- Slovakia -
Macsovszky is a poet, fiction writer and essayist. He was an editor of the literary magazine Dotyky and a lecturer at the University of Constantine the Philosopher in Nitra, where he taught aesthetics and literary criticism; he also worked on the encyclopedia Beliana at the Slovak Academy of Sciences. His poetry books include: Strach z utópie (Fear of Utopia, Hevi, Drewo a srd, 1994, 2000); Ambit (Drewo a srd, 1995); Cvičná pitva (Autopsy, Drewo a srd, 1997), Sangaku (1998) Súmračná reč (The Dark Speech, Drewo a srd, 1999), Frustraeón (Drewo a srd, 2000), Lešenie a laná (The Scaffolding and Ropes, Kalligram, 2004), Príbytok cudzieho času (The Shelter of Alien Time, Ars Poetica, 2008), Hromozvonár, Pohodlná mníška (The Comfortable Nun, Ars Poetica, 2011). He is also a translator of modern American and Hungarian literature, including Richard Brautigan's The Revenge of the Lawn. He is particularly interested in the translation of modern American poetry, especially the Native American poetry. His other interests include Oriental philosophy and the history of fine arts. He holds the M.A. from the faculties of English Language, the Arts, and Slovak Literature from the University of Constantine. He was at the IWP through the US Information Agency.
Peter Macsovszky’s artistic projects have always been characterised by their use of conceptual art, techniques of textual assemblage and textual collages and their complex experimental approach to traditional poetry in terms of textual creation and on the productive, receptive and pragmatic levels. In the mid-1990s, Macsovszky himself described his artistic method as a ‘montage exploiting the lexis and syntax of scientific and pseudo-scientific texts’ and as an ‘attempt to detach oneself from emotions, which in poetry are dwelled upon to tediousness’. To indicate a new form of genre, Macsovszky uses the terms ‘steril’/‘sterile’ and ‘sterilmobil’/‘sterilemobile’, herein revealing his inspiration from the sculptor Alexander Calder, who created movable installations, so-called ‘mobiles’. Macsovszky’s conceptual poems do not thematically examine the ‘situation of the subject’ but rather the ‘situation of the text’. Poetry’s traditional emotivity and empathy with the lyrical subject is replaced by an emotional distance (the poetics of ‘coolness’); there is an emptying of subjective content, an emphasis on random chance and a combinatorics of constructive methods based on repetition, variation and shift in meanings. The chance emergence of emotion in Macsovszky’s work is ‘only a possible consequence’ but not the aim or subject of the text (P. Markovič).
All of Macsovszky’s books present a specific experimental project in which he tests the possibilities of the text as shape-forming material and a potential artefact; he also tests the ontological status of authorship and the institute of literary criticism as an authority. Macsovszky systematically deconstructs ‘poeticness’ in terms of content in its preservation of some of poetry’s formal properties (the division of a poem into title, verses and stanzas; repeating stylistic figures). The text looks like a poem but is complemented with syllogisms taken from or imitating philosophical, scientific, literary and popular book sources; the occasional approximation of traditional poetic content appears ironic or pastiche.
Macsovszky’s collections are notable for their use of language, discourse and the quality of their textuality as well as their ways of forming and layering meanings, and indeed their failure in this activity. The metatextual intention in writing brings new authorial practices: rewriting (Strach z utopia/Fear of Utopia, Klišémantra/Cliché-mantra); the principle of seriality; multi-layered writing (on the level of the text, the level of the notational apparatus, the level of the commentary in a textual situation, Cvičná pitva/Practice Autopsy); the creation of non-liner parallel texts (Súmračná reč/The Twilight Speech); the appropriation of models of a wide stylistic (Ambit, Practice Autopsy, Cliché-mantra and Tovar/Merchandise) and cultural extent of disparity (the setting of the Japanese theatre in Sangaku); and fictional authorship under a female identity (Súmrak cudnosti/The Twilight of Chastity) or as a part of a multi-subject (Generator X; Hmlovina/Nebula). The pragmatic literary space between the readers, literary criticism and the author becomes an experimental space. Here Macsovszky goes beyond his authorial role and enters the realm of critical reception. Taking critics’ sentences as building material for subsequent texts; he engages with them in the introduction of his books (The Twilight Speech) and presents his poems as ‘merchandise’ and the subject of an agreement between the customer (reader), manufacturer (publisher) and author (Merchandise).
Macsovszky’s conceptual literary work relies on a line of artistic experimentation from the 20th century: Zoltán Rédey has identified influences from such authors as Guillaume Apollinaire, Tristan Tzara, T. S. Eliot, L. Cselényi, Charles Olson, William Burroughs and D. Antin. The scope of his books reveals that Macsovszky is inspired by classical and poststructuralist philosophy (Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida and others) as well as the mystic anthropologist Carlos Castaneda. His intertextual, pastiche and collage montages consume a lot of text; their wide selection has a disparate character, with instances of numerology and occultism through to philosophy and medicine. In one of his ‘fictional non-fictional’ commentaries on his work, Macsovszky himself states that his texts are ‘a product of a playful and, for me, even infantile and naive joyful wandering in the galaxy of books’ (The Twilight Speech).
Despite his declared non-binding ‘playfulness’, which is positioned in opposition to teleology in art, Macsovszky is able to highlight serious issues not previously present in the context of Slovak literature. His work casts doubt on the established understanding of elementary categories of artistic literature (the author, subject and relationship between the authentic and the fictitious). He verifies the properties and possibilities of language, discourse, text and communication. He becomes an example of the new situation in which a person finds himself in a ‘context of civilisational and cultural transformation’ (Zoltán Rédey), where ‘in his attempts to participate in the universe, [he is] inescapably stuck in the meta-reality of his own projections and constructions’ (Jaroslav Šrank).
Along with the work of Peter Šulej, Macsovszky’s experimental texts have provided a stimulating influence for other poets – Michal Habaj, Martin Solotruk, Andrej Hablák, Nóra Ružičková, Katarína Kucbelová, Mária Ferenčuhová, Ľubica Somolayová and Derek Rebro – who have built upon the creative methods of conceptual poetry. At the turn of the millennium, the work of most of these poets carries enough of the same typological properties for the literary critic Jaroslav Šrank to describe this group as the ‘text generation’.
This is a real thing / THIS IS A REAL THING
This is the regular speech of poetic discourse.
It denotes a degree of textual regulation,
arrangement of the text in its formal shape.
It relates to form rather than content.
Its merit is brevity.
This here is the basic unit
of poetic rhythm, usually one line.
It is characterised by a phonic structure.
What has been said so far fully
applies also to this grouping
of basic units of poetic rhythm
on the basis of a common rhyming scheme
of the same metrical plan.
A couplet is the smallest stanza.
If the scheme in the text constantly changes
and is not subject to regularity,
it relates to content rather than form.© Peter Macsovszky, translated by Marián Andričík
Reincarnation of the stanza / REINKARNÁCIA STROFY
The first stanza does not claim to have the function
of concise exposition.
That is precisely why it has nothing to say.
The second stanza does not waste space in the way
the first stanza is doing right now
but develops its idea, intensifying
the motif, endowing the text with necessary tension,
which will probably, however,
be suppressed in the third stanza.
The third stanza clarifies the way
the fifth stanza is integrated
into the poetic context
of the fourth stanza. It could be said
that to a certain extent it has the character of metatext.
The fourth stanza has a stepmother’s attitude
to the third stanza; it is undesired
reciprocity, a sort of suspended
gradation — the beginning of regress,
one of the signs of recession.
The fifth stanza is written
at least as skilfully as the third,
but means nothing for the fourth.
The sixth stanza is written.© Peter Macsovszky, translated by Marián Andričík
7 ordinary situations / 7 VŠEDNÝCH SITUÁCIÍ
The idea that someone heard our voice
while the door was closed
fills us, to tell the truth, with feelings
of insecurity. Let us imagine it.
Let us imagine that he who
says so heard voices from our room:
it seemed to him he identified us,
but he is not sure if our radio
happened to be on.
It is also possible we were not there
but our radio was on,
someone else having turned it on.
But this also cannot be ruled out,
that we were there but the radio was not on.
So that evening we were
at the agreed place,
in the given enclosed area.
Or our radio was on.
If we were not there and the radio was not on,
they are on a false lead:
it is not true that someone heard us.
Let us hope we were in that evening.
Even if indeed someone spoke
in our room, but we were not there
and the radio was turned off.© Peter Macsovszky, translated by Marián Andričík
Incommunicable communicated / NESPROSTREDKOVATEĽNÉ SPROSTREDKOVANÉ
This text probably represents
some other text. Represents. Replaces.
Does not explain. Refers to some other,
far deeper meaning —
the meaning of unattainable depths.
This text probably represents
itself, stands for itself, of course,
only when it is not here, it is by itself,
replaces, confirms itself. For itself
it is a reference referring to itself.
So this text has no other meaning,
except for the single one it has. Apart from that,
no other meaning may be arbitrarily
ascribed to it, or removed from it.
Its only meaning is that it has
no meaning by itself, but this is not
the same as meaninglessness.
This text is part of secret sciences.© Peter Macsovszky, translated by Marián Andričík
The bridge / MOST
the words of this poem
cannot survive in isolation.
they are afraid of: fear
of the moving frontiers
the words of this poem
even though sometimes
they are treacherous and unreliable...
the words of this poem
need other words
of this poem
to form a chain:
a chain bridge
to be able to
walk along and throw down
that they never
no bonds between them
ever being formed.© Peter Macsovszky, Ambit (Drewo a srd, 1995), translated by Marián Andričík
Steril suicidal / STERIL SUICIDAL
my poetic language
having been sterilised
into slimy swamps
It is held above water
only by the limbs
of auxiliary verbs,
the auxiliary verb
in the present tense
and third person
the most stupefying
the most boring,
and the most dead...© Peter Macsovszky, Ambit (Drewo a srd, 1995), translated by Marián Andričík
Absence: amor fati / ABSENCIA: AMOR FATI
She would be such, there would be no need to write about her. The
writing would only be about writing about her. (Like now?)
She would be the subject of my only writing. My only writing would have
to proceed impersonally.
She would be such, there would be no need to use the paradigm verbs
“must” and “need not” in writing about her.
She would be one of the themes of my only writing about the beings of
her sex. (However, that sex would only be grammatical.)
She would give rise to interpretations that would push her into the
realm of pure fiction or metaphor.
She would be such from the first moment.
She would be a real metaphor but only if someone — a person possibly
squeezable into what we designate by the personal pronoun “I” —
would guide her through the bridge of transcription.
She would be, of course, an ambiguous metaphor: its metaphorised
presence, enchanted into script, would not clarify in the least whether
the writing was about a higher or a lower thing.
She would really be enchanted, and therefore: there would be: a castle,
a knight, a dragon. Perhaps what we call “I” could be that knight.
She would be a manifestation of existence closely connected with the
dynamism of grammatical relations. Those relations, those tangles,
would stand for seven dragons’ heads.
She would be something that would exceed such a manifestation, passing
through seven grades of maturing.
She would stand outside syntactic relations, although the writing
about her would arise as the consequence of the ability to create such
relations. (The castle.)
She would be imaginary only insofar as the properties of the language in
which she is written, read and spoken about, are imaginary.
She would be contained completely and fully only in her absence,
wherever it might be manifest.© Peter Macsovszky, Trial Autopsy (Drewo a srd, 1997), translated by Marián Andričík
Multipassages / MULTIPRIECHODY
The user of this code should not be inhibited by any of the proclaimed
collapses of consistent and practical thinking.
The user of this code has just reached a dangerous passage. One cannot
pass but only slip through. At a moment which the user of this code will
not even notice. After decoding, nothing will remain in its place, and he
who wants to return will need to be aware that familiar environments
have been absorbed by the change.
The user of this code agrees with the paradoxes served up to him by the
maker of the code. The maker of the code does not understand why he
should blindly apply this or that convention without knowing who began
its construction, when and with what intention. The maker of the code
does not understand why he was left out of the process of making this
or that convention and why he is required to adopt this convention.
The clamour of excluding tradition carries across the deserted fields
of intellect. Only one tradition can be adopted in an authentic way: the
subjective (private) one, arranged by the maker, user and interpreter of
the personal code.
The maker of the code does not understand the well-established
habits of trained monkeys. For the time being, he delights only in the
melancholic gestures of coroners. The epileptic syntax finally begins to
The user of the code will not penetrate completely into the secrets of
the code he is just getting used to; he will stay on the surface, content
with tritely concrete decorations — the carnival whirl suffices as
a filling of duration.
The user of a different code identifies something else in this
fortification. Strangely arranged graphic characters: commas, full stops,
little perpendiculars, wavy lines, oval forms... In the area where the
concept of the mind is presumably to be found, surprising analogies are
He will start to take any letter for a sign, an aestheticising stylisation of
acoustic discourse, lasting in our conception (and convention) of time.
Obviously, from the sum of analogies a code will come into being that
does not have anything in common with language or literature. And
likewise not with the adornments of this fortification.
Let the user of (almost whatever) code find his appropriate passage if
he actually knows what is meant by that. And let the coroner go back to
the examination of deceased trained monkeys.© Peter Macsovszky, Trial Autopsy (Drewo a srd, 1997), translated by Marián Andričík