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Ode to the Sublime by Monica VittiAnne Carson
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Vol. 24 No. 8 · 25 April 2002
Poem

Ode to the Sublime by Monica Vitti

Anne Carson

307 words

I want everything.
Everything is a naked thought that strikes.

A foghorn sounding through fog makes the fog seem to be everything.
Quail eggs eaten from the hand in fog make everything aphrodisiac.

My husband shrugs when I say so, my husband shrugs at everything.
The lakes where his factory has poisoned everything are as beautiful as Brueghel.

I keep my shop, in order that I may sell everything there, empty but I leave the light on.
Everything might spill.

Do you know that in the deepest part of the sea everything goes transparent? asks my
husband’s friend Corrado and I say Do you know how afraid I am?

Everything requires attention, I never relax my neck even when kissing Corrado.
Kant says ‘everything’ exists only in our mind, attended by a motion of pleasure and

pain that throws itself back and forth in me when I lay on Corrado’s bed fighting with
everything with Corrado watching from across the room then he came to the bed and

mounted me and this made no difference except now I had to fight everything through
Corrado, which I did ‘undaunted’ (so Kant) on his freezing bed in its midnight glare.

What will you take? I ask Corrado who is leaving for Patagonia and when he says 2 or 3
valises I say If I had to go away I would take with me everything I see.

To this Corrado says nothing which is not I think the opposite of everything.
Doesn’t seem right is what my husband would say, he says this about everything –

especially since I came out of the clinic, a clinic for people who want everything,
everything I see everything I taste everything I touch everyday even the ashtrays and at

the clinic I had only one question What shall I do with my eyes?

Send Letters To:

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Letters

Vol. 24 No. 12 · 27 June 2002

Pete Hutton asks for an explanation of my poem ‘Ode to the Sublime by Monica Vitti’ (Letters, 6 June). In the poem Monica Vitti offers us an account of the film called Deserto Rosso by Antonioni, in which she starred as an embodiment of ‘the sublime’. It is clear that in preparation for her role Vitti read Edmund Burke, who describes the sublime as ‘composed of the influence of pain, of pleasure, of grace, of deformity, playing into each other, that the mind is unable to determine which to call it, pain or pleasure or terror’. She probably also looked at Kant’s discussion of ‘everything’, an entity that ‘exists only in our minds’, vibrating between lust and frustration ‘as the imagination reaches out for it and falls back’ – rather like Mr Hutton’s response to her poem.

Anne Carson
Montreal

Vol. 24 No. 11 · 6 June 2002

When my eyes alighted on the words ‘Monica Vitti’ in the title of Anne Carson’s poem ‘Ode to the Sublime by Monica Vitti’ (LRB, 25 April), I set to reading with what I can only describe as lust, because unless there are two Monica Vittis in this world, the subject of the poem must be the Italian film star, one of whose films was L’Avventura (1960). I saw this film a long time ago, probably only a few years after it came out, and my then adolescent hormones were so impressed by the leading lady that I cut a picture of her out of a newspaper, and stored it, to be looked at whenever I needed to be reminded of some of the astonishingly beautiful things the world contains. I read the poem once, I read it twice, I read it again – and again, many times. I looked at it from different angles – literally not figuratively – in case some sort of physical manipulation might render it comprehensible. No luck (or no brains). I liked it, I hasten to add, but I could have screamed with a frustration almost equal to the frustration, 35 years ago, of not being able to make love to Monica Vitti: the frustration of not understanding what Anne Carson is talking about. In fact I stalked over to my wife and used some loud and unprintable words to her, as she writes poems which can be almost as obscure as this one and could therefore be expected to see straight into the heart of Anne Carson’s project. She told me to control my language and to throw that issue of LRB into the nearest rubbish bin. In case I should be thought a literary pygmy I should mention that I have actually studied literature to postgraduate level and taught it for about twenty years, including so-called practical criticism of unfamiliar texts. On the minus side, I should mention that I now live in Zimbabwe (or try to) where our brains have recently received quite a battering.

I’m willing to be humiliated, but could Anne Carson, or anyone else – even Monica Vitti – please explain ‘Ode to the Sublime by Monica Vitti’?

Pete Hutton
Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

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