Last week, Geegaw and I attended Anne Carson's reading/performance of "Cassandra Float Can" and "Possessive Used As Drink (Me)" at the 92nd St Y. Geegaw paid far better attention than I did, so I'll point you to her summary of both performances.
Cassandra Float Can
"a sensation of veils flying up...call this sensation Cassandra"
"not translatable but not meaningless"
This was a hypnotic and distracting performance. While Anne Carson spoke in soothing tones, several individuals dressed in black walked along the stage and through the aisles carrying large prints of architectural images. Some of these images were also projected on a large screen. Carson spoke about the relation between Cassandra and translation. According to Greek mythology, Cassandra was the daughter of the Trojan King Priam and was cursed with a gift of prophecy that no one would believe. After the Trojan War, she was taken by Agamemnon and, in one of the most incredible scenes in literature (which I've only read in English), she stands at the threshold of his home, foresees what awaits her inside, and cries out to the spectators "Otototoi popoi da Opollon Opollon." Carson's entire performance hinges on this one phrase. The on line Ancient Greek lexicon that I consulted interprets "otototoi" as a cry of dismay, alarm, awe. Its translation varies. But it's also worth speculating, as Carson and other scholars do, if it is even Greek in origin. What language is Cassandra speaking at this moment? Is she simply emitting sounds of dread or speaking in another tongue? Either way, how does one translate this cry? Is there even anything to translate? The skepticism of the chorus provokes a fascinating exchange on language and translation:
CASSANDRA: I tell you you'll see Agamemnon dead.
CHORUS MEMBER: Poor girl, calm yourself. Tone down those words.
CASSANDRA: No—no one can heal what my words prophesy.
CHORUS: Not if they're true. But may the gods forbid!
CASSANDRA: While you pray here, others move in to kill.
CHORUS LEADER: What man is going to commit such crimes?
CASSANDRA: What man? You've completely missed the point.
You've failed to understand my prophecies.
CHORUS LEADER: Yes I have—
I don't see who has means to do it.
CASSANDRA: Yet I can speak Greek well enough.
CHORUS LEADER: So does the oracle at Delphi,
but understanding what it says is hard.
(translation by Ian Johnston)
We learn later in the performance that many of these circulating images are part of what remains of Gordon Matta-Clark's "building cuts," large scale art works that often consisted of cutting holes and creating fissures in abandoned buildings or structures slated for demolition. It seems that inevitable destruction is the connection between Matta-Clark's buildings and Cassandra's threshold. Cassandra stands before Agamemnon's home and envisions its ruin. It's completely unavoidable. Her speeches to the chorus before she enters the house are stunning in their lyrical power but they are useless. Cassandra could have stepped inside without a word but, instead, she gives prophecy another try, though she's fully aware that she won't be understood. She's casting a light that no one will see until it's over. Like the light in those remaining, surviving images of Matta-Clark's "cuts."
Possessive Used As Drink (Me): a lecture in the form of 15 sonnets
"Poet Anne Carson proves that even the lowly subject of pronouns can be delicious." (via Play Gallery)
- Triple Sonnet of the Plush Pony: Part I; Part II; Part III
- Sonnet Isolate
- Sonnet of Addressing Gertrude Stein
- Sonnet of Addressing God
- Merce Sonnet
- Sonnet of Addressing Oscar Wilde
- Deictic Quiz Sonnet: Parts I through VI
- Drop't Sonnet
- Sonnet of the Pronoun Event
- Sonnet of Exemplary Sentences from the Chapter Pertaining to the Nature of Pronouns in Émile Benveniste's Problems in General Linguistics (Paris 1966)
- Reticent Sonnet
- Sonnet of "We Tried Doing It Without The Cue Sheet But Couldn't Remember What Color Referred To What Movement And What Had Been Done And What Was Left To Do"
- Sonnet of the English-Made Cabinet with Drawers (in prose)
- Crowning Sonnet (Fashioned from the Foregoing 14 by Chance Operations)
I've included links to video excerpts of this performance.