Anne Carson, Canadian poet based in New York, considered one of the most important literary voices in the English language, draws on her erudition to turn Helen of Troy into Norma Jeane Baker, better known as marilyn monroe. Goddesses capable of driving men mad. Carson turns two myths into tightrope walkers by intermediary. Helena because of Paris and Marilyn because of Arthur Miller. Both choose the abyss, both are kidnapped, one with the consent of the gods and the other with the consent of that god called Hollywood. Carson strives to demonstrate the destruction of Norma Jeane, the vital manipulation of her, its hypersexualization in pursuit of profitability regardless of the wound, crying, sadness and even death.
Accessing the Carson universe is wanting to converse with all the gods in the world and then rigorously ignoring all the lies that form their dangerous and long-lived mouths. She is also accessing the most fantastic stories and, most importantly, is accessing contradiction as if she were the one who gives order to the world.
Carson always knows what he has to do and he does it, never ignore what poetry and philosophy whisper to him, never ignore an injustice, never ignore a wounded woman and never ignore the woman who is herself, and He shows it more than ever in the powerful, heterodox, volcanic and unimaginable biography he has written for the great Marilyn Monroe in his magnificent book Norma Jeane Baker of Troy. A dazzling book, a river of intelligence that cleanses of prudishness and testosterone the emotional ordeal that women (and all women) had to go through and star while she was alive:
“How now to rescue the good name of Norma Jeane?
How to explain all this to Arthur?
Arthur, my good husband,
King of Sparta and New York,
esteemed honorable, old-fashioned Arthur
who led his army to Troy to win me back.
Arthur is a man who fervently believes in war.”
Carson talks about toxic masculinity and confronts it through the fastest cynicism and a priori histrionic humor that, however, wants it to serve to heal a wound that shines viciously throughout the world.
Carson confronts the classical world as if it were a Russian doll that never stops producing children and dispersing them around the planet in a necessary diaspora to externalize the silence imposed century after century regarding the need to detoxify the future from stale myths, from myths manipulated. Carson is a mirror and a body for all female myths, but also for all real women.
Carson achieves through the writing of these demanding and chameleonic and very particular memories that their philosophical and human multiplicity suppose the triumph of free will. And he doesn’t do it by falling for provocation, but through a documented anarchy that turns this book into one of the most beautiful faces of justice.
Carson is in this memorandum so far removed from arbitrariness a goddess with the best intentions, but she is also a goddess who does not hesitate to make God fallible, who does not hesitate to destroy word by word, as I said at the beginning of this text, the power of any religion. Carson points to God as the creator of side effects, as the owner and lord of the most harmful polarities:
“The skilful use of optics is capable of generating an alternate version of the facts. Trust Euripides. Trust Helen. She was never in Troy. Marilyn was really blonde. And when we die we all go to heaven.
The most real unreality that can be written is always in the hands of Anne Carson.
Carson writes “wound” and in doing so he spells the ultimate truth that we can find in the Norma Jeane / Marilyn Monroe life tree:
“War creates two classes of people: those who survive and those who don’t.
Both carry their wounds.
Euripides makes Helen a heroine who becomes dulled by simply looking at war for too long.
Carson turns two myths into tightrope walkers by intermediary. Helena because of Paris and Marilyn because of Miller. Both choose the abyss, both are kidnapped, one with the consent of the gods and the other with the consent of that god called Hollywood.
This book is full of sentences and verses that blow up the holy sanctorum of the intelligentsia. That dynamite even the character of Eva, which counteracts the almost apocalyptic power that men have had over too many women. Norma Jane thought she could be redeemed. All women think and believe at face value that love will redeem them, that it is enough to enumerate their vices for a good man to want to bear them:
“I was born good, I grew up bad” Carson writes, taking refuge in the verses of Stevie Smith so as not to be branded as crazy or blasphemous. And from them she strives to demonstrate the destruction of Norma Jeane, her vital manipulation, her hypersexualization in pursuit of her profitability regardless of the wound, crying, sadness and even death:
“He is in the field picking flowers.
A man appears with a black letter to deliver.
Will you become my queen?
She is maybe 12 or 13.
It’s Helena’s story
Norm Jane, Troy.
War is the context
and God is a child.
The toxic plurality that makes up Norma Jeane sticks in the viewer’s memory just as summer sticks in the body of an adolescent who must rest and burn as only justice knows how to burn in the eyes of the defenseless.
Carson’s titanic sarcasm skins the Nobel laureate who shared the bed with the star with sublime care. Carson doesn’t want a simple settling of scores, Carson wants to juggle the truth until the clubs that hit Marilyn’s integrity and security fall on the flesh of whoever she reads. He knows that there are people and readers who need tangible certainties to believe in the abuse against a woman and even more so if it comes from the mind of a Nobel Prize winner or a poet laureate (his plea in favor of Sylvia Plath between the pages of this book is immense ) :
“I extinguished Arthur by hitting him with my bathrobe.”
It is therefore Norma Jeane Baker of Troy a crazy and at the same time lucid staging of the abuse of power. Carson uses dramaturgy to make the ordeal of a woman everyone admired and desired more visual. The ordinary woman was easy for everyone to forget, only the actress remained, only the infinite character created by a film studio:
“Use this spatial hygiene to explain certain neoliberal neuroses. Well, the chilling thing about dirt, if it’s neoliberal, is that dirt is never passive. Dirt will come after you.”
Carson flows a monumental epilogue through these pages in which a ferocious hallucination aligns exactly with the truth of a life. Fortunately, Carson’s poetry has little to do with the lyric strictus sensu. Carson uses poetry as a cocktail shaker in which to mix History, a shaker in which to demonstrate his mistakes, his deleterious miscellany without incurring in that nonsense that in most cases are the dates and the linearity of the plot. There are only powerful invisible names coming out of his memory. She omits and in that omission everything reaches its exactitude:
“Norma Jeane decided to join the Taliban / and is training as a prophet. / There’s no room here for Arthur, / Obviously. / Nor is there room for the truth person and tortured / From Norma Jeane. / I love her very much but – let’s be honest – / there is nothing mythical here. / She’s just a shred of courage trapped in a world of need / of transcendence. / She is a scam (myth is the underlying word for the well-thinking, I add) ”.
“deceit illusion ruse duplicity duplicity fraud bluffing avoidance scam ruse subterfuge artifice joke swerve stratagem scam cunning trick ruse ruse tricks Woman’s tricks”
Carson makes dead languages a very live artifact. He alternates the validity of English with the remotest Greek to pamper a balance that is only within his reach. Carson is an unbeatable chronicler, but she never forgets that she is a poet, something that she does not highlight until the end of the book, because she knows how to put herself in the shoes of the executioner Miller, the victim Monroe, the informer Capote, the monsters holy Wells and Lang. She knows how to assume suicide as her own, she knows how to keep a woman word by word from the lies that made her weak:
“Yes, and I am putting every detail. / Every blade of grass on Priam’s lawn / every lick of wind on a warrior’s cheek, / every nimble brown bat that whistled past the Greek / tents at sunset, / every fly that buzzed on the shit, / every prayer useless, / every opaque oracle, / every broken bone / in the baby that was thrown against the wall on the last day.
Carson holds a dangerous and free spiral in his hands as he writes this book. A boomerang full of justice, the air capable of resurrecting those who are wanted dead and buried, those who are silenced regardless of the consequences. Carson raises the rugs with every verse he writes in that feat called Norma Jeane Baker of Troy. She recounts the wounds that violence has inflicted on women, for being a woman, and personifies them on the forever frozen lips of a broken woman.
It doesn’t matter who you are, your status, if sexist violence points to your name, you will end up hurt, you will end up dead as the birds that ignore the dictatorship of the wind end up dead.
‘Norma Jeane Baker of Troy’. Anne Carson. Broken glass. Translation by Jannette L. Clarion. 107 pages.
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Marilyn Monroe is Helen of Troy in the hands of Anne Carson