Concetta Principe on Red Doc

How are we to read Red Doc as a sequel to Autobiography of Red?
– Concetta Principe May 9, 2013

In an essay on Autobiography of Red, in Open Letter last fall, I read Carson’s revision of Stesichorus’ story of the beast, Geryon, through a psychoanalytic approach, with an emphasis on Lacan’s symbolic register. The fact that as a boy, the beast, Geryon, suffers synesthesia, language troubles and social alienation, led me to interpret Geryon as an autistic figure. Indicating an autistic sensibility, Geryon had a special relation to the infinite or eternal, through the death of the subject implied in the autist’s foreclosure of the socializing oedipal event.

Carson’s initial project is one of rehabilitation; that is, through the photographic project, Geryon, the dead beast, is resurrected from a mythic death through photographic images that Carson organizes in literary elements of a self-fiction. And thus, at the end, the apotheosis of all his hard autobiographical work brings him to that moment which Monique Tschofen identifies in her analysis as ‘immortality’. What she calls immortality, I call a Christ moment in Geryon, of the Catholic order reflected in the trilogy, as opposed to the Protestant singularity of Christ. Autobiography reflects the cure of the autistic subject through oedipalization, and thus, a non-autistic fantasy of autism.

Red Doc may be a sequel to Autobiography of Red, but it is not about Geryon. As such, how it is a sequel was initially unclear to me. Is the subject determining Red Doc someone or something that is buried in Autobiography of Red? That is, is Red Doc the actual autobiography that Autobiography of Red never was? I did not analyze Carson’s invitation to see Red as a postmodern version of Stein’s Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. I could have, and it would have been fruitful, but I was more interested in Geryon’s autistic sensibility and why there seemed to be a need to cure him.

The fact that Red Doc did not follow through on the promise of Geryon initially troubled me until I recognized the power of the narrative voice; it was a new subjectivity that replaced the role Geryon had in Autobiography of Red. The thing is, Red Doc’s narrator has no face. That is, when I considered the slipperiness of the narrative, the way its omniscience seems to have no bounds (no character is favoured, no character is safe), nor is it bounded by semantics or conventional narrative either, I recognized the narrator has a subjectivity that repeats that ‘autistic’ destabilizing force of the autistic fantasy of Geryon. The subject of Red Doc is in this disorder. Taking that logic further, if Geryon stood for Carson in Red, then the narrator in Red Doc must be Carson herself, represented as a subjectivity existing somewhere on the psychotic spectrum. Red Doc describes a sane world from a psychotic’s perspective, where G seems the most sane of the bunch of characters and the most opaque.

In psychoanalysis, the psychotic’s relation to death is without desire that explains the psychotic’s proximity to death; the autist literally caves into death. Considering my contention that the narrative voice is representative of psychosis, Margaret Christakos’ review of Red Doc in Lemon Hound as overwhelmed with death gains another dimension. Red Doc is full of death, and it is not only the death of G’s mother. Since Geryon was Carson in Autobiography, we know it is Carson’s mother who has died at the end of Red Doc because suddenly there is a “daughter on the telephone” (160). There is something haunting about this faceless, nameless narrator of Red Doc. Maybe this new subject is not Carson at all, but her mother.

Concetta Principe is a PhD candidate at York University, in the last throws of writing her thesis in which a portion is devoted to analyzing Carson’s “Autobiography of Red”. Her collection of prose-poems, “walking: not a nun’s diary“, has just come out with DC Books’ Punchy Poetry Series.