Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Republics of Reality: 1975-1995

Bernstein, Charles. Republics of Reality: 1975-1995. Los Angeles, CA: Green Integer, 1996.

Republics contains all of Bernstein’s published material, beginning with 1975’s Parsing and concluding with 1995’s Residual Rubbernecking. Throughout his career, Bernstein retains a faithfulness to anti-capitalist artifice; for example, in Parsing, the poet explores the use of the first-person pronoun through its hyperbolic presence in a de-contextualized setting so as to empty the signifier of any “true” meaning. As such, when the reader approaches “I was groping to understand.// I looked at him.// I was so different// I went on thinking.// I joined different clubs” (27-8) little is gleaned from the speaker’s pronouncements, even though he provides us with a glut of information. Likewise, we “grop[e] to understand” the identity of the speaker, but fruitlessly, because there is no “contextual disruption” (44), or in other words, the poem presents no recognizable context to the reader. Another aesthetic technique Bernstein employs is the cut-up; through the implementation of disjunctive fragments within his lyrics, the poet undermines the linear continuity of narrative. Take, for example, the following: “se e/ ‘OR’/ verfrumsdungseffect/ autonomous explosions/ taste as/ blocks, circling/ like (star), fl…m…n…g…” (85). In addition to the fragmentation, one finds non-standard spacing and capitalization, multiple languages, incidental italicizing, random parenthetical statements, and ellipses interspersed throughout an individual word. Bernstein’s most aesthetically adventurous collection is, arguably, his book of prose poems titled Poetic Justice. The pieces therein, in addition to exploring the aforementioned fragmentation, investigate the possibilities inherent to aberrant capitalization. As such, a reader finds passages similar to the following: “stewing in its bASIL bUnting & now here” (159); this type of writing alters the visual field of the type-written word and forces the audience to slow down the reading process in order to comprehend the text. The text as a visual field reaches its height with poems like “Lift Off,” in which lines such as “HH/ ie,s obVrsxr;atjrn dugh seineopcv I iibalfmgmMw” (174) are not so much to be read, as to be viewed as a concrete object. Toward the latter third of the volume, the poet’s language becomes more comprehensible, and his aesthetic experiments tend to focus more on sound and the manner I which one can “take this/ split (splint/ of sound/ mumbling/ murky dormer/ as in” (352). Whereas “sound” often functions as a “splint” or support system for poetry, Bernstein’s later poems seek to “split” those sounds so as to create a “mumbling” that fosters within the reader a “murky” understanding of what the poems attempt to convey. Ultimately, Bernstein’s poems look to language and the written/typed word as an object in and of itself (i.e. through a materialist lens). Therefore, the poet believes “It’s not my/ business to describe/ anything. The only/ report is the/ discharge of/ words called/ to account for/ their slurs” (359).

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