Though I knew Carson a little, it was an odd interview. Carson’s answers were often very brief. Yet not uninteresting. Commissioned, the interview was never published. Nevertheless there’s something of her incorrigible spirit (and reason) in it.

“Fairy tales are almost always the stories of the powerless, of youngest sons, abandoned children, orphans.... Fairy tales are children's stories not in who they were made for but in their focus on the early stages of life, when others have power over you and you have power over no one.”

— Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby