22 October 2012

The Re-echoes

Magus Magnus lives in the D.C. metro area. He is the author of Verb Sap, Heraclitean Pride, and Idylls for a Bare Stage. His most recent book The Re-echoes (Furniture Press Books, 2012) is a long poem that "Re-purposes" words so as to create a text infused with linguistic playfulness, offering readers a chance "to hear through verbiage soundness"(43) and become subject to the strange repetitions and reverberations of language. In such a way, The Re-echoes revels in "words" that are "pleasurable for their textures" and their "haunting[s]" (7). Magnus took sometime out of his schedule as he prepared for the Society for Ancient Greek Philosophy conference at Fordham University to answer a few questions for me regarding his new work, and its relationship to classical thought.

The title of your newest book, The Re-echoes, suggests a double displacement, in that an echo is a sound once removed from its original source. Thus, a re-echo, one would assume, is a sound at least twice removed from its original source. Could you tell me a bit about the idea of a re-echo, and how you decided upon the title? What is its significance is to the writing in this collection?

I'd tend to agree about the term re-echo suggesting a double - or multiple - propagation from an original source, beyond that of an echo. However, the idea of remove or displacement from a source is less compelling for me than the emphasis on multiplicity, and closeness to the source through the means/phenomena of repetition, resonance, reverb, and multiplicity. Please note, the amount of appropriated material in the book is quite low (say, 10-20% at most, probably closer to 10%) and most of that is allusion and homage, rather than remix; so, I orient to the work neither as assemblage nor collection, but as a single book-length poem indeed propagated from Source, and attempting to stay close to it - maybe that word only to be understood in the intertextual manner Noah Eli Gordon explores it in The Source, yet still held distinct from source text alone. This reverberation - this recurrence - definitely includes Source as text and as the source of texts, as well as its first echoes through Time as geology and biology, as history and culture, for continued infolding of the human and inhuman in language (and thought). The term re-echo, in keeping multiplicity to the fore, has a way of extending the sense of the source/Source into an infinite series, like corridors created by mirrors facing mirrors. At the same time (or in incredibly quick sequence!), repetition of echoes highlights contours, the edges of sound and silence, on again off again (quickly!), and it is in there that I think something extra happens, something to pay attention to. The in-between. And a repetition of the in-between. What arises in the in-between (what I search for, at least): Poetry.

I've been fascinated by this sense or imagery for years: what's in between the echoes, what's in the corridors of facing mirrors? I still like to give away as gifts a book of mine published twenty years ago, in my early adulthood, Little Puddles.
till number an echo
with zeros between digits for space
that is, a tidbit placed on pause
hear and here little puddles

infinity don't add up
One of the "multiple propagations" in The Re-echoes is the repetition of the present singular verb form of "to be." For example, near the beginning of the collection you write:
is as which gravitational waves pulls
pillow in undertow



is cosmic microwaves background radiation

a bowl in the palm of a hand
                                                 a singing bowl

is singes
                flinty, clumsy

is sieve (19)
Not only does "is" repeat (thus producing a sonic loop), but the subject/agent is absent. In other words, we as readers don't know what's being identified. Could you speak a bit about this repetition and your understanding of how it functions in The Re-echoes.

or the "is" is the subject/agent!

or it works ambivalently, with absence of a subject, and/or with the subject/agent being "is" itself. As with the title itself, anthimeria is everything and everywhere in this piece. Multi-valence down to the articles.

I'll safely make the claim that not since Bill Clinton has there been such delving into what the meaning of the word "is" is.

At a recent reading in Chicago, you read from The Re-echoes and dipped into the poem at what appeared to be random places. During your banter, you drew a comparison between your reading style and the Heraclitean river. Could you address the significance of classical philosophy and thought to the poem, as well as your work in general? As contemporary writers and readers, what do you feel we can learn from these ancient texts and the ideas therein?

The Re-echoes is definitely a poem of Heraclitean Flux. It's appropriate that Furniture Press published Heraclitean Pride, with its immersion in everything we have of Heraclitus, and then The Re-echoes, which truly functions as language attempting nearness to the flux, and could be considered - throughout its length - concrete poetry in the shape of a river. And sure, you can dip into its flow anywhere in the book. Uneven flows, changing pace and rhythms, including some meandering. Of course,
is meanders
It’s funny, my interest in ancient works - the classics - the Greeks - might seem very distant to contemporary concerns and poetics, with something candlelit and "educational" about it, "instructive" - when I don't feel that way at all! Even if one tries to treat writing solely as text, there is no reason ancient text doesn't have the capacity to jump off the page just as much as anything written yesterday or today. More so! - for what's lasted has had to be alive, stay alive, throughout millennia. That aliveness. Heraclitus for me especially has this quality: his intriguing, inscrutable fragments, so hard to translate, shot through with exuberance and fieriness. Heraclitus will never stop burning. Oracular, but no bullshit. "The Sibyl, with raving mouth uttering words mirthless and unadorned and unperfumed, reaches with her voice through a thousand years…" I don’t know how to give others access to that, except to go with it myself.

The ancient Greek poets and philosophers in general, and the pre-Socratics in specific, are a living root of our Western civilization. Far from being a step backwards into traditionalism, the rigidities of an academic classicism, or reanimation of dead languages, or some sort of sepulchral monumentalism , it's a radical act and orientation to stay close to, and nourish on, these source-roots. It's radical because the matter one's dealing with then is so basic, it's nearly impossible to gain and maintain awareness of it (with such difficulties in becoming aware maybe parallel to those illuminated by the materialist critique of Ideology): the core of a way of life and thinking and perceiving prior to historical accident, contingency, and evolution, with all wrong turns included. Start again from the source!

For instance, I've been having great conversations for a few years now with Rose Cherubin, classical philosopher at George Mason University. She has an intense interest and expertise in Parmenides, focused on deep (re)-evaluation of his requisites of inquiry, his prescription for adequately knowing and speaking of what we know. There's a great mystery in Parmenides - I can't imagine a poet of any era failing to find this utterly fascinating, and imminent with possibility. Parmenides wrote in the form of a poem, and in this poem, gave us the first recorded instance of deductive reasoning. This has remained inexplicable, and most modern scholars interpret his poem simply as bad poetry, infelicitous for what he was trying to do and say. Yet poetry, right down to the Greek word, poiesis, means a "making" - poetry from the deep past to the contemporary avant-garde is and has always been at the heart of creation and innovation of writing forms and thought forms, the generator of forms in language. The place or process or inspirational field for generating forms. So, it's an absolutely amazing testament of poetry's generative power to consider the form of deductive reasoning - with its own peculiar rhythm!, later formalized into the syllogism - as having emerged from a poem, Parmenides' poem.

So the past isn’t really past or distant, or much removed, if one's concerned about Poetry, and Thought, and whence they spring.

But back to Heraclitus, and his verve. The contents of his life matter too, still. He's a fantastic example of a life living in devotion to mental freedom. His work belongs to the Canon of the Free Spirit, along with anything of the past hundred or thousand years mentioned in Greil Marcus' Lipstick Traces. And not the earliest example either - go back another 800 years to Akhnaton.

Here's a fragment of Heraclitus beyond time: "Down any path whatsoever, you can't find a limit to the Soul, so deep is its measure (Logos)."

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