by John Kinsella
I’ve always loved ‘data’, though I am sceptical of how it is sourced and utilised. This re-engineered novel I’ve been talking about over recent weeks, Morpheus, is a book stuffed with data, yet aims to be a challenge to the ‘empirical’; the data of ‘learning’ — from school, the first year or two of university, private reading and even (scientific) researching. While writing Morpheus, I was studying and occasionally working in my own home lab, complete with Mettler balance, Bunsen burners, titration equipment and micro ground-jointed organic glassware, including Liebig condensers and even a Friedrichs condenser, and an old Cathode Ray Oscilloscope: a Cro, which worked well with all the ‘crows’ in my poems, and also informed my sense of poetic rhythms.
But the home lab was becoming a thing of the past and, leaving the county for the city to attend university, I still worked on and off in a commercial laboratory, preparing mineral sands for analysis and supervising the loading of (mineral sands) ships. Simultaneously, my politics of protest (eventually against the very work I was doing), were simmering and manifesting. I was obtaining knowledge through praxis, knowledge that would be used against its sources.
And ‘data’ are subjective in their derivations and applications. Maybe this is why ‘pseudo-science’ fascinates me, with its purported facts (I would argue plenty of facts arising from the ‘hard sciences’ are purported or dubious as well, especially given I am not satisfied with any ‘proofs’ of existence in the first place). I have mentioned my poetry of ‘graphology’, which has its origins in the materials that would constitute the novel Morpheus in my late teens, but I haven’t alluded to my interest in alchemy. I no longer have it, outside readings of Faust, but it’s omnipresent in Morpheus, and was probably one of the factors that enticed Paul Hardacre to offer to publish the manuscript with Papertiger back in 2007 (after a journey from there, it has been looked after by Geoffrey Gatza at Blazevox — thanks to both for assisting in its passage). Paul’s knowledge of esoterica and alchemy is second to none, and it informs his poetry as well as his critical practice. Of his book liber xix: differentia liber (Puncher and Wattman Poetry, NSW, 2011) I wrote:
liber xix is a remarkable if not unique book of poetry. To quote an alchemical expression from a quote cited by Hardacre, it’s a book in which language ‘dissolves and combines’. But for a work so specific in its prosody, the key to unlocking its mysteries actually locates itself in spiritual essence derived from a mixture of the animal, vegetable, mineral, and quintessential. This is a book about the meeting of differences, about the alchemical reactions that arise from these meetings, these mixings. The poem is always more than the sum of its parts, and change is always part of the discourse the poems engender within themselves, between each other, and in the context of the quotes that accompany them. These glimpses into chaos and formation are also mini-epics, condensed ‘vedas’ and ‘sagas’ reaching across belief systems and geographies to find a ‘universal’ way of viewing being. Across the ampersands the components of the poem speak, and accumulate towards a maxim-like ‘unconclusion’ – the ‘noble’ is reached only nominally, and the ‘lesser’ (base) elements of the poem retain their properties. Alchemically speaking, though deeply desiring and even believing a closure is possible, no ultimate ‘coniunctio’ is reached; maybe it is even studiously avoided in a playback Gertrude Stein would possibly have found enticing (if she had written them). But it’s overall this work really comes into its own – it is a narrative, a journey from heaven to hell, from God to the faces of evil. Evil is named. Strands of mystical histories of humanity twist around each other, mingle fluids. This is a beautifully terrifying work. Hardacre is one of the finest poetical transmuters out there. He is to be venerated and feared at once. He is going places few contemporary poets have risked acknowledging, never mind visiting. Like all great innovators, he reaches as far back as knowledge.
Alchemy has an essential space in the
evolution of scientific research and can’t just be dismissed as turning-lead-into-gold fantasies, and a willingness to sell one’s soul to gain power. Articulating the body, the soul, of a human’s relationship to nature and ‘existence’ adds up to much more than ‘magic’ and greed. Reading Paracelsus and Meister Eckhart was part of the protagonist ofMorpheus, Thomas’s, raison d’être as much as it was my own. How did this come about? Well, I lost ‘religion’ when I was sixteen or seventeen and walked out of a Christmas service during which the minister had compared the bounties of Christ’s birth to a cash register. Looking back, I’d like to think he was being ironic, critiquing the spendfest that is Christmas, but I doubt it. I was reading Aldous Huxley’s The Perennial Philosophy; I was reading the Bhagavad-Gita; I was reading the Koran, and I was reading the Bible. I had been baptised and confirmed; I’d always thought Christ was okay but the trappings of Church were like the trappings of the state: about control, and little caring for anything outside their own existences. Thomas in Morpheus struggles with all this.
But what remained from my comparative readings was my own sense of what constituted ‘spirit’ and ‘spiritual’, and a lot of information. I continue to process that information through my writing, be it poetry, essays or fictions. I am interested in applying it ‘correctly’, but also ‘incorrectly’. I find errors generative, creative and ‘honest’. I find the slippage between fact and error enticing.
Why data? Actually, for an event to be staged in a narrative, for an event to provide the co-ordinates for a poem in which the ‘ineffable’ is framed with an eye to quiddity finding its own voice (metaphor in overdrive), one doesn’t need a lot of data. Just enough: let the language do the work.