In the hopes of encouraging a broader exchange among U.S. and Canadian poets, H. L. Hix has designed a series of one-question “mini-interviews” for his Canadian peers. A selection of these interviews will be incorporated into his forthcoming book Ley Lines (Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 2015). The subject of this interview is the journal Rampike, edited by Karl Jirgens.
H. L. Hix: In your introduction to the current issue (21:1) of Rampike, you speak of “moving towards revisionist understandings of discourse.” The texts (and images) you include in the issue move toward revisionist understandings, but so does the issue as a whole. How would you speak of your editorial role as a movement toward a revisionist understanding of discourse?
Karl Jirgens: Dear Harvey! Thanks kindly for this excellent question! And let me begin by saying what an honour and pleasure it is to be invited to comment. Throughout the years as editor of Rampike magazine, I’ve tried to keep my finger on numerous pulses of creative energy. I have found an abundance of free-thinking artists and writers in North American and around the world, and my goal with the periodical has been to provide a forum for those voices—which offer a fresh vision of what artistic expression can be.
So, Rampike is just one of many little libertarian lighthouses that illuminate small parts of the huge rhizomatic map of contemporary expressive discourse. I use the word “libertarian” in the traditional sense, which emphasizes freedom, individual liberty and voluntary association. Rampike also likes to cross borders to present ethno-poetic expression, including indigenous peoples, plus a range of cultures from around the world, as well writers as from my own Baltic background (Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian). My recent interests were in the conceptual, but lately I’ve been fascinated by the neo-Baroque, which I’ve published articles on, and say more about elsewhere (e.g.; recent issue of Canadian Literature magazine).
Now to answer the question more specifically, one can consider revisionist discourse, at first glance, as connected to the sense of sight, but I use “revisionist” as an analogue. The etymological root of vision can be traced to the proto-Indo-European “weid,” which is to “know.” So, in this sense, “vision” implies a sense of knowing. As such, “revisionist” suggests to “know” or “see” things again, or, in another way. There is an implied epistemological attitude that informs our editorial mandate, which challenges or questions what we believe we “know” now. It is easy to recognize such transformations in the paradigm of knowledge or the paradigm of discourse, when we look back to things such as the ancient geocentric, the Renaissance heliocentric, or 20th-century infinite views of the universe. Meantime, our discourse is still imbued with linguistic fossils, such as “sunrise” or “sunset,” which are, of course, absurd. But who wants to have a nice romantic glass of wine during the latest “earth rotation?” So, older modes of discourse carry a charge of meaning that transcends their original function, but such antique modes ask us to “look again” (or re-vision). Can we revise literary discourse in a kind of palimpsest of the collective mind? Without a doubt. So, Rampike is interested in worthy alter-native artists and writers who offer ways of knowing and seeing that we haven’t yet noticed or granted attention to, but which bring a moment of realization, perhaps even an epiphany (as in, “That’s brilliant! Why didn’t I think of that!”). But, vision is not the only sense that matters. Of course, all of the senses are means by which we conduct discourse. So, Rampike does not limit itself to writing, but also includes how language can move into visual art, sculpture, ritual or theatre, sound, music, performance, installation and digital media, among other formats.
In addition, there is the audience to consider, and the means by which discourse is communicated. Rampike has developed mainly into a publication by writers/artists for writers/artists. It serves a limited but very lively and energetic audience, and that audience is defined by its open-mindedness. It’s interesting to see how the mind constitutes another aspect of what might be called a “revisionist discourse.” So, the way our fundamental concepts are formed becomes a thing of great interest to me. Harvey, you have written a book on one of my favorite authors, William Gass, and his multiple sense of the word “blue” is analogous to the multiple senses of the word “discourse” as we (re-)vision it. As an editor, I’m alert to expressions that sharpen the focus of our vision, or at other times playfully pull the wool over our eyes. Such conceptual vistas can fuse different horizons of meaning together, or at other times remain deliciously discreet. Yes, this is a tad abstract, but we’re working with a long cultural history. Our cultural habits, predispositions and preconceptions shape us. Our own biologies are integrated in discourse. So, at least some of the “horizons” of discourse that I mention above include our brain function and our meta-consciousness. We are affected by the homeostatic epiphenomena of our neural synapses. The passage from noetic consciousness to meta-consciousness forms a Möbius loop between self and other, as we engage our expanding discursive heritage. We are. We speak. Yet, the cogito is shaped by our bio-electric wet-wiring. Consider our perception of what might be the epiphenomenon of time. Recently, physicists have challenged whether time exists. Others have now discovered that quantum theory is active in biological cellular functions. Neurochemicals and neurotransmitters constitute an integral part of discourse. And so, from an editorial perspective, one notes these things alongside the need to take chances. Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go. As an editor I ask, can we re-envision old habits, make a leap of mind, break a conceptual frame, think slant, tilt the paradigm, if only one degree? And, can we do this in a way that will be redeemed by our perception of time? Can we write to eyes as yet unborn? Can we speak to minds as yet unformed? This is what indigenous peoples of North America speak of when they talk of the “seventh fire”—seven generations from now. Our belief structures shape what we believe is possible, but also limit us by what we believe is impossible. Dare the impossible! Much has been said about “brain plasticity”—so, as an editor, I’m interested in “discursive plasticity,” and that comes pretty close to what I mean by “revisionist discourse.” Many kind thanks for asking the question!
Karl E. Jirgens is a specialist in contemporary literature with a focus on Canadian. He is the author of Bill Bissett and His Works (ECW), Christopher Dewdney and His Works (ECW), Strappado (Coach House Press) and A Measure of Time (Mercury Press), and has edited a book on Canadian painter, Jack Bush (Coach House) and another on poet, Christopher Dewdney (Wilfrid Laurier University Press). Jirgens has edited Rampike, the international literary journal of post-modern art and writing, since 1979. He heads the English Department and teaches at the University of Windsor.