In her first collection in five years, Anne Carson contemplates “decreation”–an activity described by Simone Weil as “undoing the creature in us”–an undoing of self. But how can we undo self without moving through self, to the very inside of its definition? Where else can we start?
Anne Carson’s Decreation starts with form–the undoing of form. Form is various here: opera libretto, screenplay, poem, oratorio, essay, shot list, rapture. The undoing is tender, but tenderness can change everything, or so the author appears to believe.
“Exhilarating . . . Carson takes risks, subverts literary conventions, and plays havoc with our expectations. She is a wonder: an unconventional poet who has a huge following among today’s readers of poetry and whose work has been honored with our most prestigious literary awards . . . When it comes to content, most poetry is boring compared to Carson’s . . . She writes as if every poet, writer, religious thinker, and philosopher who has ever lived is still our contemporary . . . Carson is immensely learned. [Her] prose, with its clarity, compactness, and memorable epigrams, reminds me of Emerson . . . To work with fragments of ancient lyric poems, as Carson does, is to [be] an archaeologist of the invisible whose tools are her learning and her imagination . . . She is interested in her characters in a way that most poets are not. Her language is the language of fiction and the manner in which the stories are told resembles magical realism with its wild imaginings and its carnival atmosphere. As for her subject matter, she writes perceptively and amusingly about men and women in love, their jealousies, their misunderstandings, and the solitude which they are not able to overcome . . . The essays in Decreation are full of marvelous insights . . . What the poet and the authentic thinker share, according to Heidegger, is their ability to wonder at how things exist and to live with that wonder. Carson reminds us that poeticizing in this broader philosophical sense and in the narrow sense of the poetic have always been related. The play of philosophical ideas makes [all] her books worth reading . . . Enthralling, masterful, engaging, stunning, inspired, impressive, profoundly moving, poignant, probing.”
–The New York Review of Books
“Cool, resolute, smart, and lovely . . . Carson has emerged in the last two decades as a kind of prophet of the unknowable. Decreation may be her loneliest book–a theological treatise and dramatization of how to escape one’s self . . . Carson attempts [this task] with great tenderness, framing the undoing as a work of love that compels one to forsake oneself in order to be something more–truer, more luminous, and also more transient. Carson moves from form to form–poetry, essay, screenplay–and from body to body . . . In the shape traced by Carson’s rapid flight patterns one can almost discern a transcendent emptiness, uninhabitable to more stationary souls.”
–The Village Voice
“Count on Carson, brilliant and larky, to dance you out of the quotidian. A frolicsome and philosophical poet who channels voices both mythic and historical as she opens new portals onto the human psyche, Carson tinkers expertly with form and complex concepts in her ninth highly original book . . . Carson is at her electrifying best when she pairs incisive essays with piercing poems to explore the magical properties of seep, to explicate the sublime . . . and to grapple with ‘spiritual daring’ . . . Carson’s inquiry into the paradoxical ‘decreation’ of the self in the quest for the divine exemplifies her gift for joining erudition with feeling, insight with wit, and a sense of cosmic continuity with personal liberation . . . Commanding.”
–Booklist (boxed, starred review)
“What Walden Pond was to Thoreau, what the sea was to Conrad and Melville, what seeing is to John Berger, Greek and Latin are to Anne Carson: an immense space–because the words now contain the world that once existed around them–that allows her imagination a measureless boundary . . . Glass, Irony and God, one of the finest debut books of poetry published in English in the twentieth century, was written with an almost inconceivable urgency and power . . . It is difficult to think of Carson apart from her sources and subjects, which are never more powerfully on display than in her new book, Decreation. It’s a kind of Anne Carson Reader–populated with such icons as Simone Weil, Virginia Woolf, Marguerite Porete, and Michelangelo Antonioni–and her most cohesive, integrated book since Glass, Irony and God . . . Carson’s poetry and prose, scholarly and intrepid, move with an almost unparalleled swiftness among myths, ancient languages, and contemporary life, casting a semiological eye on those things that exemplify our culture’s obsession with surfaces. [Her] work brings readers to a mediated but unmitigated place where men and women, with the stress on the latter, are enmeshed in nature, as in The Metamorphoses. An implacable victimization is active in her work, yet these tortuous turns are also seen coolly as the price of being alive; and her ‘ecstasy,’ a subject she reinvestigates in Decreation, allows her to stand outside herself and present these examples–this slide show of her icons–to her readers . . . Carson has the ability to isolate details so that a few lines of poetry can carry the weight of a short story . . . In Decreation, when she clears a path to the sublime, it rages, froths, and foams; it is informed by an energy verging on madness. [A] wide and wild variety of texts . . . If anyone knows how to be alluring, it is Carson . . . Affecting, fascinating, remarkable, beautiful, stimulating in a way that is manifestly taut and poetic, pitch-perfect, disarming.”
“For the past two decades, Canadian classics professor and international poetry phenom Anne Carson has produced a diverse body of work . . . Carson’s work has never fit into any ready-made category. Decreation, her latest, is no exception . . . Carson’s core subjects have remained big and intense–love, God, death, beauty, truth, desire. But even when she’s quoting Aristotle, Carson’s work rarely comes off as academic pyrotechnics or rococo wank-offery. Rather, she uses her scholarship to help us figure out why love is so hard, and the role death plays in life . . . Carson evokes an idea and then settles in to explore it from a variety of angles . . . What is often surprising is that Carson doesn’t limit herself to Classical thought. She not only acknowledges that popular culture exists–which already distinguishes her from most contemporary poets–but is also inspired by it and integrates it into her classical world. This enriches her language immensely . . . Winning, heartbreaking . . . As Carson mixes new and old worlds, she makes the big ideas she tackles relevant to our own lives . . . The book deserves wide attention. At its best, it’s Marlene Dietrich meets Gertrude Stein set to a Frances Lai soundtrack. Her many fans, from both L Word and academic contingents, should find much to enjoy.”
–Time Out New York
“In 13 intricately related, supple and confident works in verse and prose, eminent poet and classicist Carson takes on the meaning and function of sleep; the art and attitudes of Samuel Beckett; the last days of an elderly mother; guns; a solar eclipse; ‘Longing, a Documentary’; the films of Michelangelo Antonioni; and the vexing, paradoxical projects of women mystics, among them Simone Weil and medieval heretic Marguerite Porete . . . Brilliant, unusual.”
“One of the most interesting gatherings of material that any poet has published within living memory . . . Carson’s tone is light, teasing, and playful. In a voice of near childlike innocence, she asks extraordinarily difficult and searching questions about the nature of sleep and the idea of sacredness and the soul. She teases the reader intellectually rather in the way that Gertrude Stein used to tease, by a strange use of repetition, and by often using silliness as a route to the exploration of seriousness. She is quite unlike any other poet writing today.”
“[Carson’s] work here is provocative, her language intriguing, and her themes universal. Describing ‘decreation’ as the state in which the self dissolves, Carson imagines other writers and artists whose works illustrate and/or parallel her own experience . . . She offers glimpses into a contemporary relationship between mother and daughter (presumably her mother and herself), love and marriage, and what it means to be a woman. Personal experience permeates the collection, and the reader is allowed to draw from the wisdom and hard-won experience of the poet’s personae.”
About the Author:
Anne Carson was twice a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; was honored with the 1996 Lannan Award and the 1997 Pushcart Prize, both for poetry; and was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2000. In 2001 she received the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry–the first woman to do so; the Griffin Poetry Prize; and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She currently teaches at the University of Michigan.