“searching for things sublime…”

“l’(never
anywhere
simply absent
or—how
plunged does the mind have to be)
Avventura: caught
in the time of the island, scraping themselves back and forth over
the rocks, men slant against the wind and her golden
hair going horizontal in whips on the ectastic sea…”

(L’ (Ode to Monica Vitti))

I discovered Anne Carson purely on accident, coming across her volume Decreation as I randomly pulled out unknown books from the poetry section of my local Borders (a regular habit of mine). I hadn’t heard of her before, but was instantly fascinated—a poet of any kind who writes poems with titles like “L’ (Ode to Monica Vitt)” and “Kant’s Questions about Monica Vitti” automatically is classified under the mental category “I must check this out as soon as possible.”

Furthermore, the book’s subtitle—“Poetry * Essays * Opera”—was deeply intriguing, for more than anything, I have an interest in artists whose subjects and subject matter bleed into other artistic mediums and areas of study. And that’s exactly what Decreation is—a collection of writing of all kinds, ranging from essays on how sleep is depicted throughout literature (offering a particularly compelling reading of the central section of Woolf’s To the Lighthouse), to a meditation on Beckett’s abstract play “Quadrat II,” to the closing “Longing, a Documentary,” in which Carson composes a brief screenplay of camera angles and poetic subtitles.

But it was the sections of musings centering largely on Michelangelo Antonioni and Monica Vitti that most captured my attention. In the essay “Foam (Essay with Rhapsody): On the Sublime in Longinus and Antonioni” she comes up with likely the most compelling descriptions of Antonioni’s distinctive style that I’ve ever encountered:

”Whether or not Antonioni’s films are sublime, Antonioni’s use of Antonioni is sublime.”

Carson seems fascinated with the raw emotions lurking beneath Antonioni’s serene style and Vitti’s glacial visage, and that’s a good description of her own work—despite the emotionally-charged topics she takes on, Carson is a relentlessly cerebral poet, to the point where she can be maddeningly enigmatic. But curiously, she’s one of the few writers I’ve come across in what Zadie Smith recently labeled in an article in The Guardian as “these metaphysically challenged times” to explore and freely incorporate such terms as “the soul” and “the sublime” into her writing. This is perhaps what makes Carson the type of poet I see myself returning to again and again (much like Antonioni)—enigmatic she might be, but somehow, there’s the impression that a whole world of emotions and sensations lurking somewhere beneath.

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