An interview with Andrew Zawacki by Brian Teare (page 4)
BT: I like your attention to the tension you find between “poetry” as an activity courting various kinds of erasure and the “project” as a rational, deliberate construction. However, in applying the term “project” to Breakings, I meant to evoke the aesthetic and philosophical coherence I find in the book as a gesture, a coherence I’ve attributed to a greater degree of intention than you would claim for it. Perhaps by “project” I mean to indicate the implicate pool of ideas, texts, and questions from which a book draws and returns to in order to continue its given inquiry (or the inquiry it’s given to). Since both Anabranch and Petals of Zero Petals of One consist almost exclusively of series, I’m interested in your citation of the decades-long series of a poet like Mackey, whose work is articulated from within a complex, learned and ever-evolving conceptual framework containing many modalities (theology, anthropology, musicology, etc.). How would you characterize the framework within which Anabranch was written? What modalities do you see meeting within it?
AZ: The modality beyond “poetry” that most informs Anabranch is undoubtedly phenomenology. I had the good fortune of studying with Jean-Luc Marion at the University of Chicago, on several occasions, and had long been interested in his work. When down under, I was beginning to get interested in his notion of “the saturated phenomenon,” the excess of evidence or intuition over concept. It takes part of its impulse from the Kantian sublime, part from medieval mysticism, and has links to early postmodern efforts to think a science of the singular: Barthes’ speculum and punctum come to mind, as does the predicament faced by the Sodomite, in Klossowski’s Sade mon prochain, when trying to speak his “secret,” which only returns the unique to a general economy. But what brought this to life in Australia, as I was beginning to write “Masquerade,” was its objective correlative in the landscape itself. No sooner do I say that, though, than I need to qualify: the landscape there, however objective, brooks no “correlative”—that’s exactly the point. Traveling from Melbourne all the way to Tennant Creek by car, via the southern coast, then through Adelaide and the Barossa wine country surrounding it, up to Alice Springs and a bit further, nearly to Darwin, before I decided I would not have the dough to make it back, petrolwise: it was an absolutely inassimilable influx of imagery and odor, a synesthesia that sensory capacity couldn’t capture. It was my personal “Sans soleil,” though not in Japan.
Actually, to keep the tale down under where it belongs, I felt a lot like Sam Farber (William Hurt’s character) in Wenders’s Until the End of the World, who travels incessantly recording images—many of them, once processed by computer, look infrared with the technology he uses—for his blind mother, on a camera that will eventually allow her to look at them neurologically. (This is at the expense of his own vision, however: he’s a self-sacrificial character, the death of the author writ cinematically, a visual vampire unto himself.) In my case, the viewfinder found dead kangaroos at roadside that trucks had run over at night; the indomitable buzzards that attended the carcasses; the reek of kerosene on my hands and of gasoline in my car—I filled up at every station, since they’re sometimes 300km apart, and kept reserves in the station wagon’s back hatch—; watering holes; dozens of feral cats that had been lynched on a remote tree; the dog fence that runs for thousands of kilometers; an abandoned telegraph relay station; a greyhound track at six in the morning; beat-up Jeeps and other cheap faux intergalactic junk left over outside Coober Pedy from the shooting of the Mad Max movies in the 80s; the hundreds of opal mines that perforate the ground in that area; and maybe weirdest of all, an indoor driving range out in the desert, where I’d hoped to buy a golf ball for my dad, for his collection, but it was closed on Sunday. I also have the fondest memories of boating on the Hawkesbury River with Bob Adamson, Juno Gemes, David Malouf, and Chris Edwards, taking a tour of Ballarat and other gold mining towns with my parents, making frequent trips to Lorne with friends who have a house there, riding the ferry to Tasmania and spending a week among Fred Williams’ bleak, bright landscapes. In Tasmania, I walked through a mass of tall grass and suddenly, for the one and only time in my life, found myself on a beach that must have stretched for three miles in either direction—and, despite the open space, there was not a single other person to be seen or heard. It was beautiful and scary and made me feel miniscule and gargantuan. As for the desert, the McDonnell Ranges grace one side of Highway 1, with mountains on the other side, too, and the so-called red center is, like Pascal’s god, everywhere circumfluent but nowhere fixed.
I realize I’m simply listing visual objects and scenarios I saw, but that’s kind of what I mean: one doesn’t know what to do with all that, there’s no way to categorize it or reduce it to prose that would somehow represent it or verbally take its place (1 picture = 1000 words). So you end up drawing lists, out of some primal and, indeed, primitive impulse to just get it all down, on paper, so it doesn’t get away—but of course, it has always already escaped, and you’re really just doing what tourists have always done, since the invention of the Kodak Brownie, and even before that: trying to focus or distill the fluid. Hell, even Ayer’s Rock isn’t fixed: it revolves slowly in the ether of one’s mind, latent with millennia of Aboriginal history and creation narration, changing color from ochre in full sunlight to gray and black in heavy rain, and eroding as it inevitably is. While I was dismayed at the time, I’m somehow not surprised, thinking back, that the roll of film I’d shot at Uluru returned from the developer completely blank. A problem with the door on the Nikon? Yes. But only that? Not so sure.
The seminal apologist for climactic and metaphysical change alike, of course, is Heraclitus, and he was constantly on my mind out there: that earth and water, air and fire, are all aspects of one another, divergent in their manifestations but unified via a ventricle of transformations; that you can’t step into the same river twice because the water is never the “same” in the same place, and because, thanks to time, neither are you; that the world manifests itself by hiding, and that its meaning is never revealed, only signed. It was in this context that I immersed myself in Heidegger, too, not merely to think about the concealments and revelations in Being, but to be on the lookout for them, as it were, to see what was there and to “see” what was not. Somewhat more humane in this regard was my deep affection for Gustaf Sobin’s anthropological work on southern France. Gustaf’s poetry and poetics had already become crucial to my own, and I’d recently read Luminous Debris with the utmost intensity and excitement. My investment in Australian history and geology, it goes without saying, was nowhere near as serious or researched as Gustaf’s lifelong devotion to the earliest civilizations south of Avignon. His vigilance and respect, though, his faith in the landscape to lift up to the human eye or ear those elements from which it might construct an articulate pattern, his desire to read in the past what might make a difference today, were profound lessons and protocols and provocations to me. More than anything, those essays validated an instinct I was only beginning to develop, toward engaging my singular, specific surroundings as texts to be interpreted and treated with not just concentration, but care.