Department Colloquium: Laura Jansen (University of Bristol) “The Chemical Poetics of Anne Carson’s Euripides”

Thursday, April 6, 2023 - 4:45pm to 6:15pm

402 Cohen Hall, 249 South 36th St.

*4:15-4:45 pm: Coffee and cookies in Cohen Hall 2nd Floor Lounge. All are welcome

Speaker: Laura Jansen, Associate Professor (Reader) in Classics & Comparative Literature and Research Fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies, Harvard at Washington DC

Title: “The Chemical Poetics of Anne Carson’s Euripides”

Abstract: Anne Carson’s latest engagement with Euripides in H of H Playbook (2021) is amongst her boldest. In this translation-collage, Euripides’ Heracles is H of H, a mysterious “two-part man,” a mythic hero who wears an Osh-Kosh overall and drives a Corvette. Anachronisms abound in Carson’s unpaginated translation, which includes her artwork, dramatic use of colour, and cut-out and pasted scripts. The playbook also introduces atmospheric and catastrophic environments: storms, ice-breaks, volcanic eruptions, and nuclear explosions that give an electrifying edge throughout. One effect of this treatment is a tendency to stage the “combustion of thought,” not just for the dramatic narrative but also for the audience. Indeed, there is a “chemical” aspect to Carson’s strategy. At times, this emerges in the combustible effects of the story’s central dilemmas. At others, it stages the complex attraction between the playbook’s feel and the reader’s ignited curiosity. This lecture explores this motif in the smouldering chemistry of the playbook’s covers, a set of vibrations and shocks as it unfolds, snaps, blasts, and erupts at turning points. Carson’s adaptation seems to ignite one’s reading, split the mind, make it tremble, and even, at times, nearly explode. “[The] combustible mixture of realism and extremism [of Euripides’ plays] fascinated audiences ... [His] plays were shockers,” states the blurb to Grief Lessons. Something similar occurs with Carson. There is a chemical spirit in her artistry that can be detected across her oeuvre – a tendency to combust the reader’s mind in ways that become a philosophy for re-reading Euripides, as well as Carson’s own sense of tragic modernity.