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This report is taken from PN Review 242, Volume 44 Number 6, July - August 2018.

on Anne Carson

Anne Carson
2018 Clark Lectures
Jei Degenhardt
Each year Trinity College, Cambridge, hosts the Clark Lectures, where a scholar, poet and/or author visits to give several talks on ‘literature in English, broadly conceived’. This March, the Canadian classicist and poet Anne Carson made use of this broad conception to give three lectures – one on ‘Stillness’; one on ‘Corners’; and a final one on ‘Chairs’, which featured a dance. These lectures themselves range from topics as broad and narrow as architecture, Greek tragedy, her father’s dementia, US detention centres and Nikola Tesla’s pet pigeon.

By the time the audience are looking at Victorian pornography on the projector screen we might wonder how we got to this point. Carson’s writing style is much the same as her lectures, the demonstration of a trademark skill in unearthing connections between things of seemingly great distance to each other, both temporally and generically – striking together figures such as Gertrude Stein and the sixth-century BC poet Stesichorus so as to create, in her words, ‘sparks’. But Carson is honest about the thought processes behind her brilliant and often arbitrary selection of subjects. When I asked her what made her choose her subjects for ‘Corners’ – which included Homer, Harold Pinter, Gaston Bachelard and the work of Gordon Matta-Clark in the 1970s – she said they were simply the books she happened to have on her desk at the time. She admitted that she hadn’t even read Pinter before writing the lecture, despite seeming to impart such erudite knowledge of the playwright. She wasn’t afraid, either, ...

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