Poem: ‘Ode to the Sublime by Monica Vitti’
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’?
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.