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W I T Z

A Journal of Contemporary Poetics



WITZ: A JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY POETICS



Volume V, Number One                    SPRING 1997



---------------------------------------------

CONTENTS

_Eigner's Scores_ by Stephen Ratcliffe

_Paragram as is Hypertext_ by William Marsh

_An Alphabet of Language Criticism_ by Susan M. Schultz

_The Trouble with Language_ by Dan Featherston

_Minimalism and Poetic Silence_ by Kasey Cummings & Carl Peters

_Gevirtz's Richardson_ by Susan Smith Nash

_Silence of the Known World_ by Tod Thilleman



EDITED BY CHRISTOPHER REINER

______________________________________________________________



EIGNER'S SCORES

BY STEPHEN RATCLIFFE

In Larry Eigner's poems, words and spaces (on the page) present
and represent time and space (in the world).  His poems are
physical "events," bodies whose parts (typed) "count": as lines
recording (imagining) perceptions, division between lines the
passage of time --

          the force

                crash of a car

             accordion

               streetlights

                   dimmer than day

                        they were burning all night

                      stars

                       it's raining

-- the displacement of words a notational register of (f)acts, as
if language ("here" [on the page]) could mark (map) geographic
location:

                in the shadow

                    cross

                         winds

                    sunlight

as if over "there," elsewhere.

One doesn't commonly find "I" in Larry Eigner, though plenty of
"eye": -- what sees what's around one being in his case primary. 
This is not because Eigner, who sat in his wheelchair and typed
his poems with one (right index) finger, has no dramatic
emotional "story" to tell, as one might think.  Rather, his
interior life and dreams (re)play out--in or as or over--the day's
events, as if to say DOWN ON THE BED you/ can't/imagine/ enough,
the fact of what takes place in absolutely present time being of
continual interest to one who had his presence of attention
(focus) to track it.  And with that act of what amounts to a
record of time's inexorable "passage," Eigner's mental and
emotional (and physical) life transcribed itself into these
shapes:

      the

        frosted car

           I imagine

             hearing the motor

           of the girl who lives here

              or next door

               upstairs

                  now
             
                      the snow heavy

                        hours

                            such days

                           that's it

                             news

                                      what

                           drives away

                                the world

Where words move in falling (dropping) from top left margin down
(across) the otherwise blank page takes one by surprise -- that of
knowing suddenly the next thought ("that's it/news/ what/ drives
away/ the world") may not be around forever.
	
There's a register of quiddity ("thisness," fact) as precisely as
language can gauge it, where position (of words) and the rhythm
of successive instances of that set down (record, invent,
discover) all that may be pertinent. Being an eye has its point
too, given that it can see--

         open road

             you look in houses

                    and the night sky

                         any place

                           is all one

                            this time

--mind attend.  His poems are literally "meditations."

To read Eigner's poems on the page, one is confronted with the
fact of "it": poem as object, the two-dimensional plane of the
page a field in which words play themselves out, making sound:

          another plane is

        gas     far,    a lot,    the night

             shadows too

           the fish tank bubbles

             everything stand

          continue    shapes

To hear Eigner's poems read aloud in his own voice (inaccessible
to most listeners, those at least not used to his speaking habit)
is to come face to face with the power of words to convey sense
by sound (alone).  For if one cold not "understand" Eigner
speaking his poems--could not make out what the words are--one
nonetheless heard what is essential: pace, tone, pitch, pause,
silence read (pronounced) according to the poem's (page's)
direction.  Given that each person who speaks is a fraction of
the world's community of speakers, in terms of numbers (this
street, neighborhood, town, county, region), there is always the
possibility that one will not be "understood."  Eigner's poems
(scores) represent in notational form the sounds of a voice which
otherwise would not be heard.  What is heard, according to the
poem's directions for reading it, is a record of what is seen
(perception), shaped not only to remember and preserve but to
enact and imagine "it" into existence:

      the sound

                   sea through the horizion

               under the stand of trees

          it comes by on the wind

           
             flat and round

             earth and sky

Knowing the moment in such terms, one is conscious:  something is
alive, it exists, is blessed.

           flock of birds
        
                 a moment

            of one tree reached


           apples fall to the ground








PARAGRAM AS IS HYPTERTEXT

BY WILLIAM MARSH


Loss Pequeno Glazier (Witz 4.2) (1) argues for a broader sense of
hyptertextuality that both pre- and post-dates the emergence of
the personal computer.  Citing numerous examples of what could be
called 'pre-PC hypertext' (William Burrough's "cut-up"
experiments, the footnote-laden works of William Carlos Williams
and Jack Spicer, and the serial poetry of Olson, Duncan and
Blaser, to name just a few), Glazier clarifies that "until the
process of standardization in print codified present
conventions," book writing often involved the use of various
ordering mechanisms (marginalia, quotations, bibliographical
apparatuses, footnotes, end notes, etc.) which today would seem
foreign to the "definitive format of the book" as we have come to
understand it (19).  Implied here is the idea that pre-PC
hyptertext claims a more extensive history than the postPC
variety, and that quite simply "hypertextuality" offers a
parallel terminology by which the ordering (and disordering)
mechanisms of print text can be identified and challenged,
especially in the arena of experimental poetries.  In other
words, experiments with the "internal orders" of printed text
(typography, calligraphy, pagination, annotation) can and should
be recognized as 'hypertextual features' in the print
environment.

Glazier goes on to clarify that "online space" offers a similar
venue for such experimentation, and is careful to point out that
recent explorations in the form of online journals, multimedia
CDs and new electronic poetry sites are "literary
developments--developments in writing inseparable from the medium
which transmits them" (22).  The online environment, in which the
term "hypertext" is most often used, thus offers a parallel venue
for a literary practice already hyptertextual in nature. 
"Literary materials may pose the most exciting possibilities of
any field because of the complex and associative relations within
texts that have become evident even in the print medium"
(emphasis added) (23).

In view of these "complex and associative relations" inherent in
both electronic and printed texts, it is helpful to recall the
"paragram" as a term which, alongside "hypertext," conveys an
approach to writing commmitted to the exploration of the
"internal orders" of textuality.  The term appears quite often in
the work of Julia Kristeva, who following Saussure's use of
"anagram" in relation to the dissemination of sounds and letters
throughout a poem, posits a "paragrammatic conception" of poetic
language by which the literary text is seen as a "network of
connections."  In a "dialogism of paragrams," Kristeva argues,
syntactical and grammatical laws are "transgressed" even as they
remain implicit to the text.  This transgression "announces the
ambivalence of the poetic paragram," an ambivalence which derives
from a  "coexistence of monologic (scientific, historic,
descriptive) discourse and a discourse destroying this
monologism."(2)  In the Kristevan model, then, any work which
explores the "internal orders" of print text as described above
could be described as a  "paragrammatic" text whose ambivalence
lies in its functioning as both text (linear and monological) and
hyper-text (tabular, spatial and dialogical).  Such an equation
would perhaps oversimplify the dynamics of both the paragram and
the hyptertext; nonetheless, it is clear that both terms describe
an engagement in language which foregrounds the "beyond" of
textuality.

Elsewhere Kristeva defines the paragram as a "moving gram"
("gramme mouvant")(3) and so brings us closer to a literal sense of
the term as suggested by its etymology--"beside-" or
"beyondletter"(4)--which proves usefel with regard to the
"hyperlink" in web-based writing.  In the two prefixes "para" and
"hyper" we find a common meaning ("beyond").  As regards the
latter, Glazier reminds us that "hyper" is an appropriate prefix
for the Internet, especially given the excessive, even "manic"
behavior of the industry in recent years.  "And think of
contemporary uses of the prefix: hyperacidic, hyperactive,
hyperbolic, and hyperexcitable are all relatively familiar uses
of the term.  These varied terms lead to the conclusion that
'hyper' is associated with extremism, manic activity, and
disorder.  Hypertext can thus be seen as being disordered by
hyperlinks, destroying classification by the innate hyperactivity
of its imbedded links."
	
But this "disorder" involves more than just the "outer order" of
Internet market hyperactivity.  "The disorder extends to words
themselves" and to the electronic environment in which web-based
writing occurs.  A word, as a "link word," is "forever changed,"
according to Glazier, in that the "action the word performs, or
is capable of performing, changes the word irrevocably."  In
Kristeva's sense of the paragram as "moving gram," however, we
find an interest in the mobility of words which suggests that
rather than being "forever changed" once it assumes the "status"
of a link word, the word in fact stays exactly the same (as
hyperlink) insofar as it functions paragrammatically in the
"network of connections" comprising the hypertext.  In other
words, the hyperlink represents the latest mode in which poetic
language functions paragrammatically.(5)  It could even be said
that the "hyperlink," viewed in the context of poetic paragram,
affords us a look at the word (the (un)changed word) as
"hypergram"--suggesting an irrevocable change but only in so far
as the word is irrevocably associative and paragrammatic (moving)
and now becomes obviously so in its guise as hyperlink.

Glazier has something similar in mind when he describes words as
"mines for the hyperactivity inherent in links" and even goes so
far as to suggest what constitutes a "well-written link"6
(emphasis added)--which may seem odd to one accustomed to thinking
of the hyperlink as something "imbedded" or "placed" rather than
written, but which makes perfect sense when one considers the
word/link (or hypergram) in the context of poetic paragram.  In
such a context, the act of writing is an act of imbedding or
inscribing a textual environment in which "grams" (letters,
words) take on the nature of links.

The point here is to invite a sense of 'hypergrammatic praxis' by
which the notions of 'word-as-link' (in web page design) and
'word-as-paragram' (in book page design) are themselves linked,
mutually informative, reciprocal.  For as Glazier correctly
states, "An imbedded link…is a feature of writing itself; links
will continue to embrace both print and electronic technology. 
With HTML and other forms of hypertextual writing, links are
simply foregrounded; texts continue to engage their own internal
dynamics, but literally--or is it figuratively?--have other texts
superimposed or imbedded in them."  In a hypergrammatical
writing, such textual interaction or superimposition is indeed
literal (7)--in electronic space insofar as the hyperlink provides
intertextual connectivity to other web sites, and in book or page
space, insofar as the word's local aspects (sound, figure,
sense)(8) suggest intra-textual links (words within words) in the
paragrammatic setting of the text.

A poetics of the hypergram(9) would hope to invigorate the writing
space in light of the compositional (trans-spatial) possibilities
suggested by the hyperlink.  It would also call for an
investigation of syntax as it relates to a hypergrammatic
environment.(10)  It is yet to be seen how such an investigation
(of hypergram and its syntax) would prove 'invigorating' either
to poetry or as a critical practice itself.  If hypertext is
nothing but text (in the post-structuralist sense) slightly
juiced (thus reduced) in the frenzied point-and-click environment
of computer hyperlinks, then little is gained by studying its
developments.  However, if hypertext can be set into motion not
merely as text transplanted in electronic space, but rather as an
area of high-density hypergrams (beyondwords, words within
words), then the work generated out of this "motion", as well as
the critical articulation of its method, would surely invite the
kind of enthusiasm merited by the emergence of any new form.
	

(1) "Towards a Theory of the Net: 'Our Words Were the Form We Entered"
in Witz, Volume Four, Number 2, Summer 1996, pp. 15-29.  All
parenthetical page citations refer to this article.
	
(2) Kristeva, Julia.  "Pour Une Sémiologie des Paragrammes," in
Recherches Pour Une Sémanalyse, 1966, pp. 174207.  Translations
from the French by the author.
	
(3) Kristeva, p.184.
	
(4) The dictionary definition of paragram, "a pun made by changing the
letters of a word, especially the initial letter," seems clearly
limited given Kristeva's and other's use of the term to suggest a
wider understanding.  I'm thinking also of Steve McCaffery's
discussion of the work of bpNichol ("The Martyrology as
Paragram," in North of Intention, pp. 58-76) in which McCaffery
identifies the "paragrammatic function" in Nichol's work as "that
of the remotivation of the single letter as an agent of semantic
redistribution."  Arguing for Nichol's insistence upon the
"complex transphenomenality in all writing" (an "inevitable
condition of words existing within words"), McCaffery negotiates
a reading of The Martyrology via close attention to "the word's
local aspects (sound, letter and space)" and thereby centers his
study of poetic paragram in the material dimensions of the text. 
I refer the reader to this essay for a thorough demonstration of
McCaffery's application of the term.


(5) For now, it's interesting to note that while elsewhere McCaffery
has described the paragram (Interview, Witz 1.2) as a "non-
perceptible" or "non-intentional disposition" within the written,
"outside of conscious intentionality," clearly the work of
bpNichol (and others for whom attention to the word's "local
aspects" is central to praxis) suggests an intentional and
conscious engagement with language qua paragram, as even
McCaffery implies in his analysis.  Any hope for a clear,
singular understanding of the term (and its application as a
practice in writing) is further problematized by the fact that
"paragram" is listed in the opening sentence of McCaffery's essay
(along with pun, homophony, palindrome, anagram and charade) as
one of the "ludic features of The Martyrology" on which he will
base his reading of the text as "Paragram."  In other words,
since Kristeva, and particularly in McCaffery, the term has
undergone an accretion of meaning by which it signifies both a
specific practice (or device, even, like pun or charade) in the
poem's composition and a general index in the poem's semantic
economy.  For two reasons then (simplicity, and accuracy, given
the seemingly mobile nature of a term also signifying
wordmobility), Kristeva's definition proves most helpful to the
current discussion.
	
(6) If the word does change, perhaps it changes only in that same
sense in which our view of the text has changed in the age of
hypertext literacy, specifically with regard to those works
exercising the liberty to format "beyond" the limitations of
conventional print publications (i.e., pre-PC hypertexts).  In
brief, our view of the word is perhaps different in light of the
point-and-click experience of the hyperlink.  Note as well the
way in which the now-familiar term "hypertext" is used here [in
Glazier's article as well as this response] to manage a rather
diverse selection of writings and writers.  In addition, Glazier
(20) blocks off a large section of Charles Bernstein's "Artifice
of Absorption" in which Bernstein offers as examples of writers
practicing "hypertext avant le PC" a group which includes Blake,
Dickinson, Oppen, Stein, Howe, Hejinian, Cage, Beckett and
several others.  Bernstein concludes his eclectic list by
suggesting that anything fragmentary, serial or digressive would
classify as pre-PC hypertext.  Obviously, it could be argued that
the term 'hypertext' is simply over-applied, generalizing a
diverse body of work to the point that the term loses any of its
original distinction.  Furthermore, I'd suggest that these kinds
of generous uses of the term testify to a patent revision of
textuality (inspired by recent enthusiasms surrounding computer
innovations) to involve hypertextuality; in short, such
classifications lead us to believe that all text is and always
has been hypertext--an equation which serves only to clarify the
extent to which evolutions in personal computer applications,
particularly web-page design, have codified our understanding of
textuality.  Perhaps we can find a useful analogy in the way in
which Charles Olson put the "typewriter" (and its applications)
to use as the objective correlative by which 'open-field'
composition, practiced under different labels in Pound and
Williams, could find suitable expression, not only as a tool in
practice, but as a metaphor for practice.  The invention of the
typewriter, in other words, codified the con-ventions of late
Modernism.  Likewise, the computer-driven activity of web-based
hypertext reinvents the text, but strictly in its own image,
i.e., that provided by post-structuralist theory and
deconstructionist critique.
	
(7) The definition is worth noting here: "A well-written link is one
that follows a natural digressive side-thought or astonishes with
brazen and quick abruptness of thought" (26).
	
(8) Or "conscious," to return again to the distinction posed by
McCaffery (see note 5 above).
	
(9) See note 4 above.
	
(10) I've managed to  work in my own highly self-conscious term,
hypergram, which in a successful theory of web-based writing (and
it must be emphasized that such a theory would not distinguish
between on and off-line works) could be useful for two reasons:
(1) it suggests a single term by which the implied binary of
"word" and "word-as-link" can be quickly dissolved, thus revising
the "forever changed" of Glazier's analysis to the "always
changed" of the word in on/off-line space; and (2) it avoids the
ambiguity associated with poetic paragram by marking a conscious,
intentional approach to language and poetic practice in
accordance with the following: any engagement with the word is an
engagement with the word as is link.

It may be possible, for example, to conceive of a "hyper-sentence"
not as simply a sentence-in-hypertext which may or may not
contain links to other sites, but rather as the discrete set of
pathways traced by following particular links in electronic
space.  Such paths would bear resemblance to the multiple-reading
opportunities provided by 'open' texts in the print environment
(Robert Grenier's Sentences comes to mind as a common example),
but would differ in that the reader/browser's perception of
boundaries (i.e., the range of possible reading paths) would be
restricted to (and by) the reader's selected path.  Other paths
(i.e., other possible readings) would not be visible (ie,
'contained' in the book, or in the box as in Grenier's poem)
until/unless the reader engages another path.  But, as suggested
in the conclusion of this essay, it is still unclear just how a
hypergrammatical syntax would differ specifically (if at all)
from conventional syntax.  A closer look at notions like
'hypergram' might answer the question.  Finally, the question
also remains as to how this notion of a hyper-sentence might
ultimately double-back (as I argue in note 5 any notions of
hypertext and link currently do) to affect our understanding of
the sentence in so-called pre-PC documents.



AN ALPHABET OF LANGUAGE CRITICISM

BY SUSAN M. SCHULTZ


(A review of _The Marginalization of Poetry: Language Writing and
Literary History_ by Bob Perelman, Princeton: Princeton UP, 1996. 
187 pp. $15.95.)

At the recent Assembling Alternatives conference held at the
University of New Hampshire this past late August and early
September, Bob Perelman opened his plenary talk with an
unexpected defense of narrative and intelligibility. The
(expected) reaction was long and loud; audience members, it
seemed, fearing that Perelman was "mainstreaming" it, argued at
length against his paper (to the unfortunate exclusion of any
comments on other papers delivered on the same panel). The poems
that he read during one of the long evening sessions contained
the very qualities he was arguing for; they were neither
non-narrative nor unintelligible. Perelman's book of essays on
language writing came out soon before the conference; had it come
out earlier, audience members might have been prepared for his
comments, though they would still have been chary of them. For,
at least on the face of it, The Marginalization of Poetry is more
a work of explanatory criticism than it is a radical poetics.
Like Perelman's earlier book on genius and modernist writers,
this is an academic tome, with both the strengths and weaknesses
of such work. As such, it may surprise the readers of innovative
poetries, including Perelman's own.

Perelman acknowledges in the first sentence of his
"acknowledgments" that he left the Bay Area in 1990 for a job at
the University of Pennsylvania and that the move has involved
another change as well. "This book," he writes, "reflects that
move: my longstanding engagement with language writing will be
evident as well as my later involvement with the larger,
compartmentalized pastures of the academy." Perelman's vocabulary
is telling here: the word "pastures" shows up in its own absence
toward the end of the book in Perelman's take-off on Frost's
invitation to the reader to come along across the pasture to
clear the spring: I'm going out to clean the Pierian Spring; I'll
only stop when all career lyricisms are spread out on the
word-tables, leaching to the pocked sidewalks where some readers
are in bed by noon staring at their shoes.--You Write too.c This
passage attempts to throw open the pasture doors in its call to
the reader to be a writer--though not, of course, a career
lyricist. This gesture of renouncing a certain vision of genre is
meant to mirror the renunciation of poetry as the act of an
elite, pastoral, poet. Thus, in the long poem/essay, "The
Marginalization of Poetry," he writes: What I am proposing in
these anti-generic, over-genred couplets is not some genreless,
authorless writing, but a physically and socially located writing
where margins are not metaphors, and where readers are not simply
there, waiting to be liberated. (10)

This call to arms rehearses an old point, that poetry should not
be read so much as re-written, and it sounds odd in the context
of Perelman's remarks at the conference. Language writers such as
Charles Bernstein argue that it is the very obscurity of their
work that invites creative readings/writings. Perelman's critical
view of Bernstein's work is, however, consistent with his defense
of intelligibility as a goad to communal understanding--more on
that soon. But Perelman's quiet assertion that one phase of
language writing is over signals his own real call to arms: "The
initial phase of language writing is over; the careers of the
participants continue; there is still widespread interest in and
controversy over the issues that were raised" (17). There's a sly
quality to this sentence, which connects (via the hesitancy of
the semi-colon) the end of one phase of language writing with the
fact that the careers of the language writers are on-going. Given
that these poets are in mid-career, then, how does their work
need to change in order to bring the work into a new phase? 

Rather than write his own poetics, Perelman uses the mask
of the officially sanctioned literary critic to assert his own
agenda via that of other language writers. The foils for his own
poetics are, Charles Bernstein, in a poetic black hat, and Ron
Silliman, in white. Perelman argues against what he sees as
Bernstein's precarious vacillations: "The [Bernstein's] model
oscillates between a writing that unites opposites and a writing
that refuses identity" (82). Perelman asserts that Bernstein's
"potential [utopian] republic faces major structural problems,"
among these the difficulty of bringing together different,
multicultural, voices through a poetics of extreme "singularity."
So, "These statements outline the political territory Bernstein
claims: there is no state and it governs by singular,
nonnormative judgments. If one had to pick out a slogan to appear
on the currency, perhaps the following would do: 'The violence of
every generalization crushes the hopes for a democracy of
thoughts'" (81). And so, he writes of what he see as Bernstein's
trade-off: "To avoid this violence [of generalization], stability
of genre is sacrificed" (85). As a result of this
anti-generalizing impulse in Bernstein's work, Perelman finds
that Bernstein "envisions individual enclaves of textual freedom
standing in for politics" (95).  One could locate the same kind
of generic slippage, I think, in Perelman's need to be anti- and
over-generic at the same time; in his own paradox he locates the
very politics that he does not find in Bernstein. But Perelman
uses genre symbolically here as a measure of engagement and
intelligibility; because genres have traditionally conveyed
certain kinds of information (or lacks thereof), Perelman hangs
onto them as explanatory, rather than merely formal, categories.
Thus, by extension, the prosy poem is valued for its narrative
strengths. But the real thrust of Perelman's critique of
Bernstein is in his identification of Bernstein with
individualism, albeit a post humanist version of it, where words
stand in for people. Other individualist poets, such as Allen
Ginsberg and John Ashbery, fair even worse in Perelman's
aounting: "There is a direct link in Ginsberg's poem between
private and public: one person in a car, a single body speaking
is asserted to be able to enter history, to sexualize, clarify,
and alter it. Ashbery's writing, on the other hand, uses public
materials casually and unpredictably" (118). And Robert Frost is
the father of them all: "Frost's position--lone sage facing and
possessing the landscape for the nation [at President Kennedy's
inauguration]--is an affirmation of the American status quo that
is difficult for poets to ignore" (111). Frost's aestheticizing
of the concept of "nation" and "land" seems equivalent, in
Perelman's aounting, to Ashbery's "summer days" poetry, more
poetry than life, more language than politics. If Bernstein,
then, is the primary contemporary fall guy, straw man, utopian
paradoxicalist, Ron Silliman is the poet hero of Perelman's book.
Silliman, aording to the sympathetic reading of him here,
combines the parataxis or radical discontinuity of the echt
language writer with the social responsibility of a writer of
narrative. Silliman's contradictions are cast in a much more
favorable light than are Bernstein's, even when they begin to
sound similar to his: "New sentences [Silliman's "invention"]
imply continuity and discontinuity simultaneously, an effect that
becomes clearer when they are read over longer stretches" (67). 
But what more importantly separates Silliman from Bernstein,
aording to Perelman, are "faith" and "narrative," terms that
would have been hooted at in New Hampshire. Hence he writes that
"this writing seems to me self-critical, ambitiously
contextualized, and narrative in a number of ways" (66), and
that, "The root of Silliman's political aesthetics is faith in
language as the site of an active community, not inheriting
meanings but creating them through precise acts of reading and
writing" (74). Perelman makes the point even more ascerbically
when he maintains that Silliman does not "attempt to highlight
the pathos (and humor) of a separation of art from life, or
poetry from philosophy," which seems to me to be a direct dig at
Bernstein's manic wit, though Perelman does prefer Bernstein's
more recent work because he thinks that Bernstein is now
committing himself more clearly to "a poetics." If Perelman is
willing to set up an argument for his version of language writing
as a responsible literary, ethical, and political practice by
using Charles Bernstein and Ron Silliman (among others) as
antagonists, he is apparently unwilling to establish such
distinctions between women language writers. Rather, perhaps
because "these women [Beverly Dahlen, Susan Howe, Rae Armantrout,
and Carla Harryman], while quite different from one another, will
not display the same automatic aess (whether positive or
negative) to larger political and cultural mappings that we have
seen in Frost, Ginsberg, Ashbery, and Watten" (127), Perelman
does not seek to map these writers in opposition to each other.
They are grouped together, beginning with the subsection of the
chapter "This Page Is My Page" entitled "Gendered Maps," where
their lack of aess can be considered separately. Perelman is
sympathetic with all of these writers. Dahlen "continually
asserts the fact of and the impossibility of being a woman and
writing out of that situation" (129); Howe becomes an antagonist
to Frost; Armantrout takes on the gender wars emanating from the
Garden of Eden; and Harryman represents "a condition beyond
gender" (143). There is no hint of discord for Perelman between
these women writers, however different he acknowledges their work
to be, and there is no hint of any difference of opinion between
him and them. Perelman's refusal to judge writers who he claims,
in many ways rightly, suffer from different expectations and
considerably more double-binds than do the male writers he
discusses, is in some ways admirable. Yet their ghettoization
into a group concerned almost exclusively with gender (where the
men, seemingly, are not) is troublesome. It's as if they're
engaged in an entirely different activity. As Perelman's recent
poems, presented in New Hampshire, sounded on first hearing to be
very much about gender politics, it's disappointing that he
doesn't here address the question of "male writing." Perhaps an
investigation of his own work, as difficult and perilous as that
is for any writer, especially an academic one, would open this
important issue up for investigation.  Perelman's book should
prove to be an important (yes narrative, yes intelligible) bridge
between language writers and the academy, a relationship that is
still difficult, despite Perelman's position at Penn, Bernstein's
and Howe's at SUNY-Buffalo. Language writing has produced a lot
of theory of its own, but it has not been written about in terms
that make its typical inaessibility aessible. I myself do not
agree with many of the distinctions he makes between the work of
Bernstein and Silliman; Bernstein is more socially engaged than
Perelman gives him credit for, and Silliman pays as much mind to
form and lyricism as does Bernstein. But, whether or no one
agrees with Perelman's specific arguments, the book marks an
important moment in the literary history of contemporary poetry.
It should open up much-needed discussions between language
writers about issues that are too often taken for granted--issues
like how to build and extend community, and how to think about
the relationship between poetic form and actual--not just
theoretical--politics. Perelman will make some members of his
audience angry, but that is a good thing, as any contentious
academic will let you know.




THE TROUBLE WITH LANGUAGE

BY DAN FEATHERSTON

(A review of _The Trouble with Genius_ by Bob Perelman, University
of California Press)

The question of genius and the assumptions made regarding it as
wither "enus" or avant ("before," "in front of," "to the side of"
the contemporary) are issues Bob Perelman addresses in the
Trouble with Genius.  the book examines the works of Pound,
Joyce, Stein and Zukofsky, asking what role does the literary
genius play between the aesthetic and social realms.

As Perelman notes, all four of these writers "made strong claims
for the immediacy of their writing," and yet to varying degrees
their work is largely unread and incomprehnsible to the "reader
on the street."  Perelman notes that this obscurity is in part
symptomatic of the "second hand" status ascribed to modernist
texts in a so-called "post-" modern age where "Barthes and
Derrida are the writers, not the critics, that students now read"
(author's emphasis: 205).

But the real trouble with genius concerns the ironic tension in
which the genius-work exists as both avant and garde of its
unique, socio-political context.  One of Perelman's primary
frames for defining genius is the Dantian bridge-builder between
"the provices of art and nature" (219).  This involves a kind of
contract:

Since language is the social medium par execllence, the social
authority of genius cannot simply manifest itself as discrete
points of inexplicable distance (217).

Then under the social contract of language, to what degree is the
writer-genius obligated to the public, and vice-versa?  Andhow
does this "contract" influence the very methods developed by
these exemplary modernists?

Perelman's examination of these issues is astute without weighting
the work in the critical jargon one would expect in an approach
to, say, Zukofsk's epic, "A". At the same time, the analyses are
not exhaustive chartings of literary allusions; nor is that the
focus of the book.  Rather, the biographical, as relative to
historical and narrative aspects of the texts, is a "way in" for
Perelman and the reader: Pound's radio broadcasts, Stein's
post-Toklas public persona, Joyce's tropes of marriage,
(in)fidelity, and sexuality, and Zuke's relationships to the
political, religious, familial, and musical all inform the
tensions and complexities between writing-genius and
reading-public.

From this biographical and historical basis, Perelman goes
straight to the texts: the contact zone where the troubles with
genius are exemplified.  For instance, the progressively clipped,
ideogrammic language the The Cantos is interpreted as (among
other things) symptomatic of Pound's selectivity in regards to
the public's (i.e., reader's) religious, economic, and political
perspectives.

But the texts, for Perelman, are anything but mere biographical
allegories; the book's primary attentiveness is to the language
of genius. Perelman draws an interesting distinction between the
traditional uses of narrative and linear plot versus stylistic
innovations developed by Pound, Joyce, Stein and Zukofsky.  These
writers' radical departures from traditional narrative, as well
as their return to an epic format (excepting Stein), are viewed
as ways of anticipating the movement of culture.

While The Trouble with Genius is more about trouble than genius,
Perelman takes an optimistic stance in his "Afterward: afterword"
in which genius is viewed through the lenses of history and
pragmatism:

While the writing is underway--while the generic title is still
Work in Progrss--to be fully legible dooms genius to
ordinariness.  Once completed, a work of genius should, in
theory, be recognizable as sublimely new and astounding; after
the fact, the narratives ofliterary history take over and place
The Cantos, however uneasily, in the heterogeneous category of
the modernist long poem....  This three-step process is
nondialictical: would-be cutting edges fall back into the matrix
without necessarily producing systheses.  From the vantage of the
nonspecialist, this pattern might look suspiciously like the
primal problem facing any producer in the marketplace where the
imperitive to "Make It New" applies at least as urgently to cars
as to poems (217).

After Perelman's ostemsible ease and consistency in tackling some
of modernism's most difficult texts, The Trouble with Genius is
impressive for its discussion of the historical placement of a
text in relation to the idea of "genius."  Indeed, the
assignation of the term "genius" to a writer, while not in itself
of great importance, can be viewed not only as a model for
contextualizing the tension between literature and its
social-historical climate, but as a paradigm for the trouble with
language: "communication par exellence," and yet an obstruction
between (genius's) intent and (public's) interpretations.



MINIMALISM AND POETIC SILENCE

BY KASEY CUMMINGS AND CARL PETERS
	

Derrida's understanding of writing as being in a supplementary
relation to presence, and hence communication in 'the normal,
non-multivalent, non-polysemic sense,' is problematized by
Armantrout in her most recent book of poems Made to Seem. Her
poetry seems to present a series of reluctant frames which
involve writing against inference and which seem to endlessly
refer as they defer/ differ.

As a reader of Derrida like Geoffery Ulmer has pointed out,
writing as iterability functions in the absence of author,
referent, receiver, and context. The absence intrinsic to any
text is the very locus of meaning/ production and is, in a sense,
always already written, inscribed, in the aporia of the text,
that is, beyond or against the author's intent. As Marcel
Duchamp's linguistic experiments and puns help to point out,
there is always a gap -- an absence -- between intention, what
one wants to say, and realization -- what one does say. That is
to say, a blindspot occurs in the space between what a text means
to say and what it is constrained to mean. Thus, as Ulmer would
point out following Derrida,  writing's vehicular/
representational/ communicative aspect or pretense 'does not
exhaust the event of sense.'

It seems that Armantrout entertains a theory of writing similar
to Derrida's. She too also seems to reassess "certain elements of
a discourse that until now have been treated as dysfunctions and
aberrations" (Ulmer GLASsary "Sounding the Unconscious" 25). In
her Errata 5uite Joan Retallack writes with dysfunctional
contingencies (i.e., with error) in order to inscribe what would
normally have been (and what normally is) written against, or in
other words, what would have normally been absent or silent.
Armantrout's project would thus seem, at first glance, to be
somewhat different. The whole look of her poetry, its graphic
presentation, is very traditional, regimented, compartmentalized,
proper: left-justified margins, titles for every poem, even a
table of contents, poems which themselves are seemingly
delightfully brief. The question to ask is: what is she doing
against these seemings, these appearances? How is she writing
against them? How is she (like Retallack) inscribing silence into
the poetry? Because once one gets into the poetry there is this
automatic feeling of the overwhelmingness, the very ubiquity of
silence. It screams at us from every dumb, blank space on the
page. The kind of minimalist stance which I perceive in the
passage below, however, is conceptual -- psychological. What does
"it," for example, refer to in the first line?

	Now, when it makes no sense,
	I'm at the centre
	of the dispelled universe,
	"snapping to"
	too often -- as if there was
	nothing but
	("Retraction")

The seemingly very 'silent' text is, paradoxically, a very 'noisy'
text. Is Armantrout then, like Retallack, writing with error,
but, unlike Retallack, writing with it from beyond the
phonological, morphological, and syntactical level (i.e., in the
realm of pronouncement, statement, dialogue, discourse,
performatives)? It would seem that Armantrout is working with the
possibility of error and miscommunication at the level of
exchange and/ or the level of the formal constraint: "Hey,
everybody needs somewhere/ in which to present/ the drama of
their limitation" ("Next").

One can point to the sparsity of the poetry itself or the economy
of the language, its laconic aspect, the fact that Armantrout is
not a poet who minces words. Indeed, her intent to literalize
metaphor places her in relation to the minimalist project of the
1960s and 70s. This comparision is not a disparate one. Both
employ strategies of seriality and self-reference in order to
concretize experience and the expeirence of art. The three
dimensional quality of Rae Armantrout's poetry transforms its
silence spatially: "Let us/ move fast/ enough, in a small/ enough
space, and / our travels/ will take first/ shape, then substance"
("The Creation").

One can't help but experience these poems as "structures" akin to
minimalist objects/ sculptures -- as architectural spaces. The
poet's handling of the page as a unit of composition is relevant
here. Indeed the spatial design of the poem is one important
characteristic of modern poetics. Armantrout's distribution of
space (i.e., the "blanks" between, above, below words) assume
significance -- they construct and constitute the "silence"
intrinsic in her work, and are as skillfully composed
("constructed") as any minimalist installation or environment.
Both Armantrout and the minimalists/ conceptualists are acutely
aware of their work as structure.

Armantrout composes her silences in several ways which she
outlines in her essay "Poetic Silence." In some instances, the
spatial relation between words intensifies this; in other
instances, these silences are effected through paradigmatic
shifts in subject and content. Additionally, the poet may 1) end
a line or a poem abruptly, unexpectedly, somehow short of
resolution; 2) create extremely tenuous connections between parts
of a poem; 3) deliberately create the effect of inconsequence; 4)
use of self-contradiction or retraction; 5) use obvious ellipsis;
and, 6) use anything which places the existent in perceptible
relation to the non-existent, the absent or outside (34-35). Now,
it would be stretching things to attempt to conceptualize all six
strategies in relation to minimalism; but several of them relate.
For instance, most minimalist works do, in fact, stop short of
resolution -- there is nothing to resolve. In this regard, a
minimalist work might well be compared to a film-loop in which
you never get to the end, but are drawn back into the work. The
process act of reading such works is, essentially,
phenomenological -- experiential. They're meant to be experienced
as open-ended structures, often linear, but always subversive in
terms of resolution or closure. They reposition the reader in
real time, in real space -- space as time. In terms of minimalist
art, presence is a key term. There is no beginning, middle or
ending to the minimalist work. (Witness Don Judd's metal wall
sculptures, Carl Andre's "rugs" -- lever, to name a few.)
Consequently, its structures are not the structures of
traditional/ conventional three dimensional art. As Mel Bochner
elaborates, "[this] work cannot be discussed on either stylistic
or metaphorical grounds. [It merely articulates] the clearly
visible and simply ordered structure it uses. For some artists
order itself is the work of art" (93). Minimalism's preoccupation
with structure and order in art foregrounds the importance of
seriality. I recognize, however, that discussion of Armantrout's
work in terms of seriality (even as the minimalists themselves
define the term: literally: one thing after another) is limited.
In any case, there is still a relatable strategy of ordering at
work in her poetry. Each stanza, for example, can be read as an
independent poem-unit; often the break between a stanza is
heightened by the visual or graphic presence of an asterisk,
bullet or number. This intensifies the "poetic silence" between
each stanza-unit; it also spatializes the poem graphically, the
result of which is the [a] dramatization of presence and absence.
(See, for instance, "Retraction," "One Remove," "Covers," and
"The Creation" -- to mention just the first few poems in Made To
Seem.) The presentation of these poems is straight-forward,
almost aphoristic -- writing grounded in the negative -- and
paratactic; they are one perception after and on top of one
another. Armantrout's appositional writing is similar to
minimalist strategies of presentation and contextualization.
Minimalism, of course, takes parataxis to its extreme conclusion
and abstracts it while at the same time it literalizes it.
Representation of the subject/ object is pared down to mere
presentation: one thing right after another. Armantrout's words
are like "objects in an arrangement" (Watten, 92). Minimalist art
is aphoristic in the sense that it reconceptualizes and reduces
it to structure and units of structure. Its aesthetic project is
merely the repetition of this -- as an ideal. This kind of work
demands a new kind of reader. Both reconceptualize art in terms
of the phenomenological, the material, "in the sense that," as
Lyn Hejinian asserts, "the phenomenological situation [my
emphasis] includes perceiver, perception (or perceiving),
perceived, and the various meanings of their relationships, which
are not mild" (83).

The two other important strategies of composing silence in works
which relate to minimalism focus on the creation of the effect of
inconsequence, as well as the placement of the existent (i.e.,
the subject/ perceiver) in perceptible relation to the
non-existent (the object), the absent or outside. Here both
Judd's and Robert Morris' metal and glass "boxes" achieve these
effects. These examples are, literally, open structures. In the
case of Judd's reflecting metal and brass boxes, the aesthetic
effect of  inconsequence is achieved vis-a-vis the artist's
intent to eliminate relational order altogether, along with
referential and metaphorical qualities. By relational order, I
mean, following Kenneth Baker, "the camouflaged hierarchies of
internal detail and focus that underlie the expressiveness of
painting, representational or abstract" (58). Transformed in this
way, the work is 'emptied,' so to speak, turned inside out. As a
result, Judd's boxes border on the inconsequential in that they
are both (simultaneously) present as well as absent; that is,
their polished surfaces both absorb and reflect their
environment. The work (formally) cancels itself out. They are
also, therefore, a kind of retraction.

My objective thus far has been to try to show (however tenuous)
the relation between Armantrout's work and minimalism. The
premise underlying this relation is the intent to literalize
metaphor. The minimalists aspired to do this as well, and it's my
contention that they succeeded, in part, by rejecting the mimetic
or representational function of art. (Armantrout poetry engages
in a similar interrogation of the image, of representation, and
how things are -- well I can't refuse a wonderful play like this
-- 'made to seem.') Conceptual art is the furthest extreme of
this, epitomized by the work of Joseph Kosuth. I am thinking
particularly of his definition of conceptual art in "Art After
Philosophy I and II": art as an analytically framed proposition
which questions the very nature, the very definition, of art.
"Works of art," he asserts, "are analytic propositions. That is,
if viewed within their context -- as art -- they provide no
information whatsoever about any matter of fact. A work of art is
a tautology in that it is a presentation of the artist's
intention, that is, he is saying that that particular work of art
is art, which means, is a definition of art" (164). I don't wish
to suggest that this kind of abstract, aesthetic theorizing is
characteristic of Armantrout's poetry. Kosuth, in the final
analysis, is bent on removing the experience from the work of
art, and this is antithetical to Armantrout's work, at least
antithetical to my reading of her work. I might also add that
Kosuth's position is antithetical to minimalism. The direct and
confrontational relation, experience, (of) between the perceiver
and the work, the perceived, is the primary content and
underlying aesthetic of minimalist work. But Armantrout's poems,
though, can be read as analytical propositions which investigate
(interrogate and anlayze) experience and authenticity. (There is
a factual, almost documentary and non-fictional, quality to
them.) As one commentator has observed, her poems are "analyical
lyrics" (Peterson, 90). And, like conceptual art, the clean,
graphic presentation of her poems imply a clear intention. Unlike
conceptual art, however, this is quickly undermined.

We can also relate the spatial and surface quality of her poems
to certain trends in modern painting. For someone like Clement
Greenberg, modernist painting (the modernist aesthetic) derives
from its insistence on (and affirmation of) the flatness and
integrity of the picture plane. Toby Mussman, though, in an essay
entitled "Literalness and the Infinite," distinguishes between
Greenberg's notion of the importance of the picture plane in
modern art and the material implications of "surfaceness." It's
important to bear in mind, he notes, the fact that Greenberg's
idea of the picture plane stems from his study of the analytic
cubist paintings and collages of Picasso and Braque. Yet for
Mussman, it is this very technique (collage) which creates a new
notion of "surfaceness" in art, and he argues that Greenberg
fails to take this into account. Thus the collaged surfaces of
modern painting in general foreground a new phenomenological
approach to the literal. And thus the new picture plane invented
by modernist painters (Rauschenberg and Pollock) is not a
theoretical one, but a material one. Surfaceness, as Mussman
perceives it, is a concrete thing.

Rae Armantrout's poems can also be read, conceptualized, as
concrete things. They are collages in Mussman's sense of that
term. Reality fragments, phrases from the media, from
conversation, are rewritten and palimpsested into the new context
of the poem. Her poetic surfaces are not flat in the Greenbergian
sense, ostensibly, but explode into three dimensional, concrete
things:

	On the inscribed surface
	of sleep.

	Almost constant
	bird soundings.

	"Aloha, Fruity Pebbles!"

	Music, useful
	for abstracting emphasis.

	Sweet nothing
	to do with me.
	("Confidential")

Armantrout's poetry underscores the extraordinary implicit in the
ordinary, the mundane; to paraphrase Marjorie Perloff in a recent
book by her entitled Wittgenstein's Ladder: Poetic Language and
the Strangeness of the Ordinary, Armantrout's poetry helps us
understand ordinary language as it's actually used by all of us.
Further to this, her poems are sites where the ordinary is most
sharply foregrounded.

However, there is another visual corollary for Armantrout's
poetry aside from the possible connection to minimalist art which
is prompted by Armantrout herself; it is the connection to Jean
Baptiste Simeon Chardin's The Skate, a detail of which appears on
the cover of Made To Seem. Through a minimum of detective work, I
have discovered that Chardin's "Skate" is thought to be very
significant in the whole tradition of still-life painting along
with the later still-lifes of Francisco Goya. Chardin's "Skate"
(1728) along with Goya's Still Life with Lamb's Head (c. 1816-24)
have been cited as moments in the history of still-life painting
wherein there is suddenly expressed a growing interest in
simplification and selection (one might also call this function
one of foregrounding) attends every moment in Armantrout's
poetry. She gives a sense of both the arbitrariness and
spontaneity of selection, of paradigmatic displacements outwards,
on the one hand, and at the same time a sense of the careful,
painstaking, lurking, precious operation of selection/ pruning/
editing. Her poetry delivers irreverence and care in the same
gesture in much the same way as the idioms of Chardin and Goya in
their respective still-lifes. Armantrout's poetry and the
painting of Chardin and Goya comprise art which 'attends
absence's modulations.' Absence operates more like a full
presence in this art and thus could be said to be inscribed
through its very absence. (Indeed, much like the reflecting and
refracting boxes of Don Judd and Robert Morris.) The very effect
is a rewriting of 'traditional' grammars of representation,
'traditional' values and preconceptions.

Chardin's paintings have also been described as: 'silent
paintings'; paintings of ease, simplicity, air, space,
circulation, lucidity, penetration; paintings with a sense of
broad treatment rendered in thick impasto highlights; paintings
with simple unsentimentalized compositions [read: minimal];
paintings with calm, balanced tonal ranges, acute analysis and
understanding of form; paintings of an 'abstract' nature; and
paintings of honesty, insight, and sympathy. "The Skate" itself
has been described, in terms of the tradition of still-life
painting, as an escape from the airlessness and the hermetic,
overcrowded canvases of earlier still-lifes. A "skate" is also
known as a "ray"; the painting is thus a good example of
self-reference. Chardin's emphasis is on direct and literal
representation. In all of these instances one can feel as if one
were reading a metatextual description of Rae Armantrout's
poetry.

Chardin himself has been described as 'the poet of the
commonplace and the master of its nuances.' This could describe
Armantrout herself, as well. And the word 'nuance' is an
important word here in that it recalls Armantrout's poem "Tone"
from her Extremities of 1978:

	Is it bourgeois to dwell on nuance? Or effeminate?
	Or should we attend to it the way a careful animal
	shifts the wind?

'Nuance' can be understood as, not only its usual sense of a
subtle or delicate degree of meaning, tone, or feeling, but also
as a gradation by which color passes from its lightest to its
darkest shade. And this sends one thinking of the text of Made To
Seem itself: all of the shadows; the trajectory which takes place
in the text departing from the light comedy of "Sit Calm," the
first poem through the dark irony of 'stylized Death' in
"Leaving," the last poem; gradation, movement, transilience. The
mobile frame is both permeating and permeable, made to seem (a
frame). One contemplates connections to Duchamp and Einsteinian
physics through this illusion of movement through a single framed
space. 'The rapid (relative to the eye's ability to retain an
image briefly) projection of a sequence of still photographs (or
'frames') of an action' seems a good description of what
Armantrout's poetry does. There is the constant sense of frames
moving through frames, frames transposed, frames superimposed one
atop the other. Everything is moving, running, turning swiftly.
Boccioni's Futurist Manifesto of 1910 even comes to mind in the
attempt to describe Armantrout's poetry: "The figure in front of
us never is still, but ceaseless appears and disappears. Owing to
the persistence of images on the retina, objects in motion are
multiplied, distorted, following one another like waves through
space." One thinks of the excitement phase of that art went
through in response to the motion picture. Transilient and mobile
frames are made to seem 'framed' in a single framed space.
Fleeting poems are retained only briefly. They must be read/ seen
quickly (through). They are indeed almost 'glimpsed at' rather
than read. And yet, they are also, paradoxically, still, stilled.
For contained within the concept of simultaneity at 'time c' in
this poetry is the sense of absolute stillness -- minimalism.
These poems pause, pausing, paused, posed on the brink of
cessation, silence, absence. Armantrout paradoxically 'stills the
wind on the water.' She writes still-life still (full) of life,
she writes with movement, motion, vitality. There is the constant
sense of compression, encryption, repetition, condensing and yet
also of decompression, decryption, difference, release. This is
paratactic writing:  contraction contracting itself, promising to
deliver ... yet more contraction. Made to explode.

And yet words seem to operate as if they were 'switch-points' in
her poetry, in the sense that they are at once (seemingly) driven
into and riveted to the concrete ('edgy') -- that is, much of the
language is at first very limited in its associations -- at the
same time absolutely permeable and permeating (all process).
Failed magicians, Fruity Pebbles, flamenco dancers, birds,
electron guns, the Green Giant, plant-life, cellophane grass,
disco studs, hospital calendars, and Chevron pumps -- all of
these things are written aboard a beam of light in Made To Seem.
After several readings one finds that the words explode out of
their context, garnering a polysemic referentiality, projecting
into the silence that we begin to fill with our voices, our
words, our noise: "We weren't supposed to stare/ so, when we
did,/ a blankness spread across/ the once pleasant features.// We
got started:/ lists of objects, lists of attributes" ("Normal
Heights"). Are we "[f]orever drawing water through a maze of
cabbages" ("The Work") in Made To Seem? Armantrout leads us into
the insoluable conflict of the aporia: "coconut and mashed patato
clumps awash in milk" ("The Work"). Our reading melts, with the
text, into the indistinguishable -- a product of Armantrout's
attenuating of the untenable.

Made To Seem is a text akin to Derrida's Glas in that it
contributes to the postmodern project of thinking otherwise, of
transgressing "the coherent unity of a metaphysics that has
proven inadequate to the problems we face" (Ulmer 27). Well, made
to seem ....

	Find the place
	in silence
	that is a person

	or like a person
	or like not
	needing a person
	("A Pulse")




Works Cited


Armantrout, Rae. Made To Seem. Los Angeles. Sun and Moon Press,
1995.

---. "Poetic Silence." Writing Talks. Ed. Bob Perelman.
Carbondale, Illinois: Southern 	Illinois University Press, 1985.
31-47.

Baker, Kenneth. Minimalism: Art of Circumstance. New York:
Abbeville Press, 1988.

Bochner, Mel. -----. Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology. Ed.
Gregory Battcock. New York: 	E. P. Dutton, 1968. -----.

Hejinian, Lyn. "Language and 'Paradise.'" Line No. 6: 1985.
83-100.

Kosuth, Joseph. "Art After Philosophy I and II." Minimal Art: A
Critical Anthology. Ed. 	Gregory Battcock. New York: E.P. Dutton,
1968.

Leavey, John P., Jr. and Gregory L. Ulmer. GLASsary. Lincoln,
Nebraska: University of 	Nebraska Press, 1986.

Mussman, Toby. "Literalness and The Infinite." Minimal Art: A
Critical Anthology. Ed. 	Gregory Battcock. New York: E.P. Dutton
and Co., Inc., 1968. 236-251.

Peterson, Jeffery. "The Siren Song of The Singular: Armantrout,
Oppen, And The Ethics of 	Representation." Sagetrieb. No. 3:
1993. 89-104.

Watten, Barrett. "Total Syntax." Total Syntax. Edwardsville.
Southern Illinois University 	Press, 1985. 64-114. 




GEVIRTZ'S RICHARDSON

BY SUSAN SMITH NASH

(A review of Narrative's Journey: The Fiction and Film Writing
of Dorothy Richardson by Susan Gevirtz. Peter Lang, 1996.)


_Narrative's Journey: The Fiction and Film Writing of Dorothy
Richardson_ by Susan Gevirtz (Peter Lang, $30.00)

Susan Gevirtz has made a great contribution to the advancement of
the history of women's criticism and literary analysis in her
work on the writings of Dorothy Richardson (1873-1957), an
overlooked yet important British writer of the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries. 

Gevirtz dispenses with the plot summary and overview approach
that often passes for criticism and looks instead at how
Richardson constructed a test that takes on a particular
identity, depending on the unique perspectives of men and women. 
Richardson went much further, and described how it is that
literary and film discourse engenders itself as it is being
written. 

Approaching Richardson's oeuvre in a manner that would
undoubtedly please Richardson, Gevirtz begins by explaining that
Richardson intended that  __Pilgrimage__, her massive (and largely
unattainable) 13-volume assemblage of separate but connected
novels, to be studied as the "feminine equivalent of the current
masculine realism." Written at roughly the same time as Proust's
Recherches, Richardson's _Pilgrimage_ responds to the male writers
of the psychological novel by creating a "landscape of the female
mind." Unfortunately, Richardson's work is not widely known,
although excerpts from the novel do appear in a few anthologies
and her writings on film are often studied in communication and
film theory classes. 

Looking at Richardson's notion that discursive forms and texts
(film and literary) are gendered, Gevirtz finds this idea
expressed not only in _Pilgrimage_, but also in Richardson's
critical work, particularly in her fascinating essays on early
cinema.  Richardson argued that silent film is a prototypically
feminine form while the talkies were masculine.  She made many
other observations and analyses, which were published in the
journal, Close-Up.  Gevirtz explains that Richardson's basic
argument was that film is a surface upon which identity is
constructed and reconstructed in an unending interweaving between
the consciousness of the viewers and the substance of the film. 
Richardson's ideas are not always easily extracted, and Gevirtz
provides a valuable resource for getting at their substance. 
Richardson's work is often impenetrable with its length, density,
and the rather opaque nature of her stream-of-consciousness,
psychological writing.   Richardson's fiction was never popular
or commercially successful, which perhaps accounts for the
relative neglect her work has suffered.  While other women
modernists -- Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, H.D. -- have been
widely acknowledged, Dorothy Richardson has been overlooked. 
This may be in part due to the perspectives of the first
Richardson critics, who often wrote more to promote their own
agendas (and their ideas regarding psychological,
stream-of-consciousness writing or feminist interpretations of
"interior monologues").  However, her critical neglect is
probably more due to the lack of available primary texts.  In
fact, none of the individual 13 novels that constitute _Pilgrimage_
was widely available until the 1979 Virago edition which
contained all the novels in a 4-volume set. 

Gevirtz is the first scholar to write an extensive, in-depth
study of Richardson's _Pilgrimage_ and on her film writing.  This
in itself is enough to make the work extremely valuable to
scholars, students, and critics.  However, in _Narrative's
Journey_, Gevirtz has done much more.  She has integrated
Richardson's film writing, criticism, and fiction to make a
coherent presentation -- one in which the various writings serve
to illuminate each other.  Gevirtz explains her methods in the
preface to the book, that she wishes to "animate concurrent
readings, to open fissures, and propose directions for thought. 
My investigation proceeds as much by analogy and association as
by linear logic." Gevirtz's approach is strikingly appropriate
for investigating the work of Richardson, since she herself
stated in the introduction to _Pilgrimage_ that she wished to
propose an alternative to what is generally perceived as linear
logic or clear speech. 

The first chapter of Narrative's Journey establishes
non-linearity as the most appropriate approach to time elements
within _Pilgrimage_ as well as to the relations developed between
reader and the text.  According to Gevirtz, Richardson's own
attitude toward time in a narrative is that it should not be
exclusively linear, but that there are overlappings and
simultaneities which make time a vertical relationship rather
than a linear, horizontal progression.  Thus, any journey taken
by a narrative should never simply involve chronological or
causal elements arranged in a linear manner.  Instead, the
narrative journey is more one of uncovering the areas of contact
and overlap that exist between the mind of the individual and the
external, phenomenal world. 

Gevirtz explains how Richardson came to consider the writing
process as a quest.  It is important to note that Richardson
emphasized the writing process rather than the writing itself. 
Thus, in the process of constructing a bildungsroman or
representing the hero engaging in developing himself or herself,
the author makes decisions about how to forge a new way of
writing.  This is the quest, and it signifies the author's
willingness to consider how the reader may develop various
strategies for reading. 

The role of film cannot be underestimated in Richardson's
attitudes toward reading and writing.  For her, film "provided a
spatial and mental allegory" for modernist art forms.  Thus, film
was the visual expression of what artists and writers wanted to
try in order to continue their experiments and vision quests to
build new works.  Gevirtz shows again how Richardson used the
repetitive surfaces of film in order to build a new written form
which allows the construction of a space where psychological
difference can come to the surface.  Of course, it is clear that
gender is as much as a construct as an essentialist notion. 
Nevertheless, Gevirtz allows the development of an alternative
paradigm -- that of the quest for new discursive forms -- for the
enrichment of feminist critical theory.  It is a valuable
analysis and critical perspective, and one that brings forth new
possibilities, not just for critical reading and writing, but
also for the novel and innovative responses to film.




SILENCE OF THE KNOWN WORLD

BY TOD THILLEMAN

(A review of _Clown At Wall: A Kenneth Bernard Reader_
Confrontation Press, 237 Pages)

Part of Bernard's problems have stemmed from the fact that
audiences are not used to theatric form poking fun at sacrosanct
areas of normalcy, never mind, for instance, the choreographed
geriatrics in wheelchairs that serve as entre-d'acts in One Thing
Is Not Another (A Vaudeville, Curse of Fool) nor the laughing
performers about to be gassed by the Nazisin How We Danced While
We Burned (Both from Asylum Arts.) Take for instance Marko's: A
Vegetarian Fantasy, or La Fin Du Cirque, two theater pieces that
continue this Bernardian tradition, and close out the very rich
new book, Clown At Wall.

Along with the plays and the excerpts from the two greatest short
novels by a living author that it has been my good fortune to
have heard about and read (The Maldive Chronicles, From the
District Files, both Fiction Collective) there are representative
short fictions, which Bernard has consumed himself with after
apparently running into a wall as it were in the release and
recognition of his plays. And it is a good thing too. The area
covered by short fiction and the personal essay (what is now
called creative nonfiction) is excellently handled by Bernard. He
has called the pieces "inward spiraling ironies" but more to the
point it seems to me they attempt (unabashedly naive but always
with profitable result) to solve in a short space the large
questions, without the artifice of a constantly aware ironic
carapace greeting the reader at every turn. They continually
surprise, deligh, while horrifying, but they never linger in
unknown pomposity. They are always, from the first sentence,
addresses to the heart of the subject, no matter how
insignificant. In this way he is for sure the American
counterpart and continuation of Samuel Beckett's best work.

And speaking of Beckett, as if Bernard himself knew it, the
recently published (Collages & Bricolages, Fall 1996) "Molloy
Monologues", a brilliant series of dramatic spinoffs from the
voice of the narrator of Beckett's trilogy, secure the center
stage of this collection, right next to the long poem "Wall."
Both of these pieces remind me of what is missing in American
Poetry: the tender flesh and beating bloody heart of candor. So
often Bernard makes what passes for the contemporary look like
conceited contrivance:

	111.
	I know their fingers will violate me 
	but never near the mark
	
	instead
	probe you my head 
	find in that squishy gray 
	the thoughts that made me human
	
	then press hand upon your clothed self
	see what rubs off and what won't

"Wall" comprises 140 pieces, each more bald than the previous, yet
culminating in an appraisal of the self, body, ego, with chilling
effect, reminding me of his previous booklength series "The
Baboon In The Nightclub" (Asylum Arts). Each stands as witness to
the silence and loneliness of the mind, unabashedly holding out
for statement: "this is a killing place/pure and simple." A place
where the procession of blood and other body fluids/parts have
their revelatory stance, and speak for all mankind. In fact, it
is such a stance that marks all of Bernard's work, where the
intimate thing stands poking its head into the big questioning
mind of our shared time. One is reminded of Shelley's phrase in
Prometheus Unbound: "Pinnacled dim in the intense inane."

In the "Molloy Monologues," the staged woman narrator ("somere
between the ages of 45-60") reanimates some of the more famous
lines of Beckett's Molloy. Molloy would stand as some sort of
ontological text, over against Bernard's ontotheological woman.
She is the archetype of the now, and serves to punctuate what was
so moving about Beckett's first person novel of ideas, the
questing philosopher suddenly finding himself not only in a dying
body, but in a dying world and humanity. Kenneth Bernard, with
the expert hand of the thinker, deftly plants his character's
feet among the noumenal ruins, the phenomenologically epic sweep
of silence and noise, the elemental forces of that bleak
soulscape few american writers have the patience and humor to
walk through and manage with much skill. Bernard, however, does.

In fact, as his main character monologises: "And then yesterday,
before noon, a bit of sun, thank god, coming in, I saw the cup,
and everything stopped, everything stopped. My god, I thought,
how beautiful, how beautiful it all is. I don't know how long I
stood, or sat, there. It must have been a while, because noon
came and Harry came in. And when I looked at him, my face was
full of tears. He must be a very wise man, one of the wise ones,
because he eidn't say anything. He just hugged me. And came into
my silence. My beautiful silence." She would come forward now in
the late twentieth century to stand as the personification of
mercy in a spiritless age, an age the poet of "Wall" makes plain
and real as the so-called world: "I am run over by them/I am the
wheels screaming."

-------------------------------------------------------------

W I T Z


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