Charles Bernstein

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


Charles Bernstein & Loss Pequeno Glazier on Robert Creeley

video: SUNY-Buffalo, Poetry Collection, April 20, 2012

Hannah Weiner and Charles Bernstein on Public Access Poetry in 1977

Blind Witness: Three America Operas by Ben Yarmolinsky and Charles Bernstein

videos of orignal productions plus Yarmolinsky's preface

cover by Susan Bee

the libretto for these three operas was published by Factory School in 2008
order book here

These three videos were made of the Blind Witness trilogy at the time of the original productions in the 1990s. They are available now for the first time, thanks to PennSound. PennSound's Ben Yarmolinsky page also has audio tracks for all the operas as well as video and audio of subsequent performances. Just below the videos is Yarmolinksy's introduction to the Facorty School book.

Yellow Pages Ads

Jeff Preiss & Charles Bernstein

Filmed in Hollywood, November 14, 1998
conceived and directed by Jeff Preiss
PennSound has now made these video recordings avaiable in full screen version.
Yellow Pages ads PennSound page
radio ads
outtakes


The Critic (0:31):
A discussion of the literary significance of Jon Lovitz's great contemporary epic, The Yellow Pages.


State of error (PoemTalk #50)

Tom Raworth, 'Errory'

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

For our 50th episode, Charles Bernstein, Michael Hennessey, and Marjorie Perloff gathered at the Kelly Writers House to talk about Tom Raworth’s poem, “Errory.”  The poem was published in Clean & Well Lit in 1996, and has been reprinted in the Carcanet Press Collected Poems (2003). Our recording of “Errory” comes from audio material produced in 2004 by the Contemporary Poetics Research Center (CPRC) at Birkbeck College of the University of London, and we thank Colin Still for making these recordings available to PennSound.

Here is the CPRC/PennSound recording of Raworth performing “Errory,” at somewhat more than his usual breakneck speed. Listen to “Out of a Sudden,” for instance — from the same recording session — and you'll notice a more deliberate pace. <--break- />

Stefan Mönke, "Charles Bernstein’s Response to the Postmodern Condition"

M.A. dissertation, Univeristy of Coimbra (Portugal), May 2011

pdf of dissertation

Impulsive Behavior at the Whitney

Bruce Andrews, Edwin Torres, and Charles Bernstein on April 8, 1999

PennSound has replaced the low-res version of these tapes, so now possible to see in full-screen. The program took place at the Whitney's Philip Morris space, across from Grand Central terminal in New York.

Pied bot: Shade & Occurrence of Tune translated into French by Martin Richet

plus two day Paris symposium on the work of Charles Bernstein

photos and cover by Susan Bee

Pied bot
Charles Bernstein

éditions joca seria 
collection américaine
translated by Martin Richet
afterword
by Jean-Marie Gleize
photos by Susan Bee
poésie
160 pages
15 x 20 cm
16 €
ISBN 978-2-84809-187-7
March 2012

Shade, The Occurrence of Tune
, and the preface to Content's Dream
with altered photographs by Susan Bee (from the original edition of Occurrence of Tune)
  More information, and slide show of photos,  at web site for éditions joca seria.

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