Writing, Identity, & Queer Studies

In & Out, Either/Or, and Everything In Between

Language (or Distance)

The verse novel “Autobiography of Red” by Anne Carson I was especially struck by the way in which she uses different languages or rather how she lets Geryon use and understand different languages. There are interferences of German, Quechua, and Spanish during the time of Geryon’s travels.

As Geryon travels to Argentina and later to Peru it makes sense for the people around him to speak Spanish, as it is their native language. Ancash and his mother often use it to communicate with each other and Herakles also uses Spanish sporadically, often disrupting a previous conversation.

Quechua is only referred to once and Geryon inquires the meaning of Ancash’s name, which we never get to know. Spoiler alert: it means “blue” and thus introduces another color, but that is a whole other conversation.

The third language is German, which Geryon refers to when writing postcards back home. It is a language that is far away from the Spanish language and he feels alienated and insecure while using it, wondering if it was illegal to write in German and not Spanish. He mentions that he studied German philosophy in college which explains the highly stylized and old wording of the German sentences but it doesn’t explain why it feels so wrong to him to use it. I believe that he uses the language to express himself to people that mean a lot to him (his mother and professor) and that it makes him feel vulnerable, which is why he doesn’t want it to be discovered. When people use a language that you don’t understand it distances you and makes you a stranger to the conversation. I think the novel is very inventive in using different languages to portray (emotional) distance.

1 Comment

  1. I love the connection you’ve drawn between language and the feeling of interpersonal, emotional distance. It’s really interesting to think about how Geryon’s relationship with different languages both shapes his interactions with the speakers of those languages and comments on his fear of being outed, of being discovered and “in trouble”. Very cool!

Leave a Reply