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Charles Bernstein, Introduction

Bernstein’s three collections of poetics statements and contributions to the important collection The L=A=N=G… Book have set the agenda for a contemporary, postmodern, experimental aesthetic

His comments on absorptive poetics have set the standard for a postmodern poetics developed from the modernist conception of estrangement to be found in Russian Formalism and of course then picked up on by Brecht amongst others.

Bernstein on absorption:
“By absorption I mean engrossing, engulfing
completely, engaging, arresting attention, reverie...:
belief, conviction, silence.
Impermeability suggests artifice, boredom,
exaggeration, attention scattering, distraction,
digression, interruptive, transgressive,
undecorous, anticonventional, unintegrated, fractured,
fragmented...: skepticism
doubt, noise, resistance “ (Charles Bernstein, A Poetics Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992) 29.

Bernstein is committed to poetry in all its possible manifestations and several impossible

Through the Buffalo Electronic Poetry Centre he is advocate of electronic poetics

Through his theoretical work he has advocated voice-based, performative work

In the variety of his collections he explores all areas of page-based work

Through his involvement with PennSounds he is also an archivist of performed verse for the future

"Thank you for saying thank you" (Girly Man)

Postmodernism has been typified by an incredulity towards metanarratives which, in Language poetry means the cultural norms of language, art and poetry

In “Thank You...” Bernstein lists these presuppositions about what a poet should do

At the same time the poem is a commentary on the poem which is (permanently) absent from the collection

Through his ironic celebration of free-verse, expressive poetics he of course gives us a primer in all that is limiting about such mainstream poetics and, by negation, what a postmodern experimentalism should be concerned with:

Accessibility through linguistic transparency vs obscurity, difficulty, alienation techniques

Anti-intellectualism in favour of emotional expression

Stability of the subject who speaks (lyrical ego) with the intention to communicate authentically undermined by radical questioning of subjectivity to be found across post-structural and psychoanalytical thought

Shared values of humanism, subsequently questioned and negated say in the debates between Lyotard and Derrida on the one hand, Habermas and Rorty on the other

The importance of craft (as if poetry were indeed a badly drawn bed cf Plato's Republic Bk X)

Direct communication with an implied readership that will forgive racism in great art (no comment needed)

It says what it is, it is real. The desire for reality at the expense of the real being, in some measure, the definition of the age of the modern reformation as Badiou calls it which we live through today. Denial of the real, in forms that pathetically mime it. Maybe Plato was right, certainly most poets ought to be expelled from the city.
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