“He came after Homer and before Gertrude Stein, a difficult interval for a poet,” (3) Anne Carson writes of Autobiography of Red’s supposed author, Stesichoros. In fact, what Carson’s book does innovatively is occupy that middle ground between tradition (Homer) and exploding tradition (Stein). Carson goes on to write of the Homeric epic, “being is stable and particularity is set fast in tradition.” Indeed, at least in Tender Buttons, tradition is what Stein sets out to wreck. Words are repeated until they have lost their meaning, the exact opposite of the stable being and set tradition established by Homer, whose “epithets are a fixed diction with which [he] fastens every substance in the world to its aptest attribute” (4). Carson describes this tradition as “the still surface” of a “code” (5), suggesting that Homeric tradition assigned words and objects specific connotative meanings (those same meanings that Stein set out to break in Tender Buttons).
Autobiography of Red differentiates itself from the styles of both of these poets, using synesthetic moments and anachronistic settings (combining the world of ancient Greek myth with modernity) to create a piece of writing that simultaneously draws from tradition and challenges tradition. Carson writes, “Stesichoros released being. All the substances in the world went floating up” (5), suggesting that, with the advent of “Stesichoros’s” style, suddenly words were free to take on new connotations. At the same time, Carson’s work does not obliterate tradition in the method of Stein. Instead, it draws from tradition in order to make something new, shifting what was already there.