chapter  3
36 Pages

Hero versus Monster: Post-epic Masculinity in Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red

Even within a group of texts that are as divergent and diverse as the verse-novels on which this study focuses, Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red is markedly anomalous. The complications of form, genre, myth and the processes of translation which Carson undertakes in her work confound the easy categorization of the text; although it is, misleadingly, identified as ‘A Novel in Verse’ by the front cover. Autobiography of Red is post-epic as it rewrites the mythical narrative of Hercules’s tenth labour in which he slaughters the winged monster Geryon and steals his red cattle. Split into various sections that provide a commentary on the legends that surround the myth, and Carson’s own translations of the fragments of the original poems by Stesiochorous, the main body of Autobiography of Red is concerned with placing the myth within a recognizably twentieth-century context and reconfiguring the relationship between Geryon and Hercules (here, Herakles) as a love story between two teenage boys. Thus, in Carson’s text, the monstrous Geryon takes on the role of the epic hero and Herakles is his petulant and feckless love interest. This tongue-in-cheek reversal of the original myth provides a space for Carson to explore notions of monstrosity, and to use the centralized figure of Geryon as a metaphor for debates about social and cultural difference. As such, Carson’s monster draws attention to the physically and ontologically problematic binary of the human and the inhuman, social, cultural and sexual difference, the borders between the mythical and the real, as well as engaging in a multiplicity of other theoretical discourses including feminism, psychoanalysis and notions of Canadian postnational and transnational identity. Nevertheless, there are manifold ways in which the term postcolonial is problematic to Carson’s work; for instance, it is a text in which national identities are almost always unclear, undefined and without political commitment. These leanings towards an apparently uncommitted postmodernist stance also complicate its relationship to traditional formulations of postcolonial literature, and even to more recent texts which are based in a Western context yet complicate straightforward reading of its canonical literature – as I argue that each of the post-epic texts do. Therefore, in Autobiography of Red there is a reinforced sense of literary and conceptual awkwardness that is all pervasive.