University of Nebraska Press 2016
After I read Patrick Madden‘s fascinating new collection of essays, entitled Sublime Physick: Essays (University of Nebraska Press, 2016), I found myself struggling with the best way to describe it. Madden’s subjects range from the nature of time to spittingâ€”yes, spitting, as when you spit on the ground or, worse, at someoneâ€”to the almost inevitable way that artists and writers, even as they attempt to be original, end up repeating, reusing, and rearranging the work of other artists and writers.
Madden studied physics before coming to the essay, so he tries to grapple with fundamental principles and questions, not quite seeking any grand unified theory (he doesn’t really believe one exists, nor would he want one), but always dimly aware of it right outside the periphery. Though his essays are personal, there are plenty of externalities. There are even some mathematics. But there aren’t any equations. The essays all derive, in some way, from the physical world, and all reach toward the sublime.
I’m beginning to believe that, for Madden, everything we know is a kind of sublime physick, an abstraction that we think we know in two distinct forms, yet which is really a unity: matter-energy, space-time, mind-body, emotion-intellect, self-others, inside-outside, nonfiction-fiction. I could go on listing these apparently opposed terms, and yet, where they meet Madden’s work, he always finds beauty.