The third answer to the question of Anne Carson’s origin is ancient Greece. She discovered the Greek language in high school and took to it immediately. Since then she has spent a large percentage of her mental life inhabiting that distant world: learning to think in its rhythms, tracing its influences on English. Over the last 30 years, she has taught scores of college courses in Greek, an experience she describes — with rare positivity — as “a total joy.”
When I asked Carson what appealed to her so much as a teenager about Greek, she answered, “It just seemed to me the best language.” I asked her to elaborate. “It’s just intrinsic,” she said. “Just a different experience.” I asked her to describe the nature of that experience. “It’s just like what it is,” she said. “If it were like something else, you could do the other thing. It’s just like itself. I really can’t analogize.” This launched us into a five-minute circular conversation that felt like an allegory of the futility of all human language. “That’s as far as we can go with that,” she said.
Carson did admit, in the end, that part of her desire to learn Greek came from her childhood desire to be Oscar Wilde — classically educated, elegantly dressed, publicly witty.
I asked her when she stopped wanting this.
“I didn’t,” she said. “Who could stop? It’s unachieved, as yet.”