Name: Eugene Thacker
Nationality: American
Occupation: Philosopher, poet, author
Current publication: Eugene Thacker teams up with sound artist Siavash Amini for their double LP Songs for Sad Poets, out via Hallow Ground.
Recommendations: Charles Baudelaire, Late Fragments, edited & translated by Richard Sieburth; Japanese Death Poems, edited by Yoel Hoffmann; Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, edited & translated by David Hinton.

[Read our Siavash Amini interview]

If you enjoyed this interview with Eugene Thacker, visit his official homepage for a deeper look into his world.

When did you start writing, and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about literature and writing that drew you to it?

I think there’s a difference between when a person begins to write and at what point they begin to take writing seriously. The two don’t always overlap.

I think I first became a writer by reading. I grew up in a household where there was always music and books; it was an environment, a kind of ambient influence. Books, music, art was never forced on you, but it was always there, whenever you were curious – like a library.

I confess I didn’t really like reading growing up. It was the era of home video, video games, cassettes, MTV, and so on. But I also read some things that made a lasting impact. For example I remember first reading Edgar Allan Poe when I was quite young; it was a hardcover edition with illustrations, I think by Harry Clarke. It was mesmerizing, one of those moments of discovery when you think, I had no idea something like this existed.

Some of his stories are unusual in that there’s no setting, no real characters, and very little plot. I found that fascinating. The prose seemed more like poetry, and storytelling gave way to something more diffuse, more nebulous, darker – a mood. It was almost like an abstract horror, a sense of vaster, more impersonal forces at play in the cosmos.

Later on, I found myself drawn to those authors who treaded that fine line between philosophy and poetry.

For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?

I’m envious of those writers who seem to have “found their voice,” and are able to express it in book after book. For me, it’s almost been the opposite. Rather than a book serving as a vehicle for my voice, it’s more that my “voice” (whatever that is) serves as a vehicle for the book. Everything serves the work, the project, the book.

I think that’s why my writing ranges so widely. Each project demands something different in terms of writing, genre, style, and structure, each project drawing on different disciplines, different knowledges, all of it somehow filtered through this strange thing called “philosophy.”

But maybe that’s asking too much. Really, I’d be just as content writing tanka or haiku.

How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?

It doesn’t. What is “creative” to me is the dissipation of identity. If my writing doesn’t serve to undertake some form of self-abnegation, then it’s not worth pursuing.

What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?

When I began writing the main challenge was how to say everything I wanted to say. The presumptuousness of youth.

Now the challenge is to say as little as possible. If I’m lucky, I’ll eventually stop writing altogether (which will happen anyways, whether or not I want it to ...).

How do you see the relationship between style, form, plot and storytelling – and how would you rate their importance for you, respectively?

As a writer, I often look to music to help me structure whatever I’m writing. Sometimes it can be very direct – for instance, the first part of my book Infinite Resignation is structured like a fugue, but is also inspired by dissipative stuctures in spectral music, where things slowly and inexorably disintegrate, so that you’re left with just fragments and shards, the desiderata of writing.

I’ve always felt that there’s something musical about putting together a book or even a single poem – the part / whole relationships, the different types of voicing, the temporal experience of writing (and reading), the dynamic between sound and silence, saying and un-saying.

Can you talk about a breakthrough publication in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?

Every publication is a breakthrough – or it should be.

It’s easy to overlook the labor involved in writing, editing, and publishing a book, especially today, with our digital print-on-demand culture, where publishing has become so easy. Part of that labor is also having the wherewithal to not publish a book. That’s becoming a lost craft. Knowing when something is ready, knowing when it’s not quite there, knowing when something’s better left unsaid or simply left behind. Not everything needs to be a “thing.”

Infinite Resignation took roughly eight years from start to finish. I thought it was ready, but it wasn’t, and I kept working on it, and it got better because of that. Eventually I learned to wait.

Books have a life-cycle of their own, apart from our egos or the dictates of what’s trending. Books find readers, not vice-versa. And sometimes that can take a long time. Years, decades, centuries, a lifetime.

There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?

Yapping dogs, ambulance sirens, construction drilling, crying babies, those ridiculously loud motorcycles, noisy neighbors, and the sound of humans in general. Volumes 2 and 3 of the Horror of Philosophy trilogy were written at the same time that the building next to us decided to do major renovations. They’ll never know the profound spite I felt towards them.

But it’s hard to know when you should dig your heels in and persist, and when it’s a sign that you should simply go for a walk or go get a coffee. I try to remind myself that in several billion years the sun will die out and none of this will matter, and sometimes that works. Sometimes.

Literature works with sense impressions in a different way than the other arts. How do you use them in your writing? From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?

Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, it rained a lot. Not thunderstorms or torrential downpours, but a steady, drifting, mist-like rain. An almost imperceptible, indistinct sheen set against overcast skies and the slow swaying of fir and pine trees. The rain is part of the environment, not separate from it.

That kind of rain makes a particular kind of sound, almost an ambient sound. It envelops everything and yet it is delicate, fragile, almost not even there. Micropolyphony, as Ligeti calls it. New York does not have that kind of rain. It dumps and then it stops. Sometimes I’ll play one of those ASMR Pacific Rainforest tracks on repeat the whole day.

One of the reasons I was eager to work with Siavash on the Songs for Sad Poets project is the way that his work encompasses all these aspects of sound transformed into music, and music dissipating into sound. Many of the poets I admire work in that same space. As a composer he is attuned to the nuances of sound, but he also has a wonderful lyrical sense that makes his more abstract pieces quite moving.

From the concept of Nada Brahma to "In the Beginning was the Word", many spiritual traditions have regarded sound as the basis of the world. Regardless of whether you're taking a scientific or spiritual angle, what is your own take on the idea of a harmony of the spheres and sound as the foundational element of existence?

Sound seems to be central to so many religious traditions, both in their cosmologies as well as in their rituals. It is the enunciative act that produces the world, how the world is expressed – and how the world ends (...and all worlds end). Sound is both order and disorder, cosmos and chaos, and perhaps what we haphazardly call “music” is the attempt to find that point where chaos and cosmos intersect.

As a philosopher, I’m always taken by how many philosophers felt that music was as central to their thinking as philosophy was – from Pythagoras, Zhuangzi, Boethius, Al-Kindi, Hildegard of Bingen, and Ficino, down through Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Adorno, Cioran, Jankélévitch, and so on. It’s almost as if philosophers suddenly become a little delirious and even a bit mystical when talking about music.

Perhaps music and/or sound is the dissolving of the boundary between philosophy and religion. Somewhere the author J.-K. Huysmans tells of a group of Tibetan monks able to move huge stones through their chanting. Compared to that, the rest of us just sing (and badly at that).