© 2021
In touch with the world ... at home on the High Plains
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
KJJP-FM 105.7 is currently operating at 15% of power, limiting its signal strength and range in the Amarillo-Canyon area. This due to complicated problems with its very old transmitter. Local engineers are continuing to work on the transmitter and are consulting with the manufacturer to diagnose and fix the problems. We apologize for this disruption and service as we work as quickly as possible to restore KJPFM to full power. In the mean time you can always stream either the HPPR Mix service or HPPR Connect service using the player above or the HPPR app.

Eases the Pain

Extremely irregularly-karstified aragonitic limestone at Pain Pond, northeastern San Salvador Island, eastern Bahamas.
James St. John, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Extremely irregularly-karstified aragonitic limestone at Pain Pond, northeastern San Salvador Island, eastern Bahamas.

To end this set of readings with Plainwater by Anne Carson feels perfect. If not perfect, well, it still feels. Carson, once described by Bruce Hainley as “a philosopher of heartbreak” doesn’t just mix genres in her works but calls into question linguistic and cultural bedrocks that inform our reading of the continuity of human experiences. It begs to reason that Carson would take on the primordial in the fifth, and most devastating section of Plainwater, “The Anthropology of Water.”

Carson is not the first Canadian linguistic artist to embark on a pilgrimage to the desolate rhetorical territory of the plains. Carson's sedimented work reverberates with similarities to Michael Ondaatje's The Collected Works of Billy the Kid: Left-Handed Poems in both the genre mixing, the poetic rendering, and the tonal desolation that we see throughout Plainwater and most fully realized in “The Anthropology of Water.”

Tangut word for water
Kzaral, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Tangut word for water

In the opening piece of this last section of the text, Carson provides eponymous insight, claiming, "Anthropology is a science of mutual surprise" (117). And to my surprise, even though I’ve been writing about water on a literary level for four months, and I’ve been raised in a place where water permeates conversation, screams in its absence, and creates ceremonies around its occasional blessings, I’m embarrassed to admit that I just haven’t thought too much about what water is. Count me surprised. As to the latter sentiment, I’m sure it surprises water when it encounters us as a culture. Despite its necessity, surely we surprise water with our disregard for its gifts, our hubris to inhabit places it prefers to live hermitted, our endless exploitation of its generosity.

Unlike an anthropologist, though, Carson seeks an understanding of concepts “perfect, correct, pure, total, final, ultimate, absolute” (204). While she fails to find a stronger signifier for love than “love,” Carson eventually finds that force both outside of and constitutive of language and culture–water. For Carson, water is a semiotics, one that should bridge gaps between men and women, time and place, young and the old, fear and desire, sick and healthy, human and non. It’s a language we all speak, but in line with her antiquitous mythic sensibilities, one we are forever cursed to misinterpret. It means everything, but it takes a pilgrimage in many parts to parse these truths.

In general, I’m so happy that we chose a work that spends its time searching for meaning, the work of an outsider trying to understand intimacies of land and love that don’t fully escape her, but appear dreamlike and fluid, with epiphanies perhaps over the next hill or on the next page. For Carson, “Language is what eases the pain of living with other people, language is what makes the wounds come open again” (232). As we’ve seen in the selections we’ve read, water is its own language–one that makes the wounds come open again, but one that reminds us of our collectivity in struggle and beauty.

Spring Read 2024: Water, Water Neverwhere 2024 Spring ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
Stay Connected