All 7 entries tagged L A N G U A G E Poetry

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October 12, 2006

Charles Bernstein: ‘On Theatricality’ (199–207)

Charles Bernstein: ‘On Theatricality’ (199-207)

In Content’s Dream , as before.

‘One of the reasons the conditions of film as a medium are so much more intrinsically satisfying is that they effectively defeat this theatricalization of the presence by the mechanic otherness of the projected world; watching a movie, I remain outside the time and place of what I see; and what I see is always framed , a mediation/ conditioning intrinsic to the medium itself’. (199)


Charles Bernstein: 'Three or Four Things I know About Him'

Content’s Dream: Essays 1975-1984, LA: Sun and Moon Press, 1986.

Epigraph: ‘The task of history once the world beyond the truth has disappeared, is to establish the truth of this world’ -Karl Marx

‘5. Comic Interlude

It is the imperialism of the bourgeois psyche that demands a reduction in the number of words able to assume the weight of depicting the word picture. Nouns because of their proletarian pristineness as least distorted by the invasion of bourgeois consciousness into the language, as in fact the claim goes, repositories of the object residue of material existence, are the principal word type favored [sic] under this assumption. Viz : classicism, ruling class, third world, exploitation revisionist, capital, profit, worker, means of production, alienation. ‘Verb’ al forms emerge mainly in the application of this – uberhaupt – principal structure – ‘exploiting’, ‘profiting’ and also ‘struggling’. Individual actions are depicted as reified instantiations fixed by the inter section of a variety of theses . It is then, our thesis that political writing becomes disorientated when it views itself as description and not discourse: as not being in the world but about the world. The hermeneutic indicts the scientist with the charge that it has once again subverted the dialogic nature of human understanding with its behavioro-empiricism.’ (20)

’...the composition of reality is supra-personal: the mistakes & plain takes of a person are not an essential part of reality’s composition. Standardized spelling, layout and punctuation enter into a world of standardization – clocks & orbit &speed of light. A social science epistemologically self-conceived on the model of the natural sciences becomes possible &grammar becomes a social science. Language is this removed from the participatory control of its user &delivered into the hands of the state.’ (26)

‘Failure to produce appropriate language is regarded not as misperception, but as error. The understanding begins to be lost that we are each involved in the constitution of language-that our actions reconstitute change-reality.’ (26)

Bernstein notes that there is a gap between our ‘private phantasies’ and ‘meaningful action’. For Bernstein, the Marxist aesthetic fails because it fails to recognize that the gap is not another part of our illusory commodity lives. Language creates ‘commonness’, yet Bernstein recommend a move from descriptive, common language to a language based on ‘its wordness, its physicality, its haecceity (thisness)’.


August 24, 2006

Charles Bernstein: 'Making Words Visible' (284–286)

Reviewing Hannah Weiner, The Clairvoyant Journal (1978).

Bernstein begins with this comment:

'We all see words: signs of a language we live inside of. & yet these words seem exterior to us—we see them, projections of our desires, and act, often enough, out of a sense of their demands.' (284)

Bernstein describes the poet, Weiner, as ''living a life inside of language' as she projects words onto people, objects and herself (284). These words are dictated to Weiner by voices. He writes of her as having a kind of omniscience about the working of language as she is 'inside language and looking out onto it' (284). Yet Weiner's work retains its energy via its diaristic qualities that 'fuse the eruptive elements ("voices")' (284). Bernstein is enlivened by the interruptions in the text that unsettle its linear arc – interruptions that ponder how to continue writing, that think self–consciously about the writing process.

Bernstein suggests that the fact that the book is made up of debris makes it an unsettling read. However, he is adamant that 'Weiner has explored—come upon—the language that fills, and often enough, controls our lives (everyday, common place: she says "group mind")' (286). Bernstein suggests that as she thinks self–consciously about language, Weiner offers the possibility of freeing oneself from domination by it.

The L=A=N-G=U=A-G=E Book . Ed. Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois Press, 1984.


Bernstein: 'Reading Cavell Reading Wittgenstein'

'The distortion is to imagine that knowledge has an "object" outside of the "language games" of which it is a part—that words refer to "transcendental signified" to use an expression from another tradition, rather than being part of a language which itself produces meaning in terms of its grammar, its conventions and its "agreements in judgement". Learning a language is not learning the names of things outside a language, as if it were simply a matter of matching up signifiers with signifieds, as if signifieds already existed and we were just learning new names for them [...] Rather we are initiated by language into a socious, which is for us the world. So that the foundations of knowledge are not so much based on a pre–existing empirical world as on shared conventions and mutual attunement.' (299)

In Boundary 2 (Vol IX, No. 2, 1981) 295–306.


Bernstein: Stray Straws and Straw Men (39-45)

'Whatever gets written gets written in a particular shape, uses a particular vocabulary and syntax, & a variety of chosen techniques. Whether its shape, syntax & vocabulary result from an attraction (or ideological attachment to) the organic and spontaneous, or to some other look, it is equally chosen. Sometimes this process takes place intuitively or unconsciously (the pull of influence comes in here since somewhere in the back of the mind are models for what looks natural, personal, magical, mystical, spontaneous, automatic, dreamlike, confessional, didactic, shocking). Sometimes it is a very conscious process. Any way, you're responsible for what turns up. Free association, for example, is no more inherently 'natural' than cutting up: & neither is in any sense 'random'. One technique may be used because a decision is made to use subconscious material. Another may be used to limit vocabulary of the poem to words not self–generated. In either case, various formal decisions are made & these decisions shape the work.' (43)

'Writing necessarily consists of attaching numerous bits and pieces together in a variety of ways. & it comes to a point here you feel any composition is artifice and deceit. & the more 'natchural' the look the more deceptive. That any use of language outside its function of communicating in speaking is a false hood (cf. Laura Riding). Or even that language itself—everywhere conditioning our way of seeing & meaning— is an illusion (as if there were something outside language.

Or take it this way: I just want to write—let it come out— get in touch with some natural process—from brain to pen—with no interference of typewriter, formal pattern. & it can seem like the language itself—having to put it into words— any kind of fixing a version of it—gets in the way. That I just have this thing inside me—silently—unconditioned by the choices I need to make when I write—whether it be to write it down or write on. So it is as if language itself gets in the way of expressing this thing, this flow, this movement of consciousness.

But there are no thoughts except through language, we are everywhere seeing through it, limited to it but not by it. Its conditions always interpose themselves: a particular set of words to choose from (a vocabulary), a way of processing those words (syntax, grammar): the natural conditions of language. What pulses, pushes, is energy, spirit, anima, dream, fantasy: coming out always in form, as shape: these particulars, 'massed at material bottoms' in hum of this time—here now—these words, this syntax & rhythm & shape. The look of the natural as constricted, programmatic—artful—'lying words' as the most abstract, composed or formal work.' (44)

The L=A=N-G=U=A-G=E Book . Ed. Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois Press, 1984.


August 23, 2006

Charles Bernstein: 'Comedy and the Poetics of Political Form'

Part 1

Bernstein begins his essay with two quotations from possibly invented characters:

For if a swan could sing we would not know what she was insisting. But we are not, or few of us, swans, and have no excuse. – Flo Amber

The Crooked shall be made Stright and the Straight sundered into a thousand Shards. – Ezekial Horn.

Bernstein responds by denying that a 'swan song' is needed for this, the last essay in the collection and thinking of what job he has to do describes the need to 'plug up some holes and still some more, calling the leaks poetry, the clogs excess' (235). More riddling phrases follow. Bernstein describes: 'An insistence whose luster [sic] is so much scotch–guard against spoilage, whose dethronements dissolve into valedictory reprise' (235). He offers the images of 'putting the cork back on the boat, the wheel around the spin' but finally concludes that his view imagines 'the formal dynamics of a poem as communicative exchanges, as socially addressed, and as ideologically explicit' (235).

In considering convention, authority, persuasion, rhetoric, sincerity and conviction, Bernstein writes: 'Conventions are made to be broken' (235). He notes that in challenging 'the conventions of writing, we are entering into the politics of language' (235).

Bernstein disagrees with 'standardization' of language describing it as a kind of 'arteriosclerosis' (236). For him, 'counterconventions' in poetry or elsewhere can improve communication. Bernstein believes that poetry challenges public language in such a manner. Of course, there is the problem of authority and it is sometimes thought that in order to make a challenge, one must stick to recognized conventional forms of authorised speaking. Bernstein considers 'the power of persuasion versus the coercion of physical force; vatic, or perhaps even fatuous, poetic authority versus the psychological and behavioural manipulation of advertising or behavioural engineering; the authority of the school system versus that of an army, the authority of money versus aesthetic innovation' (236–237).

Bernstein's answer is 'to act out, in dialectical play, the insincerity of form as much as content' (237). This kind of play 'collapses into a more ambiv_o_lent, destabilzing field of pathos, the ludicrous, schtick, sarcasm; a multidimensional textual field that is congenitally unable to maintain an eveness of surface tension or a flatness of affect. where linguistic shards of histrionic inappropriateness pierce the momentary calm of an obscure twist of phrase, before cant_o_ring into the next available trope; less a shield than a probe' (237). This would be 'anti–formalist' and 'un–Modern' (237).

Bernstein diverges from his subject a little here to discuss the reading of poems. For Bernstein 'the stylistic features of a work' are most important. He refers to Jerome McGann's work on Byron which suggests that Byron refuses the Romantic poetics of sincerity through close analysis of formal strategies. Bernstein is also anxious about historicisation and notes that history's 'master narratives need to be partialized as specific historical projections for particular ideological purposes' (238).

Part 2

Bernstein worries about the fact that some forms of convention and authority hide their status as historical constructions. This is what Bernstein calls 'the phallocentric voice of truth or sincerity' centred on 'centrality, objectivity, or neutrality'(239). The problem with this voice is that it adopts 'expedience at the expense of depth, narrative continuity at the expense of detail, persuasion at the expense of conviction' (239).

The answer to this is not to adopt a private voice. Bernstein states: 'I am a ventriloquist, happy as a raven to preach with blinding fervour of the corruptions of public life in a voice of painted honesty that is as much a conceit as the most formal legal brief for which my early education would have seemed to prepare me' (239). He continues: 'If my loops and short circuits, my love of elision, my Groucho Marxian refusal of irony is an effort to explode the authority of those conventions I wish to discredit (disinherit), it constantly offers the consoling self–justification of Art' (239). Yet Bernstein emphasises that this must not be self–centred but an 'interaction' or 'conversation' or 'provocation'(240). Bernstein reaches towards the syncopated, the polyrhythmical, the heterogeneous, the offbeat, because fro too long what he calls male language makes people speak ' to those aspects of their consciousness that have been programmed to receive the already digested scenes or commentaries provided' (240).

Although Bernstein admits that public policy and poetry seem very far apart, he regrets 'the lack of poetic thinking as activated potential for all people' (241). Bernstein concludes: 'The political power of poetry is not measured in numbers; it instructs us to count differently' (242).

Part 3

To begin, Bernstein quotes Adorno: 'truth is the antithesis of existing society' (qtd. in Bernstein, 242). Bernstein uses this to challenge the authority of convention. Bernstein wonders if a synthesis of existing societies could be truth, then rejects his own suggestion because it ignores the 'joke' of Adorno's comment. Bernstein desires something beyond irony: ' a mix of comic, bathetic, and objective modes' to produce ' an intercutting that undercuts the centrality of a governing narrative or prosodic strategy'.

He comments on comedy here:

'Anything that departs from the sincere or serious enters into the comic, but the comic is anything but a unitary phenomenon, and the range of comic attitudes goes from the good–humoured to the vicious, from clubby endorsement of the existing social reign to total rejection of all existing human communities: Poet as confidence "man", deploying hypocrisy in order to shatter the formal autonomy of the poem and its surface of detachment; the sincere and the comic as interfused figure, not either/or but both/and . We are pathetic and heroic simultaneously, one by virtue of the other, a vision of a human being that is the basis of the work of the other Williams, Tennessee.' (242)

Bernstein wants 'stylistic innovations' to be 'alternative social formations'(242) that receive a 'synoptic, multilevel, interactive response' (243). Bernstein explains that, 'the aesthetic and the political make an inseparable poetics' (243).

'Poetry can bring to awareness questions of authority and conventionality, not to overthrow them, as in a certain reading of destructive intent, but to reconfigure: a necessary deconfiguration as prerequisite for refiguration, for the regeneration of the ability to figure —– count —– think figuratively, tropically. The poetry of which I speak is multidirectional and multivectoral; for while some vectors are undermining others just keep on mining.

The interpretive and compositional model I am proposing, then, can be understood as a synthesis of the three Marxes (Chico, Karl, Groucho) and the four Williamses (Raymond, William Carlos, Tenessee and Esther).' (243)

Part 4

'When convention and authority clash you can hear the noise for miles. And this social noise is a sound that poetry can not only make but echo and resound. And while the convention of permanent committees on the politics of poetic form is over, there is one last directive to pass on: Hold your own hearings.' (243)

'Comedy and the Poetics of Political Form'. The Politics of Poetic Form . Ed. Charles Bernstein. New York: Roof, 1990. 235–244. (Note to self: note the reversal between title of book and title of essay).


August 22, 2006

A Paper to be Written on L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets and the Marx Brothers

The idea of this paper is to use the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets as a kind of frame through which to view the specific play of language in the Marx Brothers’ scripts and it is particularly useful since there is a certain influence on L=A=N=G=U=G=E poets, especially Bernstein, whom I would focus on the most. Bernstein uses the Marx Brothers on certain courses that he teaches at SUNY Buffalo. He also uses the figure of Chico in his essay ‘Comedy and the Poetics of Political Form’ and in interview, he writes of his admiration for Groucho’s ‘awkwardness’ stating that poetry is ‘about awkwardness’. Michael Barrett writes that Bernstein ‘does what Artaud praised the Marx Brothers for – disruption through humour. He takes culture through a “comic spin cycle” introducing the chaos of laughter into the orderworn “necroid ideocracy” ’. My reading emerges from a detailed study of influence and technique.


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