Poetry News

Speculative Thinking With Srikanth Reddy & Lucy Ives

By Harriet Staff

Srikanth Reddy

In "The Technocrat's Guide to the Galaxy," poet Srikanth Reddy talks with Lucy Ives "about the possible plurality of worlds, poets as 'feeling machines,' and how to make an aesthetic object out of bureaucratic relics of the space race," referencing a talk Reddy gave at Triple Canopy's 2013 show at MoMA/PS1, Speculations (“The future is ______”), which comprised 50 days of lectures, discussions, and debates about the future with leading leaders and thinking thinkers of now. "You seemed so comfortable in this speculative mode of thinking!" says Ives. "I’m curious what role speculative thinking might play in your work." "...If you don’t think about the distant future of our contemporary historical moment—the longue durée, as it were—then it’s very easy for one’s political or aesthetic practice to be too circumscribed in the 'now.' Or even in one’s domestic practice, for that matter," replies Reddy. More from this excellent conversation:

Ives In your second collection of poetry, Voyager (2011), there is certainly some interest in speculative thinking, since the book speaks to the possibility of a plurality of worlds. Interestingly, this happens through the erasure, appropriation, and rewriting of a memoir by Kurt Waldheim, former secretary-general of the United Nations and, as was revealed during his (successful) run for the Austrian presidency in 1985, intelligence officer in Hitler’s Wehrmacht.

Reddy In a way, as I worked on Voyager I was interested in some cosmological questions—“How many worlds are there?” or “How many objects are there in the world?” or “Is the world a single object?”—that real philosophers might find somewhat boring. But in the book I’m trying to deal with these problems not so much speculatively as concretely, through a reading of Waldheim’s hopelessly partial and duplicitous account of the world, trying to retrieve other imaginative cosmologies from inside of that falsely totalizing technocratic text. So the cosmological project of Voyager is more about investigative reading than about speculation to a certain extent.


Ives ...I’d like to know...how you think about the role of the poet or the “creative writer” within the academy. Is poetry ever a kind of knowledge, in an academic sense?

Reddy I hear a lot of colleagues in the humanities self-describe as knowledge workers. I don’t think that’s a helpful way of describing what a poet is doing, even within an institutional context. This is an old-fashioned, probably romantic distinction, but I think of the poet more as a “feeling worker,” or an “affective worker.” Not that I’m hoping for a return to sentimentalism in the art. It’s just that I’m skeptical of any knowledge claim people make for poetry. I’ve never seen the art form as one that is epistemological in that sense. I find that it’s more of a technology of feeling than anything else, or at least, I feel that poetry helps me to orient myself affectively in the world—that this is the work it does for me in my experience, though naturally others will invariably find that it does other forms of work for them. It’s a hopelessly rough-hewn way of overstating the case, the way I’m making these distinctions, of course!

Ives And yet there are what one might call philosophic tendencies within your work—an interest in contemplation, for example.

Reddy In the first book of Voyager there is a series of propositions about the world that very loosely echoes Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. I wasn’t really trying to do philosophy here; I was trying to feel my way toward a kind of philosophical music that was more “flattened out” than the lyric, tonally speaking. The philosophical premise of Book One of Voyager was just that: a kind of a premise for the construction of poetic language. I’m very drawn to conceptual work, since it has a kind of philosophical inflection. (I’m thinking of writers like Tan Lin or Lisa Robertson here, though they may not self-identify as “conceptualists” in a strict sense). But I think it would be a dangerous mistake to make the claim that my own poem—or, in a sense, any poem—is actually doing philosophy! Rather, one could say that the poem—my own poem, that is—is adopting the rhetorical and tonal, and even narratological, strategies of philosophy in order to achieve aesthetic effects. That’s what I like about conceptual work: how it makes me feel. Not that it gives me a new set of political or epistemological tools to make my way in the world. Rather, it allows me to feel my way to a proper stance toward these tools.

Read more at Triple Canopy. A recording of Reddy's Speculations talk is here. And if you want to check out a few poems from Voyager, we have a sampling here.

Originally Published: June 23rd, 2015