A Critique of Eros the Bittersweet by Thalia Rose

Eros the Bittersweet is a lyrical-esssayist novel by Anne Carson, published in 1986. It was included in the Princeton University Press. A fragment of Sappho opens the book: “Eros once again limb-loosener whirls me / sweetbitter, impossible to fight off, creature stealing up.” The epilogue is placed appropriately to the rest of the content, as this poetry fragment is essential to the thesis of Eros the Bittersweet. The description ‘sweetbitter’ is translated from ‘glukupikron’.
     Sappho’s usage of the Greek word glukupikron insinuates (upon translation), that sweet prefaces bitter. Sappho placed the character gluku- before pikron- as a statement on the nature of attraction. When an individual is infatuated with another, the sweet side is more visible than the bitter side, and the discovery of the opposite side of the coin is obstructed by the shallowness of face-value adoration.
Anne Carson claims that novels are interwoven with triangulation. Carson defines triangulation as the phenomenon of loving what another loves. The reader of the novel is in a formulation of Pascal’s triangle, where the characters in the text are the objects of cupidity. The two perspectives of the characters are dissociated from one’s own, and activate a sense of multifaceted desire.
     “To be running breathlessly, but not yet arrived, is itself delightful, a suspended moment of living hope.” Eros acts cognitively and emotionally to signify longing or the lack of something. Objects of cupidity are subject to bittersweetness, since Eros is interpreted through the reader’s own intuition and biases.
     The Velázquez painting Las Meninas is interpreted, in the novel, to be a model of triangulation. A young girl is illuminated in the center of the painting, surrounded by her attendants. Carson focuses on a miniscule detail of the background which possesses human, visceral ardor. Anthropomorphism is shown in the description of this Classical painting. This is also ekphrastic, as the visual art piece is taken into Carson’s body of work. It acts as a vessel of Eros.
     In Las Meninas, it appears that the people in the scene would be most directly involved in Eros, but instead, it is the outside scene that provokes Carson’s interpretation.Triangulation consists of three components: the lover, the beloved, and the obstruction. The blind point is the obstruction.
Eros is reflected in several entities, some as minor as ice, and others as grandiose as Ancient architecture. The lives of Sappho and Plato are essential to Carson’s inspection of desire. She argues that what people long for is to experience longing. Sένδεια (éndeia) is this desire and its correlation to deficiency – an individual can only experience desire for what is not in their own possession or being. Once what is desired has been obtained, the fixation disappears, and a new object of affection is chosen.
This differentiates it from non-cyclical love, affection with a foundation of contentedness. “Eros is an issue of boundaries. He exists because certain boundaries do. In the interval between reach and grasp, between glance and counterglance.” Plato’s Phaedrus, which is anatomized in the second section of the novel, pertains to this definition.
     Phaedrus is a dialogue between two philosophers: Socrates and Phaedrus. After hearing the speech of Lysias, a reputable argument writer or λογογράφος (logographos), the dyad discuss the matter of Eros. Socrates chronicles four types of ‘divine madness’, the last derived from Aphrodite and known to stimulate concupiscence. The argument affirms that controlling one’s prurience is an assessment that will grant ascension to Heaven.
     Socrates’ “Great Speech” is composed from the perspective of the lover. To establish parallelism, Phaedrus was created by Plato with the sole purpose of opposing the lover’s perspective. Phaedrus was a fictional antagonist of equivalent prestige.
     Carson extensively references a plethora of ancient texts and figures in lyrical essayism. Empirical circumstance is denied through defamiliarization. The reader is stripped of reality and human condition in the examination of the subject. It isn’t until the last page of the novel that humanity is addressed. Authenticity is translated through Greek mythology.The truth is based on the reincarnations of Eros through several subjects, not human experience. This assembles verisimilitude.
     “Now and again a man and a woman may marry and live very happily, as travelers who meet by chance at an inn; at night falling asleep they dream the same dream, where they watch fire move along a rope that binds them together, but it is unlikely they remember the dream in the morning.” Appetite creates the ambition and motive to persist. Carson states that if there were to be no desire, “The art of storytelling would be widely neglected.”
Thalia Rose, class of 2018

Poetry For Survival by Thalia Rose

A question that often comes up is, “Why do you write?”

In my department, we have used this as a generative exercise; and outside of the department, the question recurs in conversation. It takes a moderate amount of determination to pursue writing. It sometimes seems masochistic to revise time and time again, or to submit work to publishers every marking period. So I believe there is a core ambition in every writer that motivates them to work with their art tirelessly. Hitherto, I believe the reason that people choose to write is multitudinous.

There is an anthology entitled We Will Be Shelter: Poems For Survival that illustrates the core of my motivation to write. The anthology, published by Andrea Gibson, focuses on addressing inequality and social justice. It encourages the reader to analyze the social constructs and ethics of the world around them – to contemplate the mechanics of the system and then what can be improved or changed within it. For me, poetry is dauntless and inexhaustible – it is a tool for survival.

As Audre Lorde wrote, “Poetry is not only dream and vision; it is the skeleton architecture of our lives. It lays the foundations for a future of change, a bridge across our fears of what has never been before.”

Thalia Rose, class of 2018

Feminist Poetry by Thalia Rose

Last Tuesday, CW alumna Mollie Cueva (Class of 2013) visited CW1 and taught a lesson about feminist poetry and intersectionality.

Definitions (convened by Mollie Cueva)

  • Feminism: the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of women
  • Gender: range of socially ascribed characteristics pertaining and differentiating between masculinity and femininity (and other)
  • Sex: the 2+ major forms of individuals that occur in many species on the basis of reproductive organs and chromosonal structure. may or may not agree with gender identity.
  • Intersectionality: the acknowledgement of the different and overlapping spheres of oppression/oppressional forces on a person’s life
  • Womanism: the acknowledgement of the specific discrimination and inequality experienced by black women

After an introduction to feminist poetry with the definitions shown above, CW I read and discussed the essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury” by Audre Lorde. Poetry is Not a Luxury was predicated by a brief summary of the first two waves of feminism, which illustrated that while the first and second waves of feminism granted women the right to vote and opened up more opportunities for them, these early movements excluded trans women and women of color from the movement.
In modern time, intersectionality is still often disregarded. It was important for us to discuss this, because addressing a problem is a step towards working out how to make things less unjust. It was beneficial to me that I could learn about my privilege as a white person (and feminist).

Anna (class of 2018) pointed out how in last year’s poetry unit, the book we studied from was predominantly the writing of white men, and that it lacked diverse perspectives. Audre Lorde, a lesbian poet, presented different styles and ideas than we had read last year. In Audre Lorde’s essay, she wrote, “This is poetry as illumination… From which true poetry springs births thought as dreams births concept, as feeling births idea, as knowledge births (precedes) understanding.”

Furthermore, we read “Translations”, a poem by Adrienne Rich. The poem introduces the concept of the nuclear family. The nuclear family concept prioritizes gender roles. It was initially created by sociologists as an oppressive device. The archetype of a woman as a docile housewife harms and isolates women. The poem mentions the sexism and internalized misogyny that is a result of the nuclear family concept.

“The phone rings endlessly
in a man’s bedroom
she hears him telling someone else
Never mind. She’ll get tired.
hears him telling her story to her sister /
who becomes her enemy
and will in her own way
light her own way to sorrow.”

These two stanzas tell of an affair, presumably of the husband of the narrator and the narrator’s sister. The vagueness of the poem makes it so that what the husband says open to interpretation. It also brings a tone of powerlessness. In discussion of this piece, it was brought up that there is a double standard for men and women regarding sex. For women, there is “losing your virginity”. In life and literature, there is an odd fixation on virginity, specifically the breaking of the hymen during first sexual experience. Women are objectified as sexual objects in media and American culture, yet a woman with sexual desire is shamed for it. In the ultra-patriarchal world of the novel Chronicle of a Death Foretold, a newlywed woman is beaten by her husband once he discovers she is not a virgin. The man who took the newlywed woman’s virginity years ago is murdered by the woman’s brothers in a machismo sense of honor. Today, when a man has sex with multiple partners, he is called a stud. When a woman has sex with multiple partners, she is called slurs.

“ignorant of the fact that this grief
is shared, unnecessary
and political.”

With that in mind, Heather Woodward mentioned that when she decided to prioritize teaching over writing, she reflected on the decisions she had made throughout her life and realized that, for her, they all correlated with being a woman. She felt that, by being raised to be nurturing, teaching was the path she had naturally selected.

Personally, being raised a girl, I had personal experiences with sexism and was weighed down by being treated as lesser. I had been silenced in classes, or spoken over by men who repeated my ideas. This year I’ve been practicing empowerment with statements like, “You interrupted me when I was talking” and “I wasn’t done with what I was saying” and “Don’t make comments about my body”.

My relationships with others have been influenced by sexism. Even with girls, my relationships have been affected by internalized misogyny and the petty envy and competition that is instilled by it. I am woman-aligned agender person, yet feminism is still one of the most important things to me in my writing. I was shaped as a person from being raised as a girl, and from only having strong women figures in my life when I was growing up. I think that being raised a girl and facing discrimination from being assigned female at birth is why feminism is so important to me and in my creative work.

Thalia Rose, class of 2018

A Common Lesson in Absurdity by Thalia Rose

The church camp I went to in Florida was in a humid, rainy woodland. I did not know anyone there the summer of 2009. The first thing that happened at church camp was an assembly in the cafeteria. This assembly included a lecture from a greasy sixteen year-old boy. He began, “I am going to tell you a story about the ant who survived the apocalypse.”

“There was an ant named Todd. He was five feet tall and stood like a human man. He could only travel by killing. After killing, he would travel in the carcass of his victim. He did not feel bad about it. He saw a rabbit in the grass. He ran up to it and dug his fangs into her stomach.”

The kids around me were laughing. One kid had his finger so deep into his nose that I could only see the knuckle of it. I remember having a confusion as deeply rooted as that kid’s finger. My consular whispered to the co-consular, “This story is four hours long.”

It did. I will spare you the length of the story. The progression of events went like this: the ant travels in the body of the rabbit until he reaches a pelican. Upon reaching the pelican, he kills it. He flies around and has a revelation about Holiness. Then, he kills a fish. He, as a fish, travels to a playground. The story ends with the fish, who is actually an ant sitting in a rotting corpse, sitting on the playground as the last creature alive after the apocalypse. There was no particular moral to this story. It was reliant on shock value, and after about an hour the audience had been drained of shock value.

I think about this story often for two reasons. Firstly because, as a writer who prefers to create poetry and prose, form is highly experimental. The storytelling at church camp was resonant in the way that someone had devoted time to creating a four hour long story about a murderous ant and that proved that if an individual is determined to do something, be it abstract to the point where it is appalling or not, an individual can do it. Secondly, it was memorable because it was an odd, inconsequential storytelling that ultimately holds no significance to my life and personal choices beyond a common lesson in absurdity.

Thalia Rose, class of 2018