In a 2004 interview for The Paris Review’s 171st issue, Anne Carson talked of her book Autobiography of Red. “I think that book is like architecture because the poem, the original ancient poem which does exist, is in the center,” she said.
“But there’s nothing I could do with that, no adequate representation of it I could give, so I made up all these angles for it—the novel itself and the interview and the translation in the preface. So there are ways of moving into and out of a room from other rooms in the building, but really what I want to show is glimpses of that main room in the center,” Carson finished.
Carson’s notion of a work built around an empty center is close to Andrew Douglas Underwood’s approach to At the Weehawken Dueling Ground, July 11, 1804. The work concerns an event—the duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr—but the work’s parts are the event’s leftovers: letters, pistol balls and pistols, memorials and gravestones, map and duel regulations. The duel that these materials revolve around isn’t fully there. Historians don’t even know exactly what happened anyway. Did Burr shoot to kill viciously or in self-defense, did Hamilton intend to kill Burr or did he intentionally miss? No one knows, but this brief duel in 1804 had massive effects on the lives of its combatants and even the course of American politics.
Michael Agresta’s fictional portrait of Burr post-duel reconstructs Burr’s moods following the backlash from Hamilton’s death as well as the loss of his papers in a shipwreck which also took Burr’s daughter Theodosia (both true events). Agresta’s evocation of loss find an echo in Laura A.L. Wellen’s article “On Archives and Absence,” as Wellen meditates on the shattering absences contained in any historical record and the historian’s manner of sifting through and reassembling archival items into a coherent narrative for the present.
So this issue of Pastelegram, co-curated with Underwood, is fundamentally about research, about meandering through the detritus of something past and figuring out how to organize that detritus into a representation of something now mostly lost.