CHARLES BERNSTEIN ARTIFICE OF ABSORPTION PDF

This piece is 11, words or about 25 pages long. Endnotes are given at the foot of this page. This is a large file, and the foot of the page may take some time to download - please be patient. Click on the note numeral to be taken to it; likewise to return to the text. The first purpose of Clothes, as our Professor imagines, was not warmth or decency, but ornament. My mother was more concerned with her hemline.

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Then where is the truth but in the burning space between one letter and the next. Thus the book is first read outside its limits. Facts in poetry are primarily factitious. Anti-realism need not imply, as certain French theorists might claim, a rejection of meaning. All that Artifice requires is that nonmeaningful levels be taken into account, and that meaning be used as a technical device which makes it impossible as well as wrong for critics to strand poems in the external world.

If the artifice is recessed, the resulting textual transparency yields an apparent, if misleading, content. Content never equals meaning. For this reason, consideration of the formal dynamics of a poem does not necessarily disregard its content; indeed it is an obvious starting point insofar as it can initiate a multilevel reading. The image-complex is the node where we can discover which of the multitude of thematic, semantic, rhythmical, and formal patterns is important and how it is to be related to the others.

For the image-complex alone operates on all levels of sound, rhythm, theme, and meaning and from it alone, therefore, can be derived a sense of the structure of any particular poem. Only when this is done can the critic hope to reach a thematic synthesis which will make contact with the poem itself on its many levels and not with some abstract, or indeed concrete, entity created out of his own imagination. The reader must.

For instance, there is no fixed threshold at which noise becomes phonically significant; the further back this threshold is pushed, the greater the resonance at the cutting edge. The semantic strata of a poem should not be understood as only those elements to which a relatively fixed connotative or denotative meaning can be ascribed, for this would restrict meaning to the exclusively recuperable elements of language—a restriction that if literally applied would make meaning impossible.

Meaning is no where bound to the orbit of purpose, intention, or utility. What does one make as a content paraphrase of this stanza from P.

In a sense, the procedure of dialectical paraphrase must be reversed in reading this poem. That is, the devices must be differentiated from the image complex to which they contribute.

The obvious problem is that the poem said in any other way is not the poem. In contrast, why not a criticism intoxicated with its own metaphoricity, or tropicality: one in which the limits of positive criticism are made more audibly artificial; in which the inadequacy of our explanatory paradigms is neither ignored nor regretted but brought into fruitful play. Imagine, then, oscillating poles, constructing not some better diadicism, but congealing into a field of potentialities that in turn collapses transforms into yet other tropicalities.

This would be the criticism of desire: sowing not reaping. An individual poem may be understood as having a restricted or general economy. McCaffery derives his idea of a general economy from Bataille, whom he quotes:. The general economy, in the first place, makes apparent that excesses of energy are produced, and that by definition, these excesses cannot be utilized.

The excessive energy can only be lost without the slightest aim, consequently without meaning. One cannot replace the other because their relationship is not one of mutual exclusion. In most cases we will find general economy as a suppressed or ignored presence within the scene of writing that tends to emerge by way of rupture within the restricted [paragrams, as discussed in note 3], putting into question the conceptual controls that produce a writing of use value with its privileging of meaning as a necessary production and evaluated destination.

In this context, I would again argue against ascribing to meaning an exclusively utilitarian function. Loss is as much a part of the semantic process as discharge is a part of the biological process.

Such a restricted sense of meaning is analogous to the restricted senses of knowledge as stipulatively definable. It is just my insistence that poetry be understood as epistemological inquiry; to cede meaning would be to undercut the power of poetry to reconnect us with modes of meaning given in language but precluded by the hegemony of restricted epistemological economies an hegemony that moves toward the negation of nondominant restricted economies as much as repressing the asymptotic horizon of the unrestricted economies.

These comments are partly intended as caution against thinking of formally active poems as eschewing content or meaning—even in the face of the difficulty of articulating just what this meaning is.

That is, the meaning is not absent or deferred but self-embodied as the poem in a way that is not transferable to another code or rhetoric. At the same time, it is possible to evoke various contours of meaning by metaphorically considering the domains made real by various formal configurations.

Absorption and Impermeability. If we studied societies from the outside, it would be tempting to distinguish two contrasting types: those which practice cannibalism—that is which regard the absorption of certain individuals possessing dangerous powers as the only means of neutralizing these powers and even of turning them to advantage—and those which, like our own society, adopt what might be called the practice of anthropemy from the Greek emein , to vomit ; faced with the same problem, the latter type of society has chosen the opposite solution, which consists in ejecting dangerous in dividuals from the social body and keeping them temporarily or permanently in isolation, away from all contacts with their fellows, in establishments especially intended for this purpose.

Most of the societies we call primitive would regard this custom with profound horror; it would make us, in their eyes, guilty of that same barbarity of which we are inclined to accuse them because of their symmetrically opposite behavior. The entire reality of the word is wholly absorbed in its function of being a sign.

Voloshinov, Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Ever wonder why one person can eat a meal of French toast and sausage, followed by a glass of milk, to little effect, while if you.

Absorption problems. Thinking of Canada, where I initially presented my speculations, the political metaphor kept erupting: Canada does not wish to be absorbed into the U. Identity seems to involve the refusal to be absorbed in a larger identity, yet the identity formed as a result of an antiabsorptive autonomism threatens to absorb differential groupings within it. Moreover, the nature of absorption as a dynamic of reading needs to be understood as a key element in any ideologically conscious literary criticism.

Indeed, absorption may be a quality that characterizes specifically Romantic works. The former is a more self-absorbed and self-absorbing text, whereas the latter is more self-conscious and critical. They connote colorations more than dichotomies.

From a compositional point of view the question is, What can a poem absorb? The idea of a poem absorbing these elements is meant to provide an alternative to more traditional notions of causal narration or thematic relevance as producing a unified work. A poem can absorb contradictory logics, multiple tonalities, polyrhythms.

At the same time, impermeable materials—or moments— are crucial musical resources for a poem, though not all impermeable materials will work to create the desired textural space. Pushing further, impermeable elements may fuse together. The author may intend either or both. Creating an absorptive text may or may not be the object of a poem. So we can speak of a bloated poem, or a burst text, adding evaluative qualification: well bloated or bloated but blundering; exquisitely burst or dismally popped; elegantly engorged or haplessly logorrheic.

In nineteenth-century North American writing, the subject matter of absorption is prominent. The idea of absorption is also linked to revery, especially as it has been articulated in twentieth century poetics from Proust through surrealism.

However, the process need not be symmetrical. Certain surrealist works use revery as an absorptive process of creation without creating a text that makes this absorption transparent. In the course of this book, Ford makes what is in effect a Summa Contra Antiabsorptus:. Inasmuch as an authentic rendering—a rendering made with extreme artistic skill—will give you more the sense of having been present at an event than if you had actually been corporally present, whereas the reading of the most skillful of literary forgeries will only leave you with the sense that you have read a book the artistic rendering is the more valuable to you and therefore the greater achievement.

To produce that or similar effects is the ambition of the novel today. The fact is that with Elizabeth English became a supple and easily employable language and, making the discovery that words could be played with as if they were oranges or gilt balls to be tossed half a dozen together in the air, mankind rushed upon it as colts will dash into suddenly opened rich and easy pastures. So it was, for the rich and cultured, much more a matter of who could kick heels the higher and most flourish tail and mane than any ambition of carrying burdens or drawing loads.

In the end, however, what humanity needs is that burdens should be carried and provided that things get from place to place the name of the carrier or horse is of very secondary importance.

If it is the fashion we will go down to the meadow and watch the colts cavorting: but all the while we are aware that the business of words as of colts or of the arts is to carry things and we tire reasonably soon of watching horse-play! The struggle—the aspiration—of the novelist down the ages has been to evolve a water tight convention for the frame-work of the novel. He aspires—and for centuries has aspired—so to construct his stories and so to manage their surfaces that the carried away and rapt reader shall really think himself to be in Brussels on the first of Waterloo days or in the Grand Central Station waiting for the Knickerbocker Express to come in from Boston though actually he may be sitting in a cane lounge on a beach of Bermuda in December.

This is not easy. It is for instance an obvious and unchanging fact that if an author intrudes his comments into the middle of his story he will endanger the illusion conveyed by that story—but a generation of readers may come along who would prefer witnessing the capers of the author to being carried away by stories and that generation of readers may coincide with a generation of writers tired of self-obliteration.

So you may have a world of Oscar Wildes or of Lylys. Or you might, again, have a world tired of the really well constructed novel every word of which carries its story forward: then you will have a movement toward diffuseness, backboneless sentences, digressions, and inchoatenesses. In any case, they speak well for themselves.

By absorption I mean engrossing, engulfing completely, engaging, arresting attention, reverie, attention intensification, rhapsodic, spellbinding, mesmerizing, hypnotic, total, riveting, enthralling: belief, conviction, silence. Impermeability suggests artifice, boredom, exaggeration, attention scattering, distraction, digression, interruptive, transgressive, undecorous, anticonventional, unintegrated, fractured, fragmented, fanciful, ornately stylized, rococo, baroque, structural, mannered, fanciful, ironic, iconic, schtick, camp, diffuse, decorative, repellent, inchoate, programmatic, didactic, theatrical, background muzak, amusing: skepticism, doubt, noise, resistance.

On Fordian absorptive terms, the reader a. Nor is poetry, by nature emphasizing its artifice, immune from this dynamic. For poems do not necessarily make the beholder conscious of his or her role as a reader, nor can such self-consciousness be obliterated only by presenting highly visualizable scenes of sea voyages or Homeric adventure. Why just yesterday but when was today, dear reader? Absorption is blocked by misting this glass, or by breaking it, or by painting on its surface.

Any typographic irregularity, any glitch in expected syntax, any digression. Nicole Brossard makes this a theme in A Book , where the process of creating the fiction is explicitly put as the role of the reader:. The event is seen from a distance and out of context. All that is happening is this reading being done, the only real thing, causing a few muscles to move imperceptibly and making one conscious of his own breathing. To be aware of what happens at the very instant the eyes focus on the hand holding the book, on the book and the words it is made up of.

The words are yours. The game is over. The book too. The manuscript is no more. Time passes slowly, so slowly. Someone is reading. And gently closing the object. Beyond this, works that ask the reader to do something, such as those poems by Jackson Mac Low that have accompanying instructions, make use of a primary antiabsorptive technique.

The Coleridge poem usefully underlines the difficulty of identifying antiabsorptive means with antiabsorptive ends. Causal unity is by no means the only approach that has been used to create absorptive works. Forrest-Thomson makes this point with great acuity, praising Swinburne for having created. It is a world which simplifies and exalts but also, and by the same token, parodies. Poetry is often distinguished from other forms of writing by the fact that it marks its artifice by its line breaks or, if prose format, by virtue of the qualities that distinguish it from other types of prose.

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At first I thought the essay was toying with me a little too much, that its repetitions were built from some desire by the author to infuriate me. I developed some sort of paranoia that the essay was deliberately irritating, a sensation that probably follows anyone who has read too much Derrida. In some sections it seems indulgent; interested in filling itself to the brim, but this indulgence seems of little consequence; it repeats, defines, redefines and reclarifies. But why, and to what end?

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