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Artifice of Absorption: Bernstein, Charles, Volume 4, Issues Front Cover. Singing Horse Press, – American poetry. This rich collection is far more than an important work of criticism by an extraordinary poet; it is a poetic intervention into criticism. “Artifice of Absorption,” a key. Get this from a library! Artifice of absorption. [Charles Bernstein].

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Artifice Of Absorption

Endnotes are given at the foot of this page. This is a large file, and the foot of the page may take some time to download – please be patient. Click on the note numeral to be taken to it; likewise to return to the text. The first purpose bernwtein Clothes, as our Professor imagines, was not warmth or decency, but ornament.

My mother was more concerned with her hemline. What the poet can do, and what Bernstein lf done throughout his nearly absorotion year career, is to critique fashions of writing that attempt to conceal their status as fashion.

His strongest critiques have been offered against what he calls “official verse culture” represented by the kind of work published in The New Yorker and American Poetry Review and the “frame lock” that distinguishes or fails to distinguish writing in the profession of literary criticism.

He explains that the “official” in “official verse culture” comes about because “it denies the ideological nature of its practice while maintaining hegemony in terms of major media exposure and academic legitimation and funding” Poetics And in his long essay-poem, “Artifice of Absorption,” he writes:.

Elsewhere he defines “frame lock” as “an insistence on fharles univocal surface, minimal shifts of mood either within paragraphs or between paragraphs, exclusion of extraneous or contradictory material, and tone restricted to the narrow affective envelope of sobriety, neutrality, objectivity, authoritativeness, or deanimated abstraction” “Frame” In cbarles of Absorption,” he asserts that “Content never equals meaning” Poetics 10 ; meaning cannot be located outside the purview of the language of the poem; “meaning” is not conveyed through language.

Language is, in and of itself, highly artificial for Bernstein – artiflce natural, as the post-Romantic confessional school claims it is; he asserts that their “comfortably furnished landscapes and confessed selves [are] often found in such venues as The New Yorker ” CD Or, as Jed Rasula puts it:. Bernstein seeks “an alternative to the drab conformist fashion-minded thinking that blights our mental landscape full as much as the nineteenth-century mills poxed the English countryside” Poetics In an essay that he might have titled “Tradition and the Individual Lack of Talent,” Bernstein argues against the tradition of “plain speech” as one that limits the writer: In much the same way that industrialization brought the standardization of goods, including clothing, writing has been standardized.

Jacket 14 — Susan M. Schultz — on Charles Bernstein

More recently, Bernstein has compared the obligatory styles of “dress and decorum” sported by job candidates at the MLA to the dissertation style that “[is] the bogeyman of frame lock” “Frame” Style, then, is a facade that becomes content – a content intended to sell. The product to be bought, if not consumed, is either the candidate at her MLA job interview, or the successful candidate marketing her dissertation as a book. Richard Ohmann made very similar judgments of the teaching of Freshman Composition in the early s, when he wrote, “But of course freshman English does teach the style, broadly defined, of the managerial and professional classes.

Style of thinking, style of work, style of planning and organizing, style of language” Writing thus loses any revolutionary force it might potentially have and becomes the instrument of the discipline in its various senses that perpetuates, and is perpetuated by, a status quo. His business went belly-up in the early sixties, but rebounded later. Charles Bernstein, whose relationship with his father was apparently [sic] ambivalent, finds himself performing the same kind of work as his father, though within a different frame, and he hopes without the lock.

He presents himself as a salesman for poetry: Earlier in the interview he had emphasized the conjunctions of poetry and business:. Few poets have so well described the postmodern conundrum that “classics” are mass produced; that the language of poetry cannot often be distinguished from the language of advertising; and that style is absolutely crucial to clothes and to poems – more crucial, it would often seem, than content. Later yet comes the quotation I used in my headnote to this essay: Toward the end of the poem, Bernstein takes the anaesthetist as a paradoxical hero in the fight against style-as-self.


The poet is simply a potentially less toxic anaesthetist:. To block these signals is to perform the kind of operation on the language accomplished by George Orwell in his “Politics and the English Language.

While Hollander, despite her example, still warns against equating clothing with language use, Roland Barthes makes the equation plain: At the same time that fashion is reparative, writing about fashion is what makes fashion fashionable; the fashion editor is bernsteln who “invests nothing of himself in his speech.

This vicious process ends, rather predictably, with bsrnstein garment becoming “a signifier of something which is yet nothing other than this very constitution” The “sanctioned prose of the profession” “Frame” serves to perpetuate the profession itself rather than to create new knowledge, new approaches. Within the scholarly or poetic marketplace, then, the writing garment signifies little more than its fact as a commodity to be bought or argued over.

Its “intrinsic” value gets lost in the ironic consumer economy of the academy where cultural capital has far more value than actual capital.

As I mentioned earlier, Bernstein coined the label, “official verse culture,” for those poetries that work within convention, rather than challenging it. Again, basing his logic on paradox, Bernstein argues that the emphasis on individualism in mainstream poetry, an emphasis that is defeated by the utter conformity absoeption its conventions, could better be achieved through collective action: Bernstein has long been interested the way in which language participates in the larger economy of “value,” in its two senses.

In his volume, Controlling Interestswhose title is a play on business lingo, Bernstein includes the poem “Sentences My Father Used. These appearances are crucial to the moral values that his father holds.

Or I should say well groomed. Or, closely following a passage about conformity: Nothing stands out” And so, the man who conforms both in his clothing and in his language, goes on, “Those were my values.

Literatura Norteamericana – Artifice of Absorption

To me they were good values. And yet the poem, by cutting and mis-seaming its way from sentence to sentence, critiques that language and the “form” of life that it at once creates and mirrors. Stuart and Elizabeth Ewen write that “the construct that assumes a simple and austere man and a highly sumptuous woman still stands to underwrite masculine morality, feminine guilt” Channels Bernstein has other fathers than Mr. Bernstein, of course; there are also the always difficult poetic ones, including Ezra Pound, whose anti-semitism makes him especially problematic.

So the poet emphasizes the ready-madeness of tradition by alluding to this ready-made allusion by Pound while, through his own method, attempting to break out of the prison house of allusiveness through a process of mis-seaming, or of rapid cuts from one thought sentence to another. He offers only half an allusion, which then carries him somewhere else entirely, notably away from the literary world and into one that more resembles soap opera or advertising language.

In this sense, and maybe in this sense only, he is the heir of Marianne Moore, who deflected the grandiose literary ambitions of the high modernists by using quotations from Forest Service manuals and business texts. For Bernstein, however, the accident is already contained, as potential, in the garments that we wear. Some of these garments are, quite literally, nonsensical, like the sound of an advertising jingle at the end of a statement of poetics.

Of course, poetics are also a form of advertising, and of that Bernstein, as we have already seen, is terribly aware. He defines the term in a long footnote: His “allusion” to Pound alluding to the Iliad is, above; all, not neat; rather, it is a parody intended to expose the modernist habit of revering the tradition and trying to extend it by placing it within a different context. Rather than argue against “fashion” per se, Bernstein claims time and again that, while fashion and style are inevitable, writers should define them in the plural, write unofficial verses.

Where a “universal” style is problematic, Bernstein suggests that a plurality of styles is less so. As he told Tom Beckett, reversing the usual assumptions about style as a reflection of content, or a conduit of meaning: New styles will inaugurate new modes of thinking. These ready-mades are bland, uniform, standardized, and hence empty. In response, Bernstein proposes a poetics of the non-standard – an especially relevant term for a poet who often writes in his own non-standard forms or idiolects of English.

Putting on a dress, not strapping yourself into a uniform” Poetics Dress, then, is what is individually tailored, just as uniforms or uniformity are what is mass-produced. That this is already a dead metaphor we know that the dress is also mass-produced matters less than that Barthes and Bernstein define their terms to distinguish between the multiply similar and the multiply different or eccentric and that they make clothing serve as a metaphor for language use.


In arguing against ready-mades, of course, Bernstein is absorptlon setting himself against the model of his father and of Pound, for whom the allusion was a kind of ready-made to be slipped into the piggy-bank of poetry. It is no accident that what often seems, in a Bernstein poem, to be or to have been a literary allusion, is a mis-copy, a flagrant mangling of the actual lines from a prior poem into something new, and very strange.

For, in his assertion that one should wear a “dress” and not a “uniform,” Bernstein bernxtein the traditional, “conventional” notion that fashion is feminine, not masculine; artitice suggests instead that fashion is both. As Fred Davis notes, “To the person on the street, and only slightly less so to the student of dress, the word fashion is more likely still to evoke images of women rather than men” And as Jennifer Craik comments, “Women are fashionable but men are charlss.

This lament is common in western cultures” Likewise, Stuart Ewen quotes the maven of etiquette, Emily Post, who wrote in that modern spare design was “well suited to men Empty spaces, the absence of ruffles and curtains, and beautifully polished surfaces of wood and metal were masculine” Femininity became associated with kitsch, which was associated with popular, od than high, culture. Women, bernsteinn, are the true commodities, filled with imperfections, but capable of being aabsorption and “improved.

Thus a woman cannot achieve the status of a “well wrought urn”; she can only work toward that status through a series of strategies. The fashion industry creates and stokes that desire through a number of marketing strategies aimed at pointing out defects and proposing solutions through the use of their products.

The kind of desire inspired in the woman, taking herself as an audience o herself, is above; all surface oriented, visual.

She can herself be rendered more perfect if her outward appearance improves. The modernist masculine poetics of a writer like James Joyce, commenting that The Waste Land meant the end of poetry for “ladies,” was based on a spareness of style if in manifesto onlya getting away from the “frilly” sentimentality of the Romantics. Bernstein, it seems to me, flaunts this distinction between male and female fashion in a poetry that elevates style into content, and foregoes all claims to participating in a “common speech,” even when, as it often does, it imitates common speech quite uncommonly.

The poet who wears a dress further admits to associating his identity as poet with his garb. He and she, as I should probably phrase it, also possesses a larger potential market share than the poet whose uniform is more uniform and uni-gendered. Yet Bernstein recognizes the subtle lacunae of his own argument, which situates him with and against the fashion industries of contemporary writing.

While he distrusts fashion, he likes the idea of an anti-fashion that lurks within a larger system, an anti-fashion that can quickly become fashionable. In that sense, the fashion that Bernstein seeks to wear and write is an anti-fashion like the one described by Dick Hebdige in his important study, Subculture: The Meaning of Style: Rather it is expressed obliquely, in style” This is an irony that is surely not lost on the poet, who has expended much energy in attacking the ready-mades, the easy copies, of literary fashion.

In this sense absorptiom can only deal with the world by rendering it as a “forgery”; language, which is above all not “natural,” is the artifice by which we describe – and hope to change – the world.

For Bernstein, then, forgeries and copies are at once the symptom of our failure to use language “well” which often means “badly” in the conventional sense abxorption the term and the only hope to intervene in that world, now filled with disposable ready-mades. Bernstein, then, is interested in breaking certain taboos about language, taboos not often discussed openly but held very strongly by cultural conservatives and others.

The limits of acceptable linguistic expression are prescribed by a number of artifuce universal taboos. The metaphor that Bernstein employs to link conventional thinking to nineteenth-century industrialization is apt, as is his attempt to inoculate the language against conformity through his own, almost homeopathic, use of “styles.

According to Stuart Ewen, the nineteenth-century became the originary site of a paradox fundamental to “style” – that the mass production of clothing and other items made possible a greater democratization and, at the same time, undermined the democracy it helped to spread:.