Steven Seidenberg - a dramatic intensification of Seidenberg’s career-long blurring of fiction, poetry, and philosophy—an accomplishment recalling the literary contributions of Blanchot, Bernhard, and pre-impasse Beckett

Steven Seidenberg, Situ. Black Sun Lit, 2018.

Behold: a body, mind, and voice situated in place, in time and space—moving, moved, and immovable. Steven Seidenberg’s SITU is a hesitant unfolding of demise, a text occupying the interstices between diegesis, philosophy, and poetry. The narrative’s tension finds form in an indeterminate subject’s relationship with a bench: an anguished site of rest and motion. Proving and parodying an epistemology of volition, the unstable narrator imbues their wildly despairing circumlocutions with great poetic urgency. This “thinking thinking” moves in and out of the thinking body it observes, displaying a devastating portrait of the paradoxes at the basis of all willful or inadvertent representation.
 SITU is a dramatic intensification of Seidenberg’s career-long blurring of fiction, poetry, and philosophy—an accomplishment recalling the literary contributions of Blanchot, Bernhard, and pre-impasse Beckett.

To engage with the narrative flow of Steven Seidenberg’s Situ is to pass through the looking glass of consciousness into a seriocomic world of ‘mnemonic throes’ and ‘the null of place.’ I think, therefore where am I? And what? And when? We feel the phenomenal world slip-sliding away, even as we marvel at the charged field of language and thought thus brought to light.”—Michael Palmer

“Steven Seidenberg has confected a stanza out of trains of thought that falter as explanation turns on itself too many times to grasp. He gives us the most amiable of mad narrators who twists gorgeous epistemological filigree, never escaping ‘captive selfdom’ as the lonely audience of his own powerful articulation, an ‘inner other.’ Situ is the fruit of the philosophical quest: a horror of the body—’face flush with the rancid muck that covers his cadaver’—and the rational mind in its infinite regress. ‘The point’ is to capture the moment of knowing—the happy ending where truth is completely expressed. But the unknown overwhelms the known as it becomes known as unknown, a terrain hidden between what can and can’t be said. This terrain is full of wonder, tenderness, laughter, failure, chatter. Our narrator enlarges it by increments as each stanza glides inexorably to its cliff. He hurls us over, only to start again with new faith in hundreds of fresh beginnings.”—Robert Glück

“A feat of extreme smarts, folding in iterative density and intense decay, Situ does philosophy as labyrinthine lit. It’s the private demo of an unheimlich maneuver, a novel of raveling, a vagrant meditation, with its protagonist assuming a metaphysical/mind-body position (bent over himself, inverted) that leads to a voyage around his brume, a roam of his own. This is outsider metaphysics, insider epistemology, inside-out methodology, limning limits of knowledge, will, action, language, memory, and unity in the creation, the scansion, of self and world. Literalizing notions of ground and point of view, and elaborating an abstract analytical baroque, a syntactical sublime, and an abject disoriented philosophy, Seidenberg creates a novel of sui generis reduction, full of dark, dreck humor, deep obsessional disorder, and relentless musical propulsion. Its intestinal yet Latinate formalism, its agonistic wit and ruinous wonder, its keen bent for passivity, would make Beckett chortle, Husserl mull, Descartes nod, Spinoza correspond, Melville wax fanciful. An original, gutsy book.”—Mina Pam Dick

Steven Seidenberg, Itch. RAW ArT PRESS, 2014.

Neither classifiable as fiction nor philosophy, ITCH recounts its narrator's arousal to the possibility of narration, while dredging through the viscera of corporeal awareness to find succor in the prospect of the telling of the tale. Written in propositional aphorisms both sinuously dense and lyrically precise, ITCH occupies a diegetic space somewhere between the austerity of Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations and the confessional interruptions of Stern's Tristram Shandy—philosophy with an unreliable narrator, fiction plotted from the compass of first premises to the abject specificity of sensation, of the itch...

The motions of the mind are not the same as the motions of (socially mediated) language. There is a resistance, a tension, between them, as becomes evident in Steven Seidenberg's monologue Itch. The mind's momentum, driven from below by the urgencies of flesh and from above the demands of society, is further augmented and diminished by the viscous flow of language systems. These systems themselves issue from social systems but then become semi-autonomous, pulling the already fraught mind into a strangely inhuman, perhaps interstellar, coordinate system into a new order of being, made up of the uncanny relations that exist between those present absences of signs. Thus, the subject of Itch is itself a "present absence" that, in attempting to conjure and confirm its own being through language, finds itself distorted by that very language, receding infinitely into the mirror-worlds of words. - Andrew Joron (from Foreword)

Scratching the itch is not just repeated action. It moves us in two ways. The first is toward the recognition of our own absurdity in taking perverse pleasure in our awareness of our hopeless commitment to experience the last scratch before satisfaction might occur. The second is the even stranger reinforcement through self-consciousness of repetition of the sense that we are getting somewhere, even if we only gradually exhaust the repertoire by which self-consciousness records its own failure to escape itself. I for one grow less eager to escape the unyielding conundrum presented by Seidenberg's weaving of repeated failure the more I attach to the satisfactions of its rhythms and its tracing thinking tracing thinking… --Charles Altieri

Steven Seidenberg's Itch constitutes a prolonged exploration of deixis--time of pointing to (though never occupying) a place of occurrence. It reminds me that one of the principle Modernist obsessions (one thinks of Stein, Joyce, and Beckett in particular) is with expressing presentness; finding, in Jean-Francois Lyotard's words, a phrase for the instant. But the more we use language to draw out the present, the more words fail to make it appear (like trying to satisfy an itch by scratching it?). The thrownness of the body in pain is surpassed here by the writer who itches, struggling through monologue to express the chiasmus of consciousness and sensation.  --Thom Donovan

A person awoke with an itch and really wants to tell you about it. Itch is a sequence of meditations, an introspection on introspection." A being in a body in a world" spins a tale about the body and the mind, about absence and extension, emotion, sensation, outside and inside, foreground and background, motion and stasis. Each paragraph is a jewel of repetition and reduplication, correspondence and progression, a dance that reels from waltz to gavotte to minuet. The words say, "I form an image..."read it and see!  Norma Cole

We know well our authors who have always been willing to share their ample testament to the inherent burdens of creating narrative beyond craft considerations, unappreciative audiences and critics, or good old-fashioned writer's block. And other writers in turn have likely been eager to learn from these testaments so that they can help themselves see the necessary trepidation which sometimes precedes composing narrative. Beginning with the first cyclical, anonymous exasperations of Steven Seidenberg's Itch, the reader may be reminded of cases such as Jane Bowles and her anguished demands at the linguistic level, akin to, as she put it, chiseling words into marble (as perhaps opposed to what she perceived as the effortless methodology of husband Paul). A story can be a torturous experience before the writer would recognize the story itself.
Drawing upon this same fear, the ever-present threat of language's failure to find its mark—one that will be faithfully preserved for all readers—suffuses the continuous dilemma in Itch. Seidenberg's narrator seeks form from utter formlessness. Instead of the threads of a discernible story being fleshed out before our eyes, however, the narrator soon unleashes an extended treatise as an interior monologue in segments, a larger deliberation upon narrative language with its (im)possibilities, dead ends, and chances: "If it appears I have a purpose that's unwittingly concealed by my advancement towards fulfillment—towards arrival in the form I will uphold—then it's arguably best for me leave off leaving off with it, and forthwith leave off leaving off with it for good." This "leaving off" becomes the figurative chisel that Itch wields, suspended permanently in mid-air by its narrator's sense of lexical precision over play, and an obsession with the classic riddle of a writer's abandon to give the world shape in words alone.
Itch, as a direct challenge to itself and any readers to remain with its narrator until an unforeseeable end, is a literary pragmatist's delight. Its deictic wanderings in fragments start and hesitate, retreating into frequent (and unclosed) ellipses that often are never clarified or explained until some gain can be made. Seidenberg's narrator persistently attempts to begin a story, only to realize an endless agony of the circumlocution of pre-writing, trying to scratch the "itch" of a creative impulse forever haggling with a conscious use of language while, at the same time, including its reader in the deliberations. At one early point, Seidenberg even cleverly allows his readers a generous sort of reprieve from the growing anti-narrative ("Go ahead, then. I'll wait. I have no place else to go. And if, alas, you don't return, then let this vow of patience prove the fondest of farewells..."), then chiding their return from the text's redacted blankness to his apparently pointless endeavor at hand ("You're back. Satisfied? I can't imagine").
As a philosophical work in an aphoristic style reminiscent of E. M. Cioran, Itch rewards in ways better taken piecemeal—as its deceptively absent structure suggests—rather than as an empirical working-out towards its narrative "arrival." In this light, Itch is a realized documentation of a writer's working-in step by step ("One begins with being in...with being inside something [...] but one's attempts to reach back to the sense before all objects [...] pose something of the quandary I find myself in now"). This process almost arbitrarily digresses into fundamentals regarding referents ("How can one begin to speak of what one can't refer to?"), totality ("What I felt was not a singular, nor a succession of singulars, but a singular immersion in a series..."), starting points ("One must presume a stepping point to start from [...] a footing from which every proffered certainty ascends"), and endings ("The tale I tell is fairly forged a preface to the tale I will tell when I'm finished"). The narrator, for every attempt and recoil, appears at times to make some progress towards commencing a story, only to find another groundswell, still wondering what constitutes narrative writing while he keeps propelling onward with a hundred concerns.
For those who do resist this narrator's numerous opportunities to slip past himself, Itch is a worthy supplement to the post-modern conversation about how the paralysis of self-conscious writing must be navigated to reach that great creative optimism and its stirrings, reflected in the final segments as an "impulse" found to "locate the itch" and "move toward the world." Seidenberg's narrator, to be sure, will prove all-too familiar to writers who hover over every aspect of their prose, though his charged, pensive voice may also remain detached enough as to not completely frighten away the initiated when holding them entranced in the book's continuous meanwhile. - Forrest Roth

writing sample:

Many failed attempts. Perhaps this is the first. Of my many failed attempts, perhaps this is the first. The first in what will soon appear a series of such failures—surrendered to the obloquy of having yet to happen, or having happened…I say surrendered, and I say attempt, the language of a game which attempts…I say the saying and the saying says…


Perhaps this is the first of all the many claims to primacy required to claim any claim to primacy a proof, an incidental figurement of problems and procedures near to happening…near to constituting happenstance as it stands fore right now…


If this is sure the first where there has not yet been a second…If this attempt to…If this trope yet amounts to the surrendered primogeniture of other tropes predicted to surrender sometime soon, then how can one presume to think…to mean those varied instances within the nearing preterit and certitude of having passed and purposed themselves into…


If this is sure the first of what I know will soon be many…But that’s not where this portent finds its bearing—so its aim. What saying this is first without first having said that this is something…something like…that this that I will soon contrive as something like the subject of…of this and this alone…

Songs of Surrender

The Write Stuff: Steven Seidenberg on Not Waiting to Be Hunted to Hide    


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