Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Multa Nocte

There was never a chance of me learning Greek or Latin at my primary or high school, and New Testament Greek was offered at college for Religion majors not Music students. When I graduated and began working at the bookstore one of the first books I bought myself was a Wheelock's workbook. From time to time I am struck anew with the inclination to teach myself and begin again at the First Declension, but I paddle against the tide. I need a teacher and I need fellow students.

The poet and translator Anne Carson fills me with envy. "She translates and teaches Greek for a living," her bio says. To stand up and stretch back thousands of years and publicly acknowledge that though we think them obsolete, they are us.

Carson's newest publication is called Nox. Published by New Directions, Nox is housed in a box designed as an epitaph, and reminds me of an assignment K once had to do for her Wisdom Literature class. The gray lid opens like a chocolate box and the "book" can be read by stretching out the folded paper like an accordion.

Constructed as a tribute to her brother, Michael, who died in Copenhagen after a nearly 22 year silence, Nox is both visually and verbally moving. The book, a facsimile of the epitaph she made in 2000 after his death, is entwined with the Roman poet Catullus' 101, a poem Catullus supposedly wrote after traveling some distance to stand above his brother's grave. Each word of the Latin poem is parsed like a Latin dictionary on the verso, and these entries go from the linguistic to the personal, always ending with some mention of the night. On the recto, Carson constructs her narrative, a collage of histories ancient and personal. She writes of Herodotus, of the historian's probe, of the phoenix burying his father every seven years. She writes sparely of her brother's widow and his missing years.

Accompanying the text are blurry gray photographs in strips, rumpled paper, shredded letters, blurred type.

Nox is bleak and distant, and so all the more desolately revealing. I read it by weak lamplight on my bed last night and when I put it away I dreamed of death.

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