Autobiography of Red

Autobiography of Red is “A Novel in Verse” by Anne Carson. The premise of the work comes from translated fragments of ancient greek poetry by Stesichoros. Stesichoros was a real poet in ancient Greece, but almost all of his work has been either lost or badly destroyed. Carson pulls what information she can from a Stesichoros tale of a red monster that lives on a red island with a red dog, red cattle and red wind. Carson reimagines Stesichoros and then takes off in flight from the ancient source and crafts an original tale about Geryon, a red monster living in the modern world of people. The book opens and closes with stories of Stesichoros. In the beginning we learn about how Stesichoros was made blind by Helen after he wrote verse about her that was unbecoming. When he rewrote verse that favored Helen she restored him his vision. The book ends with an imagined interview with Stesichoros, which I’m going to copy here:

INTERVIEW
( S T E S I C H O R O S )

I: One critic speaks of a sort of concealment drama going on in your work some special interest in finding out what or how people act when they know that important information is being withheld this might have to do with an aesthetic of blindness or even a will to blindness if that is not a tautology

S: I will tell about blindness

I: Yes do

S: First I must tell about seeing

I: Fine

S: Up to 1907 I was seriously interested in seeing I studied and practiced it I enjoyed it

I: 1907

S: I will tell about 1907

I: Please

S: First I must tell about what I saw

I: Okay

S: Paintings completely covered the walls right up to the ceiling at the time the atelier was lit by gas fixtures and it glowed like a dogma but this is not what I saw

I: No

S: Naturally I saw what I saw

I: Naturally

S: I saw everything everyone saw

I: Well yes

S: No I mean everything everyone saw everyone saw because I saw it

I: Did they

S: I was (very simply) in charge of seeing for the world after all seeing is just a substance

I: How do you know that

S: I saw it

I: Where

S: Wherever I looked it poured out my eyes I was responsible for everyone’s visibility it was a great pleasure it increased daily

I: A pleasure you say

S: Of course it had its disagreeable side I could not blink or the world went blind

I: So no blinking

S: No blinking from 1907 on

I: Until

S: Until the start of the war then I forgot

I: And the world

S: The world went ahead much as before let’s talk about something else now

I: Description we can talk about description

S: What is the difference between a volcano and a guinea pig is not a description why is it like it is is a description

I: I take it you are speaking formally what about content

S: No difference

I: How about your little hero Geryon

S: Exactly it is red that I like and there is a link between geology and character

I: What is this link

S: I have often wondered

I: Identity memory eternity your constant themes

S: And how can regret be red and might it be

I: Which brings us to Helen

S: There is no Helen

I: I believe our time is up

S: Thank you for this and for everything

I: It is I who thank you

S: So glad you didn’t ask about the little red dog

I: Next time

S: That’s three

*

 

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