Charles Bernstein

Talkin' Politics of Poetic Form (the recordings)

25th anniversary

New at PennSound (site link for these recordings)

a series of talks I curated in 1988 at The New School (New York) and collected in The Politics of Poetic Form, Roof Books (1990)

2 X 2: a poetry film by Ernesto Livon-Grosman with Jorge Santiago Perednik and Charles Bernstein (2012)

Emancipation via elimination

Vanessa Place’s “Boycott Project”

Vanessa Place
Vanessa Place

For all their twists and spin, poets like Kamau Brathwaite and Charles Bernstein seem strikingly direct in their politics when compared to Vanessa Place and her poetics of iteration. Where in a work like World on Fire Bernstein clearly attacks the US invasion of Iraq, Place, like some other conceptual writers, seems to reject the idea that we might change the world by transforming our language. Indeed, at times Place takes direct aim at texts that seek a revolutionary change in the social order.

For instance, in her “Boycott Project,” Place reproduces feminist classics such as Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex with all female-gendered words replaced by their male counterparts. (See Place’s The Father & Childhood.) 

Susan Howe reads from "My Emily Dickinson" & discusses with poets

Alte Schmiede reading, Vienna, Jan. 26, 2012

with Peter Waterhouse's University of Vienna seminar

A raucous evening of translations and transformations, performances and metamorphoses in/around All the Whiskey in Heaven and "Johnny Cake Hollow."Charles Bernstein with  Miriam Rainer, Julia Dengg, Manuel Niedermeier, Dimitri Smirnov, Helmut Ege, Franz Vala, Judith Aistleitner, Nina Truskawetz, and Peter Waterhouse. With thanks to Katharine Apostle.  Filmed by  August Bisinger

Revolutions per minute

Charles Bernstein

Charles Bernstein reads/plays "stop it"
Charles Bernstein at a Poets Against the War reading, Buffalo, March 5, 2003

In the essay “The Conspiracy of Us” (first published in 1979, in L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E), Charles Bernstein anticipated a key driver of the iterative turn in contemporary poetry when he described his anxiety about collective identity and action and argued for the revolutionary power of poetry to disrupt the certainty of our collective positions.

Salt Companion to Charles Bernstein, ed. William Allegrezza

Publication Date: 25-Sep-12 | ISBN: 9781844714858 | Trim Size: 228 x 152 mm | Extent: 388pp | Format: Paperback / softback

William Allegrezza's introduction to the Compation via Poems and Poetics.

to expedite purchase
the publisher recommends
ordering  from Amazon

The MLA does not support the variable foot

Asphodel flowers.
Asphodel flowers.

By the time we got to the long, apologetic love poem Asphodel, That Greeny Flower in the Williams class, I was beginning to worry about the relatively short amount of time we had spent on the variable foot.

Three Compositions on Philosophy and Literature (1972)

A reading of Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans through Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations

Asylum’s Press Digital Edition
available for purchase as .epub, .mobi (for Kindle), and PDF for printing

 Forty years ago, during my last semesters of college, I wrote a senior thesis on Gertrude Stein’s Making of Americans, which I read in the context of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. I had concentrated in philosophy at Harvard even though my interests were primarily literature and art (poetics and aesthetics). I didn’t know anyone who had read Stein but was surrounded by philosophers deeply engaged with Wittgenstein. Still, I saw two key issues that Stein addressed in her early work that related to the philosophical problems that echoed through Emerson Hall, where Stein herself had studied with William James.

Throughout The Making of Americans, Stein confronts the problem of what she calls “the real thing of disillusionment”: a sense of being a stranger, queer, to those around her; the sinking feeling that one is not, and perhaps cannot be, understood, that drives you to cry out in pain that you write for “yourself and strangers,” in Stein’s famous phrase. Stein’s formulations struck me as being connected to the problem of other minds, or skepticism, a virtual obsession of Stanley Cavell in those years. It seemed to me that Stein and Wittgenstein had crafted a related response to skepticism.

The related philosophical issue that Stein’s work addresses is the nature of meaning and reference in verbal language: how words refer to objects in the external world. Both Wittgenstein and Stein dramatize the breakdown of a one-to-one correspondence between word and object. They are both averse to the conception that words are akin to names or labels and that meaning is grounded in a verbal mapping of a fully constituted external world. What do words or phrases designate? This goes beyond the issue of private language, which has dogged the interpretation of Stein’s work. The problem of where the pain is when pain is expressed opens up for Wittgenstein and his interpreters (for me primarily Rogers Albritton and Cavell) a more general problem of the nature of reference, designation, and naming for such intangibles as (in Stein’s words) “thinking, believing, seeing, understanding.” I felt, still do, that this philosophical conundrum directly bears on the meaning and reference of not just words or phrases in poems but of poems themselves, which certainly mean, designate, and express, but do not necessarily refer to “things,” if things are assumed to be already existing and named objects. I am not satisfied with the argument I make about the nature of reference in the final sections of The Making of Americans and Tender Buttons, where Stein invented a compositional method that I call “wordness.” Still, despite the manifest shortcomings of this work, it locates some ongoing problems that remain to be addressed, both in terms of a full-scale reading of The Making of Americans and a more technically robust account of reference in works such as Tender Buttons.

Looking back, I am aware of how circumscribed my frame of reference was in 1971. I am content here to play straight man (third Stein) to Stein and Wittgenstein, those diaphanously queer, secular Jews born just fifteen years apart.

Haroldo de Campos tribute at Guggenehim museum (1992 video)

with Bessa, Perloff, Cisneros, Dworkin, Bernstein, Helguera

Presentation on the work of Haroldo de Campos, in conjunction with the exhibit" Brazil: Body and Soul,"
Guggenheim Museum, New York, January 12, 2002


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