zu der blühenden allmaterie (abbozzo) / gustav sjöberg. 2017


according to a classic aesthetic model, the artist forms an already existent matter, turns nature into art, gives matter form. the paradigmatic example in this context would be sculpture, but poetry too is ultimately understood in similar terms. for what, as it were, distinguishes a poem from a non-poem, poetry from that which is not poetry? as various historically conditioned attempts to provide poetry with an essential determination little by little have proved to be untenable, the one thing remaining is an implicit notion of human agency, the very idea that the poet in one sense or another organizes the non-poetic matter and turns it into poetry.

which particular methodological premises that are underpinning such an organization of matter is, in this particular light, of secondary importance. what it comes down to is, above all, the fundamental aristotelian distinction between form and matter, and its still strong influence on concepts such as ”art” and ”poetry”.

bearing this in mind, it becomes one of the most crucial tasks for contemporary writing to subvert or dissolve the distinction between that which is produced by man and that which is produced by nature, or between the ”universal artist” (universalis artifex) and the ”universal matter” (universalis materia), to use the terminology of florentine neoplatonist 15th century philosopher marsilio ficino.[1]

for this to be possible, another understanding of the relationship between form and matter seems to be required. which?

one alternative way of conceiving matter would, tentatively phrased, be as an infinite production of innumerous finite forms, in an incessant movement of decomposition and composition, disintegration and configuration. matter would, according to such an understanding, not be a passive substrate in need of formal reworking, but to the contrary coincide with the manifolding of the forms themselves.

the consequences of this conceptual transformation are immense, and implicate that matter comprises both act and potency, the corporeal as well as the non-corporeal – something which, in turn, means that the concept does not depend upon a specific notion of nature’s essence. rather, ”matter” quite simply becomes a term for nature’s continuously differentiated self-generating process.

in this transformation and activation of matter is already comprised, upon a closer look, the challenging of each single aesthetic ideal. perhaps a destruction of art as an autonomous field, as a sphere separated from life or as a more elevated reflection upon existence, is only possible by virtue of such a radically different concept of form, of dissolving art in nature?

in fact, it seems apparent that the understanding of the concepts of form and matter described above is incompatible with the aesthetic model that has been and still remains prevalent in the western world, and accordingly carries far-reaching implications for the very concept of art such as it has been shaped and defined since greek antiquity and throughout the ages.

one way of making this discussion more concrete is by taking a closer look at the two paradigms that still, in a certain sense, define the horizon of poetry, in other words what we – with the help of the italian philologist gianfranco contini – might call petrarch’s monolinguism and dante’s plurilinguism. on the one hand the ”incessant experimentalism” and incredibly vast multitude of dialects, banter, idioms, plurality of lexical strata and poliglottia degli stili that are to be found in dante, on the other hand petrarch’s extinction of all linguistic heterogeneity for the purpose of a single unisonant lyrical voice.[2]

contini notes that modern litterature has conformed to the model of petrarch rather than dante (especially the dante of the commedia), despite regarding the latter as the greater mind and author. though widely held as one of the crown achievements of so called world litterature, the anarchic splendour of the commedia has, in fact, played a much smaller role in shaping modern poetry than petrarch’s unimaginative canzoniere.

interestingly, the linguistic universe of dante’s commedia corresponds extremely well to the notion of a ”blühende allmaterie” or a ”blooming all-matter”.[3] in dante, language has not yet been fixed according to a coercive orthographic or grammatical convention, but, rather, in one single movement seems to emerge from, comprise, answer to and welcome all imaginable forms, low and high, liberated from every hierarchy and beyond the question whether they be legitimate or not.

ab initio petrarch’s monolinguism is antithetical to this comic richness, and it is in his reactive gesture that modern poetry is born.

almost seven hundred year later, it is obvious that poetry still moves within the same monolinguistic paradigm. it is also against this background that modern poetry’s many attempts to profane the poetic statement must be understood, its effort to renegotiate the delineation between that which is poetry and that which is not poetry.

the attempts to break with the monolinguistic paradigm have been many and commendable since the 14th century until today. nevertheless the paradigm has subsisted. one of the reasons for its perduring dominion is the fact that poetry’s poetological dispositive remains intimately connected to the aristotelian distinction between ”form” and ”matter” – that is, to a notion of language as a pure potency that eventually is conferred a specific form in the poetic statement.

this divide, bearing a great resemblance to the influential notion of nature and culture as ontologically distinct entities, is also the basis of the still today unthreatened fiction of the author.

against the backdrop of this rather dense conceptual situation, in which notions of matter, nature, art and man mutually condition and strengthen each other, one can get a glimpse of the scope of the problem. we are, in other words, by no means dealing with an exclusively poetological problematic that would be possible to circumvent by means of formal innovations or by insisting on alternative concepts of poetry. to the contrary! poetry is such a central ingredient in the prevalent right-wing culture’s ”homogenised porridge”[4] that each attempt to recuperate the concept nolens volens runs the risk of affirming poetry – art – with capital initial.

in this light it becomes clear why poetry, to begin with, must assume a destructive character, destroy the very foundation that at the same time constitutes its precondition.

what’s at stake is, more precisely, a destruction that simultaneously, in a parallel movement, allows for the possibility of a radical transformation of the relationship between poetry and nature, and that writes itself in the direction of what we might call a monadic naturephilological writing outside of poetry in the classical sense of the term.

which forms could a writing thus conceived take?

to be able to approach such a question it is, in the first instance, important to note that the ”blooming” concept of matter implicates the absolute lack of a common measure for the single forms. that is to say that there are not two identical things, not two numbers completely equivalent, and neither are there two homologous movements or parts of movements. man’s tendency to establish an equivalence between, for instance, ten trees and ten other trees, obeys a logical criterion and does not take place in relation to the single object. things, grasped individually and as a whole, are what they are in different ways, and cannot at any level be subsumed under a common measure.

applied to poetry, this insight does not only mean that each individual poem, text or work of art has its own immanent measure, but also that this measure, in turn, is subjected to constant change. each form is not only different than every other form, but also different than itself.

this does not result in the levelling of different linguistic strata. instead, the consequence is so to speak a de-valuation, a way of releasing them from each central perspective. now, at the very latest, it also becomes obvious that this concept of form implicates a firm break with the very notion of artistic quality. all normative aesthetic criteria lose their legitimacy, as there is no organising principle which itself would escape from the intermittency and fundamental unsteadiness of the single forms.

perhaps poetry’s separation from each selective measure also marks an opening for a plurilinguistic writing, that no longer orients itself by or even accepts distinctions between own and other, legitimate and illegitimate, beautiful and ugly. neither does the ceaselessly transformed form, which ceaselessly transforms itself, appear to be compatible with a fixed grammar. instead, it requires a multiformed, structurally dynamic language, open to a potentially infinite plurality of stylistic and morphosyntactic strata, and to literally all available material

this plurilinguistic writing is naturephilological not by fixing its gaze on nature, but merely by virtue of being a part of nature’s nature. and what’s at stake for a contemporary monadic naturephilological writing is – with an expression borrowed by giovanni pico della mirandola – no less than the ”naturalis philosophiae absoluta consummatio”,[5] that is to say the absolute consummation of naturephilosophy. if this consummation marks the end of poetry conceived as an individual art form or literary genre, it also, by the same token, designates the beginning of its afterlife as a material writing without an individual author and outside of the right-wing cultural conceptuality that has hitherto regulated its existence.




[*] gustav sjöberg’s poetological essay was written for the release of his book apud (oei editör) on the 13th of june 2017 at rönnells antikvariat, stockholm, sweden. translated into english by the author. this english text is included in lina selander, oscar mangione, for a time light must be called darkness (argos – centre for art & media, brussels), published in conjunction with the exhibition “for a time light must be called darkness. lina selander in collaboration with oscar mangione”, curated by andrea cinel (exhibition coordination: hajar leyhan), argos, sept.-dec., 2017.



[1] marsilio ficino, theologia platonica (v, 4), (ed. e. vitale), milano, bompiani, 2011.

[2] ”preliminari sulla lingua del petrarca”, in varianti e altra linguistica (1970).

[3] ernst bloch, avicenna und die aristotelische linke (1963); enzo melandri, la linea e il circolo. studio logico-filosofico sull’analogia (1968/2004).

[4] furio jesi, cultura di destra (1979/2001).

[5] giovanni pico della mirandola, oratio de hominis dignitate, (ed. e. garin), firenze, vallecchi, 1942.