Anne Carson’s Float: Reading the Chapbook

The organisers of the Anne Carson Postgraduate Reading Group, Laura Jansen (Classics) and Richard Cole (Classics), would like to thank the Centre for Material Texts at the University of Bristol for sponsoring a session of the reading group. The session, entitled Anne Carson’s ‘Float’: Reading the Chapbook, was hosted by the Centre as their annual 2018/19 PGR event.

Float (2016) is a collection that playfully explores themes of memory, myth, and storytelling within an equally provocative format. Taking the form of individual chapbooks that ‘float’ within a transparent case, this work can be read in any order, thus challenging the reader to connect its fragmented narrative in ever new ways. The collection covers a vast time-span, and makes use of a wide range of voices, spaces, structures, and genres to examine the in-between.

When introducing Float to the group, Richard Cole suggested that it brings together things we might not expect (genre, style, down to the words themselves), perhaps nodding to the heritage of the chapbook as ephemeral street literature host to a variety of ideas. He argued that each chapbook seems to be pointing to, at the same time as frustrating, something longer or more explanatory. This was used by the group as a springboard to reflect on how each reading of this ‘book’ would result in radically different impressions, but also how, despite the experimental nature of Float, Carson cannot quite escape the limits of the book. In fact, she actively draws attention to them by ‘cutting’ back the layers of form, narrative, meaning, and myth, the foundations over/under which her wider oeuvre playfully ‘floats’.

The reading group was attended by postgraduate and postdoctoral scholars from the Faculty of Arts and other institutions in the UK, by artists from Spike Island Studio, and by independent practitioners. This year’s innovation was remote participation. The group also enjoyed the contributions of nine remote participants from both sides of the Atlantic, different nationalities, and academic cultures.

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