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Classicist and poet, Anne Carson, has created a playful-but-tragic, present-tense, postmodern fable of obsessive love in her retelling of Stesichoros' "Geryoneis."
For those unfamiliar with the classics, Stesichoros was a Sicilian Greek of the early classical era. Although little of his poetry has survived, we do know it was famous for both its extreme sweetness and its grandeur.
In Carson's modern version of the Geryon myth, Herakles doesn't murder Geryon and steal his magic red cattle; he steals his heart instead. And in Carson's version, the theft of the heart may be quite a bit worse than outright murder, for, rather than dying outright, Geryon dies a little each day and his suffering is thus prolonged and made all the more difficult to endure.
Since this is a present-tense, postmodern tale, Geryon doesn't, however, suffer in silence. He attempts, instead, as a young school boy (though still red and still winged--he presents his teacher with the myth of Geryon as his own autobiography), to create a new world and a new life for himself through his camera lens and through the redemptive qualities of his art. In this way, Geryon's demons are transformed through eroticism and become, if not something of beauty, then something that is, at least, worthwhile.
Although this prose/poetry work is witty and playful, Carson's Geryon is still quite sad. Herakles is so definitely male and he loves Geryon in a stereotypically male manner, i.e., without really knowing the object of his love. Herakles seems out to have a good time and that is that. Although Geryon is red to his core, Herakles knows him so little that he even dreams of him in yellow. This upsets Geryon to the point of torment, who thinks, "Even in dreams he doesn't know me at all."
One of the most interesting sections of this work occurs when Geryon, after some years, runs into Herakles (and his Peruvian lover, Ancash) in Buenos Aires. Herakles, Geryon and Ancash form a triangle that becomes a source of violence before it becomes a source of healing. Most interestingly, the village visited by this trio is a village of volcano-survivors who look upon Geryon and his red wings as godlike. But what I liked most about this section was Carson's amazing point and counterpoint. Her language is often profound, the language only the most poetic can write, yet in this section, especially, she juxtaposes that poeticism against the bizarre: a tango singer who just happens to be a psychoanalyst; a guerilla battle fought in the eye of a roast pig; and a surrealistic night flight over the peaks of the Andes with the passengers clutching toothbrushes and Herakles making love to Geryon under a blanket. Wow. Talk about creative.
Carson pushes the medium of poetry beyond its conventional bounds and creates a profound meditation of loss, of rage, of sadness, of melancholy, of redemption...all seen through the camera lens of Geryon...and Eros. She filters love through photography, through sexual awakening, through volcanoes, through Emily Dickinsin and she does so in language that is tender, musical, funny, melancholy, witty, sensuous, poignant and downright brilliant.
Is our beloved worth the pain? This is the question Carson seems to be asking in "Autobiography of Red." The answer might well be: Only if one has wings.