Commentaries - March 2013

new pdf ebook of "Recantorium" at
English original + French & Italian translation.
RECANTORIUM (a bachelor machine, after Duchamp after Kafka)
(une machine célibataire, d’après Duchamp d’après Kafka)
traduit par Abigail Lang
(una macchina celibe, secondo Duchamp secondo Kafka)
traduzione di Milli Graffi

orignally published in Harper's and Critical Inquiry
and colleced in Attack of the Difficult Poems: Esssays & Inventions

As reported in the Wall Street Journal

Andy Battaglia, “Transforming the Discourse,” The Wall Street Journal, March 20, 2013. [ link ]

Eduard Espina, symposium organizer, with Diane Rolnick, José María Antolín, Óscar Berrio, Theodore George, Kristi Sweet, Laura Mandell, Jorge Vanegas

Poetics Versus Philosophy: Life, Artifact, and Theory
Texas A & M University,
April 11,12,13, 2013

symposium website
including full program

launch of
Marjorie Perloff
La Escalera de Wittgenstein
Charles Bernstein
L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E ¡CONTRAATACA! Poéticas selectas (1975-2011)
ed./tr. Heriberto Yepez,et al., intro. Eduardo Espina,

Since Plato, the controversy between poetry and the philosophical project has been legendary, repeated in multiple variations throughout history until the present day. This initial antagonistic gesture by the ancient philosopher against poets, can perhaps lead us to expand our range of reflection about crucial topics today, regarding for example; the semantic and syntactic mysteries of artistic and scientific artifacts, or the imaginary value that dwells within theoretical speculation. Creating an interdisciplinary dialogue between fields such as art and architecture, philosophy, political and natural sciences, poetical and literary studies is unavoidable. The unresolved ancestral conflict between poetry and rational knowledge must be restated in the XXI Century, and serve as a metaphor around which this symposium is conceived.

Marjorie Perloff – Keynote Speaker
Invited Speakers: Charles Bernstein, Ida Vitale, Robert Anthony Siegel


Julio Aguilar. Leslie Marie Aguilar. Mariana Alegria. Alethia Alfonso. José María Antolín. Sergio Badilla. Jennifer Bates. Caleb Beckwith. Albert Bendixen. Charles Bernstein.  Anadeli Bencomo. Clayton Bohnet. Diana Boros. Stephen CaffeyNicolas De Candia. Marcos Canteli. Ernesto Carrión. Raul Carrillo-Arciniega. Tanya Clements. Jaime Concha. Samuel Cooper. Manuel Cortés-Castañeda. Carlos Cuadra. Mabel Cuesta. Richard Curry. Steffy Couch. Pablo de Cuba. Arturo Dávila. Ángel Díaz Miranda. Isabel Díaz. Xavier Echarri. Eduardo Espina. Edgar Garcia. Andrés Fisher. Romina Fresche. Theodore George. Cristián Gómez. Gerardo Gonzalez. Loren Goodman. Paul Guillién. Ana Guillot. Carlos Adolfo Gutiérrez Vidal. Weiling He. Natalie Houston. Angélica J. Huizar. Karla Kelsey. Carly Kragthorpe. Giancarla Di Laura. Rebecca van Laer. Alain Lawos Sukam. Eduardo Llanos. Jerome Loving. Román Luján. Alessandra Luiselli. Greg Lynch. Laura Mandell. Karina Maccio. Marianella Machado. Enrique Mallén. Cecilla Maugeri. José Antonio Mazzotti. John J. McDermott. Mark McGraw. Christine Murray. Jorge Monteleone. Hugo Montero. Jake Nabasny. John Nichols. Óscar Berrio. Paula Park. Eduardo E. Parrilla. Marcelo Pellegrini. Majorie Perloff. Benito del Pliego. Anton DuPlessis. Julio Prieto. Jessica Prinz. Bruno Ríos Martínez de Castro. Armando Roa. Diane Rolnick.  Alejandro Rosales. Maythe Ruffino. Martin Scully. José Ramón Ruysánchez. Gustavo San Román. Rose Mary Salum. Róger Santiváñez. Jorge Santos Caballero. Matthew S. Sachs. Jorge Saucedo. Robert Anthony Siegel. Stefan Sencerz. Ellen Shuman. Jeff Sirkin.  James Staig. JeFF Stumpo. Kristi Sweet. Louis Tassinary. Emily Thurman. Osvaldo de la Torre. Juan Carlos Ureña. Juan Carlos Villavicencio. Ida Vitale. Diego A. Von Vacano. Jorge Vanegas. Marcos Wasem. Ximena Williams-Olivera. Miguel Ángel Zapata.

 Topics for discussion
The hidden political character of poetic and artistic invention
New horizons in aesthetics
Scientific and artistic artifacts helping us to understand the complexity of life
Poetics of avant-garde cinema and visual thinking
Reception of American poetics in Spanish writing
Reception of Hispanic poetics in American writing
Aesthetic theory and philosophy of art in the Spanish language
The nature of the artist´s meditation
Utopia and possibility of unification of human knowledge
New sources of architectural thinking
Poetical a priorities in theoretical models
Authors on authors
Translation and Trans-creation
Exile and artistic thinking on displacement
Pedagogy of creative thinking and writing

The Department of Hispanic Studies
Melbern G. Glasscock Center for Humanities
Initiative for Digital Humanities, Media, and Culture
Department of Philosophy
College of Architecture
Department of Engliss
Leland T. Jessie W. Jordan Institute for International Awareness

Symposium website:

I didn’t start reading or writing poetry until I was in my mid-twenties. I didn’t study avant-garde art or literary history/criticism until after college. I did, however, read Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit sometime during my John Lennon phase in junior high, so though I wouldn’t have known the word, I’d been fluxed to a certain degree. Though Grapefruit is, well, kinda hippy-cheesy, I do think that it ‘holds up’ as an exemplary model of a book that transcends its avant-garde context, something that (like Joe Brainard’s I Remember) achieves that rare mode that can be understood and mind-opening to kids and aged seen-it-all’s alike.

While certainly not as edgy as her “Cut Piece” or other performance and film works of hers, the book and the many instruction pieces she’s written since then remains a model of a kind of performance writing, in the sense that many of the texts are instructions for performances (even if many seem impossible outside of the imagination). Of course, Ono’s work came out of her off and on relationship to Fluxus (as well as the overlapping Happenings, avant-garde music, conceptual and performance art movements), and it’s the written works of Fluxus I’d like to explore in this post, specifically to query the relationship between writing and performance, script/score and enactment.

In many ways, most Fluxus ‘scores’ (for music or other kinds of performance and/or composition) are fairly legible as scripts for performance/enactment; i.e. the text comes first and the performance after (if at all). Certainly, one of the interventions (and charms) of Fluxus scores were the openness of the scores, where interpretation and chance were much more important than following the letter of the law, as one might in traditional sheet music, for example. As such, reading Fluxus scores as performance texts allows us to see how writing can activate art/life works that writing cannot contain or control.

Interestingly, though, (excuse the gross generalization, but this is a blog, not a dissertation) while Fluxus scores continue to be read, studied, and collected (click here for a free PDF of one such anthology), there is not as large an archive of performance documentation, performance presumably being the ‘point’ of such scores. Certainly there are photos and recordings and limited-edition book-art objects, but just as often as not the scores were never performed or enacted, and in many cases were not intended to be. What I find compelling about the work is thus how scores can become literary and ‘stand on their own’ as works of art. Certainly this happens in other genres; one can purchase plays and filmscripts and sheet music, etc., but usually those are still understood to be in relation to an actual (or realistically potential) performance and less often of interest ‘only’ as text (except to fellow practitioners, who might geek out on a transcribed Anthony Hill improvisation or the stage directions of Tadeuz Kantor for insight/fuel/etc.). Still, Fluxus scores are models for other poetic traditions, from aleatory and procedural poetry to Oulipo and newer forms of conceptual writing, where the resulting work/'product' is not a commodified art object, but literature. 

At the same time, while all Fluxus scores could be said to have literary merit on their own, this does not mean that they all make for ‘good’ literature. I’m most interested in those works that somehow contain (if that’s the word) the performance in the text itself — not as a document or as performative utterance per se, but in the way that poetic writing can make something happen in the world, even if that ‘in the world’ is only in the reader’s brief imagining of potential enactments. I’m also interested in how the ‘magic’ of a Flux work does or does not ‘live on’ once the works become museumified. After all, just as many Fluxus were invested in finding new modes of art/life beyond the calcified forms of musical composition and choreographic instruction, the Fluxus object became the way into the museum and the art market. “Official” art history (both in the museum as well as the textbooks) requires documentation and objects in order to categorize and canonize a movement.

Unlike, say, karaoke, with its democratic use of scores to make/remake art, the democratic promise of Fluxus (‘anybody can do it’) bumps up against the archive-commodity status of the work (work=object in this case, vs. work = poetry/performance/‘magic’). As William Pope.L has written, “If karaoke is memorialized via the hangover, Fluxus is memorialized via the boxed performance relic. Notwithstanding Fluxus’s utopic desire to level the playing field of art, the issue of quality still matters. Unlike karaoke, differences between performers and performances in Fluxus are tracked very carefully.”1

So — do we carefully track differences between performers and performances, or between poets and poems, when it comes to practices such as procedural, aleatory, process and constraint-based writing? Compared to many Fluxus scores, descriptions of procedural and aleatory poems often tend towards the explanatory, the assumption being that the ‘resulting’ poem is where the literary lives (even as in avant-garde traditions proceduralism and chance operations can be zones of contingency and improvisation, and not always non-egoistic or mechanical). Thus one often reads a description of a compositional process that might sound compelling to fellow practitioners (as new ways make poems), and then one reads the poem that comes out of the procedure. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has found that many times the resulting poem is not nearly as interesting as the process, and yet at the same time I’m rarely inspired to then use the procedure myself (in part because it feels like the experiment has been executed? it’s ‘not mine’? I’m afraid the ‘differences will be tracked carefully’?) Certainly there are writers whose descriptions of their procedures are compelling compositions in and of themselves, ‘regardless’ of what comes out of them — I’m thinking of poets and performers such as Caroline Bergvall, Steve Benson, cris cheek, CA Conrad’s (Soma)tic exercises, just to name a few — but somehow Fluxus-inspired ‘scores’ at their best feel more like poems (as well as performance texts) than most poets’ descriptions of compositional procedures/instructions (even as the latter can be compelling and inspiring in different ways).

George Brecht, from Water Yam Box

As with many avant-garde movements that press against the art/life divide, fluxus and similar performance scores can profoundly change the way we understand our own relations to the kinds of banal instructions that make up our daily negotiations of text and behavior. Whether or not we might think of driving directions or to-do lists or instructions for putting together an Ikea bookshelf as performance scores, there are ways in which we do perform tasks, shape our bodies, work within and against constraints, in response to written ‘scores’ that we often do not think of as aesthetic in nature (much less in the spirit of Fluxus). Of course, we generally don’t think of such tasks as art/ful unless we are ‘breaking the rules’ (think the derivé vs. mapquest), and many of our daily encounters with instructions are instrumentalized and governed by Taylorist notions of efficiency, purpose, and productivity (in Marxist terms, towards the production of value; for Foucault, towards the production of disciplined subjects). “Following the letter of the law,” after all, is usually an exercise in privatized actuarialism and not something we’d call performance writing (unless taken to some kind of parodic extreme, like when I bring a child to carry on the escalator at the mall in order to adhere to the ‘carry children on escalator’ sign).

But: consider the figure of the chef in today’s foodie culture. The chef is now a celebrity, an artist. The recipe? A score for interpretation, choreography for durational performance, a script for a paying audience drawn to the culinary theater. So might the recipe be a performance score? “Yoko Ono” seems to think so. In Lettuce by Yoko Ono, a book written by the pseudonymous author of several National Novel Writing Night Month titles, we find recipes-in-flux for grapefruit word salad:



Make salads this week with Florida

cucumbers, Quebec endive and Mexican

hydroponic tomatoes, all foods in top

shape at low prices.

Lettuce, coming mostly from Arizona, is hit-and-

miss as to quality.

Observant shoppers may find brown butts

and ribs on iceberg. Leafy types are in

better condition.


alongside a 35 page 'recipe' addressing the genetic makeup of various strains of red lettuce.

And in Mark Rodriguez’s wonderful Idea Art For Kids, among the many instructional pieces such as "Write letters to companies praising their product, and request a hand-drawn picture of what their office looks like, what they'd rather be doing, where their boss is, or what their boss looks like" and the sample above is the instructional food piece: 

"Obtain free condiment packages from restaurants and use them as art supplies."

Finally, Charlene Tan transformed George Brecht's Water Yam into "Burnt Ube," a box of event scores celebrating the Filipino staple Ube (Tagalog for "water yam"), including a recipe for her Filipina-American Burnt Ube dessert.

Does it work — as art? as life? As they say, the proof is in the pudding.2

1. “Canary in the Coal Mine,” Art Journal, 2011 (and yes, I did more or less take this post in a direction where I could justify using a WmPopeL quote about karaoke hangovers)

2. Sorry, couldn't resist. Still, mmm, pudding.

Translated & annotated by Pierre Joris

EIN BLATT, baumlos,
für Bertolt Brecht:

Was sind das für Zeiten,

wo ein Gespräch
beinah ein Verbrechen ist,
weil es soviel Gesagtes
mit einschließt?

A LEAF, treeless,
for Bertold Brecht:

What times are these
when a conversation
is nearly a crime,
because it includes
so much being spoken.

PLAYTIME: die Fenster, auch sie,
lesen dir alles Geheime
heraus aus den Wirbeln 
und spiegelns 
ins gallertäugige Drüben,
auch hier, 
wo du die Farbe verfehlst, schert ein Mensch aus, entstummt, 
wo die Zahl dich zu äffen versucht, 
ballt sich Atem, dir zu,

hält die Stunde inne bei dir, 
du sprichst, 
du stehst, 
den vergleichnisten Boten 
aufs härteste über 
an Stimme 
an Stoff.

PLAYTIME: the windows, they too,
read you all that secrecy
from your whirls
and mirror it 
in the jelly-eyed beyond,

here too,
where you miss the color, a human sheers off, unmuted,
where the number tries to ape you,
breath clots, toward you,

the hour stops next to you,
you speak,
you stand,
most firm above
the parabelized messengers 
by voice
by matter.


Vokal, wirksam, 
mit dem einen 

Mitlautstöße, gefiltert
von weithin 

Reizschutz: Bewußtsein,


ich und auch du,
das augen-, das 
gedächtnisgierige rollende 

der Schläfenlappen intakt,
wie der Sehstamm.

OPEN GLOTTIS, airstream

vowel, effective,
with the one

consonant-thrusts, filtered
by clarity clear
from afar,

protection shield: consciousness

I and you too,

the eye-
the memory-greedy rolling

the temporal lobe intact,
like the visionstem.


          EIN BLATT | A LEAF
          Celan’s response to Bertold Brecht’s poem “An die Nachgeborenen,” the second
stanza of which asks:
What kind of times are these when
To talk about trees is nearly a crime,
Because it avoids speaking of all that’s evil!
(my translation)

          Playtime | Playtime
          Allusion to “Playtime,” a 1967 film by Jacques Tati, in which American tourists
visit a futuristic Paris. Many scenes are shot through windows and mirrors.
          verses 2 to 5: Barbara Wiedemann [BW 849] suggests a possible connection to Shakespeare, Hamlet, I.2, where Horatio recalls the ghostly apparition: “ a figure like your father … Thrice he walked / by their oppress’d and fear-surprised eyes, / Within his truncheon’s length; while they, distill’d / Almost to jelly with the act of fear, / stand dumb and speak not to him. This to me / in dreadful secrecy impart they did.”
          du stehst | you stand: see the importance of this stance as detailed throughout Celan’s work.
          vergleichnisten | parabelized : Celanian neologism incorporating “vergleichen,” to compare, and “Gleichnis,” parable or allegory.

          Offene Glottis | Open Glottis
          Composed on July 19 1968, one of 10 poems written that day. For all of those poems, as for the one above, his reading of Walter Benjamin imports. The first draft sheet has Benjamin quotes, and Benjamin quoting Freud on it. This poem can be read as a poetological statement, or as his French translator Jean-Pierre Lefebvre puts it, “a brief manifesto of Celan’s philosophy of language… [using] the linguistic terminology of the 50s and 60s, strongly influenced by [Ferdinand de] Saussure and [Emile] Benveniste.” [Part de neige, p. 140]
          Offene Glottis, airstream | Open glottis, airstream: Reading trace in Reichel/ Bleichert: “The narrowing (of the by quiet breathing open) glottis to a slit rests on the collaboration of the muscles of the larynx, that bring the arytenoid cartilage closer together… and tauten the vocal cords.” 9 p. 215)
          formant | formant: any of several bands of frequency that determine the phonetic quality of a vowel. The spectral peaks of the sound spectrum |P(f)|’ of the voice [Gunnar Fant]. It also refers to the acoustic resonance of the human vocal tract, often measured as an amplitude peak if the frequency spectrum of a sound. [New Oxford American Dictionary]
          Mitlautstöße | consonant-thrusts: In “Mitlaut” one probably hears the “mit” with and “laut” sound/ing better than in “consonant,” though of course our latinate term has the “con,” with, and “sonare,” to sound, and thus the same two meaning syllables. Reading trace in Reichel / Bleichert: “The very variable character of the consonants rest without exception on a typical form of the supraglottic air passages in mouth and nose, through which the air is blown spasmodically or more continuously.”
          Reizschutz | protection shield: A term from Freud’s Beyond the Pleasure Principle, where Celan underlined it, usually translated as “protection against stimulation [or stimuli].” 
          As Rainer Nagele, whose term “protection shield” I am using, writes: “Like his name, Freud’s vocabulary gives us no license to translate the poems into psychoanalytic theory. Yet we cannot discard the signals set by this vocabulary. We have to take the poem on its own terms, which includes the recognition that its ‘own terms’ are not entirely its own. We have to recognize the poem as a translation, not a translation of Freud’s text, but a translation like Freud’s text.” [Reading After Freud: Essays on Goethe, Hölderlin, Habermas, Nietzsche …, p. 157]

[AN ADDITIONAL COMMENT. Joris, who is our great translator of Paul Celan, here adds notes & comments to what will be his translation of the collected later poems, scheduled for publication by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in early 2014. The foregoing affords a small taste of that and a sense, as needed, of the multiple sources behind the poems. (J.R.)]