SITU, a novel by Steven Seidenberg, reviewed by Micah Zevin

According to Merriam-Webster, in situ is defined as “in the natural or original position or place.” So it follows, in Steven Seidenberg’s Situ, that an unnamed entity is engaged in an intellectual and exploratory dialogue/discussion with itself, and its relationship to a bench. At times, Situ is a seriously philosophical text, in the vein of Beckett or Sartre; at other times it’s a philosophical or polemical parody. Linguistically and structurally poetic, Situ is a series of short essays, chunks of separate yet interconnected and internalized thoughts constantly discovering, analyzing, and unraveling the self and all its modes.

From the beginning, the entity in Situ is referred to as a ‘he’ or a ‘his.’ The bench has always been his and has never been possessed by another and defines his position in the world. Seidenberg writes: “This is to say that as he turns his gaze back to his harbor, no matter what corrosive goad provoked him to dethrone, the cardinal intimation that his pulp should find no lading on that ramshackle recliner leaves him hardly an existence […]” The entity here fears the stability/instability of his place in and around the universe in which he resides. At one point, he’s compelled to move, to exit his residence if only just for a moment, perhaps lured by the sun or some other earthly temptation.

Also, this hybrid philosophical satire’s entity goes on a mythic journey juxtaposed not just against the bench and the multiple things and ideas it can symbolize, but against the sun, the last sun, or a brief time in the past that follows like a ghost. Seidenberg writes: “Without this subjugation to the discrepating shadows—some atmospheric median to measure up against—he knows that he can’t hope to frame the passage of the hours, and without the passing hours his days appear a nearly insurmountable expanse.” The entity is forced to construct time and submit to it, and without it and the solid immoveable bench, he would be even more lost than he already is. Whether or not he can be trusted as a narrator of his own existence, he’s always subjugated to the unreliablity and the burden of memory. This speaks to our fight against living in the present when the present doesn’t reflect our desires and ambitions, each of us yearning to alter our reality, while remaining always at a loss as to how to make the present correspond with our desires and ambitions. Seidenberg writes: “Why any one occasion should take precedence, he’s uncertain, he can’t say … Why some one occasion should seem more than any other in the mayhem of his memories has no distinct ideas, but only fragments …” The “he,” in this instance, not only refers to the bits and pieces of the photographs in his memories, but how there is no way to be certain of them or to fully and factually recall them. However, imagining himself briefly leaving the bench and later finding his seat taken, he wonders if he’d be “shocked” or struck by déjà vu or see the event as some kind of almost magical or otherwise unexplained phenomena lost in the ephemera of his mind.

Throughout Situ, the entity fighting with himself about the meaning of his existence in relation to the bench, going through many convoluted arguments before reaching any concrete conclusions about his and our place in this world as well as the why and the how of it all by which we must convince ourselves of things in order to continue persisting.

Situ asserts that in order to continue to exist as human beings or as other indeterminate beings, we must accomplish things, whatever form or meaning that takes. Often, we’re fearful and caught up in preconceived notions of ourselves, which stops us from making choices that could lead us somewhere vital, meaningful. We are stopped in our tracks because of the unknown: we’d rather stick with what we know or think we know because it’s safer. Seidenberg writes: “Perhaps by now he should have known to debar every lifting of sleeves within his orbit, least of all up his shining aspect every time he sheds a tear, and as he suffers the effects of his failed indecision—of his failure to decide, that is, to do something else again—it occurs to him that this too, is an image that has gone missing […]” Through the course of this journey, he goes back and forth with himself, like a ping pong ball, affirming, negating, and reaffirming, and back again.

While reflecting on how self-abuse might lead to accolades, the entity in the end affirms the importance of rejecting the impulse to sabotage oneself. He’s conspicuously aware that many people are willing to forgo this satisfaction. He knows that many people are so wildly impulsive in pursuit of greater joy that it’s beyond their scant capacity to resist the vain attraction of self-abuse—for any reason, any way at all.

While taking pride in his accomplishments, he returns to the idea that he doesn’t care about developing a larger worldview or expanding his knowledge base. Seidenberg writes: “What he has—what he’s been given—has always been sufficient to release him from the longing for a bigger trough.” Furthermore, the entity is looking to be released from this endless yearning for more than he currently possesses, querying and pondering when satisfying results aren’t forthcoming.

This futile divagation, of somehow existing in an unknowable world, a world he hasn’t come across—for all his witless prods—suggests there may have been a time when the world as he knows it was always elusive, the world never quite becoming palpable, never real. The entity continually falls prey to contradictory thoughts and desires, his need for accomplishment in direct opposition with his desire to accept or be content with what he has, this need and desire represented by the bench, which goes nowhere and will never leave him.

Situ, in its satire and farce, its philosophy, both mocking and serious, speaks to our yearning to embark on an endless mythical journey to discover and alter ourselves, with the potential of glory and reward, the text repeatedly also recognizing that failure is always a possibility, if not actually imminent. Is it a biological imperative, is it of the mind and the intellect, or is it based on emotional attachment, or all of the above? Is it better to hesitate and take no risks or action, to instead stay in your safe familiar mindset and environment? Situ’s entity believes that he simultaneously does and doesn’t know that which he doesn’t know until he knows it, and even then he can be dissuaded, that the knowledge or preferences he has, or decisions he makes or doesn’t, should be ignored and/or resisted. Situ asks us if the voyage toward self-realization is worth the suffering it will most certainly engender, or is it better to know you don’t know and stay on solid ground.

Situ, by Steven Seidenberg. Black Sun Lit, March 2018. 215 pages. $18.00, paper.

Micah Zevin is a librarian poet living in Jackson Heights, Queens, NY, with his wife, a playwright. He has recently published articles and poems at The Otter, Newtown Literary Journal and Blog, Poetry and Politics, Reality Beach, Jokes Review, Post (Blank), American Journal of Poetry, and The Tower Journal. He created/curates an open mic/poetry prompt workshop called The Risk of Discovery Reading Series now at Blue Cups.

Check out HFR’s book catalog, publicity list, submission manager, and buy merch from our Spring store. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.