I had to rearrange my living room to read and appreciate Anne Carson’s book Nox (see proof below). The book is an epitaph for her brother Michael.
It is an ahistorical history of the man, explained through translated description of ancient words in Greek, pieced together like the tattered letters and collage included in the book, a poetic memoir of personal memory, and deconstruction of the history of Herodotos:
“I wanted to fill my elegy with light of all kinds,” Carson writes. But much of the book is fixated on night, darkness, what she cannot know.
… death makes us stingy. There is nothing more to be depended on that, we think, he’s dead. Love cannot alter it. Words cannot add to it. No matter how I try to evoke the starry lad he was, it remains a plain, odd history. So I began to think about history.
And who was the man who fled the country and did not speak with, write, or contact the mother who so missed him, praying day and night, for years: a draft-dodger? a man who faced certain arrest for dealing drugs?) who traveled overseas, loved and lost, and upon reconnecting with his younger sister, had little to say.
Carson’s writes with her usual, perplexing honesty, asking questions that unsettle and evoke more questions:
His voice was like his voice with something else crusted on it, black, dense – it lighted up for a moment…then went dark again. All the years and time that had passed over him came streaming into me, all that history. What is a voice?
The book is haunted and illuminated by a poem by Catullus, an elegy Carson explains he wrote and read for his brother who died in the Troad, a poem whose precise translation perpetually evades her. Like the illusive ancient poem, Carson gropes in the dark, prowling for her brother’s history to understand it, translate it, to turn on the light.
The book is best described as perpetuum, both in its construct, design, and figurative essence. Carson defines perpetuum, among the many other descriptions she includes, as “having an unbroken extent or expanse, continuous in space… the whole of anything measured from end to end….” Whatever else it is, Nox certainly is a measured and moving epitaph.
Anne Carson, Nox. New Directions: New York. 2010.