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Steven Seidenberg Interview


Steven Seidenberg is the author of Situ (Black Sun Lit, 2018), Itch (RAW ArT Press, 2014), Null Set (Spooky Actions Books, 2015), and numerous chapbooks of verse and aphorism, including Duration Knows No Law (ypolita press, 2016) coming out in Swedish translation from Smockadoll Press in 2020. His full length work of aphorism, plain sight, will be out from Roof Books in 2019, and another work of lyric prose, Anon, is forthcoming from Omnidawn in 2021. He co-edited three issues of the poetry anthology pallaksch.pallaksch. (Instance Press, 2014-2018) and has had shows of his visual work in the US, Mexico, Japan, Germany and Italy. His collections of photographs include Pipevalve: Berlin (Lodima Press, 2017), Choshi (Littlefield's, 2017) and the forthcoming Riforma Fondiaria (Contrasto, 2019).


Jane Joritz-Nakagawa is the author of over a dozen poetry books and chapbooks, most recently Poems: New and Selected (Isobar, 2018), <<terrain grammar>> (theenk Books, 2019), and, as editor, women : poetry : migration [an anthology], also with theenk, 2017, which includes the work of 50 female poets currently living in a country other than that of their birth. She is particularly interested in poetry and essays by ex-pat writers, as well as feminist avant-garde poetries, disability poetics and ecopoetics. Email is welcome at janejoritznakagawa(at)gmail(dot)com.



JJN:  Can we start with your conception of your 2014 book Itch

SS: In Itch I pursue a kind of middle ground between philosophical and poetic discourse, by which I mean that I seek to do what both do best, or what I find most compelling in each. For me, that means appropriating into the prosody of the prose a kind of poetic condensation and lyrical (even metrical) rigor that much poetry, needless to say, does not pursue. In my verse forms, as you know, I am even more inclined to an intensity of condensation, a pot boiled dry, I like to think, and find myself drawn to more formal prosody most of the time–a rigorous meter, as in the prose, but accompanied by other formalisms much (not all) of the time. A meeting place of Celanian and Dickinsonian condensation, if you will—a connection, incidentally, not lost on Celan, who loved Dickinson and translated her work to German. In some way the central figure of the text, and the difference between the approaches of philosophical and poetic work—the trope, if you will—is centered on the mode of address, or the figure, perhaps better, of the addressee. In both forms there is a directly hypostatised interlocutor, in a way that other forms of fiction or nonfiction do not require or pursue. A second person not merely assumed, but overtly made the vector of such postural receipt. For my purpose, the addressee in verse forms is rather like that of the prophet in conversation—argument, even—with her deity—the conviction is one of the substance of consciousness itself, the forms of sense larding the sense of (textual) forms with meaning, and that meaning serving as a counter to the implied transcendence of the addressee. In such discourse, that 'you' is importuned to answer but cannot, understanding that the immanence required to make sense of the message hounds the transcendental out of existence. Philosophical prose, on the other hand asks of its purely immanent interlocutor the obverse movement, the receipt of a set of claims assumed to access the transcendental in the form of the universal, even where that universal denies the possibility universals (denied universally, you might say). The impulse of Itch is to do both at once, to lure the addressee into complicity with a system requisite to the dissolution of systems, and to force into immanence the sense of lyric and the sense of sense, for the narrator and the interlocutor each at the same meeting place, that of the most liminal of intensities, the phenomenon of the itch.

JJN: Null Set, also published in 2014, in some ways is formally distinct from Itch. I'm wondering which you wrote first and how you see the two works in relation to each other?

SS: Well, for me, lineated work such as that in Null Set—all verse forms, that is to say—has a different vector of composition than the hybrid forms of lyric prose that characterize other work of mine—including the work in Itch and Situ. I wrote and revised for Null Set for 2 or 3 years; on Itch, for a decade or so; Situ, a similarly long period. In some way it is merely the word countItch, Situ afterwards, and the books coming out in the next couple of years (a full length work of aphorism, called plain sight, from Roof Books in 2020, and another hybrid work of narrative, Anon, from Omnidawn in 2021) are so much longer, but each line—even though bound to the sentence—is equally compelled by the lyric standards and semantic condensations of the verse.


That said, I find both forms distinct in many ways too—some of which are delineated above—and they differ in how they feel as practices nearly as much as the differences between my experience of visual practice and work in written forms.


JJN:  Please talk about the images in your work Pipevalve: Berlin (2017). On page 107 you write: "I am able to keep at all times one foot in the dying world and one foot beyond dying". Could you also explain a little bit about how the text in the book is in dialogue with the images?


SS:   My visual practice as a photographer is always in series, always working along similar lines to the sense of the repetition of forms in the written work, and as such, the writing runs parallel to the formal constraints of the visual practice, and visa versa. At the same time, the cycle of aphorism in Pipevalve: Berlin (a cycle called Troth) is selected in particular for the way in which it addresses a broad sense of the content of that particular series, in addition to the way it describes my visual practice generally. The pipevalve in question is a clean out for drainage pipes, cast iron, used in east Berlin alone. They rot in an organic way, move in relation to the buildings to which they are attached, and at the time of my capture, were barely extant, now almost all replaced. They seemed outliers, residual and portentous at the same time, and these are indeed the themes explored in much of my work, particularly the aphorism—where the narrative voice assumes the same position, outcast but unyielding; superseded but superior, if you will.


The aphorism you quote above demonstrates this quite well.

JJN:  Let's move on to Situ (2018). How is Situ a progression for you?

SS: I don't know if I think of work progressing, exactly––more that there are different approaches, for me always to the same themes, towards the same sort of explorations and resolves, but in every case a kind of necessary failure, an assumption, if you will, into paradox. The first shift one will notice in Situ is the adoption of a third person form, rather than the first person narration of Itch, and often of the aphorism. It's a 'close third', as they say, but still a kind of objectification of the 'narrator'—the subject of the narrative. One of the interesting effects of this shift is to entirely excise the direction of the work towards the reified 2nd, the 'you' of the reader. This equally changes the way in which the narration focuses on the body of the narrator, allowing the narrative—which moves through many of the structures and arguments codified in western philosophy as an elision of the body, an abstraction—to found itself not only in corporeality (also present in Itch), but in a body that is places and attempting to navigate its placement; an ever unfolding, ever digressing positing of one's being in a world that precedes and antecedes that ontic resolve only if the presence of the narrative observer serves as precondition for such dissonance itself. This, in turn, makes of Situ an ontology of a kind, where Itch forms and frames what I think of as an epistemology.


Equally, this shift in the philosophical entelechy forces a distinct form of lyricism, again not an unrelated or unrecognizable voice, but an exploration of different meters and sound forms. In combination, these differences give Situ a slightly more diegetic feel—more novelistic in certain respects—although this likely seems far more significant to me than to a reader of my work(s). As such, there is an almost slapstick character to the action—a term that I use loosely—of Situ, as the 'hero' attempts to control his body in the process of an exceedingly tortuous collapse.

JJN:  Your artwork is on the cover of an anthology I edited titled women : poetry : migration
an anthology」( theenk Books 2017and work from the same series on the cover of your chapbook Duration knows no law (ypolita press 2016).  Can you talk about this work a little?


SS: Yes, that series is called Tokyo Tape, and captures stray bits of tape and other adhesives found on the floors and platforms of Tokyo subway stations—markings used to delineate areas of danger or construction, or for general directional purposes, but which often remain after such uses have become unclear or contrary to present circumstance, decaying in place. For me, these bits of expression form a kind of hieroglyphic landscape, and as such became extraordinary opportunities to engage in a formal, geometric abstraction through the lens. I have shown these images widely, and I hope we will see a collection out in 2020, but it's still in negotiation.


Again, this visual practice very closely parallels my vision of poetic practice, with multiplicity meaning resulting from compositional, material and semantic forms of condensation, a coincidence of abstractions I think lens based art is uniquely positioned to pursue. The chapbook you mention, Duration knows no law (another version of which will be released in Swedish translation from Smockadoll in 2019), is another cycle of aphorism, like Troth in the Pipevalve book, and similarly presses against the formal repetitions of the photograph in series. For me, work in aphorism always privileges an ethics, or poses the problems that such privileging suggests. Both the aphorism in the Duration and in Pipevalve will be a part of the full-length release in aphorism, plain sight, coming out from Roof Books next year, and forms the basis of an ongoing explanation of such morays, through this kind of lyric philosophical fragment. It is a project that has no end, only ongoing collection and re-aggregation—by its nature.





copyright © Steven Seidenberg & Jane Joritz-Nakagawa