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Decreation: Poetry, Essays, Opera

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"One of the most interesting gatherings of material that any poet has published within living memory." -- The Economist

Simone Weil described “decreation” as “undoing the creature in us” -- an undoing of self. In her first collection in five years, Anne Carson explores this idea with characteristic brilliance and a tantalizing range of reference, moving from Aphrodite to Antonioni, Demosthenes to Annie Dillard, Telemachos to Trotsky, and writing in forms as varied as opera libretto, screenplay, poem, oratorio, essay, shot list, and rapture. As she makes her way through these forms she slowly dismantles them, and in doing so seeks to move through the self, to its undoing.

"Cool, resolute, smart, and lovely.... Carson has emerged in the last two decades as a kind of prophet of the unknowable." -- The Village Voice 

245 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2005

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About the author

Anne Carson

84 books3,812 followers
Anne Carson is a Canadian poet, essayist, translator and professor of Classics. Carson lived in Montreal for several years and taught at McGill University, the University of Michigan, and at Princeton University from 1980 to 1987. She was a 1998 Guggenheim Fellow, and in 2000 she was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship. She has also won a Lannan Literary Award.

Carson (with background in classical languages, comparative literature, anthropology, history, and commercial art) blends ideas and themes from many fields in her writing. She frequently references, modernizes, and translates Ancient Greek literature. She has published eighteen books as of 2013, all of which blend the forms of poetry, essay, prose, criticism, translation, dramatic dialogue, fiction, and non-fiction. She is an internationally acclaimed writer. Her books include Antigonick, Nox, Decreation, The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry; Economy of the Unlost; Autobiography of Red, shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the T.S. Eliot Prize, Plainwater: Essays and Poetry, and Glass, Irony and God, shortlisted for the Forward Prize. Carson is also a classics scholar, the translator of If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, and the author of Eros the Bittersweet. Her awards and honors include the Lannan Award, the Pushcart Prize, the Griffin Trust Award for Excellence in Poetry, a Guggenheim fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship. Her latest book, Red Doc>, was shortlisted for the 2013 T.S. Elliot Prize.

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5 stars
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711 (38%)
3 stars
312 (16%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 187 reviews
Profile Image for Szplug.
467 reviews1,257 followers
April 18, 2012

I don't quite get all of this.

A mother's heavy love   cripplingly cold   wombed moon.
Selenian slices of operatic allure       l   i   n   e   d    volleys.
             Probing Longinus' Dream for Weil's God
                          Who fell asleep whilst her passion    S a  p  p  h   i   c
             feasted unto surcease.                            s     t    a   r    v    i   n  g.

     Don't fully understand every significance.

     This aureately-adept, inwardly-tunneling wordplay
in all of its crystalline loveliness
                                      and Penrosian falling away upward.

But I'll be damned if I don't find it  f  a  s  c  i  n  a t i n g.

A slinky tonic for these
Profile Image for Barnaby Thieme.
526 reviews242 followers
May 2, 2019
Carson has such a prodigious command of style and form that one is tempted to overlook the lack of passion. After initial enthusiasm I increasingly feel oppressed by this claustrophobic book, which evokes an apophatic language of transcendence to articulate what is ultimately a human failing -- her failure to make contact with her own animal nature.

The intellect is depicted again and again as a point of departure, but it leads only to alienation. Humans pass through this book like the shades of the Odyssey who generate speech but not warmth. Sexuality estranges, but never unites.

It's really a rather dismal view of life, and one that does not impress me. It strikes me as the rarefied ennui of an intellectual who spends far too much time in the company of books, and who would rather read of the rage of Achilles than stake her own heart in the bungled human comedy. I don't make this kind of statement lightly, but I do actually believe she should retire from teaching and go live a little.

Incidentally, Carson is the greatest translator of Sappho that one can imagine, and in matters of elegant expression she lacks nothing.
Profile Image for Abby.
1,449 reviews178 followers
January 19, 2020
“For when the ecstatic is asked the question, What is that love dares the self to do? she will answer: Love dares the self to leave itself behind, to enter into poverty.

Bold statement: Anne Carson is the most thrilling, innovative, and brilliant writer working today. This book is an absolute gem, breathlessly ranging from poetry to essays to criticism to opera to oratorio. I have read most of her books, and this is one of my favorites. Carson is curious and brave; she does whatever she likes. I admire her so deeply.
Profile Image for Mariano Hortal.
746 reviews187 followers
July 4, 2016
Este libro, mezcla de poesía y ensayo es una absoluta maravilla. Complejo, poético, clarificador por momentos. Decreación sería la respuesta femenina a la deconstrucción si tuviera que definirlo de alguna manera. Dejarse sumergir en la poética de Carson es entrar en un universo literario donde tu cabeza solo puede explotar. Derruir las formas de los géneros para encontrar a otra persona, la persona decreada
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,492 reviews378 followers
March 27, 2023
Decreation: a kind of undoing, something Carson does well. An undoing of our expectations, form, ways of being, ways of looking at things. A necessary precursor and companion to the act of creation, separate yet bound to it. Carson doesn't fit into neat categories and this book is a prime example of that--essays, poems (and the two forms often overlap), even opera.

Never a quick read, I found this book particularly dense: even with close reading over several months, I know I didn't grasp all (maybe not even much) of it and yet I rate reading it as a fulfilling experience that forced me to think--and feel--deeply.

I particularly liked (partly because it is an area of particular interest to me) the title essay "Decreation" ("in 3 parts"--which becomes 4, a kind of high level joke) about three women: Sappho, Marguerite Porete (a medieval woman who wrote about God and ecstatic experience and was burned at the stake for it when she would not withdraw her book or her views) and Simone Weil (the 20th century brilliant philosopher and, although she did not become Catholic, a mystic attached to Catholic experience and heritage. Carson explicates and releases from the lives and writings of these women both the attempts at articulating spiritual experience along with the impossibility of doing so.

I do not have the skill or clarity of understanding to discuss these essays and poems (a wonderful one about the director Antonioni "visiting the asylum") or how the open up, bring more light to who we are as women and writers and spiritual beings. Despite that, and as always for me with Carson, the tantalizing tastes of meaning, the beauty of the language and imagery, the scraps I can access, are enough to sustain me through (what is for me) the hard work of reading her. And her work continues to resonate in me long after I've closed the book.
Profile Image for Tra-Kay.
254 reviews103 followers
August 17, 2014
I have never read anything remotely like this before.

For example:

An Opera in Three Parts
Love's Forgery

Cast: Hephaistos: lame god of the forge and husband of Aphrodite
Aphrodite: goddess of love and wife of Hephaistos
Ares: god of war and lover of Aphrodite
Volcano Chorus: 7 female robots built by Hephaistos to help him at the forge"

This collection melds beauty, mystery, philosophy, psychology, ridiculousness, wit, hilarity, the sublime, love, and more in darkness and almost random-seeming structure. Make no mistake, this is no light reading -- unless of course you want it to be, because it will bend for you like that. But if you want food for thought, it's "FarNear".
Profile Image for Lauren.
127 reviews12 followers
May 7, 2023
"Decreation is an undoing of the creature in us--that creature enclosed in self and defined by self. But to undo self one must move through self, to the very inside of it's definition. We have nowhere else to start."

I came to accept a long time ago that I will never fully grasp the language that is Anne Carson. Her work takes time, some ideas I can hold onto, some I have to sit with, some I have to let pass. But I am still always thoroughly affected by the way her mind works, and the way she translates her thoughts into words. It is so wholly unique and otherworldly, the way she constructs sentences, her word choice, a pause, the space left on the page. Even when her writing is like nothing I've ever read before, even when the emotion it evokes is indescribable, it still creates something familiar, like a foggy childhood memory that lingers.

Particularly enjoyed the essay on Sappho, Marguerite Porete and Simone Weil, the idea of decreation, of undoing the self and trying to articulate this spiritual experience with God, the impossibility of doing so, and the paradox created when attempting to do so. Also really enjoyed the Opera in Three Parts, especially Love's Forgery. Felt very tongue in cheek.
Profile Image for Zoë Wells.
5 reviews
July 24, 2023
guys I'm beginning to think Anne Carson likes the colour red
Profile Image for Pewterbreath.
422 reviews18 followers
October 27, 2013
Whatever Anne Carson touches she makes entirely new---you feel like your reading something space aged (if space age wasn't a throwback term in itself).
However, how succesful this book is depends explicitly on which section you're reading at the time. It's a segmented creature, with each section loosely related to the others---for me Carson's confessional pieces are not as interesting as her academic excursions, however I know many people who only know how to read confessionally, so I can't blame her for putting it in as a doorway to her work.
She plays with not just intertextuality but intermediality, from movies to poetry to music and back again. Intertext does not really impress me in itself, it's really more of my roomate's digs---I don't know that knowing every other book referred to gives one an innate understanding of the text at hand--but anyway--that's just my private opinion.
Profile Image for Ross.
174 reviews11 followers
August 22, 2018
To be a writer is to construct a big, loud, shiny centre of self from which the writing is given voice and any claim to be intent on annihilating this self while still continuing to write and give voice to writing must involve the writer in some important acts of subterfuge or contradiction.

Decreation is another eclectic collection of poetry, essay, and music from the ever idiosyncratic Anne Carson. As per usual, she constructs a fantasia of historical reference, etymology, literary criticism, and artistic expression. Of particular note is the namesake essay, "Decreation: How Women Like Sappho, Marguerite Porete and Simone Weil Tell God." It contains much of what makes her such an interesting writer. "Sublimes" inspired me to watch every Antonioni film starring Monica Vitti, so there's an added bonus to picking this book up.
Profile Image for Gabriel.
38 reviews
October 29, 2019
Este fue un gran libro.
consiste en una antología, pero dada la versatilidad de Carson en su escritura, eso apenas se nota.
hay poesía, ensayo, fotografía (qué) con un poema a modo de epígrafe, y teatro.
los temas son variados, aunque siempre trata autores canónicos.
Safo, Homero, Beckett, Simone Weil.
La libertad de Carson es tal que no termina los ensayos con una conclusión, sino con un poema. El poema es la conclusión, así como el poema es el punto más álgido de una novela.

La edición es de Vaso Roto, probablemente una de las editoriales más comprometidas actualmente, con un vasto y selecto catálogo de poesía, en ediciones siempre bilingues, siempre cuidadas.
La traducción es de Jeannette Clariond, que tiene publicado otros textos en la editorial y ha hecho así mismo otras traducciones. Su traducción aquí no es menos que impecable.
Profile Image for Rebecca.
73 reviews91 followers
November 14, 2014
It's all so good, but some lyric poems just really sing. The essay on sleep and the title essay kill it. The genres are all wild n great
Profile Image for Vala.
9 reviews5 followers
February 14, 2022
bara svo þið vitið þá myndi ég alltaf gefa Anne Carson 6/5 stjörnum ef ég gæti
Profile Image for Quiver.
992 reviews1,335 followers
December 19, 2019
Perhaps it is a matter of reader phase, perhaps it is a matter of Carson's authorial phase, but this book did not sit well with me.

I have so far read four books by Carson that have placed her in the echelon of my most-loved authors: 'Autobiography of Red' (1998), its sequel 'Red Doc>' (2013), and 'The Beauty of the Husband' (2001), all three of which have redefined, or indeed straight up defined, my notion of a verse novel; and the essay 'Eros the Bittersweet' (1986), which introduced me to the important triangle: lover, beloved, and eros.

'Plain water' (1995) and 'Decreation' (2005), with a few exceptions (essays in the latter), both feel much weaker, more random, and way too loose. I was most likely lacking sympathy for a seemingly, but somehow rough feminist drive in 'Plain Water', as I was lacking the literary references to appreciate some of the more esoteric frameworks Carson employs in 'Decreation'. A shame, really. I'll keep searching for (hoping for) a Carson book to match the other four.
Profile Image for Neha.
75 reviews
January 5, 2020
this part right at the end -- “When Sappho tells us that she is “all but dead,” when Marguerite Porete tells us she wants to become an “annihilated soul,” when Simone Weil tells us that “we participate in the creation of the world by decreating ourselves,” how are we to square these dark ideas with the brilliant self-assertiveness of the writerly project shared by all three of them, the project of telling the world the truth about God, love and reality? The answer is we can’t. It is no accident that Marguerite Porete calls her book a Mirror. To be a writer is to construct a big, loud, shiny centre of self from which the writing is given voice and any claim to be intent on annihilating this self while still continuing to write and give voice to writing must involve the writer in some important acts of subterfuge or contradiction.” (Carson, 171)
Profile Image for michal k-c.
558 reviews42 followers
July 23, 2022
could write something cryptic like “how can you eulogize eros” but instead i’ll just say it feels cool to read anne carson. it makes you feel like a cool guy
Profile Image for Ellen.
669 reviews6 followers
May 25, 2016
I'm on a journey to read everything Anne Carson has ever written, and it's really working out for me so far.

So it's a poetry/essay/documentary script/public performance art piece script collection, with many of the seemingly discrete categories woven together by theme or character or turn of phrase, and it's really lovely to see the pieces connect. (I don't think I got all of it, you know, and I'd love to see Anne Carson write an essay on Anne Carson, but that might get too meta-- anyway, even though I sometimes get lost in her arguments or poems (or both as the same thing) her use of language and ability to say something that seems strikingly true, or to draw out nibbling themes from other people and thinkers and connect them all together is just wonderful.)

So you get a bit of Sappho and a bit of Simone Weil, some of Marguerite Porete the nun/thinker/heretic who wrote about her marriage to God in these super sexual terms, and Virginia Woolf, and some more of the Greek and really just this wide net of thought, turned into [flag snapping] and words.

There's also quite a bit on jealousy

a favorite bit (about hunger and food):

looks like me
but it is not original with me."

which is connected by theme to this reminiscence on her own childhood:
"In this book the various flowers composing the crowns of the martyrs were so lusciously rendered in words and paint that I had to be restrained from eating the pages. It is interesting to speculate what taste I was expecting from those pages. But maybe the impulse to eat pages isn't about taste. Maybe it's about being placed at the crossing-point of a contradiction, which is a painful place to be and children in their natural wisdom will not consent to stay there, but mystics love it."

And Simone Weil: "Nothing more powerfully or more often reminds us of our physicality than food and the need to eat it. So she creates in her mind a dream of distance where food can be enjoyed perhaps from across the room merely by looking at it, where desire need not end in perishing, where the lover can stay, at the same time, near to and far from the object of her love"
Profile Image for Red.
463 reviews
September 6, 2017
in short decreation starts telling about the mother of anne carson who had recently died. so what comes is something like what her relation to her mother has ment to her (i suppose). the bigger part is then dealing with three woman from three parts of history namely saphoo, marie la porette and simone weil. giving them a place for introduction and even admiration. in the core of this book lies a small abstract play by samuel becket. also monica vitti is introduced in relation to red dessert by antonioni, an italian filmer. in the last section carson is telling the three woman are fake and they will leave you hungry ever after. in the mid section clues can be found. kissing is like an eclips that is not complete marrying like full eclips of he sun. so the three ladies in the book stand for kissing i quess. and marrying stands for the advise carsons mother gave her once possibly.

this book is more like a project, in fact the beginning of a project. fragmentary like 'waste land' by t.s. eliot. bits and pieces.
the glass essay can be seen as a forerunner of this book. the relation with the mother becomes clear.
yes read them both.
Profile Image for Seth.
9 reviews46 followers
September 2, 2007
Amazing intellectual breadth. Carson is great in every genre, and they're all found here: screenplay, opera, lyric, you name it. Also included are a few illuminating critical essays, some of which are concluded not with scholarly summations but with lyric poems that restate and take flight from the contents of the essays they tie up. The books is particularly great because if you get bored with one piece, wait a few pages and you'll not only be reading another section, but a whole different literary genre. Carson demonstrates--as suspected--that she is not only a talented literary creator, but also an incisive critical voice.
Profile Image for Neha.
217 reviews16 followers
May 28, 2018
Did I understand everything in this collection? No. Does that matter at all? No.

I read this fairly quickly, without taking time to read back over parts I didn’t understand. I was able to do that seamlessly; it’s that kind of collection. It will give you something amazing regardless of how you read it. It is at once beautiful and violent, cold and passionate. I found myself crying more than once while reading. Why? I couldn’t say. I can’t say.

I’ve never read a collection like this: essays, poetry, screenplay, opera. This may be the only, but if there are others like it, I’m glad this was the first I read.

To sum up.
dude this is so beautiful !!
Profile Image for Heidi Mckye.
28 reviews5 followers
May 29, 2008
So here is the thing about Anne Carson: She's my hero. And not just because she's a serious academic in a way that I wish I was or she can pull the strangest and most beautiful associations together. It isn't that she's a Canadian or that she sometimes rides the same train line between Montreal and Toronto that I did throughout my childhood and adolescence. No. It's more than that, it is a deeper odder longing than that and it comes from somewhere inside of me, and has a great deal to do with the color red.
Profile Image for Keith Taylor.
Author 17 books65 followers
April 28, 2019
Another author who just can't be rated by the star system! Maybe this book isn't quite as engaging as some of her other books, but it is important for the whole picture that becomes Anne Carson. She is engaging Simone Weil and writing movingly about her ill mother. All of these things add up to the intellectual and emotional and, yes, spiritual journey of the author, one of the central ones of our time. Here's a little thing I wrote back in the day:

Profile Image for yarrow.
41 reviews
January 22, 2016
The variations of form make the book a little difficult at times, but the two major essays are wholly hypnotic and mindblowing. Her writing on sleep is almost enough to let you slip into an altered state, and the eponymous essay left me speechless. I also really enjoyed the poems entitled /Gnosticisms/ and found them to be really succinct articulations of immanence and clarity.
Profile Image for l.
1,670 reviews
April 30, 2019
The way I’ve been feeling about Carson recently is that some of it is very very good, some of it just seems good because it taps into particular interests, and some of it is very hollow.
Profile Image for Maria.
21 reviews
December 26, 2015
Mostly liked it because of the Decreation essay and the opera that followed
Profile Image for Fin.
145 reviews9 followers
November 3, 2022
Blurbs and reviews of this talk about the centrality of decreation to Carson's use of form: she "undoes form" as she "undoes the self", apparently. But is this really true? As she writes in the titular essay, the fact that she (and her influences Weil, Porete, Sappho) goes about decreating through writing, a miraculous and **very** self-centered act of creation, is surely a paradox?

I think this is Carson's central point here, and ties together the ideas of the sublime, the documentary, gnosticism etc that she moves through in this collection. Despite the impulse to resolve (into a bow or a dew take your pick), "the telling remains a wonder", like the existence and absence of God. Margeurite Porete claims she has nothing to tell once she has experienced God's love, and yet continues to tell. She opens her opera by proclaiming that He has "stripped me of myself" and closes it by proclaiming "He has need of me...for where else can God put God?" Perhaps this me is not necessarily her self, but it is surely something.

Carson closes with "a documentary" which concludes that "Facts lack...overtakelessness" (see Nox). Earlier in the book, she argues that the sublime is a documentary technique - a dependence on other evidence and a preference for the factual. She writes of the thrill of "making off with someone else's life or sentences" and treating them as an object ("objective"). But facts break out of these boundaries, they "spill" and they "foam", ultimately they are overtakeless. To use the idea of the sublime is to document something that ultimately can't be documented, or resolved. Is the self (or its removal) therefore sublime? Is that why we have to try to document its undocumentability? Idk come back to me
Profile Image for Matt.
506 reviews14 followers
May 26, 2017
This is an intense collection of poetry, essays, and other short pieces by Carson. The whole thing is powerful, but I was most struck by the essays and opera from which the title derives. It seemed to me that those pieces served as a tribute to the passion one can have for ideas, as well as a fascinating engagement with those ideas. The spiritual connection that Carson forges between her three thinkers and the idea of selflessness and void as a kind of love and a path to god was fascinating, but nothing I say here would be as eloquent as Carson.

The pairing of essays and poetry was great, especially where she discussed ideas that she then elucidated further in her poems. It gave the collection a glimpse at how exciting I imagine it must be to take one of Carson's classes.
Profile Image for Liza Pittard.
11 reviews4 followers
January 20, 2018
Some profoundly beautiful moments in this collection, as is to be expected for me from Anne Carson (hits me always in ways I can’t explain !!)

I admire the ambition of the form of a lot of the pieces (operas, screenplay for a documentary, etc), some sections were just too dense / also bizarre, nonsensical for me to follow
Profile Image for dorian lou.
163 reviews22 followers
May 5, 2022
i feel almost bad for giving this such a mid review but i think i just dont have enough catholic trauma to fully enjoy or understand it. like i can see why so many people adore this but it just doesn't hit for me
Displaying 1 - 30 of 187 reviews

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