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Alexa Fahlman

An Atmospheric Presence: Materializing Intimacy in Anne Carson’s NOX

and Kathy Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School

As Jennifer Cooke notes in Scenes of Intimacy, ‘literary intimacy’, she writes, ‘sounds as though it might be a delicately veiled euphemism for sex scenes.’[1] Yet, within literature, intimacy holds a variety of connotations beyond those which we may traditionally associate with the word. For instance, intimacy in Mrs Dalloway is something that floats in the air: 'there had risen up a lovely tree in the brisk sea-salted air of their intimacy (for in some ways no one understood him, felt with him, as Clarissa did)—their exquisite intimacy.’[2] For Woolf, it is an impressionistic sensation, yet one which retains a grounding presence. In my mind, Woolf conveys the ways in which the intimacies we have with people, places, objects, and ourselves, can surprise us by taking the most incongruous forms. In fact, if we turn past sexual encounters, we might find that textual intimacies can also exist through alternative vernacular mediums such as tea-stained ephemera, handwritten translations, and pasted-in photographs. By reading intimacy through form, we can therefore begin to see the ways in which intimacy can reside anywhere––its atmospheric potential.[3] This essay is an exploration of the materiality of intimacy. It is an attempt to engage Anne Carson’s Nox (2009) together with Kathy Acker’s Blood and Guts in High School (1978) to show how the layering of personal genres—handwritten letters, journals excerpts, and photographs— is not simply a stylistic choice, but a way to articulate the ineffable. To express trauma, memory, and loss, I argue that Carson and Acker turn towards the materiality of form to translate the difficult intimacies which language itself cannot hold.

Full essay available upon request.

[1] Jennifer Cooke and others, Scenes of Intimacy: Reading, Writing and Theorizing Contemporary Literature, (London: Bloomsbury, 2014) p. 1.

[2] Virginia Woolf, Mrs Dalloway, ed. by David Bradshaw, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) p. 46.

[3] Subsequent material within this essay has been taking from my abstract, LIT303 Abstract (2019)