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ix Introduction “Orthodoxy,” said Bishop William Warburton,“is my doxy; heterodoxy is another man’s doxy” (Parrinder). Or at least he said something to that effect. A quick perusal of various print and digital collections of quotations will produce a number of variations on this sentence, many of them featuring small but significant differences in punctuation and spelling. One of the epigraphs to Steve McCaffery’s essay “Zarathrustran ’Pataphysics,” a major statement of his poetics, presents something similar: “Orthodoxy is my doxy, heterodoxy is other people’s doxy” (16). Two questions arise. Does this small syntactic difference make a difference? And why would a poet who, over the course of his career, has produced what is arguably the most heterogeneous body of work in Canadian letters, espouse anything like an interest in literary (or any other kind of) orthodoxy? The answers to these two questions are deeply entwined and have everything to do with how it is ever possible to create something new in the first place. Perhaps the only conduit to real innovation leads through a particular kind of repetition. History provides the conditions that make any action possible , but turning away from history to do something else first requires a slight return: a kind of survey of the terrain for possible tributaries leading away from the mainstream (Deleuze and Guattari, What Is Philosophy? 96). Slavoj Žižek argues that what is repeated in a moment where something new occurs is not how the past “actually was,” but rather an unused reservoir of potential that was never fully tapped because, in effect, it was betrayed by the actual course of events (Žižek, 12). The answer to the second question is therefore that history provides as much information about what didn’t happen—but could have—as what did. The literary archives are full of underutilized and forgotten forms and philosophies waiting to be dusted off and put to new use. The answer to the first question, then, is that any departure from the orthodox begins with the smallest of gestures. In McCaffery’s “Zarathrustran ’Pataphysics,” two parallel and initially identical columns of text eventually diverge wildly from each other, but the first sign of change is the absence of a single comma from one side. Small differences make a difference, because over time they accumulate into something entirely other. For Harold Bloom, this process of gradual departure from established literary norms, called clinamen (after the Roman philosopher Lucretius’ term for the swerve in the motion of atoms that makes it possible for anything to happen in the universe), is integral to the development of both poems and poets: “A poet swerves away from his precursor, by so reading his precursor’s poem as to execute a clinamen in relation to it” (14). That poetic swerve, too, can eventually become part of historical literary orthodoxy, as others observe, mimic, and comment on it. To paraphrase René Char, the author of the second epigraph to “Zarathrustran ’Pataphysics,” the most startling idiosyncrasies of any given writer become a kind of “legitimate strangeness” as their work enters the canon (McCaffery, 16). Literature always and inevitably returns to its history in order to depart from it. Again. Over the course of four decades, both as a solo artist and in collaboration with others, Steve McCaffery has researched, retrofitted, and remobilized an astonishing variety of literary forms for his own purposes: the haiku, the imagist poem, the Romantic lyric, the long poem, the detective novel, the portrait, the comic strip, the philosophical treatise, the aphorism, the ode, the nouveau roman, the map, the apology, the prose poem, the cut-up, the sonnet, composition by field, the log book, and the manifesto, to name only a few. Some of these forms, such as his sound poetry, and much of his concrete and visual work, find their headwaters in the historical avant-gardes and various flavours of modernism and postmodernism, but many go back much further, as Imagining Language, the hefty anthology of forgotten moments of literary innovation that McCaffery edited with Jed Rasula, demonstrates. In McCaffery’s poems themselves , a barrage of proper names function metonymically as channels leading from the poem at hand to other bodies of work. McCaffery’s own library of rare and antiquarian books, part of which is pictured on the cover of this collection, is both a fertile source of research material and a physical reminder of McCaffery’s devotion to the generative possibilities of poetic...


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