Commentaries - February 2013

Michael Hennessey on Charles Bernstein's 1976 tapework "Class"

from Michael Hennessey’s “A Life, Spliced: On the Early Tapeworks of Charles Bernstein,” published in The Salt Companion to Charles Bernstein, edited by William Allegrezza, Salt Publishing, 2012.

“I am a recording instrument” — William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch [1] 

“Oh Charles, how could you be so cruel. Charles turn that magadget off … I'm gonna get my own tape recorder and I'm gonna tape your conversations Charles.”  — Bernstein’s mother, Sherry (from “#4: a portrait of one being in family living”)[2]

More than thirty-five years after the release of his first book, Asylums, Charles Bernstein is justifiably recognized as one of America’s most influential living poets — a fact attested to by his recent career-spanning collection, All the Whiskey in Heaven: Selected Poems (Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2010).  While, as a pioneer of Language Writing, Bernstein has made significant contributions to contemporary poetics, his work as a scholar, editor, curator and pedagogue are perhaps of equal, if not greater, importance, and indeed, all of these discrete facets work together in a complementary fashion to construct his overall aesthetic, which is equally a product of numerous extra-literary cultural interests including music, film, drama and the visual arts.

A performative turn?

rehearsal for re-enactment of the 2010 "Rethinking Poetics" conference

The nexus of modernist forms of performance/poetics has been around in the West at least since Dada[1], and non-Western and minoritarian poetry communities have cultivated traditions of performance poetry where the body/voice is rarely an afterthought. However, in many of American avant-garde traditions, notions of performativity tend to focus on the poetry reading as the primary site for performative innovation. Of course, given the historical emphasis on the musicality of poetry (sound, meter, aurality, etc.) an emphasis on the poet’s ‘voice’ as the instrument of performance (sounding aloud the music on the page, as it were) is understandable, but occludes other forms of performance and embodiment in relation to poetics.

Eclipse: new URL

Eclipse, the key web archive, has moved. New URL is

Senior Editor: Craig Dworkin
Associate Editor: Danny Snelson
Editorial Assistant: Nella Holden
Intern: Lillian-Yvonne Bertram

Charles Stein: 'The Speed of Thought,' part one

[The following is text of a talk I gave early this fall at the Philadelphia conference on Psychedemia (C.S.)]

The point is that a thought — any thought —
retards time:
The infinitely rapid rush of transition —
the white susurrus of the immediate movement
from one instant to its successor.
To be possessed of a thought —
it is as if there were a station in time
at which one could have a recess from its passage.
One stops to consider.
One places before oneself
that which a thought contains
in order to elaborate, reflect, develop, associate . . .
while holding the position of the original thought.
Time flies on, but the thought remains...
Sort of.

Why childbirth?

A question for Holly Melgard

Holly Melgard, reading at Grey Borders, St. Catherine's, ON

Sometime around late August/early September, I had lunch with one of the young women writers I see often in New York. She told me she had recently been to a reading in Philadelphia where Holly Melgard had, as she described, “performed childbirth, not actual childbirth, obviously, but just like made noises like she was in labor, and it was really loud, and people were really upset by it.” This performance apparently caused a great reaction. A number of people were furious, some felt insulted; why would some young girl who has never had a baby do something like that? That's what it seemed to boil down to, according to my friend.

Well, only Holly Melgard can answer that. But let's not pretend the WHY question is really just about explanation. Discussion about a controversial choice made by an artist opens up opportunities for all kinds of analysis. And with the sharp increase in people choosing to not bear children, emotions on this issue seem to be running high in our culture. From what I'd heard, Melgard landed herself squarely in the middle of it when she performed in Philly.