‘Reading can be freefall’

The words in the title are from Anne’s Carson’s Float, which I received in today’s mail. I forgot this publication is not perfect-bound: ‘A collection of twenty-two chapbooks whose order is unfixed and whose topics are various’, as it says above ‘Reading can be freefall’, a laconic blurb if ever there was one for a text whose very format almost dispenses with such publishing conventions. There are no gushing blurbs from any admirers – Anne Carson does not need them! The price (£16.99) floats in the top right-hand corner above ‘Float’. Cover design is by Cassandra J. Pappas (Cassandra? Really? ‘Cassandra Float Can’ is the title of one of the chapbooks. Carson teaches classics and likes to weave classical literature through her work.) Call this card the title page. It tries its hardest not to be one. If anything it’s a paratext, although one dislodged from the normal order of things as in a perfect-bound publication where paratexts have a fixed abode (either side – before and after – the text itself). Despite its structural dislocation, this paratext is even more of one insofar as the author seems to insert herself where the legal declarations otherwise assert her identity as the author. Carson floats through the legal stuff. (I’m sure she’ll detest punning iterations of her titular word. She’s fond of verbs, but I expect not the way others use them, or at least not the way mere mortals use them.)

Boxes of booklets are becoming quite a thing. (‘Booklets’ are now called ‘chapbooks’, whose differentiation from ‘booklet’ or ‘leaflet’ I’m not clear about at the time of writing.) It’s not the first time Carson has made demands like this on her publisher. Nox is also contained in a box, but instead of separate chapbooks the reader is made to wrestle with an unwieldy concertina format. Recently I referred to Nox in an essay on lyric subjectivity in the context of Anne Michaels’ Correspondences, which is formatted likewise. Float is more reminiscent, however, of B. S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates, a novel whose content is distributed across a number of ‘fuller’ booklets (fuller than Carson’s chapbooks, that is, neither quite attaining the quality of ‘larger’). Such formats generate alternative forms of desire, reconfiguring expectations and the text itself alike. Is ‘freefall’ what happens when we succumb to desire during reading? Reading is freefall: I’ve not read Float yet so I’m not sure what this means and where. Is freefall a consequence of throwing the chapbooks in the air to see how they land and reading accordingly? A physical gesture turned figure for the reading process and back again? Reading can be freefall. Only if you want to be? Resist the temptation to order the text in the way you always knew how to. You’re a new reader now. Welcome to the world of alternative formats.

The company from whom I ordered Float included a bookmark in my package. But how am I meant to use this?! There’s a quote from J. K. Rowling that I’m sure Carson would enjoy (I don’t think so really. Has Carson read Rowling, dya think? I haven’t, and probably never will): ‘Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic.’

I think I prefer the dangers of the freefall.



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