Undoing the latches of being

Anne Carson is brilliant. I have only admiration for her creativity and use of language.

In ‘Red Meat: What Difference Did Stesichoros Make?’ (published in Autobiography of Red), she discusses Stesichoros’s literary contribution, which, in her estimate, consists in breaking the constraints of Homeric epic. ‘Homer’s epithets’, Carson says, ‘are a fixed diction with which Homer fastens every substance in the world to its aptest attribute and holds them in place for epic consumption.’

How does Homer do that? By using a stock repertoire of adjectives, ‘the latches of being’. If nouns name the world and verbs activate those names, then, says Carson, adjectives ‘are the latches of being’. Wow! What an ingenious way of describing the function of adjectives!

So how does Stesichoros come into this? By leaving Homer’s stock repertoire behind and coming up with novel descriptions. Or, in Carson’s words, by ‘undoing the latches’.

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