Nox by Anne Carson
by Jake McPherson
I bought Anne Carson’s newest book the other day. She is one of two authors alive today whose works I will buy at the drop of a hat. (The other is Thomas Pynchon.) It’s called Nox, and it is a beautiful piece of literature. Physically, it is a beautiful book.
It’s more of a box than a book exactly. The box opens like a book, but the pages come out in accordion-like fashion as one long strip. It is one piece of long paper. At first, it’s difficult to decide how to handle these odd pages. I assumed the thing was fastened into the bottom of the box-book somehow, so I carefully held it in my lap and gently turned the pieces over revealing one page at a time the words.
Then came a section that ran on for several folds in the manuscript and made me look at the thing in a whole new light. I could lift out the front part and stretch the words out over several pages and take in a larger section than is normally afforded to the reader with the average book.
Finally, came the realization that the back of the manuscript was free of the bottom of the box-book. I could lift it entirely from its case. So, I did. I spread it out before me on the bed where I sat reading and took in the beauty of the lovely words that lay before me.
Nox is the Latin word for night, and the manuscript is a long, loving translation of Catullus 101. The pages alternate between dissertive translations of the poem word by painstaking word and fragments of letters from Ms. Carson’s deceased brother and her thoughts on their life and relationship. The manuscript is a facsimile of something she created for herself in memory of her brother.
There are old photographs and copies of handwritten letters. I should say that there are copies of torn pieces of letters from her brother. We are left wondering whether we have all to go by to decide what we should think.
But isn’t that life? Aren’t we in a constant state of wondering whether we have all the information we need to think?
The physical manuscript itself calls out to me and begs to be handled. It implores me to stretch it across the floor to try to piece it together.
Beautiful. Simply beautiful.
This looks absolutely beautiful and unusual! I’ve never read anything by Anne Carson – would this be a good place to start?
It’s an exquisite book. However, I suggest you start with Eros the Bittersweet.