The viewer of “Untitled” who consults the source text for this inscrutable sequence encounters an unsettling reinscription of the New Testament narrative in the guise of a prospective film – a documentary destined for television – whose resonance with the predicament of the seropositive in our own time is unmistakable. Carson presents the poem in three parts, the first of which, “DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY: VOICEOVER,” begins with an acknowledgment of the problematic nature of the project:
Yes I admit a degree of unease about my
motives in making
Mere prurience of a kind that is all too common nowadays
in public catastrophes….
But you can see
how the pull is irresistible. The pull to handle horrors
and to have a theory of them. [Carson, 87]
The language of justification here figures the irresistible force – which cannot be seen – at the heart of the wrenching prior narrative. Subsequently, the voiceover details her “theory” (or his, for the question of gender remains indeterminate here) of the Lazarus story:
But then you get
someone like Lazarus, a man of no
on whom God bestows
the ultimate benevolence, without explanation, then abandons
him again to his nonentity.
We are left wondering, Why Lazarus?
My theory is
God wants us to wonder this.
After all, if there were some quality that Lazarus possessed,
some criterion of excellence
by which he was chosen to be called
then we would all start competing to achieve this.
God’s gift is simply random, well
for one thing
it makes a more interesting TV show. God’s choice can be seen emerging
from the dark side of reason
like a new planet. No use being historical
about this planet,
it is just an imitation.
As Lazarus is an imitation of Christ. As TV is an imitation of
Lazarus. As you and I are an imitation of
TV. [Carson, 88-89]
The hypothesis that “the ultimate benevolence,” the unanticipated “gift” of more time, of survival beyond one’s appointed term, is bestowed randomly and unreasonably extends to the scandal of the clinical drug trials, and further to the uneven availability and accessibility of emerging therapies based on economic and geopolitical contingencies. The mimetic relationships enumerated here (“No use being historical / about this planet, / it is just an imitation. / As Lazarus is an imitation of Christ. As TV is an imitation of / Lazarus. As you and I are an imitation of / TV”), which are predicated on the temporal disjunction of allegory, recall Andrews’ earlier endeavors, and in particular Facsimile, whose multiple mediations exploit what is lost in translation, the degradation that accompanies the attenuated reproduction of images that are never the same from one generation to the next.
Carson’s voiceover goes on to specify what in the narrative of Lazarus remains exemplary for us, here and now.
But my bond with Lazarus goes deeper, indeed
nausea overtakes me when faced with
the prospect of something simply beginning all over again.
Repetition is horrible. Poor Lazarus cannot have known
he was an
but no doubt he realized, soon after being ripped out of his
warm little bed in the ground,
his own epoch of repetition just beginning….
Or maybe my pity
is misplaced. Some people think Lazarus lucky,
like Samuel Beckett who calls him “Happy Larry” or Rilke
who speaks of
that moment in a game
when “the pure too-little flips over into the empty too-much.”
Well now I am explaining why my documentary
focuses entirely on this moment, the flip-over moment.
Before and after
don’t interest me.
You won’t be seeing any clips from home videos of Lazarus
in short pants racing his sisters up a hill.
No footage of Mary and Martha side by side on the sofa
discussing how they manage
with a dead one sitting down to dinner. No panel of experts
debating who was really the victim here.
Our sequence begins and ends with that moment of complete
and sport –
when Lazarus licks the first drop of afterlife off the nipple
of his own old death. [Carson, 89-91]
In the poem’s central section, subtitled “LAZARUS STANDUP: SHOOTING SCRIPT,” the language is no longer assigned to the director of photography, but rather to the implicit and anonymous screeenwriter:
(someone is calling his name) – his name!
And at the name (which he knew)
not just a roar of darkness
the whole skeletal freight
crushing him backward into the rut where he lay
like a damp
under a pile of furniture.
And the second fact of his humanity began…. [Carson, 93]