Carson took Latin in high school because it was the alternative to typing. Her Latin teacher was also conversant in ancient Greek, so Carson took Greek lessons in her lunch hour. "Greek is one of those things that, when you do it, you realise it's the best experience in the world, there's no reason ever to stop. It's just some amazing combination of the kind of puzzle-solving that goes into crosswords and amazing literature. You think, well, they're nerds, they were born that way. But they're not just nerds, they're all kinds of people who stumble into this happy field of endeavour and stay there." To her parents' alarm, she announced that she was going to pursue these two, entirely impractical dead languages at university. "My father kept telling me to get a marketable skill on the side. He suggested typing. He was worried for some time. And then I got a job at Princeton and he sort of calmed down."(via The Page)
If her study of Greek and Latin has affected her own writing style, Carson suspects it is to be found in the way she makes patterns between things. "There is something about the way that Greek poets, say Aeschylus, use metaphor that really attracts me. I don't think I can imitate it, but there's a density to it that I think I'm always trying to push towards in English. It's a kind of compacting of metaphor, without a concern for making sense ... it's just on the edge of sense and on the edge of the way language should operate."
The danger with this, and with Carson's writing, is that it drifts into whimsy or nonsense. "It does fall apart a lot. It gets just too weird for anyone to care about reading, or else it gets diluted into a sort of parody of itself. Intuition is the only way to keep on the line between them. And also focusing back on to the first time the idea came into your head has some kind of pristine conviction that it gradually loses." Carson returns to the actual piece of paper on which she wrote down the beginning of the idea, usually a coffee-stained back of an envelope. "Because there's something almost magically convincing about that piece of paper. The same words typed on a nice clean piece of paper wouldn't have whatever it is - fidelity, to your original thought."
23 March 2007
That piece of paper
An inspiring interview with Anne Carson: