Category: Nelson, Maggie

cool carson (quote)

Maggie Nelson’s THE ARGONAUTS pp. 48-49

What exactly is lost to us when words are wasted? [Anne Carson] Can it be that words comprise one of the few economies left on earth in which plentitude — surfeit, even — comes at no cost?

Recently I received in the mail a literary magazine that featured an interview with Anne Carson in which she answers certain questions — the boring ones? the too personal ones? — with empty brackets [[ ]]. There is something to learn here; I probably would have written a dissertation on each query, prompting the reply I’ve heard countless times in my life: “Really, it’s terrific — it’s just the people upstairs who say we’ve got to trim it back a little.” The sight of Carson’s brackets made me feel instantly ashamed of my compulsion to put my cards more decidedly on the table. But the more I thought about the brackets, the more they bugged me. They seemed to make a fetish of the unssaid, rather than simply letting it be contained in the sayable.

Many years ago, Carson gave a lecture at Teachers & Writers in New York City, at which she introduced (to me) the concept of leaving a space empty so that God could rush in. I knew a bit about this concept from my boyfriend at the time, who was big into bonsai. In bonsai you often plan the tree off-center in the pot to make space for the divine. But that night Carson made the concept literary. (Act so that there is no use in a center: a piece of Steinian wisdom Carson says she tries to impart to her students.) I had never heard of Carson before that night, but the room was packed and everyone else there clearly had. She gave a real lecture, with a Xeroxed slide list of Edward Hopper paintings and everything. She made being a professorial writer seem like the coolest thing you could ever be. I went home fastened to the concept of leaving the center empty for God. It was like stumbling into a tarot reading or AA meeting and hearing the one thing that will keep you going, in heart or art, for years.

Sitting now at my desk in my windowless office, its back wall painted pale blue in commemoration of the sky, I stare at the brackets in the Carson interview and try to enjoy them as markers of that evening from so long ago. But some revelations do not stand.