What is L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Poetry?
Writing about web page http://www.princeton.edu/eclipse/projects/LANGUAGE/language.html
• To question conventional attitudes to speech and referentiality.
• To use the influence of Louis Zukofsky as a model.
• To use the influence of Gertrude Stein (remember language divorced from its reference – silences!!).
• To react to Wittgenstein’s ideas of language as a game.
• This Magazine ed. Robert Grenier and Barratt Witten.
• L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E ed. Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein. (Archive at: http://www.princeton.edu/eclipse/projects/LANGUAGE/language.html)
• Reality Street Editions at http://freespace.virgin.net/reality.street/editor.html
Some L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Poets
Rae Armnentrout ~ Charles Bernstein ~ Clarke Coolidge ~ Tina Darragh ~ Ken Edwards (UK) ~ Allen Fisher (UK) ~ Carla Harryman ~ Lyn Hejinian ~ Fanny Howe ~ Susan Howe ~ Michael Palmer ~ Bob Perlman ~ Leslie Scalapino ~ Ron Silliman (See Silliman’s blog: http://ronsilliman.blogspot.com/ ) ~ Hannah Weiner
Charles Bernstein and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Poetry
“words are notes on the keys of the imagination” – Wittgenstein
In his poem, ‘Solidarity is a Name We Give to That We Cannot Hold’, Bernstein’s speaker declares himself to be affiliated with many different kinds of poets:
I am a nude formalist poet, a sprung
syntax poet, a multitrack poet, a
wondering poet, a social expressionist
poet, a Baroque poet, a constructivist poet,
an ideolectical poet. […]
The entire poem is made up of different factions, groupings and definitions for poets and amongst these Bernstein lists his status as “a Jewish poet hiding in the shadow / of my great-grandfather and great-grandmother”, a stereotype that views Jewish writers as turning back to the great patriarchs and matriarchs of that culture. However, its inclusion amongst all the other definitions of poets reveals how this means of self-definition is as limiting as any other.
The desire to resist the standardized language that homogenizes individuals is an essential part of Bernstein’s poetics. Like the Marx Brothers, Bernstein disagrees with ‘standardization’ of language describing it in ‘Comedy and the Poetics of Political Form’ (1990) as a kind of “arteriosclerosis”. Bernstein’s answer is a kind of play that “collapses into a more ambivolent[sic] , destabilizing field of pathos, the ludicrous, schtick, sarcasm; a multidimensional textual field that is congenitally unable to maintain an evenness 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 cantoring[sic] into the next available trope; less a shield than a probe”. 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” . Yet Bernstein emphasises that this must not be self–centered but an “interaction”, “conversation” or “provocation”. Bernstein reaches towards the syncopated, the polyrhythmical, the heterogeneous and the offbeat, because, for too long, what he calls ‘male’, patriarchal language has made people speak “to those aspects of their consciousness that have been programmed to receive the already digested scenes or commentaries provided”. The ellipsis, the non-sequitur and the irrelevancy are all significant elements in this linguistic reinvention.
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. -Charles Bernstein in Boundary 2 (Vol IX, No. 2, 1981) 295–306.
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.– Charles Bernstein in ‘Stray Straws and Straw Men’.