The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2012

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OCT 2012 Issue

The Multifarious Am

j/j hastain & t thilleman
Approximating Diapason
(Spuyten Duyvil, 2012)

Approximating Diapason is a dialogic manifesto. Not unlike André Breton’s manifestoes, this vortex of language volleys back and forth to create both poetry and a poetics for our current period of literature. Some critics opine that the arts at this juncture lack direction. They ask: Where is the spirit of innovation that initially forged Modernism? How many times can the prefix “post” get glued onto the word “modern” before it loses relevance and meaning? Struggling to find a mythos to convey our early 21st century malaise, hastain and thilleman approximate a “diapason,” a “fixed standard of pitch,” a “compass of a voice.” But because existing notions about literature have led us in circles, the authors “leap into existences from a transcendent root-stem.”

They land in a terrain “between dark matter and material form,” in what Jean-Martin Charcot called the “Second Mind,” what Freud would later call the “unconscious.” In that place of unknowing, where all things are possible, hastain and thilleman create an ontological mythos of Self and Poem. Here, they chart new territories, mapping their astonishing discoveries like cartographers.

This resulting notation combines prose, poetry, photography, drawings, and typographical innovations. It is a “poetics of pages,” giving voice to our current dilemma not by writing about it, but by the enactment of language/pictorial imagery.

It seems essential to this project that there be two voices speaking—a dialogue. The Socratic dialogues allowed for a deeper investigation of ideas. For greater understanding of any issue, dialogue is essential. Its structure is dialectic: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. It is the reconciliation of antitheses, a fusing: “Yes, we swerve. But we swerve to meet.”

Without union, there can be no creation. And so, poetry is also erotic. Like the etymology of the word “poem,” a “made thing,” poetry and poetics are connected to the body. While line breaks may conform to patterns of breath and iambs may be imitative of the heartbeat, hastain and thilleman’s poetics embodies sexuality: “When we speak, we are actually always performing fellatio.” 

Perhaps the pronoun “we” is collective, not only signifying the two authors, but also the multifarious voices and points of view that inhabit contemporary literature. As Whitman writes, “Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / I am large, I contain multitudes.” hastain and thilleman’s mythos is of a literature that is also large and divergent. Its voices shriek, murmur, yowl—often in contradiction, yet always part of an ever-increasing whole: its multifarious we becoming a “multifarious am.”


Dean Kostos


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2012

All Issues