Saturday, July 30, 2011

And How Is Charles Bernstein like Glenn Beck, exactly?

 Exhibit A
Exhibit B

First off, I’m pleased all over the place that someone thinks poetry is important enough to talk about in this way. It’s my firm belief that if we keep pretending it is so, it will become so. So, in that spirit, wowie, but this is an interesting rhetorical analysis essay:

First, David Micah Greenberg sets up the situation by analyzing the rhetorical stances and devices of some of those on the far right. (Is “far-right” the proper thing to say? He calls them the U.S. right. Is that what they call themselves? I'm bad with names. Full disclosure: I also forget faces.)

Then he moves to poetry:

“Comparisons are the business of poetry, and political poetry faces especially significant choices about the use and limitations of comparison. Poetry’s terrain is the commonplace of experience and consciousness. Of experience, see descriptive or confessional lyricism, the turn of a moment toward insight or despair. Of consciousness, read poets in experimental traditions, who employ fleeting, dissociative thought or image. Experimental poetry is often framed as political by virtue of its implicit subjects, formal inventiveness, and remove from the literary marketplace. But within any poem, how its substance is oriented toward the field of action is not predetermined and forms the core of its politics. At stake within each poem is how consciousness may be enlisted toward action.”

So far so good. Makes sense to me. Then he writes:

“Poets use many strategies of situating the everyday with the political. To see two, compare experimental poets Charles Bernstein and Arkadii Dragomoshchenko. This comparison is unfair, as will be later claims that Bernstein’s rhetorical strategy may be set side by side with that of the U.S. right. But I make the comparison because Bernstein’s rhetoric is emblematic not just of one experimental mode but also of a certain type of critical reception to poetry—one that employs a totalizing, and perhaps despairing, hope to direct the substance of consciousness, experience, and art in its dailyness toward political goals.”

And I’m scratching my head. If the comparison is unfair, why make it? Likewise, if the setting of Bernstein’s poetry side-by-side with that of the U.S. right is unfair, why do it? I’m completely puzzled. It seems a defensive move. Greenberg really does want to compare Bernstein and Dragomoshchenko, and he really does want to place Bernstein side-by-side the U.S. right, it seems to me, but he’s worried that a lot of poets aligned with Bernstein are going to be all over him, so he starts with the disclaimer that largely negates whatever he’s about to say. To say “I’m about to do two big unfair things” and then do them, is, well, unfair. And being unfair is imply not nice. Especially when it's on purpose.

But I’m going to pretend he didn’t think it’s unfair. I’m going to pretend he thinks it is fair:

“. . . one of the most common claims about experimental literature is that it is a literature of resistance. In Bernstein’s critical writing, it is this experimental form that makes the poem political. But what, or rather, how does it resist, if the terms it generates are not remotely in the same sphere as the forces it opposes? Bernstein argues that engaging with difficulty itself gives readers the capacity to reject dominant discourses.’

‘But clearly there is a difference between the difficulty, abstraction, and dissociativeness of experimental writing, and the work of political organizing, which requires not just inventiveness but also clarity, concreteness, and relatedness. Perhaps the disjuncture between the poem’s substance and what it purports to be is part of a broader program, one that recalls Beck’s strategy, described above. To claim that the aggressively apolitical in substance and practice is identical to political engagement is a totalizing, utopian (not apocalyptic) stance, a hope to see, in the unfettered stuff of consciousness, the terms of liberation.”

So there you have it in snippet version, how Charles Bernstein is like Glenn Beck. It’s an interesting read, if you agree or not. Again, the link:

He ends, by the way, with this, which is worth noting, an aesthetic as well as political question:

“A question for the left is whether it has developed a critical vocabulary that can fully differentiate between work that generically “stands” for politics and work that makes room to address the political spheres: literature that can expose suffering and make it seem possible to act against it, possible to see what needs to be done while expanding the possibility of seeing.”


At 8/01/2011 1:02 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

no comments on this one, hunh? it's not surprising—i've left 3 squibs at the BR site, but no one else has....

maybe everybody's bored with ye olde subject of politipo, perhaps it's an anacronism, not au courant, do Young and Ruefle write them, no,

and after all Harold Bloom in editing his 1999/2000 Best-of-the-BAP anthol, did not reprint a single poem from the Adrienne Rich-edited BAP,

and David Lehman (the pobiz version of Bernie Madoff) got Bloom's message and has allowed almost no political poetry into his annual farrago for the past IraqAfganistanTeaParty decade—

how passe (pass ay), how uncool is political poetry? only the senile are still at it:

(and it's free, of course, costs nothing to download my book of political poems: poetry to the people! as we said back in the dark ages)


At 8/01/2011 1:09 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I also find it absolutely fascinating that no one commented on this essay. Is it because it's about Bernstein? Is that off limits? This essay is the kind of critique of Bernstein (and others associated with Bernstein) that I've heard before, usually over a drink.

But there's also usually someone to rise up in defense? And so now they pass in silence . . . ?


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