Today I’d like to welcome Michael Judge who has just had his novel published by Skylight Press, who are also publishers of my book. It’s always a delight to have a fellow Skylight author on my blog – thanks for coming Michael!
I come from a very Catholic, very Irish part of Kansas City, Missouri. I don’t imagine that means much to an English or European reader, so think of it this way: if Manchester were the only major city in the UK, & the rest of the island consisted of small towns, gas stations, and disused industry, that would be roughly my geographic situation as a child. A million people hundreds of miles from anywhere, with the entire city leaning down into the Missouri River. Kansas City has a weirdly submerged cultural tradition; it’s where you’re from when you don’t come from anywhere. Stan Brakhage, Robert Altman, Charlie Parker, that ponderous stranger Ed Dahlberg.
I left for music school in Texas at 18, quit music school, got an English degree, planned to become a critical theory professor, quit professing much of anything, and disappeared into the basement of a roadside motel in Indiana for a few months, losing my mind & writing a first novel which is never going to see daylight. I hope. Since then, back to Texas, and about a dozen more books, including a lot of translation.
Tell me about your journey as a writer – how you started and how you have developed?
I really didn’t care much about literature per se till I was 19 or 20 – I read history, music theory, the odd intersection of the two (Greil Marcus, say). The triad that finally got me serious about language was a pretty odd one: William Blake, T.S. Eliot, and William Burroughs. Between those three lay something I wanted & needed to do. Then Ulysses and Gravity’s Rainbow made me pretty sure that the novel, however mutated, was my form. But, not really having any idea how to go about that work, I read & imitated a lot of systems writers, clever structuralists, people who use prose as a form of calculus: Borges, Calvino, Paul Auster, Robbe-Grillet, Queneau.
Another odd triad got me out of that rut: Djuna Barnes, Iain Sinclair, and Ezra Pound. From those three I learned that a major work could derive its structure not from any preconceived framework, but from a writer’s sense of language itself, from the use of words more than any schematic of reference. Nightwood, Downriver, Lud Heat, Suicide Bridge, The Cantos. At the moment: Paul Celan, Brian Catling, Jeremy Prynne, Walter Benjamin, Aimé Césaire.
How would you describe your work – it‘s themes and the important things about it?
My work comes out of the above-mentioned realization – that what interested me really wasn’t a particular structure or narration but the imaginative process of language itself. Language is alive; it’s an organism with all the biological rudiments; we’re channels & recorders for it. So all my work (to date, at least) forgoes much sense of linear narrative or diagrammatic theme to pursue words along the arcs, momenta, forms of gravity that language itself generates. I’m not really writing ‘about’ that; I’m attempting to do it.
That said, there are definite recurring motifs through all the novels: biology, astronomy, cosmology, the natural sciences; linguistics and especially writing systems – cuneiform, hieroglyph, ideogram, syllabic writing; what I think of as ‘cultural tectonics,’ the process by which an entire civilization suddenly drops an idea or adheres to a new one. I’m constantly drawn back to a brilliant line of Charles Olson’s: “When the attentions change / the jungle leaps in.” Part of what I do is a cartography of the attentions – personal, cultural, political, mythic, cosmological.
Tell me about your current book – what is it about and what makes it a great read?
And Egypt Is the River very much deals with those ideas & attempts to embody them, to partake in the process. Basically, I started from this: in most languages, including English, an etymological analysis of any word will take you back to some very simple physical action or observation. “Abstract” itself means “dragged-away-from.” The French word for magnet is aimant – lover, attractor. There’s a somatic microcosm at the center of these words, an Edenic first-light awareness: putting things together. And the logic of those connections is metaphorical. This is a really important point to me: metaphor precedes rationality, never the other way around. What we call ‘logic’ now is only a metaphorical system that’s managed to obscure its origins. For all its other facets, I think this is the pith of Ezra Pound’s ideogrammic method: the logic of metaphor, the imagination’s way of connecting units of experience, is the logic. The rest are subgroups, derivatives, or – at worst – denials.
So in Egypt, I tried to work through that kind of process, using English as the basic language (though a lot of it is written in grammatical constructions most English speakers would never use, and in a consciously hymnal rhythm pretty far removed from speech). How, given just the names of things, would you begin to connect them? How would words unfold the bones of your world?
Where can I buy a copy of your book?
Where can we find out more about you?
I’m kind of a recluse & don’t have a huge online presence, but you can find me on Facebook or write to firstname.lastname@example.org You can also read a bit about the book at Skylight’s site or on Iain Sinclair’s semi-official site (iainsinclair.org.uk). I also do the odd reading in Texas, around the Dallas-Fort Worth area, if you happen to live in the middle of the same nowhere.