Sunday, January 18, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 18.4 (Charles Bernstein)

Content's Dream
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Bernstein, Charles
Content's Dream:
Essays 1975-1984

Yet another of Charles' books I read in the Segue archive but didn't own until many years later.  Part of the dynamic I've been describing (reading in the archive then owning much later) owes to the fact that I had almost no money at all when I lived in New York and even less space in which I could store books, so the number of them that I actually bought and kept was pretty small.  When I moved to Buffalo, I got a big, cheap apartment and bought tons of books with student loans.  One of the (few) perks of living in Buffalo is that you get lots of beautiful, cheap living space and all the storage you'll ever need.  Of course, it helps to like snow and hockey, but you can learn to like these things, as I have.

I've always loved the title of this book, Content's Dream.  I presume content's actual dream is 'form.'  At least that is my interpretation, poetic form in all its forms being the content of much of CB's writing. The title raises all kinds of interesting questions about the relationship of content to form. If we imagine content as conscious, formless matter, then is form the subconscious matter of content?  And if it is subconscious, wouldn't the form then itself be the formlessness and content the formed?  Or is form simply the utopian possibility of a future realization of content's revolutionary potential?  Or is content dreaming of something else altogether, and if so, what is the content of that dream?  Does it have anything to do with form?  Is content content with its formlessness?

Playful yet incisive curiosity rules the day in this collection.  It's author's youthful desire to know, experience, and talk about everything under the sun is intoxicating.  Each essay is its own formal experiment. From the chopped-up Dylan lyrics in one essay to the systematically generated text that examines the systematically generated poems of Jackson Mac Low in another, Bernstein's dreaming content is consciously subconscious and very much alive. 

Here's the first paragraph from 'Semblance,' the first essay of CB's ever read (I think in the Norton Postmodern anthology).  When I first read it, I remember being completely baffled, yet also intrigued enough to keep reading until I thought I had a grip on it. I am still delightedly puzzling over the phrase "the in in the which of who where what wells":

Not "death" of the referent -- rather a recharged use of the multivalent referential vectors that any word has, how words in combination tone and modify the associations made for each of them, how 'reference' then is not a one-on-one relation to an 'object' but a perceptual dimension that closes in to a pinpoint, nail down (this word), sputters omnitropically (the in in the which of who where what wells), refuses the build up of image track/projection while, pointillistically, fixing a reference at each turn (fills vats ago lodges spire), or, that much rarer case (Peter Inman's Platin and David Melnick's Pcoet two recent examples) of "zaum' (so-called transrational, perversely neologistic)--"ig ok aberflappi"-- in which reference, deprived of its automatic reflex reaction of word/stimulus image/response roams over the range of associations suggested by the word, word shooting off referential vectors like the energy field in a Kirillian photograph.

All of which are ways of releasing the energy inherent in the referential dimension of language, that these dimensions are the material of which the writing is made, define its medium.

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