180.2: Pablo Lopez:: Lines of Relation and Sites of Refusal: Four contemporary poets writing outside the genre 180

"Neither language nor its various conditions will suffice to describe the itch Seidenberg is compelled to articulate, and yet there is little other recourse but to mobilize language and the various forms it may be called to assume in order for the author to address the physical provocations he endures under the rubric: Itch..."
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Lines of Relation and Sites of Refusal:
Four contemporary poets writing outside the genre

Part Three: Steven Seiderberg’s Itch

The Sight of Death is a book written by an art historian and critic, T.J. Clark. It is a book well-known for its engagement with the act of seeing. It’s an example of contemporary art writing that fully immerses itself in the fundamental act of its practice, looking. Clark looks at two pictures for a sustained disquisition, what Rosalind Krauss called “a refusal of media,” and, “an elongated exploration and revisitation of a pair of Poussin paintings, which seeks to see and resee in all the complexity of their compositional resonance.” Clark himself has said that the work attempts to “make time for the opportunity for sustained attention, proposing that visual images carry within them the possibility of genuine difficulty, genuine depth and resistance.” In its refusal of media it also exacts a lesson in the value of sustained attention to an issue and its concomitant provocations and questions, many of which remain unanswered and unanswerable. Refusal as such applies recuperative elements to the discourse it attends.

Itch is a book written by a poet. It’s a book of obsession. Itch. It is a sustained exploration of human endeavor in relation to one’s existence and the possibility of its narration. It mobilizes corporeality in effort to poeticize the trauma of trying with the foreknowledge of perpetual failure. Its formal obsession tests a reader’s attention, threatening, surely, to exhaust the machinations of the author’s self-consciousness while testing the formal durability of a literary undertaking already doomed from the onset. And yet, one carries on. Is there an option otherwise?

Where The Sight of Death is obsessive about seeing, Itch dispassionately obsesses about feeling. A particular feeling, itch, to the point that it reads as irresistible impetus of form and its attendant, if not ambivalent, urge to reorganize itself and its very constitution toward some new end within the bounds it establishes as its realm of narrative. An impetus that gives way to longing, longing for a form via language but that extends the competency of its logic to exceed even its ability to articulate an idea, or a set thereof. Neither language nor its various conditions will suffice to describe the itch Seidenberg is compelled to articulate, and yet there is little other recourse but to mobilize language and the various forms it may be called to assume in order for the author to address the physical provocations he endures under the rubric: Itch.

Many failed attempts. Perhaps this is the first time. Of my many failed attempts, perhaps this is the first. The first in what will soon appear a series of such failures–surrendered, and I say attempt, the language of a game which attempts…I say the saying and the saying say…


Itch embodies a desire to alter and form a less-articulated space that one might inhabit. Whether or not that space is satisfactory or will be satisfactory to the desire is of no real consequence, the logical sequence is not the point. The philosophical concern is that desire to alter, to seek alternative modes of articulation that apply to our lives on a local and practical level. It is hardly a matter of aesthetics or intellectual musing to seek out such modes of transformation. The impetus to transform is a practical concern and its logic is straightforward, while its outcome couldn’t be more non-linear. Nevertheless, to engage such an impetus is a profound undertaking that speaks to one’s sensitivity to the frailties of form and alterations that may follow as impetus inspires and dictates. The impetus to change oneself is not a far cry from the human relationship between articulated forms and the impetus to alter. For instance, one maintains the form of ‘I’ for a lifetime not because one chooses to do so but because one has little choice otherwise, and the great challenge of life is to find the modes of existence as “I” that are less-inhabited and overdetermined. We seek the arts for these sites of relief and vague moments of freedom compelled by something like Seidenberg’s Itch.

The suffering of another. I’m struggling to suggest, is indistinguishable from the character of its expression—its performative effects—and my pain in particular enters into discourse on that very same continuum of impulse and restraint. Here, if nowhere else, we can describe ourselves as creatures of extent, disregarding the persuasive claims to inner…to wholly inner life our doubt seems to adduce. Or some doubt, really, not the same as ours, but not irrelevant to ours, nevertheless…


The idea that Itch can be read as a condition of refusal is worth consideration. Notably it operates as an active and pronounced rejection of prefabricated forms of subjective existence.

It articulates itself against legible modes of linear narrative and the availabilities of its fixed conditions in favor of less-prescribed modes of narrative direction and discourse. They are directions but never dictate, and for that reason in large part, Itch is oriented altogether differently toward narrative direction than other modes of writing. It is a call to reorganize and push back against overly familiar modes of existence, and so demarcates and articulates a condition of isolation, discomfort, and perhaps even discontent. In essence though, it is a condition of humble refusal. Itch then seeks alterity in the shape of other forms. One gathers from Itch that the possibilities of a linear narrative are as debilitating as are those restrictions of articulation that ‘I’ claps on the individual. ‘I’ offers the promise of stagnation while Itch offers one of the unknown–and the grand promise of the unknowable, though not so naively as to believe that it’s attainable. The persistent and perceptible feeling is knowledge enough, though it reveals nothing.

Such pretense aside…put beside consideration, which is not strictly out of…out of reach, beyond regard, I can…I did take the position that you were placed as I am; that if you were, I’d know… I would have known your thinking, what you were thinking of when I first made the claim…


Doubled up in its critical posture Itch exacts a lesson in the value of sustained attention to an issue and its associated provocations and questions, many of which remain unanswered and unanswerable. Refusal and attention as such applies recuperative elements to the discourse it attends. Itch, then, in its numerous refusals, exacts a form of narrative recuperation—a revitalizing of an impoverished field of artistic, literary, and academic discourse—and a practical and useful application of the creative and literary endeavor. Why “narrative recuperation”? Perhaps, writing is poorer than we realize, and requires recuperative attention to remain virile and vitalizing to a literary constituency.

And so when the issue of transformation and refusal is broached, it is an opportunity for narrative to explore the forms it lends to philosophical investigation, but hardly can resolve the questions that commence the endeavor. Itch is aware of this and mindful of its limited scope and reach, the prose stammers and staggers at times, feeling its way through iterations. The author makes plain his own limited ability to transform and escape the constraints of narrative. Itch is an attempt at improving the subject position but it is not naive in its undertaking and articulates itself with reserve, hesitancy, and cautious creative ambition. For as much as Itch is an attempt at a condition of resistance it is a lament for what it will not be able to achieve despite its most concerted efforts.

The success or failure of the endeavor is hardly the reason to engage with Itch. One may glean any number of engagements from this book as it is philosophical as it is ambitious and as literary as it is vaguely forlorn. Regardless, it’s a human narrative of form and failure, and in that regard it succeeds as an achievement of intellectual inquiry and human will. It’s an example of contemporary writing that fully immerses itself in the fundamental act of its practice, feeling.

Steven Seiderberg:: Itch:: RAW ArT Press