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.
“I did not even consider leaving her room dressed as I was. I was endowed with a sense of propriety, depended on it, for that matter, for the most basic level of survival. I changed back into my trousers and white-shirt and rubbed my cheeks and lips clean. I stuffed the dress and stockings behind the dresser, deciding to keep if not to wear it again, at least for the memory of some power it seemed to have imparted. It had been a day and evening to treasure. I had never felt so extremely ordinary, and I quite loved it.” (78).
Tyler alludes to his non-heteronormative sexuality and non-conforming gender identity in this passage and in several other times throughout the novel. The first time these identities intersect is when he tries on the dress; he enjoys the power wearing the dress gives him. Dressing in traditionally feminine clothing gives him the opportunity to express parts of his self that he has previously been unable to do. He’s never experienced what it’s like to dress as a woman and finds “something delicious about such confinement.” (77) because he has confined this part of his identity for so long. He feels “extremely ordinary” and “love[s] it”. (78) He likes feeling like a woman, but we don’t know yet if he wants to be one or simply enjoys expressing himself as more feminine than masculine. He simply says he identifies as something “in-between, unnamed” (71) and that he hasn’t determined all of the facets of his identity yet. If he had the correct language to speak about his sexuality and gender identity he might be able to define it for himself but he may or may not tell anyone else how he feels. He has not articulated or pondered his desire for Otoh or wearing a dress because he lacks the language to do so.
If Tyler could articulate clearly his identity, he would probably only reveal it a few people. Currently, his closest (and perhaps only) friends are Mala Ramchandin and Otoh Mohanty. He feels some sort of attraction to Otoh and a connection to Mala so it is likely that if he came out to anyone, it would be his two friends. He is speechless when Mala tells him he wants to wear the dress and is at first fearful that she may have figured out his secret. When he realizes she not only doesn’t care if he doesn’t identify as cisgender and/or heterosexual but also wants him to feel happy and wear the dress, he feels a sense of relief and freedom.