Random thoughts

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’.

Literary Criticism

The spiritual superiority of the vanquished

‘The spiritual superiority of the vanquished’ – I came across that phrase in the Metzler Lexikon Weltliteratur entry on Stefan Zweig by Helmut Scheuer (in German: ‘die seelische Superiorität des Besiegten’) and think it’s brilliant.

The phrase is used in the context of Zweig’s rejection of violence, and it captures so well that often the vanquished are the true, that is to say, the moral and spiritual victors. Often it really is better to let the other ‘win’. That’s not always easy to do (now here’s an understatement for you), but it is well worth practising.

Literary Criticism

Of quotes, oranges and banditry – an Anne Carson quote, what else?

As this blog is entitled ‘Brief thoughts and quotes’, how could I not quote Anne Carson’s thoughts about quotes in ‘Foam (Essay with Rhapsody): On the Sublime in Longinus and Antonioni’ in Decreation: Poetry, Essays, Opera?

A quote (cognate with quota) is a cut, a section, a slice of someone else’s orange. You suck the slice, toss the rind, skate away. Part of what you enjoy in a documentary technique is the sense of banditry. To loot someone else’s life or sentences and make off with a point of view, which is called ‘objective’ because you can make anything into an object by treating it this way, is exciting and dangerous.