Ruben Moi
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Madoc, Muldoon’s ad hoc nomen confusum and nom de guerre, de theatre, de plume, de Dieu, de vente, de tout for his sixth volume of poetry in 1990, sports another quoofian title that demands attention to its bisyllabic phonetics, its pentagrammatic belletristicity and its hermeneutic mystery. The title certainly connects with the previous volume in its consonance with Meeting, and alliteratively also with Mules; Moy, Sand and Gravel, Maggot and the author’s own name. M appears as the leading cipher in Muldoon’s alphabetic correlative. Madoc is perhaps the summit of Muldoon’s alternations in language, in many ways a superlinguistic and hybrid monstrosity of earlier hedgehogs, quoofs and yetis, crossing the lines and slouching towards dictionaries, encyclopedia, readers, writers and the critical formations to be born. Does the title celebrate its own creative concept beyond conventional references? Does the word radiate atomistic intricacies and valences? What, who, when, where, why will Madoc be? Do we hear apocalyptic echoes of Magog and Gog? Is it merely an anglicised form of meadóg, Irish for eel? Does the undecidable misname a French district or call into play a linguistic mellowing of the new French wine from Parisian philosophy – a hangover from the sushi semantics and the meta-aesthetic international thanksgiving dinner, ‘7, Middagh Street,’ in Meeting the British? Does it spell an Amerindian tribe redivivus, a revival of the loaded linguistics and murderous intentions of ‘Meeting the British’ and Muldoon’s protracted engagement with the indigenous Americans? Does the term interiorise the sounds and letters of (Muldoon’s own) terrorist tales, paramilitary mad dogs and their linguistic reverberations? Does the name announce unashamedly more Muldonic language play and profundity?

Derrida could probably not have invented such a poetic monstrosity as Madoc. Horkheimer and Adorno regarded holocaust as the logical outcome of instrumental thinking and the dehumanisation wrought in the wake of boundless industrial progress.1Madoc instigates revaluations of idealism, Western philosophy and Romantic visions. Madoc also bristles with Shklovsky’s ostranenie. The volume is flagrantly language-obsessed and also includes the other hallmark of Shklovsky’s defamiliarisation technique, a speaking horse: Robert Southey’s Bucephalus (named after one of the most famous horses of antiquity, Alexander the Great’s war horse). Muldoon’s Madoc certainly alienated many critics. The critical puzzlement with which Madoc was received, not unlike the reception of Quoof, affirms the unassuageable qualities of the volume. ‘I have to confess that I really do not know what to make of Madoc, I cannot help feeling that this time he has gone too far,’ John Banville states, and assigns the task of making sense of it to coming Ph.D. students.2 Michael Hoffman finds the Collins Dictionary of Philosophy massively inadequate to deciphering Madoc.3 Eve Patten concludes her very illuminating review: ‘Muldoon has produced a masterful literary conundrum. Let’s hope he will soon be publishing the answers.’4 Muldoon’s Madoc continues his ability to challenge the mind of critics with his defamiliarising engagement with ethics, literature and language, and with his poetic monstrosity that assumes its most beastly and hedgehogy form in this volume.

As if to pre-empt expectations, to assist in answering or to suggest a method of investigation to the title and its mystery, the volume introduces ‘The Key’ at its very beginning. But just as language can often constitute part of the problem it intends to solve, in negotiations and philosophy and in religion and rhetoric, ‘The Key’ tends to be part of the mystery as much it contributes to its solution. It tends to set the key of the texts and the tunes which are to follow much more than providing a tool for unlocking them. Above all, this pre-text points to the problems of language and mediation, language and representation. The opening prose poem with the promising title, a well-filed stylometric reduplication of ‘Ontario’ at the beginning of Meeting the British, fails to connect image and sound in film: ‘Foley was having trouble matching sound to picture’ (3). The film itself and its surrounding terminology anticipate many of the plots and puns to come: ‘He was half-way through post-production on a remake of The Hoodlum Priest’ (3). The prefix ‘post’ signals the predominant hermeneutic paradigm at the time of the volume’s construction and production, ‘postmodernism’ and ‘post-structuralism;’ ‘remake’ suggests a scepticism towards peremptory proclamations of the shock of the new and signals the numerous replays in ‘Madoc;’ ‘Hoodlum’ proves an almost perfect palindrome of Muldoon and casts the author of Madoc as the street gangster to the laws of language and poetic governance. The persona loses himself in language, in ‘the etymology of “tuxedo”’ and in ‘savouring the play between “booth” and “bathy-,” “quits” and “mesquite,”’ to the extent that he ‘began to “misquote” myself’ (3). Italicised lines screen a debate on the origins, functions and commitment of language reminiscent of ‘Lunch with Pancho Villa’ in Mules and ‘Gathering Mushrooms’ in Quoof. ‘My footfalls already pre-empted by their echoes’ (4), the final line rings, with what sounds like a poetic rehearsal of the inescapability of what is already foregone. In its meditations and activations of language, more than in its temporal transitions, transatlantic interchanges and oblique references to violence, the ambivalent strategies of the initial poem anticipate the preterlinguistic construction of this volume. Convoluted and complex, ‘The Key’ appears to reduplicate as much as to unlock the codes and mysteries of Madoc. Then again, as a poem à clef, a Yale key to literary criticism, these language-focused lines certainly help to open up these texts.5

Linguistic keyhole investigations are also conducted by the other six shorter poetic preludes to ‘Madoc: A Mystery.’ The seven propaedeutics, ‘of forbidding difficulty’ according to Lachlan Mackinnon, connect directly with the poetically predominant number in Meeting the British.6 ‘Is this a New York poem or what?’ read the (auto-) acrimonious acrostics of ‘Capercaillies’ (6–7). ‘Take it. Drink’ (5), sounds the final omnibibulous imperative of the theory-cooking ‘Tea.’ In Levi-Straussian imagery of the raw and the cooked, ‘The Panther’ simmers with the wild and domesticated spirit of poetic creativity. ‘Asra’ takes Coleridge’s poems inspired by his love for Sara as a point of departure for corporeal inscription and carnal love in a couplet of duelling lines. A distorted sestina, ‘Cauliflowers,’ ponders on the patrilinearity of poetry. ‘The Briefcase,’ a Muldonic sonnet for Seamus Heaney, discombobulates in its eel imagery the semiotic seas between the two poets to such an extent that Fran Brearton states that ‘those Lough Neagh eels have had as many critical lives as a cat.’7Various keys and briefcases reappear throughout Madoc, as do the words, rhythms, concepts and cross-references of these initial poems, with their extremely intricate linguistic patterns. These poems reveal the extremely language-oriented characteristics of the entire volume.

The enigmas of Madoc have prompted a diversity of interpretations. ‘An Irishman of Gaelic background is, in a sense, a White Indian,’ John Montague argues and Kathleen McCracken and Jacqueline McCurry contemplate its Amerindian connections and post-colonial implications.8 Shane Murphy unravels its many valencies and intertextualities.9 Kevin P. Cosgrove and John Goodby discuss Deane’s seminal oppositional reading of Muldoon and Tom Paulin’s art as ‘poetry of denial’ and ‘poetry of commitment.’10 Edna Longely terms ‘Madoc’ ‘a socio-political parable with a stratum of linguistic criticism,’ and takes issue with the premises of a prior political interpretation of the volume by Clair Wills.11 Muldoon emphasises the political dimension of the title poem, in the way he also pointed out this less perceptible hermeneutic possibility of ‘The Year of the Sloes, for Ishi:’

I don’t want to belabour the point, but the fact that much of the poem is set in a place called ‘Ulster,’ and that one of the main characters is a particularly unwholesome Scots-Irish scout, Alexander Cinnamond, whose ‘theme music,’ as it were, is the ‘de dum, de dum’ we hear throughout the poem, is scarcely an accident: though I think of Madoc – A Mystery as being a ripping yarn with a strong humorous element, I certainly don’t discourage its being read as a political poem.12

Neverthelesss, whatever else Madoc proposes, means or signifies, Muldoon’s most ambitious work conspicuously foregrounds language. His lexical licence extends its remit further beyond ordinary vocabulary and the regulations of the Oxford English Dictionary: ‘cnoc,’ ‘syllabub,’ ‘gwynn,’ ‘wannigan,’ ‘quamash,’ ‘vairs and minivers’ (106, 141, 147, 170, 178, 193) are only some of the more moderate examples. A plurality of diacritics, glyphs, punctuations marks and symbols provide differentiation and nuances of detail. Paronomasia and linguistic estrangement – Bucephalus, the speaking horse, for example – increase the mystery of the title, as do the reappearing crosswords of ‘Cro- – Crotan – Croatoan – Crotona.’13 These are only some of the innumerable enigmas of language that puzzle, please and provoke the reader. Three-word poems intersect with one-liners, with one-sentence sonnet truncations, and with couplets, triplets, quatrains, and almost every other poetic combination one might care to name. Constant attacks on the lyric forms, which are sustained vestigially, propel the title poem by way of a prolonged narrative to question almost endlessly any received idea of poetry and narrative. Alternatives of language, narration and structure abound. ‘Form is a straitjacket in the way that a straitjacket was a straitjacket to Houdini,’ Muldoon tells us in his interview with Ian Kilroy and one might be tempted to recollect Houdini’s final trick.14 Poetry – concrete, negative or anti- – will be an illocutionary label for this assemblage of texts that intermixes poetry with verbatim clippings from documents of all sorts: books of history, literary reviews, letters and protocols. The ‘poem’ thus confounds our expectations and undermines standard associations the reader may harbour concerning poetic protocols. Geometric constructions and graphic maps expand the understanding of language beyond the alphabet. The parenthetical treatment in ‘Madoc’ of 233 philosophers from Thales to Hawking traduces the ancient battle of philosophy versus poetry. Italicisations invoke the ghosts of sources and hint at simulations and shadow texts. Muldoonesque auto-referentiality also saturates the verses: the more Muldoon has, the more Muldoon haunts. Barthesian ideas of intertextuality almost fall short of capturing Muldoon’s multiplicities. This intensification of language and text, attractive and exasperating in itself, also grants to language a wider dimension and greater importance, a similar centrality to that found in Meeting the British.

‘A postmodern artist or writer is in the position of a philosopher,’ argues Lyotard.15 Where Meeting the British could be seen to play with the trajectories of high modernism, Madoc most evidently sifts and shifts to the conditions of postmodernism. If some of the key tenets of postmodernism can be summarised as a critique of Western metaphysics (particularly Enlightenment paradigms), an ideological battle over the past, and a hauntology of injustice, Madoc brings to book philosophical axioms, indicts historical imperialism and exposes its legacies. More to the poetic point, postmodern scepticism towards language and questioning of the distinctions between different forms of writing obviously influence the linguistic insouciance, and the splicing and dicing of stanzaic forms and textual genres in Madoc.16 But Madoc not merely subscribes to the most overt ideas of postmodernism; it also subverts them. Joyce’s Finnegans Wake is ‘the great monstrosity of postmodernism,’ according to Ihab Hassan.17 Muldoon’s Madoc appears as the great para- or post-postmodernist monstrosity.

Ostensibly, among many other things, Madoc resuscitates Southey’s epigenous epic of 1805, ‘as long a labor as any twelfth-century Atlantic crossing’ in the words of Gwyn A. Williams, in his book that explores the pseudo-history of the Welsh king Madoc’s alleged emigration to America in the year of British-Gaelic troubles, 1169, and his founding of a tribe of white Indians – the myth that also provides the hinterland for Muldoon’s and Southey’s poems.18 This myth, which proved instrumental to the colonial politics of the British during the colonialisation of America during the Renaissance, blends in with a dystopic narrative enactment of Coleridge and Southey’s unrealised pantisocracy.19 Other parts of Muldoon’s ‘Madoc’ intersect with accounts of Lewis and Clark’s expedition from the Mississippi to the Pacific – expanding the explorations of John Evans in his search for the ‘Welsh Indians’ a few years earlier – that actually took place during a period, 1804–6, when Coleridge and Southey might have pursued their own ideals along the Susquehanna in Pennsylvania, and might have realised their ideal democratic community. All these suggestive flickers are, in Muldoon’s poem, projected from a retinagraph attached to the mind of South who is a descendant of the child produced by the ‘Scots-Irish scout’ Alexander Cinnamond as a consequence of his rape of Edith Southey. South, who is imprisoned at Unitel, is a partitioned linguistification of Southey’s identity, or of Southern orientation in the North. The poem ‘[Nozick]’ situates Unitel West in borderlands, ‘half-way between Belfast and Dublin’ ([259]), in the South-East of Northern Ireland, in the North-East of Ireland, and to the west of England. The authorial surtitle points towards Anarchy, State and Utopia, philosopher of justice Robert Nozick’s critique of his colleague John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice. The paragraphic sign of division – § – between the three entries in ‘[Nozick]’ serves to emphasise problems of justice. This text, then, also reads like a supervision by the right and the righteous, for example reviewers in Blackwood’s Magazine, Quarterly Review and Edinburgh Review of Romantic upstarts – Keats and Byron, or an Orwellian interrogation of an agent in a high-tech anti-Blakean terrordome, a Benthamesque panopticon, an intelligence centre of ruc-, uvf-, MI-, ira-, fbi- or cia-mentality, a metaphor of Jeffersonian ambitions of pan-America, a presentation of any totalising system. All of these encoded levels warrant detailed examination in themselves and the copying, cutting and pasting of these heterogeneous elements into an idiosyncratic Muldoon-narrative provide enormous textual energies, fusions and fissions. Multicultural encounters and ventriloquistic hedging in Meeting the British – the volume that John Carey castigated for being ‘cryptic,’ ‘tickled by its own knowingness’ and ‘packed to the gunwhales with higher education’ – seem, in proportion, a primer for beginners.20 In its exaggerated parasitism and conflated narratives, this madcap Muldoonesque matrix parodies as much as it enacts a typical postmodernist text and the postmodernist tenet of ‘incredulity towards metanarratives.’21

‘Madoc’ consists of 233 poems, or texts perhaps, which all take their title from a philosopher, a thinker, a writer. The large number, their parity of status and the ludic treatment to which they are subjected assure, apparently, that no single structure of thought is privileged. This deregulation of ideological argument, however, would appear to display the procedures of deconstruction (in many ways the new metanarrative in the 1980s and 1990s), were it not for the fact that Muldoon’s multidiscursive poetic neo-narrative derides language philosophers and postmodernist thinkers and all their postulations with equal contempt. One obvious example of this is ‘[Kristeva]’:

Signifump. Signifump. Signifump. ([260])

A poet and critic, i.e. Muldoon, who writes such a wryly humorous three-word poem on one of the most famous post-structuralist feminists, and who reviews Patricia Craig’s The Rattle of the North as influenced by ‘the recent attempt to establish a post-Barthes, or “Londonderridian” canon of Irish “writing,”’ is surely not unaware of postmodernist theories, despite, or perhaps because of, his recalcitrance against being labelled by any poetic school or philosophical –ism.22 The three incantatory trisyllables toy with the notions of poetry as the most economical instantiation of literature and the test laboratory of language. Testy, neologistic and transgressive, this intervention implies perhaps that since anti-poetry incorporated itself into the poetic tradition, ‘[Kristeva]’ acts conventionally. But at the same time, who can ignore the novelties of Muldoon’s contempt within this tradition? Was Derrida a precursor to the compilation of the Field Day Anthology by the Derry/Londonderry intellectuals and do his theories contribute to changes in the social grammar of, and the relations between, the English capital and the binaries of the Northern Irish city? Does the French mystagogue merely transfer ontological difference and social conflict to the hedonistic play and infinite regress of language in an irresponsible evasion of the ‘real’ world? Amid the difficulties of apprehending the plural and protean positions of postmodernist aesthetics, Muldoon’s texts operate ambiguously across several orientations of contemporary philosophy. His minimalist poetic review of Kristevaen modalities and his critical reservations about Field Day via Craig’s anthology illustrate some of the ambivalence in Northern Ireland to continental theory. However, beyond an evident wariness, or even dismissiveness, an assimiliation an assimilation of post-structuralist ideas into the intellectual activities of Northern Ireland is suggested. Muldoon’s ‘[Kristeva]’ and his critical review of Craig’s anthology, like ‘Madoc’ and Madoc, execute literary critique alongside aesthetic action and philosophical derangement, and are indicative of long debates and heated controversy.23Madoc, as ‘[Kristeva]’ illustrates so lucidly, operates ambiguously within the problematics of apprehending the plural and protean positions of postmodernist aesthetics.

‘[Kristeva]’corresponds in scrutable ways with the chimes and concepts of numerous other poems in ‘Madoc.’ In minimalist fashion, ‘[Kristeva]’ connects with ‘[Euclid]’ ([38]) and ‘[Anselm]’ ([57]); via neologism and the philosophy of feminism and language ‘[Kristeva]’ is linked to ‘[Beauvoir]’ ([238]) and ‘[Wittgenstein] ([219]).’ Vice versa, ‘signifump’ ([58], [260]), ‘stumparumper’ ([111], [219] and [238]), ‘flossofer’ ([225]), ‘syllabub’ ([141]), ‘sillyscum’ ([111]) and similar arbitrary semio-rhythmic shenanigans slide in and out of the flux of terms – archaic, abstruse and arcane – and cut across diverse lexical domains, for example: Indian, Gaelic, dialect, navigation, biology, etc. To winkle ‘the “semen” out of “semantics”’ ([222]) in Muldoon’s poetics is a delicate game. ‘“Paul? Was it you put the pol in polygamy?”’ ([6]).

Kristeva is not the only language philosopher to be revoked and reanimated. ‘[Saussure],’ ‘[Wittgenstein],’ ‘[Carnap],’ ‘[Bakhtin],’ ‘[Lacan],’ ‘[Austin],’ ‘[Barthes],’ ‘[Chomsky],’ ‘[Foucault],’ ‘[Derrida]’ and ‘[Harman]’ also receive an equivalent short shrift. To what extent Kristeva, or any of the 232 other titular persons invoked, is really a philosopher is part of the question, as is the establishing of their identity. The last link in the chain above, for example, who is he or she? Is he Gilbert Harman, the American philosopher, who has published widely on the philosophies of language and mind, and is also Muldoon’s colleague at Princeton University? Or is Muldoon referring Gilbert Harman’s s daughter, Elizabeth Harman, who is also a member of the philosophy department at Princeton? Or is it Graham Harman, the professor at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, who attempts to reverse the linguistic turn of Western philosophy? Or is it somebody else? It is hard to tell, and the curt, cryptic crosswords of the poem yield no simple answer or solution.

When ‘[Foucault]’ appears twice, the first time suitably paired with Marx on page [167] and the second time chronologically correct on page [252], is that the same person twice or two different persons once? That the language philosophers, postmodernists and deconstructionists among them, are deployed and derided, and that surnames fail to specify with certainty their referents, enable a staging in language of the problems of linguistic reduction of personality to a singular name, and answers back with irony to many of the proponents of these theories by anonymising them. But, most of all, these double-bound strategies of revitalising by ridicule and assigning by anonymity increase the semiotic possibilities of ‘Madoc.’

Each of the entries in Muldoon’s poetic companion to philosophy, not least the ones on alleged language philosophers, demands attention to language. A more detailed reading of a limited selection might illustrate this claim better than a limited reading of a wider selection. Although any poem in the volume would do as example, ‘[Husserl],’ ‘[Euclid]’ and ‘[Anselm]’ may serve best in view of their angular and antiphonal relations to the language of the alphabet. Husserl’s famous phenomenological reduction situates itself on the cusp of the problems of reference and transcendence. His description of nominal essences is directed by a high level of abstraction, and implies an annulment of referentiality and a suspension of judgment. Husserl exemplifies a long line of philosophers who polemicise and impart universal and atemporal abstractions that reveal themselves as free from the fetters of any material mode of presentation, especially linguistic modes. To the extent that the reality and correctness of description are subordinate to the act of consciousness and its intentions, abstraction and purpose precede the actual and its results. Consequently, Muldoon’s recourse to Husserlian bracketing and phenomenological reduction in ‘Madoc’ amounts to an aporetics that is both humorous and serious. First, Husserlian parentheses establish idealism as a consistent counterfoil to Madoc’s linguistic materiality. Second, Husserl’s central philosophical problem of pure phenomena and intentionality haunts the apparently decontextualised and indecipherable textual phenomena in ‘Madoc,’ a text tending towards a degeneration of Romanticist ideals in a utopian experiment that did not take place. Third, Husserl’s attention to a diverse category of phenomena indicates the multiform variety of extra-alphabetic texts. Fourth, Husserl’s analysis of sequentiality and imminence in the structuring of internal time consciousness pertains to Muldoon’s construction of tension between narrative continuity and stanzaic momentariness, in what we could possibly term a Muldonic multirrative. Fifth, Husserlian brackets in ‘Madoc’ are suggestive of a perpetuation and annulment of inherited philosophemes, Husserl’s in particular, but also the ideas of the 232 other parenthesised ancestors and contemporaries. Sixth, a bracketing of philosophical names in poetry indicates a prioritising of poetry in the polemical dialectics between the two modes of writing. (But Muldoon’s unique typefacing is only a trompe l’oeil for several mock type fallacies: physicians; ‘[Galen],’ mathematicians; ‘[Fibonacci],’ astronomers; ‘[Brahe],’ ‘[Galileo]’ and ‘[Kepler],’ physicists; ‘[Newton],’ explorers; ‘[Lewis],’ royal personages; ‘[Frederick the Great],’ presidents; ‘[Jefferson],’ poets; ‘[Byron],’ inventors; ‘[Edison]’ and ‘[Bell]’ and novelists; ‘[Camus]’ are all included to distinguish, differentiate and destabilise ideas of philosophy, thought and disciplinarity.) Many – all? – of the thinkers belong to several categories, as for example the politician, geometer, astronomer and thinker Thales, the traditional choice of an arbitrary name of departure for a history of philosophy that Muldoon also chooses as his first man. Seventh, as a diagraphic sign – somewhere between diacritics and a graphic figure – the parentheses reveal an incentive to emulate the shortcomings of the ordinary alphabet, to play games with reference systems of potential critics, e.g. the mla or the Chicago style, and to gesture, self-parodically perhaps, towards semantic insignificance. (The parentheses also recall, of course, the reflective modernism of the mythopoeic and cacophonous war epic In Parenthesis by Cymric-Anglican writer, artist and calligrapher David Jones.)

Muldoon’s parenthetical method proposes an incisive investigation into the essential quality of specific ideas, philosophical or otherwise, as isolated from the individual author, empiricist inclinations and historical contexts, but cannot avoid putting into play all of these aspects by the very act of naming. It also replays the essentialist tendency of phenomenological reduction by reducing vast intellectual endeavours to textual instantiations. Can the textual instance offer access to the essence of the ideological doctrine, which the fragment synecdochically represents? How much intellectual thought can be salvaged in approaching textual nothingness? A predilection for subversive hermeneutics that destabilise a philosophical system built out of sense and order via the details and minimal or marginal aspects of the text facilitates such energising deconstructive poetics.


July 4th, 1806

This being the day of the declaration of Independence of the United States and a Day commonly scelebrated by my Country I had every disposition to selebrate this day and therefore halted early and partook of a Sumptuous Dinner of a fat Saddle of Venison and Mush of Cows (roots), After Dinner we proceeded on about one mile to a very large Creek which we assended some distance to find a foard to cross. Altho’ the debth was not much above the horses belly, the water was so strong it passed over the backs and loads of the horses.


Apparently, Husserl is bracketed in more ways than one in Muldoon’s text on page [192]. (The bracketing of the page number signals the impossible yearning for non-contextual absolutism in the primary system of numerological order: it attempts to separate a single number in the archetypal system of sequentiality, it attempts a-counting of numbers.) A single entry from the volumes of Lewis and Clark’s memoirs (from the day after their expedition divided on their return route) contributes to the eclipse of Husserl, and effectuates the numerological illusion of stopping the pagination. Convoluted jokes revolving around the philosopher, textual numbering, the explorers and the author himself multiply. An extract from Lewis and Clark’s journal signals a quest for authenticity, origin and immediate access to historical events that undermines Husserl’s phenomenological, historically-conditioned reduction, and its actual dating and authorial attachment. This factuality is a chimera: Paul Allen’s preface to the first edition of Lewis and Clark’s (1961) journals testifies to multi-authorial, co-operative, overlapping and retrospective procedures of writing and team editing and today Lewis and Clark’s notes are almost irretrievable from the morass of bowdlerised and popularised versions. Clark’s homage to independence in the diary is of political and national character, and stands opposed to Husserl’s apotheosis of the abstract. Consumption of solid food and frontier survival undercut psychologism. The crossing of the ford brings an image of Heraclitean relativism to bear upon Husserl’s ideality. Orthographic flaws – Clark’s unintentional and authentic or Muldoon’s intentional and artistic, or both, or neither – highlight to modern readers the inscription of thoughts by the marks of language: to what extent can language vary without altering the idea? To what extent, and judged by whom, were the Lewis and Clark explorations a success? Muldoon’s text traces critically, in its linguistic peculiarities and in its deployment of oppositional notions of ideality and history, the white mythology of language as a transparent medium and thinking as pure reason, and the innocence of geo-socio-anthropological incursion into different cultures on behalf of the authorities, the White Father in Washington.

Apparently, Husserl is present in more ways than one in Muldoon’s text on page [192]. A phenomenological reduction of historical texts and pagination suggests an inquest into the phenomena and functions of historiography and numbers per se. In this, Husserl’s philosophy continues the cognitive imperialism of the empire of signs and the auto-identification of Western metaphysics that also underpinned the colonial conquest and the Westward expansionism of Lewis and Clark’s expedition. On a more humorous note, the focus on meat and roots in the poem captures Husserl’s anti-naturalism and his tendency to exemplify abstract theories by daily objects. Questions of essence are also retained in Muldoon’s citation of Clark’s diary: misspellings and imperfect grammar capture an essential aspect of the Lewis and Clark journals. Pre-standandarised orthography parallels the logocentric revenge of the written over the ideal and the spoken.

Muldoonish macaronics ensnare and enhance these postmodernist perplexities. Misspellings in Clark’s text (or is it Muldoon’s, or Husserl’s?) – ‘assended,’ ‘debth’ and ‘scelebrated’ – integrate the quintessence of Muldoon’s own tricks of language, and the tracks of his writing. The bracketing of names, ‘[Husserl]’ and ‘(Clark),’ acknowledges the double lineage of the text and its deconstructive impetus: Muldoon’s poem, if so it is, deploys an abstraction of Husserl’s ideas and a verbatim extract from Clark’s journal to question the impact of language upon the formulation of ideas, and the historical consequences of philosophical ideals. Its clever and premeditated multimasking of Muldoon as the author evokes the philosophical declarations of the death of the author, and the question of what an author was and what hermeneutic possibilities might haunt and emerge at his or her wake.24 The bracketing of names, ‘[Husserl]’ and ‘(Clark),’ also connects ‘[Husserl]’ with and separates him from the triple entries by both Lewis and Clark in ‘[Brentano],’ probably thus entitled after Husserl’s mentor. ‘[Husserl]’ combines linguistic play with language philosophy in a serioludic manner that both conducts and questions the paradigms of deconstruction. It is as if, in its effortless and elegant deployment of postmodernist axioms, the poem questions the depth, the purposes and the brevity of the ideas under which it was conceived. In this respect, ‘[Husserl]’ supplements the poem and volume of which it is an integral part, ‘Madoc’ and Madoc, and it questions from philosophical and poetic perspectives Muldoon’s own poetic language, text and writing.

‘[Euclid]’ continues in poetry the preterlinguistic analysis of the genealogies and categorisations of language:

At first sight, site and cite, the entirety of this alphageometric construction on page [38] apparently confirms the iota, in the figurative sense, of the ideas of Euclid, the Greek mathematician from 300 bc., of whom the little we know we basically owe to the fifth century philosopher, Proclus (see ‘[Proclus],’ [51]), who synthesised the theorems and propositions of several scientists. Euclid’s Elements, the classical textbook used for more than 2000 years, by a thinker who is frequently marginalised or excised from philosophical encyclopedia or anthologies, raises Husserl-related problems of phenomena, perception and intentionality. If there is no royal road to geometry, and Euclid is reputed to have tossed a coin to a student who asked what was gained by studying geometry, Euclid’s geometry and arithmetic practice the disinterested art of forms and symbols in non-alphabetic language (an obvious interest to the author of ‘[Euclid],’ ‘[Fibonacci],’ ‘[Ptolemy]’ and other alphanumerical poems), and represent in philosophy the formal knowledge that turns away from perception or functionality. Other points of interest in Elements include the obvious logical, almost plot-like, development of mathematical theory in Euclid’s book, which has set standards for logic and argumentation in all disciplines, and the evident double-meanings of its many maxims to any writer concerned with syntax, semantics and composition: A point is that which has no part. Parallel lines never meet. A line is breadthless length. The extremities of a line are points. There is a clef, too. Euclid was often called Megarensis, due to confusion with the philosopher Eucleides of Megara, and the name hides a Muldonic key: ‘The Arabs found that the name of Euclid, which they took to be compounded from ucli (key) and dis (measure) revealed the “key of geometry.”’25

Muldoon’s representation of Euclid constitutes exactly that: a re-presentation. It presents again the mathematical science compiled by Euclid by an utter reduction of his axiomatic system to a mere figure. The triangle succeeds and fails to capture the essence of Euclid’s Elements, as this singular selection of all the phenomena in Euclid’s mathematheses is equally associated with Pythagoras’s theorem. In fact, the choice of the isosceles triangle over the equilateral and scalene in ‘[Euclid]’ relates and superimposes the geometrical poem with Pythagoras’s theorem of the hypotenuse. Muldoon’s rehypotenusing implies a play on the ab-surd – the hypotenuse of Pythagoras cannot be written as a ratio of whole numbers. Triangularity and infinities of the third integral accommodate some of the many triads, triptych compositions, trilateral politics, religious trinities and trivalent interaction throughout Muldoon’s poetics, and posit a caveat to facile constructions of the third as an easy precept of non-binary logic. The unknown third in this poem could be a cowboy, to turn the total sum of the horse and the colt and the cowboy into the essential figure of any Western narrative, whether such computation appears logical, or absurd, or both. At any rate, ‘[Euclid]’ connects cognitively with the mathematico-metaphysical science mysticism in a previous sonnet ‘[Pythagoras],’ the mechanical principles and pun in ‘[Archimedes],’ the letter-figure combinatory in ‘[Ptolemy]’ and the numbers in ‘[Fibonacci].’ The ab-surds of ‘[Euclid]’ are, in their turn, opposed by the Fibonacci-sequence of integers to suggest the careful computation and coded systematicity of ‘Madoc’ and Madoc. For example: the retina scan of South projects Southey and Coleridge’s subhistorical conquest of America in 233 – a Fibonaccian number – poems, anticipated by the contextualities of ‘Room 233’ in ‘Capercailles’ (text number three in Madoc, another fib on page 7), and, according to Kendall’s absurd claim, the number which stipulates the total of native tribes on the American continent at the time of its discovery.26 Certainly, the number combines with the seven other poems in the book to make up 240, the sum of a ten-day nightmare. In comparison to the textual transgressions of ‘[Euclid],’ ‘[Archimedes]’ appears soggy: ‘Coleridge leaps out of the tub. Imagine that’ ([41]). In toto, ‘[Euclid] constitutes a semi-unpronounceable and unparaphrasable text, a text that offers the surds and the absurds of writing beyond the alphabet, a Muldonic poematic that divides the poetic and multiplies the semantics. ‘[Euclid]’ offers yet another poem that derives from the questions of what language might be.

‘[Husserl]’ and ‘[Euclid]’ play havoc with monological language and poetic purity and they question any idea of essence beyond the mediation of language, however language be defined. In their attention to the abstract and the absolute, the two poems intersect with the problems of rationality and religion in ‘[Anselm]’:


De dum, Te Deum, de dum, Te Deum, de dum. ([57])

The sounding of religion, scholasticism and secularism in this iambic pentameter also operates on the margins of language; it is almost as if the harmonious declensions indicate that the more purpose-driven and goal-directed language is, for example in religious worship, the less content-specific the language needs to be. When meaning is predetermined, present and postulated, language becomes governed, restricted and automatic. ‘[Anselm]’ problematises in its title the proprieties of the proper name, replays in its words and tunes a combination of the religious and the secular, and differentiates in sight and sound the minimal differences of the alphabet – all of direct relevance to scholasticism.

The works and life of Anselm (1033–1109), a father of scholasticism, Archbishop of Canterbury and a mentor of his better known and controversial student, Abélard, is a possible nominee to the name ‘[Anselm].’ The works and life of Anselm (? – 1117), a father of scholasticism, Archdeacon of Laon and a mentor of his better known and controversial student, Abélard, is another possible nominee to the name ‘[Anselm].’ Anselm Huttenbrenner, Anselm Feuerbach, Anselm Kiefer, Anselm Haverkamp exist as a third, a fourth, a fifth and a sixth alternative among many. The unique appellation reserved for the presence of a singular being is illusory: a proper name elides and confuses the subject because the subject is always in excess of its cognomen, caught up in homonymy and dependent upon a system of writing that cannot be reduced to natural auto-identification. Several other names – ‘[Scaliger],’ ‘[Darwin],’ ‘[Schiller],’ ‘[Huxley],’ ‘[Lewis],’ ‘[Foucault]’ and ‘[Saussure]’ – are repeated to reinforce the intrinsic problems of naming the individual that language is held hostage by. ‘[More],’ ‘[More]’ and ‘[Moore]’ contrast, compare and conflate with slips and solipsism Thomas More and Thomas Moore and, most likely, several others. The name Anselm points directly to a number of scholastics, just as much as the confusion of its nominees restages the debates of nominalism with scholasticism. In like measure, the catchy refrain of religiosity and secularity in ‘[Anselm]’ echoes the scholastic attempts to synthesise the doctrines of medieval Christianity with the worldly wisdom of Greek philosophy. On a smaller note, the minimal difference in the verse of the unvoicecd alveolar stop [t] and the voiced alveolar stop [d] enacts the minute points of dispute in the hair-splitting debates of the scholastics on matters philosophical and religious. In title, sonic effects and inscription, Muldoon’s minimalist strophe resounds with the sophistication and sophistry of the entertaining and exasperating discursive exercises of scholasticism. But it also infiltrates the lines of ‘Madoc,’ as the refrain chimes like anti-strophes and irregular parametrics throughout Muldoon’s narrathanographic epic to oppose with the motions of Greek tragedy and the levity of Romantic lays the interrogation of South, the disintegration of the pantisocrasy, the expedition of Lewis and Clark and the investigation of Western philosophers. ‘[Anselm]’ intersects with the de dum de dum falderal of ‘[Theophrastus]’ – which evokes, probably, the naturalist and zoological investigations of Aristotle’s pupil – and the Te Deum solemnity of ‘[Burnet]’ – which evokes, probably, the Scottish theologian and his Psalter – and concentrates the many leitstrophes that resound throughout Muldoon’s multirrative. The prosodic pleasantries of ‘[Anselm]’ reverberate with secular complacency and religious service in rhythms that also sound the trot of horses.

One aspect of the melodious and nomino-semiotic method of ‘[Anselm]’ directs attention to a language predicated upon theological service, another questions the language of poetry. One layer recounts and recants scholastic methods, another resounds its own echoes throughout the volume. In much of this, the five bisyllabic reiterations contract the styles, the subjects and the semiotics of ‘Madoc’ and Madoc. ‘[Anselm]’ sounds its own significance of linguistics and language.

‘[Kristeva],’ ‘[Husserl],’ ‘[Euclid]’ and ‘[Anselm]’: this arbitrary textual quadraphony constellates an undecidable number of well and lesser-known thinkers of both sexes and of disparate disciplines – philosophy, feminist semiotics, mathematics, religion, scholasticism – and adumbrates some of the investigations into language upon which ‘Madoc’ and Madoc predicate their poetics. Linguistically intense and theoretically informed, these poems, among many other things, question the relations of gender, essence, ideality, symbols, religion and philosophy to the language that is deployed to define and discuss these very terms. These poems also place themselves most consciously within the wider ambit of literature and language too, the Bloomian anxiety so to speak. Correspondences, clashes and concentration on language in Madoc are expansive and clearly of Joycean ambition. Yeatsian poetics is largely eclipsed. Edna Longley thinks Madoc can be read as ‘an assault on delusion on conceptual, linguistic and literary bad habits,’ and as a ‘drastic purge’ to Heaney’s dramatic cure of the same year, his translation of Sophocles’ Philoctetes: The Cure at Troy.27 She develops this train of thought to an ‘in-joke, with Southey and Coleridge representing Heaney and Muldoon in America.’28 Richard Kirkland expands these parameters further and regards ‘Unitel,’ the dome of doom in ‘Madoc,’ to be the institution of New Criticism in Northern Ireland, with Heaney on the inside and Muldoon on the outside.29Madoc also manifests itself as a paragon of parapostmodernist poetics, and as an expedition of continental proportions into language.

In its uncompromising linguisticisation, dissemination of genres and deregulations of the high and the low, and in its text-sampling alterrative, Madoc presents the pyrotechnical panorama of postmodernist eclecticism, heterogeneity and deconstruction that Terry Eagleton criticises so superficially, and Perry Anderson embraces so uncritically.30 But Muldoon’s beast of a book adds up to something more than a Dunciad of the most populistic deconstructive decrees, what Eve Patten in her review calls the ‘consumerist glut of endlessly floating signifiers,’ as it also delves into Romanticism – perhaps the primary stepping stone for the postmodernist critique of enlightenment discourses – and thus prompts new attention to the ins and outs of established philosophical ideas, and thus speculates on both the unrealised and the very real historical consequences of those ideas.31 While Muldoon’s poems record these trends in recent discourses, they also reflect the critique by several commentators of political velleity, of inssufficient historical anchorage, of the dissolution of the subject and of the tendency towards a new transcendentalism – all of which postmodernist tendencies have been subjected to. The ironic use of Husserlian bracketing of names, for example, suggests that Muldoon’s poems cannot be separated from their own historical contexts; nor can the historical persons behind the name, regardless of the number of nominees. Many of these personages imply political change and the whole volume, as Muldoon’s statement above makes clear, invites a political interpretation. And for all its sympathies with intellectual endeavours, pantisocratic or otherwise, the whole volume refutes any uncritical adoption of any singular idea.

A more detailed but still very brief analysis bears out these claims as to the critique of postmodernist thinking in Madoc. Many poems and texts are actually dated so as to prick the abstract bubble. ‘Madoc,’ the final long poem, spans – with occasional ana- and prolepses – a period of seventy-five years from 1798, the year of Romantic revolution in the history of poetry and the year of rebellion in the history of Ireland, to 1873, the year of the massacre of the Mandan Indians, also known as Madocs.32 In America, this period covers the young United States’ triumph over other colonial states, France and Spain, and the conquest of the continent. The meticulous chronology corresponds exactly to the dates of historical events of the Lewis and Clark expedition and its aftermath (the death of Lewis, the Burr and Blennerhasset conspiracy, the Indian massacre), fits the conjectured realisation of Southey and Coleridge’s utopian plans, and concurs with the documented disputes among the Romantic poets and critics (Southey, Coleridge, Byron and the Edinburgh Review circle). The success of the Clark and Lewis adventure clashes with the failure of Southey and Coleridge utopian plans, and so introduces futher paradoxes and parallelisms into the poem. Both projects were predicated upon benevolent humanism. The project of the English Romantics never materialised, but its fictive realisation in Muldoon’s poem of corruption and disaster illustrates the potential consequences of the idealism of the two: exploitation, dispossession, massacre and civilisatory annihilation. Madoc was published in 1990, the year before the quatercentennial celebrations of Columbus’ conquest of America. It is hard not to read the book as, in the first instance, a questioning of the ‘first’ discoverer of America and the importance of the underlying idea of origin, and, perhaps most tellingly, as a rueful reminder of what unfolded from that historical event of Columbus’ landing, and the mindless jubilation of this ill-fated landing four centuries later. Historical details are well observed in ‘Madoc’ and they preserve an authenticity within which the deconstructive farrago unfolds, and an actuality into which they intervene. As always, the complex correspondences between the historical fates of the Amerindians and, in this case, the quatercentennial festivities too, and the situation of Muldoon’s contemporary Ireland and Northern Ireland are far from apolitical.

Furthermore, unique historical individuals undercut frequently nominalism and paronomasia. In ‘[Occam],’ the ideas of the English scholastic reviver of nominalism, and his famous razor, are paired with the enormous complexities of the life of the Mohawk chief, Thayendanegea, better or probably only known as Joseph Brant in the English language. Similarly, the natural strength of Sacajawea, the squaw in Clark and Lewis’ troop, questions in ‘[Wollstonecraft]’ the culture, the class and the possible sexism of the Romantic liberalist’s vindication of women, and counterpoises the more radical linguistic and literary turn of women’s liberation among Parisian feminist intellectuals from de Beauvoir to Cixous and Kristeva. Political questions of assimilation, gender and identity also protrude in these historically grounded poems.

In its determined intent to deconstruct abstract ideas and philosophical systems, ‘Madoc’ risks instituting yet another totalitarian discourse of equally abstract type. Muldoon’s race through thinkers and thought starts with ‘[Thales]’ and ends in Joycean circularity and Viconian correspondences with ‘[Hawking].’ Similarities between the pre-Socratic politician, geometer and thinker in the port of Miletus and the legendary contemporary scientist are soldered by the reiteration of the seven quatrains of the first poem in the seven couplets of the last poem. They also collate science and fiction by the subjection of South to the retinagraph in Unitel in the first, and the destruction of the Unitel interrogation centre in the last. From two separate points in history Thales and Hawking suggest keys to the questions of knowledge, religion and being – dissimilar keys to the opening prose poem of Madoc, ‘The Key.’ Thales and his forgotten colleagues are noted in the history of ideas for their de-divinisation, their temerity to think the universe without first thinking God – the disentanglement of science from religion, superstition and magic. Hawking, on the other hand, reintegrates the science of physics and astronomy with religion in his quest for ‘complete theory’ to solve the mystery of ‘why it is we and the universe exist.’ He concludes his treatise A Brief History of Time: ‘If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.’33 Hawking’s relapse to a teleological purview in his conclusion is amazing in its obfuscation of scientific research by the rhetoric of biblical afflatus. It postulates a belief in scientific progress that makes the indomitable amelioration of the Victorian era seem like the pessimism of Schopenhauer, or the Pantisocratic idea like a poem by Paul Muldoon. Richard Dawkins could not have wished for a better forerunner. Consequently, it is very appropriate that Hawking presides over the final poem, in which Unitel, the ultimate dome of totalising world-views, meets its doom. For all its fascination with utopian ideas – ‘Madoc himself is above all, emblematic / of our desire to go beyond ourselves,’ ‘[Heidegger]’ ([220]) argues self-reflexively – Muldoon’s ‘Madoc’ interrogates and undermines any uncritical subscription to singular doctrines of any type. Madoc acknowledges, even affirms, in its poetic, critical and multivalent account of philosophers (however that term is defined) and ideas that systems of thought exist, and that they could be beneficial to human existence and development, but they are just too many and they signify too much to be homogenised and subjected to conclusion and foreclosure. And often, when the ideological and cognitive capacity of human life dominates all others – the emotional, the moral, the aesthetic, the unknown and the unthought – the consequences tend to be catastrophic.

This scepticism in Madoc of monopolising systems of thought extends to the post-structuralist nexus of discourses with which it interacts so blatantly, and which usurped much of the intellectual activity in the latter three decades of the last millennium. The book’s historical verifiability, its preservation of identifiable and singularised individuality and its retention, although a very critical one, of the abstract, the ideological and the utopian resist many of the most pronounced postmodernist tendencies. Furthermore, the levelling of all philosophers awards them all egalitarian (lack of) status, just as the incorporation of authors and less easily classified names – ‘[Camus],’ ‘[Lewis],’ ‘[Bakhtin],’ ‘[Huxley],’ ‘[Byron],’ ‘[Moore]’ and ‘[More]’ – puts them on par with poets and writers. A distinct contempt reserved for some of the superstars of postmodernist discourses certainly reduces their lustre. For all its delight and creative effects in the deployment of deconstructive methods, Madoc also enacts ostentatious mannerism and reflexive parody to measure the flaws and limitations of postmodernist dogma. Deconstructive procedures threaten to congeal into a static position, and thus to become as stifling to contemporary creativity as the straight-jacket of novelty became for much of modernism. Madoc romps not only through the history of philosophy, the Romantic impulse, the American conquest and, by implication, the Irish and Northern Irish situation, Muldoon’s multiple and alternative narrathanotography also races through the positions, the past and the posts of postmodernism. So, if Muldoon’s ‘Madoc’ superannuates as much as it annotates the theoretical paradigms within which it subsists, where does Muldoonery go from here?

One obvious answer to the question of new orientations in Muldoon’s creativity is that it always resorts to the mysteries of language that it never left in the first place, despite the many wayward routes and detours it maps against the coordinates of postmodernism. Still, the separation of the sign from its referent, and the consequent testing of the différrance between the signifier and the signified, legitimised and intensified a tendency that has always been part of poetry’s domain: to celebrate, to explore and to relish language for the sake of its own play and pleasure. Madoc excels in sounds and scripts, visuality and verse, words and worlds. The secular-religiose Latin jingle of ‘[Anselm],’ the neologistics of ‘[Kristeva],’ the sheer illinguisticity of ‘[Beauvoir]’ and the Ulster-Euro-Atlantic map beyond paraphrasability and referentiality in ‘[Ptolemy]’ are only some of the mind-, text- and language-boggling examples. Another is ‘[Vico],’ which offers a litany of lexical delight in a 24 line one-sentence celebration of the eponymous philosopher’s famous system of circles. ‘[Kelvin],’ too, presents a fine example of language-licensed poetry:

Southey rests on a wannigan, Cams and cinches.

Sprags and sprockets.



Wrens and whimbrels.

Tups and wethers.

Laverocks. Leverets. Levers.


Tricoteuses and sansculottes.

Red-shanks. Her sprackled cambric.

Ox-head. Dithyrambic.

Tups and wethers. Boars. Sows. Gilts.

The pike and carnelian sturgeon

That will rise to this, as to every, occasion. ([170])

Yes, this detailed catalogue of practical tools, birds, beasts, flowers, revolutionaries and fish counteracts the abstraction of philosophy, Kelvin’s in particular, and the lofty pantisocratic ideas of Southey, and numerous notions of what poetry is and can be. Most certainly, in the music and story of ‘Madoc,’ these verses arrive as an aria in the narrative, a poetic pause in the quest for the West. Convincingly, they celebrate language without compunction. Clearly connected to the love of words, music and objects in ‘[Vico]’ and ‘[Maxwell],’ this sonnet of stops dwells on the rapture of rare words, on the short-stopping of syntax and salubrious sounds of unique and singular words, on the etymological speculation and letter-linking liability of language, on the cross-conjugation and synonymic subtleties of language – on some of the many mysteries of language that always vitalise poetry. ‘[Kelvin],’ like Madoc, marks another excursion into the known and unknown territories of Muldoon’s poetic language.

Muldoon’s many attacks on the empire of signs in Madoc contain an ambush on academic language systems too, in its charges against laws and styles of reference and citation, of whatever association, institution or press, whether mla, Chicago, cup or oup. All the ghosted sources of the many italicisations and the exchange of philosophers for poets already challenge the minds of the literal and the literary. The insertion of the irremovable brackets also tends to stretch the remit of reference procedure, particularly, perhaps, in the reference of page numbers, e.g. ‘[3],’ which gives ‘The Key.’ Although the brackets do not break the system of reference – that is still to come – they surely result in some novel-looking references in academic work.

Novelties in Madoc operate against the many margins of post-colonial discourses and they insert themselves creatively and critically into the many poetic, critical and political debates concerning the borders of Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, America and the wider world, then and now. They also play with many of the intellectual insights of postmodernist theories, but, most of all, the volume’s many mysteries and madcap methods manifest the importance of a poetry that dares explore theories of language way before and beyond the immediacy of language itself.

The language of Paul Muldoon’s poetry reaches its apex in Madoc. Almost all aspects of language appear to be wrought and wrung in this volume, from its lexical licence, syntactic swirls, grammatical gyrations, insouciant soundings and pure jouissance, to its multiple philosophical discourses. Rhyme and reason tend to be other and alternative in these texts and strophes. The volume twins and twines and thwarts and twists the philosophical and the poetic and the linguistic and the historical and the madcap that all combine with Muldoonesque mystery. The mysteries of language, not linguistic solutions, appear larger and clearer and more complex after this creative event, as do some of the inscrutable themes with which the language interacts: the relation of language to reality, the clashes of idealism and realism, the challenges of representing tragic history in language and the processes of poetic creation. The para-narrative stratagems of ‘Madoc’ – narrathanotography, alterratives, multirratives – characterise the longer poems and cycles of past and future poems, specifically ‘The More a Man Has the More a Man Wants’ (Q, 40–64) and ‘The Bangle (Slight Return)’ (H, 109–40). The multiple alterratives are charged by the volume’s esoteric inquiries which encompass the narrathanotography of Indian peoples, the Pantisocracy and Romantic idealism more generally, as well as Muldoon’s own linguistic concerns. Madoc incorporates and transcends the conspicuous concentration on language in earlier volumes and brings it to its own explosive culmination, like a supernova that enriches the firmament with new smaller and heavier mass elements, with new stars, cosmic rays or black holes. Muldoon’s intense and energetic involvement with language has established a firmament in which his later poetry unfolds.


Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. Edmund Jephcott (Stanford: Stanford University Press, [1944] 2002).


Banville, ‘Slouching toward Bethlehem,’ 37–39.


Michael Hoffman, ‘Muldoon – a Mystery,’ The London Review of Books, 20 December 1990, 18.


Eve Patten, ‘Clever, Comic, Liberating,’ Fortnight, no. 291 (1991), 27.


For a showcase of the Yale keys of literary theory at the time, see Harold Bloom et al., Deconstruction and Criticism (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979). For a de Manean reading of Muldoon’s poetry, see Richard Kirkland, ‘Ways of Saying / Ways of Reading: Materiality, Literary Criticism and the Poetry of Paul Muldoon,’ in Last before America, ed. Fran Brearton and Eamonn Hughes (Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 2001), 69–79. For a reading along postmodernist lines, see Wilson, ‘The Grotesqueries of Paul Muldoon,’ 115–132. For a performative enactment of Muldoon’s methods, see William Scammel, ‘What’s up, Doc,’ The Poetry Review 81, no. 1 (1991), 60–62. Tim Hancock makes an (unconvincing) attempt to salvage Madoc and Muldoon from postmodernist theories in ‘Mad Images and a Very Fixed Landscape: Paul Muldoon and the New Narrative,’ The Critical Review 37 (1997), 133–140. Steven Matthews conducts a well-argued but debatable attempt along similar lines in Irish Poetry: Politics, History, Negotiation, 1–45 and 186–207.


Lachlan Mackinnon, ‘A Dream Diffused in Words,’ Times Literary Supplement, 12–18 October 1990, 1105.


Fran Brearton, ‘For Father Read Mother: Muldoon’s Antecedents,’ in Paul Muldoon: Critical Essays, ed. Tim Kendall and Peter McDonald (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2004), 50. Coded references to Heaney constitute a solid frame in most of Muldoon’s poetry, and vice versa in parts of Heaney’s later work. For one concrete example of this interpoeticality, see for example how the imagery of eels swims between their poetry. Heaney attends to eels and Muldoon’s poetry in ‘A Lough Neagh Sequence’ in Door into the Dark (26–33), ‘Widgeon: for Paul Muldoon’ in Station Island (48), ‘Settings xvii’ in Seeing Things (73) and ‘Eelworks’ in Human Chain (28–32). Muldoon frequently flays features of Heaney’s poetry; for the interpoeticality of eels, see ‘The Briefcase’ in Madoc (12). Perhaps the eel-spears in Muldoon’s verses are not only a metaphor for hunting words and images, but also a verbalisation of an intention to lay this slippery image, and the exchanges it has occasioned, to rest. ‘Eugenio Montale: The Eel’ (msg, 58) reorients these currents of sign and symbolism to Italian modernism and translation. Heaney and Muldoon also praise, punish and review each other. See Heaney’s ‘The Mixed Marriage,’ in Preoccupations (London: Faber and Faber, 1980), 211–213; ‘The Prenatal Mountain: Vision and Irony in Recent Irish Poetry,’ 36–53. For Muldoon on Heaney, see ‘Sweaney Peregraine,’ London Review of Books, 6, no. 20 (1984), 20–22. See also Muldoon’s resounding endorsement of Heaney’s Nobel Prize and his acknowledgement of Heaney’s importance to his own poetry in, ‘Poet Seamus Heaney Wins Nobel Prize,’ The Washington Post, 6 October 1995, B01. Muldoon gave the eulogy and served as pall-bearer at Heaney’s funeral on Monday 2 September 2013. He commemorates Heaney, his poetry, his death and their friendship in the opening poem ‘Cuthbert and the Otters’ in ottwk, 3–13. Critics are also aware of their strong connection, see for example Moi, ‘Transtextual Conceptualizations of Northern Ireland,’ 217–229; ‘The Testament of Cresseid by Seamus Heaney and Medley for Morin Kuhr by Paul Muldoon,’ 277–281; Kennedy-Andrews, ‘Heaney and Muldoon: Omphalos and Diaspora,’ 101–127; Corcoran, ‘A Languorous Cutting Edge: Muldoon Versus Heaney?’ 121–137; Longley, Poetry in the Wars. Fran Brearton sees other dyadic connections in Muldoon’s relation to Michael Longley in Brearton, ‘“Ploughing by the Tail”: Longley, Muldoon and Anxiety of Influence,’ 1–16. The obvious sources for such individual negotiations with canonicity and with the frissons of psychoanalytical textualities are T.S. Eliot, ‘Tradition and Individual Talent,’ in Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot, ed. Frank Kermode (London: Faber and Faber, [1919] 1975), 37–45; Harold Bloom, The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973).


John Montague, The Figure in the Cave and Other Essays (New York: Syracuse University Press, 1989), 52; Kathleen McCracken, ‘“Two Streams Flowing Together”: Paul Muldoon’s Inscription of Native America,’ in Paul Muldoon: Poetry, Prose, Drama, ed. Elmer Kennedy Andrews (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 2006), 49–70; McCurry, ‘A Land “Not Borrowed” but “Perloined,”’ 40–51; ‘“Scrap”: Colonialism Indicted in the Poetry of Paul Muldoon,’ Eire-Ireland 27, no. 3 (1992), 92–109.


Shane Murphy, Sympathetic Ink: Intertextual Relations in Northern Irish Poetry (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2006).


John Goodby, ‘Elephantiasis and Essentialism,’ The Irish Review, no. 10 Spring (1991), 132–137.


Edna Longley, ‘Way Down Upon the Susquehanna,’ The Irish Times, 3 November 1990, 47; Wills, Reading Paul Muldoon, 55–59.


Ibid., 152


Edna Longley understands best Muldoon’s game here. She plays several trumps of her own instead of trying to look over at Muldoon’s hand. Longley, ‘Way Down Upon the Susquehanna,’ 47. Despite all the linguistic tricks, some of the points of his cro-play are really disturbing and they were not etiolated by the deteriorating military and humanitarian situation in Croatia and its neighbouring countries in the 1990s.


Ian Kilroy, ‘Transatlantic Poet. Paul Muldoon’s Moy Sand and Gravel,’ The Irish Times, 19 April 2003, 7.


Jean-Francois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, [1979] 1997), 81.


For instructive essays on the transition from literature to text in the customary sense, see

Roland Barthes, Image Music Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York: Noonday Press, [1977] 1989). Derrida’s Of Grammatology (1967) is also predicated upon these antitheses. Paul de Man (1984) asserts that ‘the lyric is not a genre, but one name among several to designate a defensive motion of understanding, the possibility of a future hermeneutics. From this point of view there is no significant difference between one generic term and another.’ The Rhetoric of Romanticism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1984), 216. Muldoon crosses incessantly the lines of the poetic and the philosophical, the creative and the critical, and the core and the context of the text. Specimens are: Madoc; The End of the Poem; To Ireland, I; ‘Getting Round. Notes Towards an Ars Poetica.’


Ihab Hassan, The Postmodern Turn: Essays in Postmodern Theory and Culture (Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1987), 202.


Gwynn A. Williams, Madoc: The Making of a Myth. (London: Methuen, 1979).


For pantisocratic plans behind the poem, see Nicholas Roe, ‘Bringing It All Back Home: Pantisocracy, Madoc, and the Poet’s Myth,’ in Last before America, ed. Fran Brearton and Eamonn Hughes (Belfast: Blackstaff Press, 2001), 172–185.


Carey, ‘The Stain of Words,’ 56.


‘Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity towards metanarratives … The narrative function is losing its functors, its great hero, its great dangers, its great voyages, its great goal. It is being dispersed in the clouds of narrative language.’ Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, xxiv–xxv.


Muldoon, ‘Canon and Colcannon: Review of The Rattle of the North by Patricia Craig,’ 22. Muldoon acknowledges antagonistically the significance of various –isms in his interview with Keller, ‘Interview with Paul Muldoon.’ He gives grounds for scepticism with regard to what he sees as limiting theories and literary labels such as ‘Martian,’ ‘new narrative,’ ‘formalism’ and ‘Prac Crit’ in his interviews with Smith, ‘Lunch with Paul Muldoon,’ 75–94; Wills, Jenkins, and Lancaster, ‘Interview with Paul Muldoon,’ 19–20; Donaghy, ‘A Conversation with Paul Muldoon,’ 76–85.


In his biblio-belligerent blitz W.J. McCormack terms the primum mobile of Field Day, Seamus Deane, ‘a week-end deconstructionist who would not get a union card from Paul de Man or Harold Bloom,’ The Battle of the Books: Two Decades of Irish Cultural Debate (Dublin: Lilliput Press, 1986), 63. McCormack goes to war against localism, anti-theoretical and non-ideological critique of poetics and politics in Ireland and Northern Ireland in this book. Terry Eagleton and Saun Richards map the fronts in bellicose prose in ‘The Ideology of Irish Studies,’ Bullán 3, no. 1 (1997), 5–14; ‘Starting Bloch,’ ibid., 93–96. For other battles between philosophy and poetry, theory and literature, in the 1980s and -90s and beyond, see Seamus Deane, Strange Country (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998); Roy Foster, Paddy and Mr. Punch (London: Penguin Books, 1995); Longley, The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland; ‘Poetry and Politics in Northern Ireland,’ in Poetry in the Wars (Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1986), 185–211. Graham, Deconstructing Ireland.


See Michel Foucault’s incisive riposte ‘What is an Author?’ (1969) to Roland Barthes’ pivotal essay ‘The Death of the Author’ (1968) in Josué V. Harari, ed. Textual Strategies (London: Methuen, 1980), 141–160; Barthes, Image Music Text, 142–148.


Robert Maynard Hutchins, ed. The Thirteen Books of Euclid’s Elements (Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1952), x.


Kendall, Paul Muldoon, 156. Numerous questions are raised by this tendentious analysis: who discovered America first? When? How do you categorise and count the genealogies of the Amerindians, according to what criteria and at what time? Did a representative of the pan-Amerindian nations have a compendium of demographic statistics ready whenever a representative from the world beyond strayed into the American continent? Who did this counting for Kendall, when and by what methods?


Longley, ‘Way Down Upon the Susquehanna,’ 47.


Longley, The Living Stream: Literature and Revisionism in Ireland, 91. The interpoeticality between Muldoon and Heaney is a favourite critical approach, see footnote 7 on page 167. Kendall thinks the mythologisation of the relationship between Heaney and Muldoon is ‘destined to become twenty-first-century thesis fodder.’ Kendall, Paul Muldoon, 15. Corcoran’s call for a project on ‘Heaney’s and Muldoon’s antithetical readings of Frost within the framework of Muldoon’s antithetical reading of Heaney’ in ‘A Languorous Cutting Edge: Muldoon versus Heaney?’ (130) has received answers, for example in Rachel Buxton’s (2004) Robert Frost and Northern Irish Poetry.


Richard Kirkland, Literature and Culture in Northern Ireland since 1965 (London: Longman, 1996), 149–172.


Terry Eagleton, The Illusions of Postmodernism (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996); Perry Anderson, The Origins of Postmodernity (London: Verso, 1998).


Patten, ‘Clever, Comic, Liberating,’ 27.


For the fate and naming of the Mandans, see Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, The Lewis and Clarke Expeditions, ed. Archibald Hanna, 3 vols. (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1961), vol. 1, 63–103; George Catlin, North American Indians, ed. Peter Matthiessen (London: Penguin Books, [1841] 1989), 63–183 and 487–497.


Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time (London: Bantam, 1988), 175.

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