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This report is taken from PN Review 223, Volume 41 Number 5, May - June 2015.

To the Lighthouse: Reflections on Anne Carson and Yves Bonnefoy Martyn Crucefix
Anne Carson’s lecture, ‘Stammering, Stops, Silence: On the Methods and Uses of Untranslation’ (Poetry Review, Winter 2013), was originally titled ‘Variations on the Right to Remain Silent’. Such muteness is also one of the driving forces behind Nox, her collage/memorial to her brother, and the riven, fragmentary nature of such verse is what she discusses. Carson sees poetry as an encounter between the as-­yet-­incomplete self and the provisional other, but it is perhaps temperament that makes her ‘catastrophic’ model of artistic response less appealing to me than Yves Bonnefoy’s flexuous, lyric dismantling of the rigidity of cliché and conceptual thought.

Carson is intrigued by moments when language ceases to perform what we consider its primary function. In the fifth book of The Odyssey, Hermes gives Odysseus the herb ‘MVLU’, a name Homer intends to be untranslatable since this sort of arcane knowledge belongs only to the gods. Homer ‘wants this word to fall silent’. Religion also plays a significant role in a second example in which Joan of Arc, under interrogation at her trial, refuses to employ any of the conventional tropes, images or narratives to explain the source of her inspiration. Carson praises Joan’s genius in terms of a ‘rage against cliché’, the latter being defined as the way we resort to something pre-­resolved, pre-shaped ‘because it’s easier than trying to make up something new’.

These examples are linked to Lily Briscoe in Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. Lily struggles to complete her painting, aware that her problem is to ‘get ...


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