Interview with Saharaj, staff writer, Birds (Aren't Real) Art Review. July 6, 2018.


Saharaj: a (digital) critic on the circuit has described your poetry as "aloof, slippery, and evasive; it thins into such a liminal looseness that the reader is left adrift in a silent sea of confused ambiguity. Excessive evasion edges engagement to the ether, and the reader tires of chasing shapeshifting mirages of meaning that weave weird mosaics of Digitality dancing with dynamics of quantum de/con/struction." A charitable reading affirms his verbosity as a means of conveying sincerity of critique via demonstrative mockery, but the irony seems to undermine the critique itself. How is it that your work provokes such paradoxical feelings and responses?

M.D.: Subtlety of suggestiveness is a hallmark of thinkers revealing the complexities of communication. Marshall McLuhan, for instance, clarified that "the medium is the message" and that the content of any communicative medium is itself another medium. Likewise, the biologist of brilliance Humberto Maturana, who first formalized and systematized the autopoietic theory of life-mind-cognition (though he was not the first; see, e.g., Dr. Wolken's original discussion of John Dewey's development of a process ontological autopoiesis decades before Maturana and Varela: Mindful Inquiry: A Deweyan Critique of Mindfulness in Education), writes that "The content of cognition is cognition itself; beyond that nothing can be said."

Saharaj: But surely something more can be said? Why else would you be writing?

M.D.: I like to amend the aphorism "the devil's in the details" with "and I think the Divine is there, too." Which is to say that what is subtle - and perhaps even evasive to the point of ineffable - is not coincident with insignificance, but sometimes the opposite, precisely because it typically goes unnoticed. Brashness and heavy-handedness employed in the stylistic service of shock value is easy, and lazy. It obscures far more than it reveals, despite the immediate effect on the observer. If this does not seem obvious, that is exactly the point. What do we miss when our perceptions are dominated by regimes of absolutized obscenity, as Baudrillard might say?

Saharaj: I'm beginning to understand this critic's concern with the evasiveness of your thought. Your current tactic of evasion seems to be dense, verbose obscurity. Care to comment?

M.D.: Hell yes, I care. Joy Harjo reminds us that when we witness the subtlety of the Divine circling overhead in the form of an eagle, we "know that we must take the utmost care and kindness in all things." What must never be forgotten is that McLuhan is unequivocal: the medium is the message. It would be difficult to produce a more concise and pointed ontological thesis. He does not say that the medium influences the message, or that the medium contributes to the message, but that the medium simply is the message.

Saharaj: Speaking of circles, let's spiral back to the original question: is it a fair critique to condemn your writing as "confused ambiguity"? Is this critic accurate in his assessment?

M.D.: This question reminds me of a peculiar phenomenon manifest a few years ago. A Texas state standards test for college readiness for high school students contained a few questions about the poetry of a relatively well-known author. The multiple choice questions quizzed students on the author's intended meaning; use of metaphor, suggestion, and simile; and how these structural and grammatical elements contributed to the understanding of her poems. An acquaintance of the author happened across this test and these questions and relayed them to the author, curious as to her thoughts. Intrigued, the author reviewed the questions about her own poems and discovered that she couldn't answer them!

Saharaj: She couldn't answer the questions about her own poems?

M.D.: No.

Saharaj: That is rather odd. How could she not know the meaning of her own writing?

M.D.: That question hinges on a pronounced assumption, which directs thinking in a highly specific direction, toward a certain sort of answer and away from all other potential answers. Can you discern the assumption?

Saharaj: Well, I suppose it assumes that whoever wrote the test questions accurately understood the poems' meaning in the first place.

M.D.: That is part of it, yes. But go deeper, broader. Think subtly.

Saharaj: [Remains silent for a few moments.] I'm afraid your meaning evades me once again.

M.D.: Yes, it concerns meaning! But which meaning? Is there but one?

Saharaj: That would seem to depend on who you ask.

M.D.: Exactly. You previously asked, "How could she not know the meaning of her own writing?" The form and terminology of this question assumes that there is only one - "the [one]" - meaning of a poem. Further, standardized tests assume and enforce this assumption, as well. On a multiple-choice test, there is only one right answer, whether a single answer "A" or in the form "A and B," or "E: All of the above." How else could students' knowledge be quantified, compared, and rated?

Saharaj: Are you trying to say that this critic has missed the meaning of your writing, and thus that his critique is unfounded?

M.D.: Are you familiar with cartography?

Saharaj: The science and practice of map-making, yes.

M.D.: What is the meaning of a map?

Saharaj: The meaning? I don't think maps have meaning the way works of literature have meaning.

M.D.: Then what is the purpose of a map? What does it do?

Saharaj: Maps are guides. They direct actions, planning, travel, and research, among countless other activities. But they don't necessarily mean anything in particular.

M.D.: You now have my answer to your questions.

Saharaj: [Sits in skeptical silence for a few slippery seconds.] How so? I feel like this interview has left me with more questions than answers.

M.D.: Precisely. The medium, after all, is the message.