Anne Carson plays with language, color, time, symbology, and gender a lot in Autobiography of Red, in the name of guiding the reader through Geryon’s mind and his telling of the story. Every bit of information espoused in the novel – whether through metatextual symbology (between the book and the ancient Greek legend), Geryon’s perception of colors (red, as himself, yellow, as he is seen, and blue, as Herakles is), themes of natural disasters and photography – allows the reader, in their mind, to embody the mind of Geryon and the strange, colorful way he interprets the world. The poetic prose writing style is a deviation from the modern genre, and yet also link to the past, to the ancient Greek stories of gods and monsters (esp. the translated tale of Geryon at the beginning of the book). Geryon’s love of photography as well offers an interesting relationship with time; the most chaotic photographs – those in motion, in progress, time-lapses – are the most disturbing to Geryon, and yet the ones he finds himself most drawn to. The relationship between red and Geryon (the bound wings, the seating for an audience, the volcano), and blue and Herakles (sex, desire, masculinity), is also worth noting. These juxtapositions create embodiments of the conception of queerness, and the use of time, in the context of these other themes, alludes to the timelessness of queerness, seeming to say, ‘we’ve always been here’.
The text, in itself, is inherently meta and uses its inventiveness to create a commentary on the juxtaposition of the monolithic norm and the personal, chaotic, fluid nature of reality. Each invention creates a link to the queer narrative and its relationship that acts both outside and within Herakles, blue— and the monolith.
A commentary on the use of the color red in Lisa Dordal’s poem, “I. Intersection”
Red not only provides a set tone for the poem, a filter through which to experience it, but also a catalyst for change within the story of the poem. In the beginning, the red of the spilled meat marks the transition to the next scene, and while it is a small transition, it parallels a much larger shift within the narrator’s mother. In the clarity provided by the red stoplight and the stillness and solitude of the intersection, there is a pivotal moment both between the narrator and the narrator’s mother and within the mother herself: a response to the question “Have you ever thought you might be…” (ln. 9), in defense, “It wasn’t an option” (ln. 13). For the narrator, the question is really, Are you like me? and the answer is a “…revelation carrying the whole sinewy weight of non-being.” (ln. 18-19). They recognize this exact feeling of hiding within and from themself that has consumed their mother for so long, and that once consumed them. They chose protection from the weight of being gay (a perceived respite), but in doing this hid away an intrinsic part of their being that became heavier with each denial of its existence. It is here, where the two are “looking straight” in the lucidity of the red stoplight, we are reminded of the first two lines of the poem. For the mother, the narrator’s question is a revelation. The death of the fridge, another catalyst, resembles the end of the mother’s hidden-self phase of life and spilling of the bright, contagious meat her choice and need to come out to her daughter.
“I didn’t only want Louise’s flesh, I wanted her bones, her blood, her tissues, the sinews that bound her together. I would have held her to me through time had stripped away the tones and textures of her skin. I could have held her for a thousand years until the skeleton itself rubbed away to dust. What are you that makes me feel thus? Who are you for whom time has no meaning?
In the heat of her hands I thought, This is the campfire that mocks the sun. This place will warm me, feed me, and care for me. I will hold on to this pulse against other rhythms. The world will come and go in the tide of a day but here is her hand with my future in its palm.” (p. 51).
Time and magnitude play a big part in this passage. The sun is a universal constant; it has lasted and will last forever, and a human life or a day or a campfire is nothing when compared to it. Likewise, the age or bodily wear from time presents no issue or worry for the narrator in this passage, for how much they feel for Louise. This passage describes the magnitude of the feeling the narrator feels for her; it is all-consuming, only measurable in astronomical proportions, or in the immeasurable length of time. And is it love? The narrator is still entirely confused by the feeling and its intensity.
This passage reinforces the notion that this book is not only about kinds of love, but it is also about bodies. The narrator feels love viscerally and physically and only finds similarity in the astronomical, not-easily-grasped concepts of time or distance or scale. The narrator’s relationship with love, which is one of confusion and yet one that they are connected to intrinsically and completely, reflects the portrayal of bodies in the novel, and ultimately the narrator’s relationship with gender- and the concept of gender itself. The narrator’s gender is never truly revealed (and so, in our minds, neither is their body), and their love is never truly understood. I think the author is saying that a person’s relationship to their gender is connected to their relationship with bodies and that for the narrator, it’s as unknowable and complete as love.