Commentaries

Toward a poetry and poetics of the Americas (11): from the Popol Vuh (Mayan)

The Popol Vuh, literally “the book of the community” (or “commonhouse” or “council”), was preserved by Indians in Santo Tomás Chichicastenango, Guatemala, and in the eighteenth century given to Father Francisco Ximénez who transcribed it in roman letters and put it into Spanish; vanished again and rediscovered in the 1850s by Carl Scherzer and Abbé Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg.

Translation from the Mayan by Dennis Tedlock

 

this is the beginning of the ancient word,

here in this place called k’iche’

 

Here we shall inscribe,

               we shall implant the Ancient Word,

Sylvia Plath's 'The Bell Jar'

The Bell Jar (Faber & Faber)
The Bell Jar (Faber & Faber)

Sylvia Plath spent the summer of 1953 in New York working for Mademoiselle magazine. In the first sentence of The Bell Jar, Esther Greenwood, Plath’s narrator, tells us “I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” Esther’s inability to know — to know what she was doing and whether her life was worth it — is contextualized by the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Their execution is everywhere she turns. “The idea of being electrocuted makes me sick, and that’s all there was to read about in the papers — goggle-eyed headlines staring up at me on every street corner and at the fusty, peanut-smelling mouth of every subway.” Despite being the one who is free and alive, Esther feels impossibly trapped. When execution is all there is to read about, it is also all one can write about.

Sylvia Plath spent the summer of 1953 in New York working for Mademoiselle magazine. In the first sentence of The Bell Jar, Esther Greenwood, Plath’s narrator, tells us “I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.” Esther’s inability to know — to know what she was doing and whether her life was worth it — is contextualized by the executions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Stanley Cavell (1926–2018)

Cavell at home, April 9, 2014. © Charles Bernstein

I met Stanley Cavell almost fifty years ago and he and his work have been constant companions since that time. I am grateful for his friendship and that of Cathleen Cavell, over all these years.

Heriberto Yépez: What Are the United States and Why Are There So Many of Them (Work in Progress)

Originally published in S/N New World Poetics, a publication edited by Charles Bernstein and Eduardo Espina. Copyright © 2012. All Rights Reserved.

We cover our girlish faces. We are the war.

I began to write: Style by Dolores Dorantes slashes fuchsia through structures of totalitarian authority and gendered domination. A swarm of girls declares (with their erotics, not without their erotics, that outermost fastener to sociality which is first to be disturbed, dismantled, deactivated, deadened or rerouted by overt acts of domination and prosaic paths of power), “We will blossom without your consent.” This blossoming makes war, or is war —“We are the fresh fruits of war.” The liveliness of the girls shoots way up beyond any concept of “survival.” Their efficacious energy volleys violence back in the language of desire. My theory there, swimming up through slick black obsidian black light obliterating black ruffled feathers of traumatic experience, is that survivors of social violence get their social radiance disturbed, their social legibility obscured. The very thing which connects, communicates, exchanges, seeks out, and secures inclusion in networks necessary for survival — self possession — is challenged. Taking away a person from their body is also casting out that person from the social world, even if just for a moment. We could conceive of Style as a dress cinching the absolute abjection of social vanquishment with the perfect waist-defining sash: a way to clothe bare life. 

“In the absence of a licit space for the captive female’s desire, it too, becomes engulfed as crime.” Saidiya V. Hartman, Scenes of Subjection