Subjective Reality In Anne Carsons Autobiography Of Red Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red is a world of subjective reality. Carson explores the relationship between subject and object through a reworking of an original Greek myth. The original myth is of Herakles, who’s tenth labor was to kill Geryon, a red winged monster who lived on an island, and steal his cattle. Carson takes the insignificant character of Geryon and creates a story based on his life, as if set in modern times. Autobiography of Red enters a world of ambiguity, where all objects are challenged and made into subjects.
Geryon is the subject of Autobiography of Red. The title alone delineates the fact that Geryon writes this story about himself. It is his autobiography; he is both the author and the subject. In the original myth, Herakles was the subject, and Geryon was simply an object in Herakles’ story. Anne Carson molds the slightest references to Geryon in the original myth and forms a story for him, his own story. Geryon also becomes the author of his own story. Even before Geryon learns how to write, he begins his autobiography: “In this work Geryon set down all inside things / [.
. .] He coolly omitted all outside things.” (29). Geryon’s autobiography ignores the realities set by outside forces. The autobiography consists only of that which is a reality to Geryon. This is a subjective world, because everybody’s personal reality is different. It cannot be set and standardized like outside realities.
He begins this autobiography as a sculpture, as his mother tells a friend: “[Geryon’s] right here working on his autobiography / [. . .] it’s a sculpture he doesn’t know how to write yet” (35). On his sculpture, which is really a tomato, Geryon uses “some pieces of crispy paper he found in her [his mother’s] purse to use for hair / and was gluing these to the top of the tomato.” Geryon’s mother does not stop him, she merely suggests “Maybe next time you [Geryon] could / use a one-dollar bill instead of a ten for the hair” (35). Although Geryon is making a waste of a fairly significant amount of money, his mother does not stop him.
He creates his autobiography as he wants it and on his own terms. Geryon is not being objectified in his autobiography by being told how to create it. Geryon truly writes his own autobiography. Geryon is a subjective character. He is removed from the rest of the world and is therefore not subject to its reality. He is subject only to his own.
This is immediately apparent through the fact that he is red and has wings. Geryon is the only character in the novel who is physically different from the others. It is not a feasible idea to have a person who is red and has wings. This makes him a subjective character because he is unlike the rest and challenges the convention of the typical human character. Even the reality of a corridor is a completely different reality for Geryon: “Between Main Door and Kindergarten ran a corridor.
To Geryon it was / a hundred thousand miles / of thunder tunnels and indoor neon sky slammed open by giants.” (24). What is for most a simple corridor is extremely terrifying for Geryon. The objective reality of the corridor as merely a walkway between the main door and kindergarten becomes a subjective reality to Geryon when he perceives it was a frightful nightmare. This corridor is too difficult for Geryon to manage, and ultimately he finds his own way into kindergarten. He would “position himself in the bushes outside Kindergarten.
There he would stand / motionless/ until someone inside noticed and came out to show him the way.” (24-25). Geryon refuses to follow the objective route into the classroom. He finds his own way and creates his own subjective reality. As Geryon waits outside the windows, the “first snows of winter / floated down on his eyelashes and covered the branches around him and silenced / all trace of the world.” (25). Geryon exists in his own world.
The objective realities of the other world do not exist for him. Just as he is unable to gain access to kindergarten, Geryon is unable to exist in the world of objectivity. Geryon holds his own subjective reality. Autobiography of Red is a world which lacks convention. This is demonstrated by Carson’s writing style, which follows its own patterns and does not subscribe to any conventions of writing which are previously set.
The subtitle to Autobiography of Red states: “A novel in verse.” This is a first delineation of the lack of convention. Typically, novels are written in prose, and writing a novel in verse attacks this standard. Secondly, by writing the novel in verse, Carson can inject line spacing in random places just how she chooses, as well as ignore proper punctuation and structure. This further challenges convention by having no sense or coherence to the writing style. Autobiography of Red is a subjective work, because Carson does not subscribe to outside convention and forces to determine her novel.
She does not allow it to be objectified as a standard work of prose. Rather, it is a subjective work which stands alone. Another form in which Autobiography of Red attacks convention, is through it’s reworking of the original myth. The first section of the book entitled “Red Meat: Fragments of Stesichoros” contains the objective story of Geryon, which is the original Greek myth. Then the book moves on to challenge this objective reality and create its own story and its own reality. The portrayal of characters is significantly different in Anne Carson’s novel. In the original Greek myth, Geryon, the monster, was the antagonist.
Herakles, the legendary hero, was naturally the protagonist. Anne Carson reverses these roles and makes the monster the protagonist, and the legendary hero the antagonist. She makes the reader form sympathy with Geryon, while having distaste for Herakles. These attacks on convention bring the reader into this subjective world, while leaving the objective world behind. Beyond simply the writing style, the uncertainty of everything in Autobiography of Red is further carried through the subjectivity of the facts.
Before the narrative of the novel even begins and after you have encountered the subtitle “A Novel in Verse,” Appendix C introduces the reader to the incredible subjectivity of the book. It contains a whole series of facts determined by deductive reasoning, except for every fact is denied or refuted just as it is being stated. Fact One states: “Either Stesichoros was a blind man or he was not.” (18). Other facts read as such: “If Stesichoros was a blind man either his blindness was a temporary condition or it was permanent.” (18) and “If we call Helen up either she will sit with her glass of vermouth and let it ring or she will answer” (18), and finally ending with “If Stesichoros was a blind man either we will lie or if not not.” (18). Autobiography of Red is a subjective world, and reality is not defined. The novel creates its own reality, and refuses to subscribe to anyone else’s world.
One passage of Autobiography of Red stands out as being a representation of Geryon and the book as a whole. While Geryon is mesmerized by Herakles’ grandmother’s photograph of the volcano, they have the following exchange which concerns the concept of subject and object: “What if you took a fifteen-minute exposure of a man in jail, let’s say the lava / has just reached his window? / he asked. I think you are confusing subject and object, she said. / Very likely, said Geryon.” (52). There are many ways to read this ambiguous concept of subject and object concerning the man in the jail.
Geryon phrases his question so that the man in the jail is the object of the first part of the sentence, while the lava is the subject of the next phrase. In the first phrase, the picture is being taken of the man, while in the second the lava is moving in the window. However the man becomes the subject of this imaginary photograph. Just as Geryon writes his own autobiography and refuses to follow anybody’s set storyline, becoming the subject of his own myth, the man in the jail moves from an object and becomes the subject. The ending of the story is the final proof that Geryon has become the subject rather than the object of his own myth. In the original Greek myth, Herakles killed Geryon and stole his cattle.
In Autobiography of Red, Herakles does not kill Geryon. On the contrary, Geryon flies at the end of the novel. Geryon has chosen a different ending for himself than that which is already prescribed. Rather than losing his identity in death, Geryon finds it when he flies. He comes to terms with who he is.
Geryon’s flight can be seen as his final release from all outside objective realities. Geryon is now subject only to himself and his own reality from now on. When Geryon flies he has achieved true subjectivity. Geryon’s transposition from object to subject is portrayed in many ways throughout the novel. From the subjectivity of the facts, to the subjectivity of the novel itself, and ultimately to the subjectivity of Geryon himself, Anne Carson challenges objectifications and creates a world of subjectivity. Ultimately in Autobiography of Red, nothing is concrete and objective.
Everything is dependent on the person receiving the information. Reality exists only in the eye of the beholder. Mythology Essays.