Nox

Stephen Burt writes:

‘My brother ran away in 1978, rather than go to jail,’ one section of Nox begins. ‘He wandered in Europe and India … He wrote only one letter, to my mother, that winter the girl died.’ That section appears again, interrupted by handwriting, presumably from Michael’s letter. It then appears a third time, bisected by one of the paper’s folds. Part of that text (‘My brother ran away …’) then shows up for a fourth time after the next fold, where half of it disappears off the edge (‘sent us postcards o’, ‘It is irremedi’). Through this and many other visual devices, the text in Nox disintegrates to be replaced by images – stamps, photographs – or, as in If Not, Winter, by a blank or nearly blank page. When text does appear we may find it striking or shocking (‘Like wind in your hair she had epilepsy her life was hell’), but we may also find ourselves looking, not listening. ‘Like wind …’ appears in squat, bold sans serif, all caps; the brief essays take thin sans-serif Roman, while lyrical monostichs (‘He who has tears let him’) appear in more conventional, serif book font, though in italics. Michael’s words appear in bold, with each sentence given its own line: ‘Danes are hardworking./I am painting the flat.’ Carson, too, is ‘painting the flat’, making figurative the literal – or showily refusing to do so. With its insistence on the visual, the material, the tactile, the circumstantial, on everything and anything but its mere words, Nox thus becomes a book, or an anti-book, about the futility of language in the face of death.

(LRB 14 July 2011)

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