Conjuring Merlín with an ‘í’: Shannon Maguire Interviews Erín Moure

By and | 1 October 2020

EM: There I was thinking of the fact that river and sea are not totally different structures; if we understand them as such, it is just a convention. Other peoples may see the relation quite differently. In voiding speech, we ignore it; in a-voiding it, we refuse to ignore it. The ‘un-a-voidable’ might be the obverse side of the a-voidable, freer, neither avoiding or refusing, but listening. Not caught up in a negative dynamic. And ‘the banality of power’ is always inscribed in us; it’s the ‘structural’ in structural racism, for example.

SM: Patriarchal religions and the patriarchal states seem to have claimed the domain of ‘The Good’ for themselves. That is, they have reserved for the state and for the church the power to mark lives as those worthy of being nurtured and those that are expendable (as Giorgio Agamben, Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault, among others have articulated in various ways). For me, this has tainted the concept of ‘the good’ to such a degree that I find it very difficult to do anything but to revolt against it. However, I like what you say about tenderness and kindness and goodness being an element of life without which we would all soon perish (as we seem to be now, with our climate in crisis and our mass extinctions and pandemics and wars). You consistently manage to recode concepts that I have an aversion to and put them in the service of opening towards the vital. So, I wanted to ask you about the word leitourgia, (aka ‘work for the people’ or public service) and its possibility for feminist poetry. On page 80 of The Elem:ents, you say that ‘The pre-eminent means of taking the measure of the distance that separates a body from the sky is, to Hölderlin, poetry’. In the word leitourgia, I also hear ‘lay-turn-Gaia’ which to me is that which lies against Gaia’s turn (as lesbian geometry or poetry, for instance). What might you see in taking the concept of ‘liturgy’ back from organised religion and to applying it via a queer poetics to the challenges of our times?

EM: I think I see the liturgical as always in us as living beings, and in all living beings, even grasses. The Hölderlin reference that you mention, in its beauty, actually makes me laugh, as in other epistemologies, like that of the ‘Little Man’ in my book Sitting Shiva on Minto Avenue, by Toots, the sky always touches us. If there is no distance, then, is there also no poetry? That seems kind of frightening to me! But in fact, to return to what you were saying earlier, that Hölderlin quote even in its beauty is a product of the human exceptionalism that is so damaging. Poetry is in the listening between creatures, and in the acceptance of other languages, even the excruciating one of the person with dementia (for they do suffer a lot from fear but it is less fearful when they are accepted instead of corrected). The allegory of ‘good’ (for maybe there is no goodness apart from the allegory of it, and this aspect of human exceptionalism can be freeing for us!) that hovers attentively high above the ruins: we need it, now, I think, more than ever.

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