Peter Macsovszky

- 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’.