An interview with Andrew Zawacki by Brian Teare (page 6)
BT: Another thing I admire about Anabranch is the series “Albedo,” whose title explicitly situates the text as one in relation to. On one hand, the reflectivity of the title, coupled with the brokenness of the epigraph, underscores the fact that it’s foremost a love poem about the difficulty of relation: the inadequacy of language, the self’s distance from subjectivity, the unknowable nature of the other. On the other hand, there is a deep attraction to each of these, as to the fact that “light will fever glass that fevers light,” and a sense that the refraction and distortion of reflection (in writing, in relation to the other) is deeply valuable. The poem carries out an affair, so to speak, with the feeling of vertigo: “A syncope at the heart / that rubrics in half.” Could you speak to the value of the vertiginous for you as a poet?
AZ: “Vertigo” is an interesting word in this regard: Lévinas speaks of the “height” of the other, who is always taller, or higher, than I am. So one’s experience of the other, if Lévinas is to be believed (and I believe he is), one’s posture toward the absolute alterity of another person is less that of vertigo, which would imply standing on a great height and looking down—or not being able to look down, out of paralyzing fear—, than of a dizziness brought on by staring up, into infinity. Is there a word for that? Sublimity? (To say nothing of being beholden to the other, and always already guilty.) A sort of inverted vertigo, if you will—invertigo: I like that—that puts one in the position of standing beneath the monumental, the immeasurably strange, the unreachable. But if, as Celan says, art means standing on one’s head, then yes, a veritable vertigo. There’s a triad of poems in the book, all called “Vertigo,” which wonder about the very relations you mention. When I write, “and I will not be not a part of you,” a question about the self and another arises, their togetherness, that must be articulated via a double negative, lest some fusion undo their respective singularities. Likewise, there are questions about one’s rapport with oneself, the degree to which “I” am to myself, as an echo is to a voice.
As you rightly note, “Albedo” is interested in relation as such, in particular the way “I,” or the subject, rather than being an ego or will, a Dasein or self-consciousness with its own volition and start-up power, its own conatus and projects, instead receives its identity as a reflection—or gift—from the other. The moon gives off no light of its own, of course, and can only be seen from the earth thanks to the sun that illuminates it. (And even the sun’s light can only be “seen” when it hits an object: it is not itself visible.) In my mind, this makes the moon a far more interesting matter to consider than the sun—not least when the sun is at the origin and center of our Western persistence in validating origin and center. The Western philosophical tradition, as developed by the Greeks, is ocular and oriented toward unity; the sun is its figure and most exemplary manifestation. My interests, though, lie with the thought Martin Jay examines in such depth in Downcast Eyes, say, which is concentrated on the night and its corollaries of irrationality, madness, subversion, the concomitant demand for writing in a fragmentary or “underground” fashion.
Appropriately enough, “Albedo” began as a different poem, which I was calling “Roche limit.” It uses, as a loose conceit, the nineteenth-century astronomer and mathematician Édouard Roche’s work on how near a celestial body, depending on its mass and its density, can approach a larger body before being either ripped apart in its gravitational pull, becoming rings of disjecta that orbit the planet, or else destroyed altogether. In a tangential way, the music of the spheres à la Roche struck me as wonderfully analogous for ways of thinking relation, whether as immediate, mystical soldering, say, or else mediation, or even the relation without relation I referenced earlier. I would only finish “Roche limit” a few years later (it’s now out from Drew Kunz’s chapbook press, tir aux pigeons), but in the meantime “Albedo” is what happened—as if it were some lunar lineation that could only take its appearance from a distinct text. Meanwhile, the aforementioned “Vertigo” trio actually started out in “Viatica,” before migrating into “Albedo,” to join the other reflets and déchets there: another relational logic of the book.
A love poem lives somewhere in “Albedo,” as you’ve noticed—I don’t at all mind the ghost of the word “libido” at large in the title (or, for that matter, of the qualifier “albeit”)—, though not a terribly interesting one, I’m sorry to say: it’s just a lousy breakup poem, to some extent, informed by a few miserable months in my own life, just as Breakings had been impelled by a—far more important—series of fractures: romantic, metaphysical, linguistic. I guess I’ve always been intrigued by how relations are constructed, and not only social ones. So in Heidegger, for example, there’s the problem of “the They,” basically a detrimental influence, responsible for distracting the self from its ownmost future and possibilities, a position that he seems to take over, if only in part, from Augustine (it will find a semi-fictional pathway in Proust). And it has always bothered me, that sense of “I” being some sort of free-floating agent who decides about itself, for itself, only in the face of others to the extent that it “flies in the face” of those others. What’s ravishing in the Confessions, to the contrary, is precisely what Augustine chastises himself for: in lamenting the death of his unnamed friend, a period of mourning that renders him incapable of going on, he eventually asks God forgiveness, for having so mixed his own identity with that of his friend’s that he found himself “dead” when his friend died. Cicero felt this tug earlier; Tennyson and Dickinson would be caught in the same undertow.
But this is exactly what the social is, or ought to be: I know I can’t die for anyone else, that no one can die in my place, and I’m aware that my singularity is derived from that fact, as is theirs—but it is in this very parallel of singularities that we locate our commonality, and I see nothing wrong with confusing “my” identity with the friend’s. How are we supposed to continue when the other is gone? Every death hastens my own. As I see it, almost everything that’s interesting and important in this world happens along the axis of a vis-à-vis. The name it goes by is friendship: my relationship to someone I don’t know and—because I respect her—do not wish to huddle with under the umbrella of knowledge.