Posts Tagged ‘Anne Carson’

Nox (Anne Carson)

November 14, 2010


When I read the reviews of this work, I thought that the combination of raw pain and classical learning would appeal to me, and I was quite right.  But it’s a bit hard to say what it is!

Physically, we have an accordion-style scrapbook in a box. In general, the left-hand page carries a dictionary entry relating to the words from Catullus 101,  an elegy on the poet’s dead brother, while the right-hand side illustrates the troubled death and life of Carson’s brother Michael.

The title Nox is of course Latin for ‘night’, a word that doesn’t actually occur in the Catullus.  Instead, the dictionary entries on the left-hand side are steadily invaded by the word nox in its various forms and by references to night, for instance:

muneredebita nocti munera gifts owed to night

cineremTroia virum et noctium acerba cinis Troy, bitter ash of men and nights

intereacontra ius interea solum nocte against the law yet only at night

quaequod homo est non est hoc nox a man is not a night!

manantiaomne supervacuum pleno de pectore manat the whole pointless night seeps out of his heart

atquesimiliter atque ipse eram noctuabunda just like him I was a negotiator with night

valeparum valent Graeci verbo the Greeks have no precise word for this (but we call it ‘night’)

Some at least of these are variations on phrases from Latin authors, for instance Troia virum et virtutum omnium acerba cinis (‘Troy, bitter ash of men and every noble deed’) from Catullus 68b.

The right-hand pages include some scraps of conversation with Michael (and with his widow):

I study his sentences the ones I remember as if I'd been asked to translate them

and also some lines from other works of Carson’s, for instance As in some cave may lie a lightless pool.

And there is elucidation if you work at it:

Take the word “entry” as used of the arrangement of the contents of a lexicon.

What if you made a collection of lexical entries…

…I came to think of translating as a room,….,where one gropes for the light switch.

In one sense it is a room I can never leave, perhaps dreadful for that.  At the same time, a place composed entirely of entries.

You could ask whether this–at least the right hand side of this–is something that ought to be exposed to the public gaze.  Certainly the Canadian mother with the hard blue gaze on her deathbed is far too near my own experience for comfort.  Of course, Catullus 101 doesn’t tell us anything at all about his brother, but I think that’s just playing by the rules of Roman elegy.


Elektra Young Vic 02 July 

July 4, 2010


Picture from Young Vic Facebook page

The question is always how to adopt the distancing and generalisation of Greek tragedy to the modern stage, which operates by precisely the opposite principles, and where Elektra’s sweatstained singlet and bloodied face are present all to present.

This interpretation, using a new translation by Anne Carson,  followed Milton:

No light; but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all, but torture without end

and the lighting by Guy Hoare certainly deserved credit for making the darkness visible (able to be seen through, in this context).

In pursuit of the same idea, the text left out rather a lot of the mythological and gnomic structure of  the original.  The Clytaemnestra of Nadia Cameron-Blakey impassively delivered her lines from an infinity of cold, while I enjoyed the nervous Chrysothemis of Amanda Hale in an Emily Dickinson dress.

Amanda Hale as Chrysothemis

But did Lydia Leonard as Elektra show the true Sophoclean adamantine intransigence, obdurate pride and steadfast hate, or was she merely put-upon?  Well, after receiving the false news of Orestes dying, she began to dig, and then a little of the magic appeared like the corner of a coffin.  But I think that the recognition scene between her and Orestes works better if they dispute for the ashes-containing urn as for his identity; here she took it away and cradled it in her arms.

I’m not sure that it really makes sense if the action already seems to be taking place among the chthonic deities; it is the actions of the characters above the earth while they can see the light that lead them there.  But this was a serious and highly competent attempt at tackling the problems of staging Greek drama, and I’ve no idea why the Young Vic felt they had to put it on for free.  It was co-credited to Headlong Theatre, and was without doubt a great deal better than the paid-for productions of theirs I’ve seen.