Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book

Andrews, Bruce and Charles Bernstein. Eds. The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book. Carbondale,
IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1984.

The Andrews and Bernstein edited collection incorporates much of the material from the first three volumes of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine into a single volume. The book itself is divided into three subsections: Poetics and Language, Writing and Politics, and Readings. The first of these sections explores the manner in which a semiotic-based view of poetry, particularly of the post-structural variety, alters the aesthetics of a poem. Of course, before delving into these essays, Andrews and Bernstein make clear in their introduction that such an aesthetic does not promote “the idea that writing should (or could) be stripped of reference” (ix), rather, “reference…is one of the horizons of language, whose value is to be found in the writing (the world) before which we find ourselves” and that reference contains “multiple powers and scope” (ix). Moreover, what comes across in the essays from the first section is that the poets loosely defined as Language-oriented do not have an overriding aesthetic concern, outside of the materiality of language itself. For example, Jackson Mac Low’s essay “MUSELETTER” focuses on the presence of emotion in process-oriented writing, Ted Greenwald’s “Spoken” examines the sounds of “spoken speech” grounded in the “locality of words” (23), Andrews desires “‘unreadability…which requires new readers, and teaches new readings” so as to usurp the malaise inherently produced within traditional texts that “destroy[s] our attentiveness” (31-2), or McCaffery’s interest in sound poetry and the relation to tape recorders. The section closes with an essay by Bernstein reconfirming not the referents death, but “rather a recharged use of the multivalent referential vectors that any word has,” which “are ways of releasing the energy inherent in the referential dimension of language” (115); he also champions the rearrangement of “the order of words, the syntax” (166) etc., so as to provoke a heightened sense of awareness within the reader, as well as “the sense of music in poetry” (117). In the second section of the book, Ron Silliman’s essay “Disappearance of the Word, Appearance of the World” best encapsulates the conceptual trends of the Language poets’ politics. Specifically, he attempts to answer the question “Does capitalism have a specific ‘reality’ which passed through language and [is] thereby imposed on its speakers?” (123). Silliman contends that capitalism “reduced…commodities [i.e. language]” to a fetish object by means of “description, or referential, and…narration” (126). The task of the poet, then, is to recognize “the philosophy of practice in language” in an effort “to search out the preconditions of post-referential language within the existing social fact” to initiate a social revolution that will aid in a contemporary “class struggle” (131). The final section of the book contains readings and reviews of poems and poetry collections by Language poets.

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