Steven Seidenberg [photo by Kevin Killian] is a San Francisco based writer and artist. His first book of lyric, philosophical prose, Itch, was released from RAW ArT Press in January 2014. He is the author of three chapbooks of poetry, most recently Null Set from Spooky Actions Books, and is co-editor of the poetry journal pallaksch.pallaksch.
1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
Constitutionally dissatisfied with the reception of his work, Kierkegaard postulates a readership only brought into existence by the advent of the work itself, an ideal reader ineluctably surrendered to its pull. He fails to suggest, however, the ways in which the artist is reciprocally conscripted into novel pathways of provenience by the same communal forces, fixed to fit the community such supplication seeks, regardless if that posture takes the form of approbation or rebuke. I wrote in relative isolation for many years before seeking public airing in the past few, and though I can’t entirely delineate the ways in which the turn from the prospective possibility of readers to an actual attempt at the inveiglement of such has changed the nature of what I’ve done since, the distortion of the work by its reflection in a readership–no matter how limited–ongoingly transforms my picture of the project limned by that reflection.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
I came to poetry and philosophy at the same time, other forms of narrative too, which in youthful isolation seemed all ‘of a piece’, an early insight still intrinsic to my work, prose and verse alike. My life as an academic philosopher–now behind me–was equally structured around a reading of the canon as narrative, and the pursuit of the Husserlian epoche–eccentrically understood as the first moment in the construction of a ‘Naturphilosophie’–by chiefly lyric means.
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
Everything I’m doing responds to what I’m reading, and I often begin with a reading agenda that can take years to complete. Sometimes the writing is coincident with that project, sometimes what happens in coincidence is subsequently appropriated to some other end. In all instances, the product comes from long periods of working and reworking–in the case of Itch, it was a full 5 years of continuous, daily writing and revision.
4 - Where does a poem usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
Fragments composed in aggregation. I almost always conceive of poems in cycle, although I don’t always need them seen within that generative consecution. As a prose writer, I’m interested in exploring a form between lyric aphorism and argument laid out in propositional series–the ‘plot points’ of the fiction turn on the transition from premise to conclusion, to premise again, and the same text read as didactic prose presents fleeting renderings of visceral states as both material for and manner of deduction.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I think of reading as its own work, requiring its own preparations, goals etc. To this end, the enunciation integral to the act of composition is distinct from the ostensive performance of the same.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
The centrality of philosophical literature to my practice brings such concerns to the forefront, but also makes them difficult to explicate to those not similarly possessed. One begins at the beginning, at the risk of appearing impossibly pedantic and obscure: Kant’s germinal position in pursuit of the limits–thus the possibility–of philosophically coherent knowledge equally yields the confines of any meaningful engagement with ontological concerns, whether of exhortative or aesthetic nature. The system thereby underpinned reveals the compulsory character of the question posed most effectively by Leibniz, most famously by Heidegger (Why is there something rather than nothing?), but with the concomitant realization of the essential failure–the ‘fallacy’ or ‘amphibology’, in Kant’s polemical formulation–that confounds any stab at intelligible answer. A joyous, desperate wallow in the aftermath of this disaster directs my particular brand of lyric eschatology, conceiving of the material superfluity of representational forms as a loophole in the metaphysics of imaginative reasoning.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I don’t see any one role for the writer, nor any singular culture that can be similarly circumscribed. There are multiple roles in every next cultural convergence, each requiring some new variance of acculturations–an infinite regress of shifting foci, set on shifting grounds. The least common denominator, the dying need not admit of their condition to realize the benefits of hospice.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Neither–not particularly difficult, occasionally useful.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
‘Every position is a failure. The successful failure reveals its necessity.’
(Advice given to me by the philosopher John Findlay, claimed by Findlay to have been given to him by Wittgenstein.)
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to lyric prose to critical prose)? What do you see as the appeal?
All three genres have always been a part of my practice. I do find differences in the character of query available to each, thus the continuing drive to write both poetry and prose. The poetic voice addresses what the narrative voice discovers, and visa versa. My commitment to critical prose has waned in recent years, and generally requires some kind of outside motivation–a request or advantage emanating from some otherwise indifferent quarter.
11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
It depends on what I have to pay for, what I have to do for pay, and where I am in various reading agendas, set considerably in advance. When I’ve outlined a project, I’ll write for a certain number of hours a day, wage labor permitting. If I’m between contracts, I’ll read for a couple of hours/write for a couple of hours/repeat, and sequester time for visual work.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I read and reread. I pace. Play music. Reading while pacing helps.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Pavement drying in the sun. Camphor and old paper.
14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
I also work as a visual artist, and on projects in contemporary archaeology in collaboration with my wife, who’s an archaeologist by trade. In short, I find challenge and novelty in the work of many painters, sculptors and photographers; in various forms of artifact collection/classification; and in simultaneously pursuing material culture analysis through a distillation of aesthetic judgment and analysis of the aesthetic through a distillation of the mechanisms of production.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
It changes in accordance with each present project/focus.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Trout fishing. Learn to use a lathe.
17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
Some form of inductive work, another indulgence of my intermittent (seemingly autonomic) obeisance to the delusion of revelation.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I write in addition to other practices, and each involves an attempt to respond to the quandary (or set of quandaries) explicated above, in relation to which one wants to give to others what one has gotten from them–an ecstatic surrender to this dialectic of antinomies.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
Words in Blood, Like Flowers, by Babette Babich
Recently saw ‘The Third Man’ in theatre.
20 - What are you currently working on?
I’m in the process of revising another book length prose work, called Situ, and in the middle of a long cycle of poems called ‘Exile,’. Also in preparation for a show of photographs.
12 or 20 (second series) questions;