Float Summary & Study Guide

This Study Guide consists of approximately 123 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Float.
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Float Summary & Study Guide Description

Float Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Float by Anne Carson.

The following version of this book was used to create this Study Guide: Carson, Anne. Float. McClelland & Stewart, 2016. Hardcover edition.

Gathering together a rich assortment of lectures, notes, performance pieces, essays, verse, and miscellanea — lists, for example, or reflections on Hegel or Paul Celan — and meditating on such themes as marriage, monogamy, loneliness, and fragmentation, Anne Carson's latest collection, Float, is her most genre defying collection yet. Comprised of 22 unique and pagination-less chapbooks whose order is unfixed and whose topics are various, each reader who comes to Float will come to it in a different fashion: some reading 'chronologically,' i.e. in the order that the chapbooks are presented by the publisher, McClelland & Stewart, while some read sporadically, picking up whichever chapbook suits their individual interests. As such, the 'plot' of this collection might be said to be created by the reader, with Carson merely providing the framework; after all, each chapbook is connected to that which came before or to that which will come after only on the basis of their being collected in the same volume. Otherwise there is no thru-line, no overarching order; Float can be flipped through, picked up, shuffled around, in whatever way its reader desires. Which is to say: Float lets go of expectations and boundaries, lets go of what it means to be a 'book,' in order to focus instead on pure experience — on how it feels to read and to watch a mind as brilliant as Carson's roam.

In no particular order, here are summaries of each chapbook within Float.

"Powerless Structures Fig. II (Sanne)" is a short chapbook consisting of a poem written in couplets, which details the connection the speaker — who is presumably Anne Carson — has with a woman named Sanne, who has recently died "of alcohol and indescribable longing." This chapbook is concerned with grief and grieving, and provides two different perspectives on overcoming disorder: the first suggests that form is capable of overwriting, or overwhelming grief, while the second suggests that grief overwrites, or overwhelms, form. Carson leaves the exact significance of this chapbook vague so that it is up to the discretion of the reader to decide what, exactly, "Powerless Figures" has to say.

"Maintenance" is one of the list-based chapbooks in Float; it details a series of 26 points, which begin mundane — "Water the earth," "Polish the steel circles and squares" — and which escalate to consider some of the volume's most metaphysical questions, such as: "Who does all this thinking are there rules for it this boundary between work and its maintenance who draws it." As a result, "Maintenance" presents itself at once as a volume concerned with what it means to call something 'art' — it is, after all, a list posing as a poem — and as a volume concerned with 'boundaries': between one point and the next, one chapbook and the next, and even one art form and the next.

"Pinplay: A Version of Euripides' 'Bacchae'" is a chapbook which, as the title suggests, presents "A Version" of the classic tragedy the "Bacchae," written by Euripides. In this chapbook, Carson uses Euripides' characters to convey a drama concerned with the multiplicity of interpretation and the violence associated with pinning down meaning within a work of art.

"Variations on the Right to Remain Silent" is an essay concerned with translation and the limitations of language; by invoking such figures as Francis Bacon, Joan of Arc, and Paul Celan, Carson suggests that sometimes translation amounts to an act of interpretation, which, as she makes clear both in this chapbook and elsewhere, is a wholly individual and thus, unique process — much like the experience readers have when approaching Float, and its 22 chapbooks.

"Eras of Yves Klein" is another list-based chapbook, which is comprised of five pages of sentences vaguely concerned with the art world, each of which beginning with the phrase "The Eras." This chapbook attempts to demonstrate how fragments can manifest as collectives when these fragments share a similar form.

"Stacks" is a chapbook comprising 19 poems, all of which have within their titles the word "stack." These poems are concerned with a number of things — Jezebel, Dido, the Phoenicians, inventions, translation, thunder, and prices, to name a few — but mostly, "Stacks" is a demonstration of Float's major theme regarding the variability of interpretation.

"Candor" is a collection of five poems entitled "Could I," "Then 3," "Double 2," "Too," and "Her." These poems take as their subject such figures as Jane Wells (née Amy Catherine), Helen of Troy, Boiotian tablets, and Carson herself, and are concerned with the efficacy of writing, the proliferation of meaning within an in-between space, and the agency of women.

"108 (flotage)" is a list-based chapbook comprising a number of points presented in ascending, but non-chronological, order. These points relate a story that was told to the unnamed speaker, which concerns a man and his attempt to cross a border; however, because the speaker does not know this man, and furthermore has forgotten some of his points, the story is presented only in fragments. "108 (flotage)" introduces a neologism emblematic of Carson's methodology within Float — "flotage" — and emphasizes the various ways to tell and receive a story, particularly when this story is riddled with moments of betweenness.

"The Designated Mourner by Wally Shawn" is a chapbook written in monologue style, relating the thoughts and experiences of an unnamed speaker, who reflects on life, art, and meaning in their day-to-day life after they see a staging of Wallace Shawn's "The Designated Mourner," in New York, 2013.

"Cassandra Float Can" is a chapbook that presents a personal essay concerning the capacity for meaning to be made when structure and form are severed by an artist. This chapbook provides the theoretical background necessary to comprehend the methodology in Float by using three famous literary or artistic figures as analogies for Carson, herself. These figures are: Cassandra, the Trojan prophetess; Edmund Husserl, the German phenomenologist; and Gordon Matta-Clark, an artist who severed large scale structures in half.

"Zeusbits" is a chapbook comprised of various 'bits' relating to Zeus, who is rented from his mythological context and placed within mundane scenarios relating to taxes and gardening. This chapbook attempts to demonstrate the theory of 'flotage' put forth in "Cassandra Float Can" by attesting to the capacity for fragmentation to create meaning as a result of it forcing interpretation — by author and reader, both.

"Possessive Used as Drink (Me)" is a series of 15 sonnets concerned with pronouns — whether they operate linguistically as alienable, that is fragmentary, or inalienable, that is non-fragmentary, signifiers. These sonnets vary in subject from Shakespeare to a recipe to a chest of drawers, and work cohesively to put forth an argument concerning the impact language and words have on the process of meaning-making.

"How to Like 'If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso' by Gertrude Stein" is a chapbook comprising of an essay written by Carson pertaining to a poem by Gertrude Stein, called "If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso." In this essay, Carson meditates on the theme of resemblance and exactitude, reflecting particularly on how writing can emphasize similarities or differences by means of word choice and pronouns.

"By Chance the Cycladic People" is a list-based chapbook concerning historical and fictional beliefs à propos Cycladic culture, which were neolithic peoples who thrived on emmer wheat, wild barley, sheep, pigs and tuna speared from small boats. The point of the chapbook is to demonstrate how in-between spaces — such as that space in-between history and fiction wherein "By Chance the Cycladic People" is set — can lead to a proliferation of meaning, while equally intimating the benefits and detriments to alienatory language.

"Contempts: A Study of Profit and Nonprofit in Homer, Moravia and Godard" is a comparative essay that considers what it means "to be a sellout nowadays" through analyzing the work of Homer, Albert Moravia, and Jean-Luc Godard. In this chapbook, themes of creation for art's sake, of agency, and of transaction — whether economic or artistic — are elicited, thereby making it one of Float's theoretical backbones.

"Wildly Constant" is a chapbook consisting of a long-form poem, written in tercets. This poem details the experience of a speaker — perhaps Carson? — who has moved to Iceland with her husband, one year following their honeymoon. The speaker contemplates the Icelandic signs — including crows, wind, and glaciers — and wonders aloud what these signs have to say about the country, and more importantly, about such themes as marriage and memory.

"L.A." consists of three poems addressed to Laurie Anderson, on the subject of musician, Lou Reed. These three poems are disjunctive and make little sense, and again demonstrate the importance of interpretive diversity in the process of meaning-making.

"Merry Christmas from Hegel" is a personal essay spoken from the point of view of a first person narrator who is presumably Carson. On Christmas Day, this narrator, alone up north, reads Hegel, and is inspired to go outside in order to see how the world falls away when she immerses herself in nature, rather than in the convoluted, lonely thoughts that preside in her mind. The chapbook concerns how fragmentation can supersede rationality; how, in other words, pure feeling can overcome such tiresome thoughts as loss and grief.

"Nelligan: Some Poems Translated from the French" is a chapbook comprised of loose translations of the poetry of Émile Nelligan — a Quebecker poet diagnosed with schizophrenia in the 1890s. These poems are concerned with mental illness, and demonstrate the positive and negative connotations associated with the volume's central theme, flotage.

"Good Dog I, II and III" is a chapbook of three poems, loosely inspired by the myth of Orpheus and Eurydike. These poems bring together some central themes from Float, these themes being: mental illness and interpretive multiplicity.

"Pronoun Envy" describes the concerns faced by Female Harvard Divinity Students in 1979, who protested the use of 'he / him' pronouns in lectures about God. At large, this chapbook, written in the style of a long-form poem, discusses the theme of exaptation, that is: expanding and adapting in an outward direction. The term is a neologism — it is coined by the anonymous speaker of "Pronoun Envy" — but parallels the concept of flotage, thus making this chapbook demonstrative of Float's central theme pertaining to interpretative multiplicity.

"Uncle Falling: A Pair of Lyric Lectures with Shared Chorus" is a stage-play consisting of two lectures on the subjects of grief, loss, multiplicity, and variation. This chapbook has two lecturers, as well as a chorus comprised of four Gertrude Steins, thus making its form parallel to that of a work of attic drama.

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