Matthew Hall Interviews Peter Larkin

By and | 1 August 2010

PL: Thanks for that interesting quote. It suggested Jean Louis Chrétien to me rather than Merleau-Ponty, particularly his The Unforgettable and the Unhoped For. It’s fascinating that Sobin reads absence as a sort of plenitude in reserve and his own work is anything but austere, having a revelatory immediacy. However, for Chrétien memory is not a matter of any plenitude of accumulation or total recapture but rather a continuous trace of surrenderings backed by what is too profound to be recalled at all but which invites us to an unexpected depth of granted relation with being. Merleau-Ponty’s The Visible and the Invisible is a marvellous work which I have only really gor to know well over the last few years. In particular, I’m fascinated by the fragmentary notes right at the end of this unfinished work, especially where he sketches a sense of hollowness or of what doesn’t appear at all as immediately involved with concrete being, but which is equally participating in the horizons of materiality.

MH: And do your use, definition and development of the term ‘scarcity’ reflect what Sobin would term ‘a basic intimacy of life itself’, and as such, does the conceptual directive of ‘scarcity’ help to define a written piece? Is this the entry point for the midrashic in your work?

For both Chrétien and Merleau-Ponty I think there is a sense that where life is most immediate it is most open to being emptied out but also to being re-hollowed or recalled to itself. I think that connects with my speculative sense of ‘scarcity’ as a quality that is diminishable but rebounds in unexpected ways, not without distortion and loss but as gaining extension and depth and new horizons of relation. My only exposure to the ‘midrashic’ has been through the critical essays of Geoffrey Hartman as the way in which truth to the letter itself rebounds and amplifies and I identify that with the continuous verbal micro-variations and permutations out of which my texts are built, though the textual play is not an end in itself but takes on the ‘scarce’ or ungroundable burden of an horizon or ontological orientation – for me there is no ‘unburdened’ form of textuality, textual obstructions or gaps are as much meta-symbolic as counter-symbolic.

MH: In the critical writing of Matthew Jarvis he has made quite a strong argument about the establishment and importance of recognising mythical space by relying on Mircea Eliade’s idea of the ‘irruption of the sacred’ to define that something which appears apoditically in the landscape. Do the landscapes that your writing focuses on have an established sense of the sacred, or is this irruption something which one must be a witness to?

PL: I have always found Eliade’s distinction between the prophetic and the hierophanic a helpful one, with my own writing leaning towards the latter in what I think of as a ‘speculative-contemplative’ mode. What that means is my technique in bending, twisting and extruding phrases or even signalling words within words does not offer innovation as a self-justifying process, but re-offers it to an horizon of participating in the world, a world which offers horizons of self-distance and difference. Eliade’s idea of a sacred spot chimes for me with Geoffrey Hartman’s notion of an ‘omphalos’ which could equally be conceived as an irregularity or knot in the midst of surfaces themselves which complicates how one surface might relate to another; or how a surface relates to an horizon which is not simply another surface.

MH: As someone who is writing at the more progressive end of landscape tradition, I wanted to ask a more traditional question: What do you see as the place of literary writing and imagination in the relation between mankind and the environment, between the singular wo/man and all of nature, and between being and dwelling?

PL: I suppose I’m not very optimistic that writing can do much to turn round the appalling environmental degradation that we are already well advanced into, except to help stiffen the opposition that already exists in other domains. Imagination per se is never going to be a form of dominance, not even a corrective one, but as something actively seeking assent and as a different way of being in the world it offers re-orientation in the midst of a damaged planet. Any site of healing which such writing could be will be scarce in terms of the terrain it can occupy but I also hope it can be irruptive and abruptly discontinuous but not simply reactive or subversive – rather something like a recall to what is essentially fragile and invites to a difference of nurture. The paradox is that what humans break undermines any further ground for dominance and breaks out of that series – but we might not survive that break ourselves.

MH: What immediate plans do you have for your writing?

PL: I’m looking forward to my next collection, Lessways Least Scarce Among which is due to be published by Nate Dorward at The Gig later this year, which includes work from 2002 until the present, mostly not published complete before. He has been an intrepid supporter of my work, and did a fine job on the three chapbooks which came out simultaneously with Sprout Near Severing Close, What the Surface Enclaves of Wang Wei, Rings Resting the Cuicuit a few years ago and which aren’t included in the new collection as they’re essentially complementary. I’m also finishing off a new text as already mentioned called Brushwood by Inflection which is a study of damaged but differently extended bits of trees – the kink or break along which offers a distinctive layout of what can persist immediately before horizon in a way perhaps organic plenitude cannot. Beyond that I have vague thoughts of writing some shorter poems around the theme of sheer exposure to human/non-human existence but its equivocal openness to some sort of participation or what Stanley Cavell calls ‘presencing’.

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