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The ancient Greek lyric poet Simonides of Keos was the first poet in the Western tradition to take money for poetic composition. From this starting point, Anne Carson launches an exploration, poetic in its own right, of the idea of poetic economy. She offers a reading of certain of Simonides' texts and aligns these with writings of the modern Romanian poet Paul Celan, a Je The ancient Greek lyric poet Simonides of Keos was the first poet in the Western tradition to take money for poetic composition. From this starting point, Anne Carson launches an exploration, poetic in its own right, of the idea of poetic economy. She offers a reading of certain of Simonides' texts and aligns these with writings of the modern Romanian poet Paul Celan, a Jew and survivor of the Holocaust, whose economies of language are notorious. Asking such questions as, What is lost when words are wasted? and Who profits when words are saved? Carson reveals the two poets' striking commonalities. In Carson's view Simonides and Celan share a similar mentality or disposition toward the world, language and the work of the poet. Economy of the Unlost begins by showing how each of the two poets stands in a state of alienation between two worlds. In Simonides' case, the gift economy of fifth-century b.c. Greece was giving way to one based on money and commodities, while Celan's life spanned pre- and post-Holocaust worlds, and he himself, writing in German, became estranged from his native language. Carson goes on to consider various aspects of the two poets' techniques for coming to grips with the invisible through the visible world. A focus on the genre of the epitaph grants insights into the kinds of exchange the poets envision between the living and the dead. Assessing the impact on Simonidean composition of the material fact of inscription on stone, Carson suggests that a need for brevity influenced the exactitude and clarity of Simonides' style, and proposes a comparison with Celan's interest in the negative design of printmaking: both poets, though in different ways, employ a kind of negative image making, cutting away all that is superfluous. This book's juxtaposition of the two poets illuminates their differences--Simonides' fundamental faith in the power of the word, Celan's ultimate despair--as well as their similarities; it provides fertile ground for the virtuosic interplay of Carson's scholarship and her poetic sensibility.


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The ancient Greek lyric poet Simonides of Keos was the first poet in the Western tradition to take money for poetic composition. From this starting point, Anne Carson launches an exploration, poetic in its own right, of the idea of poetic economy. She offers a reading of certain of Simonides' texts and aligns these with writings of the modern Romanian poet Paul Celan, a Je The ancient Greek lyric poet Simonides of Keos was the first poet in the Western tradition to take money for poetic composition. From this starting point, Anne Carson launches an exploration, poetic in its own right, of the idea of poetic economy. She offers a reading of certain of Simonides' texts and aligns these with writings of the modern Romanian poet Paul Celan, a Jew and survivor of the Holocaust, whose economies of language are notorious. Asking such questions as, What is lost when words are wasted? and Who profits when words are saved? Carson reveals the two poets' striking commonalities. In Carson's view Simonides and Celan share a similar mentality or disposition toward the world, language and the work of the poet. Economy of the Unlost begins by showing how each of the two poets stands in a state of alienation between two worlds. In Simonides' case, the gift economy of fifth-century b.c. Greece was giving way to one based on money and commodities, while Celan's life spanned pre- and post-Holocaust worlds, and he himself, writing in German, became estranged from his native language. Carson goes on to consider various aspects of the two poets' techniques for coming to grips with the invisible through the visible world. A focus on the genre of the epitaph grants insights into the kinds of exchange the poets envision between the living and the dead. Assessing the impact on Simonidean composition of the material fact of inscription on stone, Carson suggests that a need for brevity influenced the exactitude and clarity of Simonides' style, and proposes a comparison with Celan's interest in the negative design of printmaking: both poets, though in different ways, employ a kind of negative image making, cutting away all that is superfluous. This book's juxtaposition of the two poets illuminates their differences--Simonides' fundamental faith in the power of the word, Celan's ultimate despair--as well as their similarities; it provides fertile ground for the virtuosic interplay of Carson's scholarship and her poetic sensibility.

30 review for Economy of the Unlost

  1. 5 out of 5

    Laurie Neighbors

    I don't know what more you could want, really. Paul Celan, Simonides, and Marx. I suppose if you are study for your qualifying exams or whatever this book won't help you much. But if you are a poet, you will find just what you are looking for here.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Isabel

    Me pregunto si se acaba con Anne Carson la sorpresa, digo, cuando crees que leíste lo mejor, lees algo nuevo que te hace dudar. Creí que después de la traducción de Safo, el trabajo de traducir y escribir un ensayo sobre Simonides y Celan estaría bien, pero solo eso. Equivocadísima. Me encantaría saber qué vio y como ató tantas relaciones sutiles entre ambos. Saber, también, cuál es la metodología o línea de pensamiento para crear un ensayo sobre la economía (citando a Marx, que por cierto, se m Me pregunto si se acaba con Anne Carson la sorpresa, digo, cuando crees que leíste lo mejor, lees algo nuevo que te hace dudar. Creí que después de la traducción de Safo, el trabajo de traducir y escribir un ensayo sobre Simonides y Celan estaría bien, pero solo eso. Equivocadísima. Me encantaría saber qué vio y como ató tantas relaciones sutiles entre ambos. Saber, también, cuál es la metodología o línea de pensamiento para crear un ensayo sobre la economía (citando a Marx, que por cierto, se me hizo más claro de lo que nunca se me había hecho), las palabras, la pérdida, la negación y la muerte. El ensayo intercala comentarios sobre Simonides y Celan. Comienza con la referencia al color de las velas para dar noticias, en cómo un error o una mala voluntad cambia la recepción, y en ese breve desplazamiento la muerte se augura. Todo en el libro es bello, por la expertise de Carson en los idiomas que traduce, y su conocimiento infinito y abismante del griego. Pero en especial son las referencias a Paul Celan, que no conocía y que una presentación a través de ella lo hizo perfecto, las que concentran la belleza. Uno de Celan traducido por Carson: “(Were I like you. Were you like me Stand we not under one tradewind? We are strangers.)”

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rodney

    These lectures mesh Celan, Simonides, and Karl Marx with a grace that makes their union seem inevitable. The way Carson folds together money, language, and memory reminds me of Ezra Pound without the shouting. Her insights have a math-like clarity that bring two extreme ends of our history--pre-Socratic and post-Holocaust--into the same economy. You'll never mistake negation and loss for modern inventions after reading this book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    john steven

    simonides made money as a poet. ... imagine that. that's fucking crazy. shame you can't do that anymore.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Megan

    Read intently, read with respect and at times, astonishment. AC, deep bows.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte

    This is one of my favorite books of all time.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Pedro Nobre

    What would become of the Left, without the Holocaust? If there hadn't been a Holocaust, we would have had to invent it. Otherwise, the Left would just sit there dumfounded like Celan in front of Martin Buber (an episode retold by Carson), amazed that most of mankind hasn't completely lost faith in language and is not particularly troubled by the limits of our humanity. Life is brutal: if you go to Hiroshima, you'll soon learn that American tourists are more sentimental about the nuclear bombing What would become of the Left, without the Holocaust? If there hadn't been a Holocaust, we would have had to invent it. Otherwise, the Left would just sit there dumfounded like Celan in front of Martin Buber (an episode retold by Carson), amazed that most of mankind hasn't completely lost faith in language and is not particularly troubled by the limits of our humanity. Life is brutal: if you go to Hiroshima, you'll soon learn that American tourists are more sentimental about the nuclear bombing than the native themselves, who've lost relatives to it. Life goes on regardless of trauma. This book can be read as an expansion to Adorno's dictum that there can be no more poetry after Auschwitz. Well, in fact there can be, there has been and there will always be. Carson is always insightful, though. I'd much sooner have authors like her to disagree with than what we're commonly used to. We're fighting an uphill battle, yes, when we try to remain human in inhuman times; but I suspect Simonides would be much less gloomy about it than Celan (A poet I nonetheless enjoy), which might well be one of Carson's main points here.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Bryant

    'Economy of the Unlost' is a daring and rare book, a close reading of the ancient poet Simonides juxtaposed with a close reading of the 20th-century poet Paul Celan. This is the sort of idea that comes to you in the shower. Most Celan scholars don't read Simonides, and I bet you all the endowments of every classics department that most classicists don't get around to Celan very often. Shame. But maybe it's better all the same that they don't, for who knows how many of them could yoke these diffi 'Economy of the Unlost' is a daring and rare book, a close reading of the ancient poet Simonides juxtaposed with a close reading of the 20th-century poet Paul Celan. This is the sort of idea that comes to you in the shower. Most Celan scholars don't read Simonides, and I bet you all the endowments of every classics department that most classicists don't get around to Celan very often. Shame. But maybe it's better all the same that they don't, for who knows how many of them could yoke these difficult and seemingly very different poets as harmoniously as Carson frequently does. Based around a series of lectures Carson gave at Oberlin for their annual series in classics, the book quizzes the Simonidean corpus with a series of fairly basic questions--how does he talk about exchange, money, virtue, death, nothingness?--that yield not very basic answers. She elucidates the persistent yes-and-no of Simonides' poetry--yes: life flees as quickly as a fly moves its wing, no: life does not, thanks be to poetry, lack recourse to immortality. But along the way she challenges us to think carefully about some other things classicists don't generally talk about with such readable acumen: money, friendship, war, even the physics of getting words etched onto stone. Paul Celan spent most of his life trying to figure out whether language, specifically his own German, could hold any value. He famously claimed* that German had both gone through the "thousand darknesses of death-bringing talk" but, while passing through, had been unable to comment. Language had survived. It was also incapable of describing the things that nearly killed it. Carson’s svelte sentences handle weighty themes like these with legible dexterity. Given the vast cultural differences apparent between the 5th-century Greek Simonides and the 20th-century Romanian Celan, who was Jewish, lived in Paris after losing his family to the Holocaust, was married to a Christian, and wrote in German, the marvel of this book is the consistent magic Carson puts before us in relating these poets through their poetic technique, their biographies, and their attempt to figure out whether poetry had any value for answering questions about day-to-day living. But I use the word magic mindfully, for Carson is on several occasions guilty of crafty legerdemain. The primary flaw of this study is the biographical treatment of Simonides. Biographical criticism works well for Celan but not for Simonides. There’s too much we don’t know, and the attempt make him fit the argument leads often to carelessness (see Steven J. Willet’s review in the archived Bryn Mawr Classical Review online). Carson’s argument would be stronger and possibly more interesting if she conceded the shakiness of the scholiastic attributions to the Simonides biography. What she could then compare would be the actual life of Celan with the traditional “life” of Simonides, for so much of what Simonides might have been is likely to be what tradition wants “Simonides” to have been. All the same, this is a book to celebrate, if not necessarily for the success of its product then for the ingenuity and originality of its mode of inquiry. In the moments where she does get the ingredients right, Carson unveils an unexpected and stimulating kinship between Simonides and Celan. And even when she’s off the mark, her effort is worth a thought-filled taste test. *("Aber sie [die Sprache:] musste nun hindurchgehen durch ihre eigenen Antwortlosigkeiten, hindurchgehen durch furtchbares Verstummen, hundurchgehen durch die tausend Finsternisse todbringender Rede. Sie ging hindurch und gab keine Worte her fuer das, was geschah; aber sie ging durch dieses Geschehen." -- "Language had to go through its own lack of answers, had to go through its own terrible muteness, had to go through the thousand darknesses of death-bringing talk. It went through and gave no words out for this, for what happened; but it went through this happening.")

  9. 5 out of 5

    Genese Grill

    This beautiful book by Anne Carson is about Paul Celan and the ancient Greek poet Simonides of Keos. It is about poetry, and about the extent to which language can or can not approximate experience. It is a beautiful and subtle apology for sustained power of poetry in the face of current skeptical deconstructions of communication and language. Celan, she tells us, once described the poet's task as "measuring off the area of the given and the possible," which in the context of this discussion mea This beautiful book by Anne Carson is about Paul Celan and the ancient Greek poet Simonides of Keos. It is about poetry, and about the extent to which language can or can not approximate experience. It is a beautiful and subtle apology for sustained power of poetry in the face of current skeptical deconstructions of communication and language. Celan, she tells us, once described the poet's task as "measuring off the area of the given and the possible," which in the context of this discussion means measuring out what one might possibly approach, approximate, suggest with language, despite an awareness of langauge's limitations. Of Simonides, Carson writes: "The poet's metaphorical activity puts him in a contrafactual relation to the world of other people and ordinary speech. He does not seek to refute of replace that world but merely to indicate the lacunae, by positioning alongside the world of things that we see an uncanny protasis of things invisible, although no less real... wakefulness is a metaphor for the philosopher's epistemic distance from a world of sleepwalkers. These sleepwalkers are the generality of men, who fail to make sense of their experience and live at odds with their own life, lost in what Heraklitus calls 'idiot thinking'...Idiot thinking is a matter of mistaking the visible surface of things, the world of appearance and seeming, for the true, underlyinng nonapparant [Greak word!] that Heraaclitus calls 'invisible harmony'" (59-60). Speaking of Celan, who found in German a language "stuffed with falsity and gagged with 'the ashes of burned-out meanings," Carson asks us how we might "use the void to think the full," a kind of poetic economy of what has been--and must remain--lost. She writes that "everytime a poet writes a poem he is asking the question, Do words hold good? And the answer has to be yes" (121).

  10. 4 out of 5

    Rick

    The classics scholar and poet presents an engaging set of lectures on the work of the Greek poet Simonides and the modern poet Paul Celan. Carson is a gifted intellectual who, like Guy Davenport and few others, makes reading about art and literature an inclusive pleasure. She shares her erudition and her enthusiasm. I may not always follow her thinking or understand the arguments (or even all of the words!) but she makes you want to read Simonides and Celan and the many others she references. He The classics scholar and poet presents an engaging set of lectures on the work of the Greek poet Simonides and the modern poet Paul Celan. Carson is a gifted intellectual who, like Guy Davenport and few others, makes reading about art and literature an inclusive pleasure. She shares her erudition and her enthusiasm. I may not always follow her thinking or understand the arguments (or even all of the words!) but she makes you want to read Simonides and Celan and the many others she references. Her essays are the wardrobe that opens up on Narnia—you leap through their open spaces convinced that curiosity and wonder at words, their meanings, and the power of art to educate and uplift is an adventure beyond question.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Cristina

    "A poet's despair is not just personal; he despairs of the word and that implicates all our hopes. Every time a poet writes a poem he is asking the question, Do words hold good? And the answer has to be yes: it is the contrafactual condition upon which a poet's life depends."

  12. 5 out of 5

    Mike Koen

    Well well...what do I think of Anne Carson? I would never presume... ;)

  13. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Mackell

    a beautiful poetry/prose/theory style of writing that at times i guess you could equate to that maggie nelson style of autotheory in the sense that it breaks the fourth well of academic jargon with poetic metaphor, but not so much in the sense that it is autobiographical. it deals with the ancient Greek poet Simonides, one of the first poets to make money for his poetry, which mostly took the form of epitaphs on tombstones that he is commissioned to write, and the poetry of Paul Celan, a Romania a beautiful poetry/prose/theory style of writing that at times i guess you could equate to that maggie nelson style of autotheory in the sense that it breaks the fourth well of academic jargon with poetic metaphor, but not so much in the sense that it is autobiographical. it deals with the ancient Greek poet Simonides, one of the first poets to make money for his poetry, which mostly took the form of epitaphs on tombstones that he is commissioned to write, and the poetry of Paul Celan, a Romanian Jew whose parents were killed in the pogroms. Carson takes a Marxist reading of the alchemical conversion of words, namely poetry, into a monetary value, in the same sense that labor time is converted into monetary value in systems of capitalism. the construction of Simonides' poetry, however, reveals a certain self-awareness of this aspect of his poetry. in other words, Simonides' poems are constructed economically, so as to maximize the space on a tombstone which an epitaph allows for. Celan's work also involves alchemical conversions of language in the sense that he is writing in German, the language of his oppressor, in a political climate in which the very words he is using are also being used to enact real legislation and real death. Words fail in political climates such as these. this is expressed in Celan's poetry, the loss of faith in words, the violent discombobulation of these words in their construction into new uses, contexts, and formations (which the German language allows for in interesting ways by mash-ups of many words into one big one). Both Simonides and Celan work to create ruptures within the confines of their own strangely mutilated poetry, mutilated by its conversion into ulterior motives and foreign substances, coins in Simonides' case, death in Celan's. Carson asks, what is lost (or unlost) in these alchemical, lyric conversions in the economy of poetry?

  14. 5 out of 5

    Robin Doran

    Brilliant, nuanced, incisive This is a masterpiece of connecting and creating a web of meaning among apparently different silk threads. It is impossible not sit at her feet and expand one’s mind.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Neha

    Fascinating - just not as lyrical as I expected.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Leif

    To be sure, this is an amazing study by any terms, whether those of poetic analogy, biography, or classical scholarship. In the epilogue to Economy of the Unlost Anne Carson takes as her subject some lines poet Paul Celan wrote weeks before his suicide by drowning, lines from which she derives her epilogue's title ("All Candled Things"): Die Ewigkeiten fuhren ihm ins Gesicht und drüber hinaus, langsam löschte ein Brand alles Gekerzte [The eternities drove at his face and beyond it, slowly a fire extingui To be sure, this is an amazing study by any terms, whether those of poetic analogy, biography, or classical scholarship. In the epilogue to Economy of the Unlost Anne Carson takes as her subject some lines poet Paul Celan wrote weeks before his suicide by drowning, lines from which she derives her epilogue's title ("All Candled Things"): Die Ewigkeiten fuhren ihm ins Gesicht und drüber hinaus, langsam löschte ein Brand alles Gekerzte [The eternities drove at his face and beyond it, slowly a fire extinguished all candled things] This is how Carson responds, in brilliant and quick sentences that begin to summarize some of her central concerns: We cannot assimilate this despair but we should study it. For a poet's despair is not just personal; he despairs of the word and that implicates all our hopes. Every time a poet writes a poem he is asking the question, Do words hold good? And the answer has to be yes: it is the contrafactual condition upon which a poet's life depends. We have looked at the ways in which this condition informs ancient Greek attitudes to poets and poetry--build into Homer's blindness and Simonides' avarice, sleepshaped in the story of Danaë, deathcoloured on the ship of Theseus, quickchanged as a longwinded fly, sudden as a collapsed roof. We have seen Simonides estranged from his fellows on account of this condition; we have seen him recognize, resent and negotiate his estrangement; we have seen him transform it into a poetic method of luminous and precise economy. We have not seen him despair. There isn't much I can say about this book to convey my wonder at its effortless, trustworthy collusion of Greek and German poets through the fierce prism of Carson's poetic eye. A paragraph of hers has more wisdom in it than books, let's say even shelves, of other authors.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    Anne Carson's Economy of the Unlost promise to juxtapose two poets separated by a vast distance: the ancient Greek poet Simonides of Keos and the 20th-century figure Paul Celan, a Jew who continued to write in German after the Holocaust. Unfortunately, I found this very disappointing as both a fan of Celan, and as someone with a Classics degree. Let me make one thing here: this is mainly a book about Simonides of Keos. Celan is rarely brought in, and when he is, it doesn't really follow on Carson Anne Carson's Economy of the Unlost promise to juxtapose two poets separated by a vast distance: the ancient Greek poet Simonides of Keos and the 20th-century figure Paul Celan, a Jew who continued to write in German after the Holocaust. Unfortunately, I found this very disappointing as both a fan of Celan, and as someone with a Classics degree. Let me make one thing here: this is mainly a book about Simonides of Keos. Celan is rarely brought in, and when he is, it doesn't really follow on Carson's observations about Keos. I was reminded of the scene in Don DeLillo’s novel White Noise where a professor of “Elvis studies” drops in on a class taught by his colleague, a professor of “Hitler studies”, and the two alternate in making statements about their respective fields that have nothing to do with one another. Furthermore, nearly all of Carson's citations for Celan are from English sources, which suggests she lacks the essential German-language background for that famously polysemic poet. Now, there is some value to Carson's lecture in introducing one to Simonides of Keos, a fascinating figure that I missed out on during my studies of Greek. Simonides was active just as a monetary economy was replacing Greece's earlier gift economy, and his financial relationship with his patrons gained him a reputation as something of a miser. However, Carson chooses to continually name-drop Karl Marx, citing him in a way that doesn't elucidate Simonides much, but seems to display the author's liberal arts street cred. I read a great deal of literary criticism and have often found that it has expanded my appreciation, but Economy of the Unlost was simply an exercise in frustration. I just don’t get the other, positive reviews.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Yifat

    "They say that Simonides had two boxes, one for graces, the other for fees. So when someone came to him asking for a grace he had the boxes displayed and opened: the one was found to be empty of graces, the other full of money. And that's the way Simonides got rid of a person requesting a gift" From Anne Carson's Economy of the Unlost the given and the negation of the given started many moons ago, indeed.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Neal

    As with all Anne Carson's books, a deeply nuanced study. Absence, presence, grace in life and death. The comparison of Simonides and Paul celan, an amazingly brilliant bond of humanity across centuries. All three poets, Simonides, celan and Carson are illuminated with this read.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Antonio Delgado

    This is a must read book on the economy of poetry and its vacuum written by one of the best living poets. From antiquity to Marx to Celan (the twentieth century), Carson reveals the importance of the archaeology of poetry.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Borntoread

    slow going but very interesting on the difference between a potlatch style economy in ancient Greece and a modern economy post-Marx. Compares 2 poets: Paul Celan and Simonides.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Wayne Hiller van rensburg

    Difficult read, but defined labour in a way no other work I've read since Marx.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Don Hackett

    Somehow reading this made Paul Celan mean more to me.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Alexander

    This isn't for everyone, but the meditation on the relationship between writing and money, epitaphs and the poetry of Paul Celan (for which she does the translations) was a treat for me.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Anastasios Kozaitis

    fascinating

  26. 5 out of 5

    Romayne

  27. 5 out of 5

    Shannon

  28. 5 out of 5

    Lucy

  29. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

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