5 Books #1/2: Anne Carson’s “Nox” and Tan Lin’s “Seven Controlled Vocabularies . . . ”

In a typically ill-conceived effort to fit in, I decided to read 5 books of poetry that everyone was talking about last year. I’m going to talk about the first two in real time with revisions also in real time, just a different real time (later).

One of them was Nox by Anne Carson, which turned out to be wonderful but infuriating and tedious. Carson makes these beautiful shapes by cutting up her own photo albums, but then she craps all over them with things that are none of our business or lecture notes from her Latin class. I love Anne Carson and I love this book but neither one is even slightly tolerable actually.

A second book I read is Seven Controlled Vocabularies and Obituary 2004. The Joy of Cooking by Tan Lin. Tan Lin is not Tao Lin, but in the world where more people are as smart as Tan Lin, more people hate him instead of Tao. This book has (fake?) CIP data on its front cover, a library call number on the back, and like three conflicting title pages. Reading it is like watching someone slowly remove their own organs as performance art while narrating the procedure, except instead of someone it’s a book and the narration keeps talking about Chloë Sevigny (sp) and disco. This book is sort of like what Nox would be if it had been written as a book of poetry.

Later (after this post), I read 3 more books. I’ll tell you about them after that happens.

Also later (before this post) I actually finished Seven Controlled Vocabularies... and had the following additional thoughts:

The entire book is like an instantiation of Derrida’s il n’y a pas de hors-texte (sp), especially if you realize that in the original French hors-texte is a pun: literally it translates as “outside-text,” but actually it means the front matter of a book. Actually it means inset plates, which might have been even better if I knew it yet, since Seven Controlled Vocabularies... is full of plates or blank pages labeled as plates. In Seven Controlled Vocabularies..., the normally transparent architecture of the hors-texte is scrambled and shuffled into the text proper, so that even a list of permissions has to be regarded as part of the poem. (It’s like he’s found the found poetry inside the book itself.)

But the book pursues Derrida’s adage in its other sense, too, incorporating snatches of (fake?) autobiography and discourses on the nature of love into its garbled aesthetic arguments, so that love and life become just two more aesthetic forms in the big constellation of TV/shopping/poetry/film/art/architecture/cooking “The activity of lovemaking, like film or reading, should function in the same way as a hotel room, fringe area, e-mail address, train ticket, parking garage, or light manufacturing building converted into luxury condo or nightclub.”

It’s necessary to imagine the whole book taking place in the interior of a Wal-Mart or contemporary art gallery, and to imagine those 2 spaces as indistinguishable, like the supermarket in the video for “Fake Plastic Trees.”