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“The barking web of image and word”: Jane Alison on Anne Carson’s NOX
The Millions’ “A Year in Reading” series is a nice antidote to the many lists that proliferate this time of year. Instead of throwing out ten titles with little reflection, a single reader/writer narrows in on just one or two books, in some depth, that defined their year.
For instance: author Jane Alison writes beautifully about Anne Carson’s NOX, published, in fact, last year. “The book I read in 2011 that most affected me is one I would have read the year before,” she begins, “but its publishers could not reprint it fast enough.” She continues:
In content an elegy to her dead brother, Carson’s NOX is most strikingly an object: a strip of paper twenty-seven yards long, folded into a hundred accordion pages and neatly packed in a silver-grey box. Upon first unfolding it, you find a smudged reproduction of a poem Catullus wrote to his dead brother, in Latin, two thousand years ago. On the folds thereafter, you watch Carson prowl the meanings of each word of the poem — which works as a table of contents — and through them, she prowls the ghost of her brother, who left traces as fleet as oar-strokes in the sea. This she does with torn and pasted dictionary entries, drawings, photos, transcriptions of dialogue, scraps of poems, letters, stamps… making NOX both an intellectual scrapbook and a visual excursion into the idea of translation itself: the translation of words, and the translation of a living body into death and onward, into art.
She praises the physical experience of reading the book (“you handle the folds, opening one winged pair at a time or in quick, slinky unfurlings”) and the way it feels so modern and so ancient at the same time, concluding:
… because it looks back thousands of years and finds blood still quick in the oldest flesh of narrative, NOX has made me renew my vows to this nervy act of reading and writing: the barking web of image and word.