To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Toward a Poetry & Poetics of the Americas (12): María Rivera, “Los Muertos”

 Translation from Spanish by Richard Gwyn

[When Ezra Pound defined an epic as a poem including history, he indirectly called our attention to the fact that American poetry has been struggling all along to let the concerns of & with history flow through it.  Taken for some time as a striking feature of latterday North American poetry, this sense of history is evident as well in the poetry of the other Americas, an outstanding example of which is this poem naming names of the recently murdered & disappeared by the contemporary Mexican poet María Rivera. (J.R.,)]

The Dead

Here they come
the decapitated,
the amputees,
the torn into pieces,
the women with their coccyx split apart,
those with their heads smashed in,
the little ones crying
inside dark walls
of minerals and sand.
Here they come
those who sleep in buildings
that house secret tombs:
they come with their eyes blindfolded,
their hands tied,
shot between their temples.
Here come those who were lost in Tamaupilas,
in-laws, neighbours,
the woman they gang raped before killing her,
the man who tried to stop it and received a bullet,
the woman they also raped, who escaped and told the story
comes walking down Broadway,
consoled by the wail of the ambulances,
the hospital doors,
light shining on the waters of the Hudson.
Here they come
the dead who set out from Usulután,
from La Paz
from La Unión,
from La Libertad,
from Sonsonate,
from San Salvador,
from San Juan Mixtepec,
from Cuscatlán,
from El Progreso,
from El Guante,
those who were given the goodbye at a karaoke party,
and were found shot in Tecate.
Here comes the one they forced to dig his brother’s grave,
the one they murdered after collecting a four thousand dollar ransom,
those who were kidnapped
with a woman they raped in front of her eight year old son
three times.
Where do they come from,
from what gangrene,
oh lymph,
the bloodthirsty,
the heartless,
the murdering
Here they come,
the dead so alone, so mute, so much ours,
set beneath the enormous sky of Anáhuac,
they walk,
they drag themselves,
with their bowl of horror in their hands,
their terrifying tenderness.
They are called
the dead that they found in a ditch in Taxco,
the dead that they found in remote places of Chihuahua,
the dead that they found strewn across plots of crops,
the dead that they found shot in la Marquesa,
the dead that they found hanging from bridges,
the dead that they found without heads on common land,
the dead that they found at the side of the road,
the dead that they found in abandoned cars,
the dead that they found in San Fernando,
those without number they cut into pieces and have still not been found,
the legs, the arms, the heads, the femurs of the dead
dissolved in drums.
They are called
remains, corpses, the deceased,
they are called
the dead whose mothers do not tire of waiting,
the dead whose children do not tire of waiting,
the dead whose wives do not tire of waiting,
they imagine them in subways, among gringos.
They are called
baby clothes woven in the casket of the soul,
the little tee shirt of a three-month-old
the photo of a toothless smile,
they are called mamita,
they are called
little kicks
in the tummy
and the newborn’s cry,
they are called four children,
Petronia (2), Zacarías (3), Sabas (5), Glenda (6)
and a widow (a girl) who fell in love at primary school,
they are called wanting to dance at fiestas,
they are called blushing of hot cheeks and sweaty hands,
they are called boys,
they are called wanting
to build a house,
laying bricks,
giving food to my children,
they are called two dollars for cleaning beans,
houses, estates, offices,
they are called
crying of children on earth floors,
the light flying over the birds,
the flight of pigeons in the church,
they are called
kisses at the river’s edge,
they are called
Gelder (17)
Daniel (22)
Filmar (24)
Ismael (15)
Agustín (20)
José (16)
Jacinta (21)
Inés (28)
Francisco (53)
in the scrubland,
hands tied
in the gardens of ranches,
in the gardens of ‘safe’ houses,
in some forgotten wilderness,
disintegrating mutely
and in secret,
they are called
secrets of hitmen,
secrets of slaughter,
secrets of policemen,
they are called sobbing,
they are called mist,
they are called body,
they are called skin,
they are called warmth,
they are called kiss,
they are called hug,
they are called laughter,
they are called people,
they are called pleading,
they were called I,
they were called you,
they were called us,
they are called shame,
they are called sobbing.
Here they go
breasts bitten,
hands tied,
their bodies burned to a crisp,
their bones polished by the sand of the desert.
They are called
the dead women that no one knows no one saw being killed,
they are called
women who go out alone to bars at night,
they are called
working women who leave their homes at dawn,
they are called
chucked away,
they are called meat,
they are called meat.
without flowers,
without tombstones,
without an age,
without a name,
without sobbing,
they sleep in their cemetery:
its name is Temixco,
its name is Santa Ana,
its name is Mazatepec,
its name is Juárez,
its name is Puente de Ixtla,
its name is San Fernando,
its name is Tlaltizapán,
its name is Samalayuca,
its name is el Capulín,
its name is Reynosa,
its name is Nuevo Laredo,
its name is Guadalupe,
its name is Lomas de Poleo,
its name is Mexico.

[From Richard Gwyn, ed., The Other Tiger: Recent Poetry from Latin America, Seren Books, 2016].  A video of María Rivera reading “Los Muertos” can be found here, & an interview with her appears at Numero Cinq on the internet.  The translator Richard Gwyn is the author of six collections of poetry, an anthology of contemporary poetry from Wales,  & two novels. His work has appeared in translation in over a dozen languages, & he is currently the Director of the MA in Creative Writing at Cardiff University & the author of Ricardo Blanco’s Blog.]

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Amish Trivedi: Excerpt of "Automata", from FuturePanic, with a note by the author

To keep waking up
missing the suns
beyond our own. The future
is a hard limit, the arc of history

long enough that no one here
will ever see enough of it.
Long after humans, maybe
two-hundred thousand years old,

would long have been buried

                        in the Earth’s graveyard,



Art is a kind of engagement
            with the future, depleting resources

so it can replicate itself. What art does in crisis,
machines do in space

over a few million years. Poems are fast enough
their language is not forgotten, buried.

Whatever you create
while reading this
is my intellectual property
and you creep me out.


By the time anyone looks us up, we’ll be dust,
void, ashes scattered into the galaxy’s ocean,

Wake up knowing
            there are only enough mornings. Wake
up knowing no one
knows we’re here. Wake up knowing
we won’t be missed. Lonely,
            alone enough out here.

I’m not worried about my future—
there’s a hard limit to it.

Worry without really meaning it. There’s a hard limit.


An egg hatched, an astrochicken— a machine
            that’s alive and giving birth
            to itself. Four million years
            of a future that’s not ours, of
            replicated mornings. Life

an infinite loop until it rebuilds itself.
Pre-history for future Earthlings. We are
relics, mythology.

Time is terrorism unstoppable, exiled. A refugee of time.
            I assemble you, call you into being, my baby universe.

A limited number of possibilities in an infinite universe:        
                        not everything is permissible.


I stood in a room
and looked at all the things in it—

            things that had been bought,
                        given, taken. I am

just as guilty. We are not guilty
because the house is divided—

we are guilty because
we are the ones

that divided it. Dying this way
may have been easy enough

but we’re living in a denial
that cannot hold itself together

forever, even if it can replicate itself
endlessly by draining us,

a planet, a star, a cow, a child, an Earth
of all resources, a parasite, our disease

spreading out across a galaxy for millions of years
after we’ve already killed ourselves

and left evidence in the only graveyard
no one can find.


Went into the river clean and came out with 
one eye damaged. Was told there was time now 

but heard it differently. I cannot hear 
any of you: 

            the screamings of the mind have made ears
of new ghosts. It's not the words that are hollow,

just the voice behind it. Ready to be something 
other than deceived.


A lotus wilting above an abyss: locked out of the
unisex bathroom, bleeding, right leg first. Beginnings

mean nothing without your head
in an oven. It’s the way it’s

said that gets one in trouble; it’s the way it
breathes that chokes. It’s afternoon:

sirens are heard as they pull through
the intersection.


Time now for the earth below
to stand open: bringing the mountain in

means hearing its cries
in the night. One seed buried below,

            one above.
One caught, strangled. About prayers

that settle into the room: I
set their skin on fire as the music stopped.

NOTE: FuturePanic encompasses macro and micro concerns to transform the reader’s sense of space and time and force them to engage with the present era’s perceptions of death, politics, and the border at which they meet. The opening (presented here) considers the Von Neumann Machine, an as-yet impossible organic machine designed to replicate itself across the galaxy over the next 400,000 years. Conceptual, expensive, and perplexing, the Von Neumann Machine raises questions present throughout FuturePanic – who benefits from the long reach of technology? How do the earth-bound conceive of transformation light years away? And how do mortals deign to simultaneously explore the potential for never ending life at the cost of killing death for machines, while grappling with their own limitations – corporeal death, political conceit, and economic destruction of the world around them? Is the quest for knowledge that may outlast us all worth stargazing above the screams of others in the here and now and the cries of our own limited bodies and minds?

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Jerome Rothenberg: Three Poems after Images by Nancy Tobin

[As I pass the ten-year mark of Poems and Poetics, I thought it appropriate to re-post in celebration the initial offering in the series, first posted (on my blogger site only) on June 7, 2008.  Published later that year as a small book from a resuscitated Hawk's Well Press (my own first press from the 1960s), copies of the original work can still be ordered, I believe, from Small Press Distribution. My own brief comments on our collaboration & Tobin’s more extensive description of her aims & working process follow the poems, below. (J.R.)]

Waiting for Seurat

waiting for seurat
is not so bad is not

what everybody thinks of
standing in a fish tank

arms akimbo legs too
when the bathers fail to make

the morning’s exercise
forsaken all awash

as I am too
but now

the final holiday draws nigh
some sunday afternoon

the chime has chimed
the branches overhang

the crowd of watchers
& it’s time

to coax the children
back into the car

to leave the dishes
& the soap behind

the other little friends
so soon departed

still we wait for them
we are the walkers

in the park
& if we fall into the lake

a second time
the acrobats will scoop us out

will whisk us home
like children

neither lost nor found
our bodies & our thoughts

like tiny flecks
& little reckoning

the time it takes
to sink or swim

still bug eyed
half alive

the big bowl broken
waiting for seurat

Dystopia Parkway

how far he dives
into a sandbox
lights erupting flicker

down a parkway
riding to the Star Hotel
a place to watch

the stars on carpets
sidewalks stitched into a
pure dystopia

as one by one
we dance
for all the children

in the world
my temper will ignite
feed you my flames

a red confusion
opens to the right of us
we raise white fingers

stubby arms
a forest of computer
screens alight

the parkway filled with
phantom windows mothers
can stare out from

their dystopias
more like a fact of life
seeing that nothing

can cohere however
solid are the walls
however bright

soap bubbles floating
over broken glass
the perch deserted where

birds seldom sang
the parkway packed into
a sun box flat

I carry underneath
my coat the memory of where
we all will live

a family of artists
each one with a simple story
resolved to bring it home

The Best Thing
About Sunday

is the color
& the next best
how the little folk
find here a place to fly

balloons & kites
rummage among the broken
mother boards

how pink & paper thin
the world appears
to be a field of pinwheels
driven by the wind

& spinning
line on line
& circle into circle
strings cut free

these are the gifts
they bring us these
are what we throw
into the air & see them

flying by
the children’s room
a little brighter
walking cockeyed looking

for the wind to stop
then we can find
the best thing about sunday
eggs & eyes

adornments cars that run
on spirits wheels
too precious for the road
a pig that squeals

note. The initiatory act here follows from Tobin's quasi-abstract images and her assessment of the mysteries and revelations that her art provides her: “I construct both my paintings and works on paper as a dialogue between the representational and ornamental; which party gets the last word remains a mystery until the composition is complete. I start with painted or drawn images, then literally cut them down to size with scissors before reassembling the components on painted panels or into ‘quilted’ paper compositions that I treat with successive layers of paint, ink and polymer. This break-‘em-down-to-build-‘em-up methodology is my way of capturing moments in an expanding universe. Representation is as powerful as it futile. Any tableau is illusory; even mountains are in constant flux. Particles decay, light bends, and perceptions alter with each recollection. My technique in turn encourages the viewer to approach each work with a forensic eye: to examine the constituent parts and try to reconstruct their pedigree, then step in and take in the totality of color and form. The layers I create fade into opacity, however firmly each is fixed in memory. Try to peel them back with your eyes, and you'll reach a new level each time.”

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Toward a Poetry & Poetics of the Americas (11): from The Popol Vuh (Mayan)

Translation from the Mayan by Dennis Tedlock

this is the beginning of the ancient word,
here in this place called k’iche’

Here we shall inscribe,
we shall implant the Ancient Word,
the source for everything done in the citadel of K’iche’,
  in the nation of K’iche’ people.
And this shall be our theme:
the demonstration,
and account
of how things were put in shadow
brought to light by the Maker,
 Begetter, names of Hunahpu Possum,
                                Hunahpu Coyote,
        Great White Peccary,
        Resplendent Plumed Serpent,
        Heart of the Lake,
        Heart of the Sea,
Plate Shaper,
Bowl Shaper, as they are called, also named,
     also described as the Midwife,
Xmucane, names of the Defender,
   twice a Midwife,
   twice a Matchmaker, as is said in the words of K’iche’.
They accounted for everything
         and did it, too, with a clear state of mind
     in clear words.
We shall write about this now amid the preaching of God,
 in Christendom now.
We shall reveal it out because there is no longer a way to see the Council Book,
a way to see the light from beside the sea
                                       the story of our shadows,
      a way to see the dawn of life, as it is called.
There is the original book
and ancient writing,
but he hidden in the face of the reader,
it takes a long performance
and account to complete the lightning of all the sky-earth,
the fourfold siding,
fourfold cornering,
fourfold staking,
halving the cord,
stretching the cord in the sky,
       on the earth,
the four sides,
the four corners, as it is said, by the Maker,
Father of life,
           of humankind,
Giver of Breath,
Giver of Heart,
who give birth,
who give heart to the nations of lasting light,
 to those born in the light,
 begotten in the light;
knowers of everything there is in the sky-earth,

Now it still ripples,
now it still murmurs,
now it still sighs, and
        it is empty under the sky.

Here follow the first words,
                    the first eloquence:
There is not yet one person,
              one animal,
Only the sky alone is there,
the face of the earth is not clear.
Only the sea alone is pooled under all the sky,
there is nothing whatever gathered together.
It is still at rest;
not a single thing stirs.
It is kept back,
still kept at rest under the sky.
Whatever exists is simply not there:
only the pooled water,
only the calm sea,
only it alone is pooled.
Whatever might be is simply not there:
only murmurs,
        ripples, in the dark,
                     in the night.

All alone, the Maker,
           Resplendent Plumed Serpent,
           Begetters are in the water.
Light glitters in the place where they stay,
                          covered in quetzal feathers,
    in blue-green.
Thus the name, Plumed Serpent.
They are great sages,
they are great thinkers in their very being.
And of course there is the sky,
and there is also the Heart of Sky.
This is the name of the god, as it is spoken.

And then his word came here,
he came to Resplendent Plumed Serpent, here in the blackness,
in the early dawn.
He spoke with the Resplendent Plumed Serpent,
and they talked, then they thought,
  then they worried,
          they agreed with each other,
          they joined their words,
     their thoughts.
Then it was clear,
then they reached accord in the light,
and then humanity was clear,
then they conceived the growth,the generation of trees,
           of bushes,
   and the growth of life,
                      of humankind, in the blackness,
                                             in the early dawn,
all because of the Heart of Sky, named Hurricane.

Translation from Mayan by Dennis Tedlock, with Andres Xiloj


source. Dennis Tedlock, 2000 Years of Mayan Literature, University of California Press, 2010.

You cannot erase time. – Andres Xiloj

(1) The Popol Vuh, literally “the book of the community” (or “commonhouse” or “council”), was preserved by Indians in Santo Tomás Chichicastenango, Guatemala, & in the eighteenth century given to Father Francisco Ximénez who transcribed it in roman letters & put it into Spanish; vanished again & rediscovered in the 1850s by Carl Scherzer & Abbé Charles Etienne Brasseur de Bourbourg. It existed in picture-writing before the Conquest, & the version used by Father Ximénez (& since lost) may have been the work, circa 1550, of one Diego Reynoso. The book “contains the cosmogonical concepts & ancient traditions of [the Quiché nation], the history of their origin, and the chronicles of their kings down to the year 1550.” 
      In addition, as Dennis Tedlock notes for his translation, much of the prima materia for this foundational poem – a masterwork of the poetry of the Americas – has been carried into contemporary Quiché Maya lore & practice, from which he draws in consultation with Andres Xiloj & other Mayan diviners (“day-keepers”), whose “business [was] to bring what is dark into ‘white clarity.’ just as the gods of the Popol Vuh first brought the world itself to light.”  This continuity between past & present is crucial here to the process of translation.
      An alternative translation by Tedlock can be found in his full version of Popol Vuh: The Quiché Mayan Book of the Dawn of Life, Simon & Schuster, 1996.

(2)      an academic proposal
For a period of 25 years, say, or as long as it takes a new generation to discover where it lives, take the great Greek epics out of the undergraduate curricula, & replace them with the great American epics.  Study the Popol Vuh where you now study Homer, & study Homer where you now study the Popol Vuh – as exotic anthropology, etc.  If you have a place in your mind for the Greek Anthology (God knows you may not), let it be filled by Tedlock’s 2000 Years of Mayan Literature or the present editor’s Shaking the Pumpkin or this very volume you are reading.  Teach courses in religion that begin: “This is the account of how all was in suspense, all calm, in silence; all motionless, still, & the expanse of the sky was empty” – & use this as a norm with which to compare all other religious books, whether Greek or Hebrew.  Encourage other poets to translate the Native American classics (a new version for each new generation), but first teach them how to sing.  Let young Indian poets (who still can sing or tell-a-story) teach young White poets to do so.  Establish chairs in American literature & theology, etc. to be filled by men trained in the oral transmission.  Remember, too, that the old singers & narrators are still alive (or that their sons & grandsons are) & that to despise them or leave them in poverty is an outrage against the spirit-of-the land.  Call this outrage the sin-against-Homer.
   Teach courses with a rattle & a drum.
                           (J.R., as originally published in Shaking the Pumpkin)
(3) “It is dawn in Jerusalem while midnight hovers above the Pillars of Hercules.  All ages are contemporaneous in the mind.” – Ezra Pound

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Heriberto Yépez: What Are the United States and Why Are There So Many of Them (Work in Progress)

Originally published in S/N New World Poetics, a publication edited by Charles Bernstein & Eduardo Espina. Copyright © 2012. All Rights Reserved.

[As Heriberto Yépez & I begin our collaborative composition of a transnational anthology/assemblage of the poetry and poetics of the Americas “from origins to present,” I’m posting the following as an example of his ongoing & truly original exploration of what he here calls a pantopia (“a total space of collected cultural signs”) & its relation in particular to the story of “our Americas” both north & south.  “The American dream,” he writes below, “means the dream of a new memory,” which represents as well one of the points of departure for what he & I are currently doing. (J.R.)]

Are we even more conservative than the mainstream?

Common sense was one of the founding forces of American modern literature.

Vox populi has been a strong influence, not only in obvious places—like Whitman’s democratic poetics—but also in authors whom we have learned to identify as difficult or paradoxical—literally meaning, aside from doxa, away from common sense—like Stein, Pound or Olson, whose varieties of patriotic experience are only the tip of the common sense iceberg in all of them.

We cannot discuss the influence of common sense in American conceptual writing without remembering that American common sense is pragmatic at its core.

American pragmatism was a strong element in the formation, for example, of Stein’s word play—her desire, let’s say, of removing connotation or prior meaning, and just staying with the word or phrase in its materiality, staying there, so as to understand that along with the fabulous complexity in her writing there is also in it a crucial will toward the “simple”: a rose as just a rose.

There’s a pervasive positivistic impulse in American experimentalism.

Common sense also played a role in the construction of other early experimental American works like Pound’s, whose prose shows his muscular interest in “getting it across”. I’m referring, of course, to books like ABC of Reading or Guide to Kulchur. His didactic approach—a prolongation of his famous poetic economic principle of not letting anything unnecessary get onto the page—resonates with archetypical American phraseologies like “cut the crap” or “straight talk” (McCain’s 2008 slogan).

Charles Olson’s work not only relates to imperialistic patterns of working through otherness but most importantly his work is guided by what we can say is the basic pragmatic principle—and which also informs most post-modern writing: the transition from indivisible to fragmented time and then from fragmented time into fitting space.

We are shifting from a civilization based on the experience of “History”—a notion mostly naturalized since Hegel—toward a new paradigm, a new way of experiencing and ordering reality—still in the making—in which circular, spiral or linear timeness is no longer the semantic master, the central element that gives order to fragments distributed along its field of influence—the control is now exercised by relational space.

In this model space is the giver of being and sense.

This move away from “History” more or less consists in the dissolution of the linear ordering called “time” in favor of playing with those now loose fragments inside a total space of collected cultural signs, a pantopia.

A pantopia is an imaginary space or archive of persistent ruins and new components that not only constitute a compilation of free parts but most importantly makes possible the construction of a neo-memory—in which lightness-of-being permeates every stratum of reality.

By neo-memory I mean the possibility of remaking the archive into another one, with more or less parts than the last one.

The American dream means the dream of a new memory.

That dream has given rise to the turn from History to pantopia, a total space of remixing everything that used to be chained together. Pantopias are History’s junkyards.

Modern poetry in its entirety foreshadowed different avatars of pantopia in the form of techniques, metaphors, images and representations—utopias or dystopias—that allude to a total-market-space in which meaning can be rewired.

Pantopias are all about networking. Negative networking to be exact in which difference is the new ruler of co-control—composed by the simultaneous domain of matriarchy and patriarchy.

In pantopia choice is the prime category. It may well be that the urban capitalistic experience of having choices—what to see, what to buy, what to consume—choice of market, the social element that triggered the imagining of pantopia, the sum and at the same time precondition of every choice one can make.

Baudelaire’s dandy, for example, is one of the first pantopic attempts—the dandy as the subject of a total sight, a sight that appropriates everything through his at the same time indifferent and voracious eyesight.

Bataille called it acephale and Artaud’s, Burroughs’ and Deleuze’s body-without-organs.
Borges calls it aleph while Pound imagines it as a vortex.

Stein and Olson praised it as “American Space”.

Benjamin, by the way, saw it coming. But also Lezama Lima—“Gnostic space” —and Oswald de Andrade—“anthropofagy”. I’m building here, by the way, a pantopic list of pantopia’s prophets.

Pantopia has been also explored by American science-fiction and Hollywood movies—in order to develop a cybermnemics, a control of memories.

In this shift from historical time to total containment-space, gathering, remixing, cross-reference and archiving are the rules of the game.

The pantopic logic is widespread and shapes both the avant-garde and the market. We are now fully entering a pantopic epoch.

If the pantopic is replacing what used to be the historical, then what we ordinarily understand as “post-modern” would be a more explicit way in which this change is organizing itself aesthetically.

Citation, de-contextualization, fragmentation, and disjunction in general, could be—whatever this makes us feel in the different experimental scenes—modes of production that unwillingly mirror and predict psychohistorical hegemonic formations at the social levels in the next decades.

This shouldn’t surprise us. In writing almost everything is reactionary in advance.
Literature can be defined as the forerunner of new methods of co-control in the upcoming de-capitalism.

If the concept of History is metaphysically founded, pantopia is mostly a chaosmic fantasy constructed by crypto-pragmatism.

Filodoxical pragmatism—friendly to common sense—is in itself a way of synthesizing a corpus of texts, a way of appropriating with great velocity a greater body to form a manageable text-complex-net.

 “Cut to the chase” is how History was dismembered. And how cut-spatialized time invented both short story and collage.

Pragmatic speech or writing (whatever its complexity may be) is based on the premise of writing as inclusion of cues, keys, hints, gestures to insiders or stimulus to the reader. Writing conceived as an exercise on cybermnemics.

And a smart-as-clandestine method to continue a de-capitalism that unites in one logic both citation and outsourcing.

In that sense, even the hermetic tendency of contemporary conceptual American writing has a very definitive correlation with pragmatism. I would argue that investigative poetry, appropriation and archive are approaches that have developed in the light of this strange correlation between common sense and experimentalism.

The page as a pantopic opportunity to have many times inside a single space.

American avant-garde and post-modern techniques possess a missing link with American mainstream pragmatism.That pragmatism is at the center of even opposed poetics such as the first thought, best thought don’t worry practice of Ginsberg or Kerouac’s immediate acceptance writing and his quintessential no bullshit no hassle attitude, which is more pragmatic than, in fact, Buddhist.

The same can be said of Cage’s experimental Zen.

And pragmatism is also present in the apparently different ideas or methods of Language and Post-Language writing, where the avoidance of metaphysics shows that Marxism, (mostly hidden) Russian formalism and post-structuralism can be put in the service of, or at least combined with, the typically American pragmatic stance. Now in its pantopic avatars.

Charles Bernstein’s anti-absorption can be understood as a playful variety of pragmatic realism and most definitively an anti-metaphysical and rationalistic poetics based on an intelligent management of archives. A poetics of clearly knowing the artificiality of pantopia, and playing with it.

Unfortunately the brilliance of Bernstein—and that entire generation—can be used as just an entrance to pure clever poetics, i.e, aesthetic dilettantism in which “small things” become inflated “big deal” in the context of career ego fantasy.

English, in its entirety, could be a collection of pragmatic quotes.

Discussing appropriation without challenging its relationship with rising modes of capitalistic ordering would be uncritical.
We in the experimental field may well be one of pragmatism’s secret and cryptic branches.
Allowing History to turn into pantopia, contemporary art and writing have become cryptocapitalisms.

Hanna Arendt writes in The Human Condition that the enchantment of “little things” characterizes both modern poetry and the bourgeois spirit. Being caught up in little decisions is one of the defining procedures of most experimentalism, where the presence of a mere comma or the inclusion of a certain word becomes a heroic either/or. The transformation of the little into the Big Deal is not only one defining category of the American experimental poet but also of the American identity in general. It is capitalistic choice—endless possibilities of choosing-among—that which builds the neo-bourgeois bridge between experimentalism and the mainstream.

The conceptual turn in art and writing lets us see a crucial moment in the development of the Western intellectual and social mind frame. And so the question is made: is conceptual art a truly progressive mode of representation?

By progressive I mean a departure away from hegemonic tendencies in our civilization.

If we understand its polemical relationship with the Romantic aspects of our high and low cultures, conceptualism does represent a critical alternative to the traditional definition of modern subjects and practices. But we also need to take into account that at the same time that conceptualism departs from Romantic understandings it also closely follows the rationalistic model that also characterizes Modernity.

Conceptual art can be seen as a form of neo-rationalism.

In part conceptual pantopism appeared to prevent the ‘shamanistic’ tendencies of certain avant-gardes that posed the possibility of destroying the clean-cut art form. (By shamanistic I mean how the animal evolves from one orbital of consciousness into another). The minimalist and cool aspects of early conceptual art show us its clear communication with the way pragmatism and rationalism in general defend theory-based works against bodily mess and spiritual verticality.

Conceptual art has a historical relationship with analytical philosophy, that is, anti-vertical tendencies, founded on mathematical thinking—Wittgenstein and how Wittgenstein was used by pragmatism in the Anglo world—Conceptualism has a great deal to do with posing an alternative to the psychoanalytic impulse in which art seemed again to be rooted in something more than reception in the social sphere.

Conceptual art served as a counterweight to tendencies in art which threatened to return us to an understanding of art as coming from a depth-world in the “soul”. Conceptual art kept the definition of the aesthetic experience as mostly social. More philosophic than psychological. More cultural than genetic.

The key here was semiotic sign versus psychic symbol. If the work of art, or text, is understood as set of arbitrary-cultural-historical signs—doesn’t matter if it’s in Saussure’s or in Derrida’s sense—and not as a series of symbols deeply seated in the movement of psychological autonomous entities, then, we can get rid of the risk of getting close to a non-rationalistic explanation of what are the foundations of art.

Semiotics and its offspring—conceptual art—resolves too quickly and in a very traditionally Western way—a rationalistic and pragmatic way—the question about whether there’s a non-social element or “root” in representation.

It could well be that Khlebnikov and not Saussure was right.

The “sign” does have a trans-mental charge or meaning prior to its social sense.

Derrida broke with many things Western, but not with its central axis: rationalism. Derrida himself defined deconstruction as a new form of rationality.

He mainly discussed with Freud—not Jung, whom he didn’t take seriously at all.

Deconstruction was built on the basis of a critique on Levi-Strauss’s positivistic view of myth not on Eliade’s. Derrida is mostly rationalistic.

And so are we.

Conceptual art could be the coolest conservatism we have constructed in order to safeguard our most retrograde rationalistic world view.

And that’s problematic.

The post-historical union of fragmented “cultural” states is what I call the United-States, the central manifestation of pantopia.

The denial of depth in current American experimentalism and the denial of mammal evolution in the human species in American mainstream schools are part of the same American logic: this—We—is the only reality that can exist. Nothing can surpass us or be more profound than this. 

We. Here. As it is. And nothing more. Just This. The Supreme.

We are still living inside the semiotic age of art.

 Conceptual art and writing has a strong relationship with the dominant definition of man in our contemporary societies and particularly in the university social classes. And this has everything to do with archiving and handling collections of signs. Society at large implies and employs consumption as its immediate category. We are writing—whether verbally or visually—texts that appeal to our consumption-ridden tendencies. An experimental piece, for example, most of the time is executed and understood as a series of signals or calls made to us to become aware that the piece implies playing with horizontal codes that ask for the possession of a corpus which translates those signs into others.

Conceptual art and writing fundamentally are practices sustained by a certain anthropoetic project—conceptual practices construct a certain human subject which relates to otherness in certain ways. This anthropoiesis—man making—consists in the formation of semiotic man.

Deregulated man merely floating in the free market of purely relational economy.

Semiotic man builds structures in which pleasure is derived from relating entities arbitrarily as if the disappointment of the non-existence of ‘Nature’ or ‘Essence’ asked for a vengeance in defense of absurdity. A turn from metaphysical to telephysical fancy.

Semiotic laissez faire attains excellence when perfected by higher education—where education is understood as the acquisition of a corpus of complex references which help us experience a free translation of one text into another toward the formation of a semiotic United-States of cultural fragments.

And how playing with the right—and left—codes of pantopic culture gives us a sense of both mastering and belonging: co-control.

The pleasure of episteme: we find delight in understanding a text beyond others.

And we find delight in consciously controlling the pantopic production of meaning—so as to assure that the I that consumes, the I who is called the reader, still is the main agency in the prison-house of language.
Quotes assure us we’re socially real.
And integrate us into the cybermnemic.

Academia is scholarly pantopia.

We know that mainstream writing and art have a lot to do with the traditional scheme of Judeo-Christianity and how poetry, narrative or images reiterate beliefs, emotions, “neurosis”, and all forms of denial of experience—what Debord called ‘spectacle’—and we also know that we must continue to destroy all of those reactionary values.

But we are at the point—after more than a half century of experience with conceptualism and other forms of avant-garde or post-modern experimental practices— where we need to see we are not the “good ones”, regardless of how much feminism, deconstruction, post-colonialism and all our theoretical bibles push us to believe we are the saved pack.

New social modes of production are suggested by old ones. The suggestion is frequently picked up, knowingly or not, by literature and art. In that way, art is tricked to feel itself ahead of its time.

In the experimental mode of production of visual and verbal aesthetic materials we are now at the point where along with the constant emphasis of fighting against the paradigms of Judeo-Christianity without granting any opportunity for its return—something which I think American universities have mostly renounced in the name of “political correctness” and “religious tolerance” in the classroom—we also need to radicalize our definition of ourselves as thinkers-writers-artisst-professors.

Pantopia is reached when cultural relativism is canonical.

The be-careful educational American system is stopping intellectual development in its thinkers, writers and artists. The conservative moralist tendencies—both from the left and the right—inside universities are the main force against the emergence of new radical forms. 

Not the market.

We are teaching students to become perfect intellectual consumers.

We are handling knowledge as a collection of discourses that can be safely mixed in a “critical” pantopia, where everything, at the end, becomes units of information—that later becomes cultural capital.

Having become a giver of pantopic information, the professor plays the role of the knower who, in fact, does not possess any superior ethical knowledge. I am stating this in the context of discussing archive and appropriation because when parrhesia is removed from the teaching profession—when the teacher does not work in oneself in order to acquire parrhesia—then the professor becomes a cultural worker whose function is to guide students on how to practice the consumption of diverse discourses, texts and con-texts, a know-how that will insert him or her in the national and international division of academic or aesthetic labor—where how to appropriate is the key to succeed.

The teacher and subsequently the writer or artist is conceived as somebody who possesses the right references and knows how to play with the endless semiotic possibilities derived from the surface of the text.

An expert on archive.

Parrhesia basically means “fearless speech”, a knowledge that is gained when you have embarked on a long process of putting your body, emotions and mind in disensual states of being—in tension with oneself. Once you have acquired parrhesia you are responsible for using it in society, not only knowing that exercising parrhesia can be detrimental to your safety but also knowing that just claiming you have parrhesia is going to put you in a difficult position in a society which may be offended or simply does not believe there are superior ways of experiencing consciousness other than the ones it is accustomed to.

We should credit Foucault with returning the term parrhesia to philosophical and, in general, contemporary theoretical circulation. But let’s not forget that Foucault himself, because he didn’t want to abandon the traditional Western figure of “just” being a professor or “just” being an academic writer, consisted, as an intellectual figure, in not accepting parrhesia!

Until the end of his career and life, he portrayed himself as a traditional Western intellectual subject, as though what he researched in his late work—how the subject is historically constructed—didn’t change him a bit, when the case was, in fact, that the evidence he uncovered could give him the opportunity to change his own definition of himself as “professor” or “academic writer” but he didn’t.

Foucault saw himself, at the end, as a social scientist, who could study all these subjects without putting his own subjectivity into question. That was a failure on Foucault’s part to go beyond the technologies of the self in Western literature and theory.

Duchamp knew all of this.

Ready made was one of Duchamp’s word plays. And ready made means ready-maid (an irony there). An irony on how transparency can not happen. How maid-surrender is not possible. How the maid is not ready.

So what apparently hasn’t been understood is that ready made (being ironical!) translates as not-ready, not-made, not-ready-made.

As a not-ready-made it asks for a something-else.

That something-else can be a concept in a rationalistic age. But it could also be asking for a something-else which is a psychic depth.

Ready made is not only a sign but also a symbol.

In either case it is a diabolo.

A diabolo or diablo (a devil) is something that breaks unity, disarticulates.

(Ready made is pure philately.).
Ready made means how no interpretation can arise from the experience of the piece as it is. It needs something-else.

So ready made also means not ready to be Read.

Not ready. Not maid. Not Rhea. Not readable-made.

(In that sense, Duchamp hasn’t been understood at all. In the United States, Duchamp has been read as if he was Warhol.)

Ready made indicates the isolation gained by every fragment of culture when it became separated from its previous order (“history”) and entered into the pantopic archive where the capitalistic ‘everything goes’ translates into all sorts of ‘cultural’ practices. Ready made is self-ironical. Not literal—as it has mostly been taken: as if Duchamp was Danto.

Duchamp’s ready made is a self made irony. Those object-gestures are ambivalent—ironical—toward the dichotomy depth/surface in meaning production. It is no accident that a fountain and a shovel—to just mention two of the most philatelic of the ready-mades—allude to depth and at the same its disconnect.

The ready made is not only an immediate satori but also a Kafkaesque delay of sense.

 “Ready”, I repeat, alludes to read. As if Duchamp, knowingly or not, suspected that from then on we would fall into an epoch of aesthetic production where works were basically going to be made to be read.

And he was making fun of this ready-read age.

Ready made, then, implies an irony against works which are made to be read in a (pragmatic) ready way.

Works made to be ready to be read.

Which I think is a concise definition of conceptualism, i.e., practices which consider and engage with the preeminence of the (social-conscious) reader.

An anthropoiesis of man as subject of free legein—understanding legein as the virtue of freely choosing parts from a pantopic archive with no hierarchy inside.

But that brings all sorts of Western notions into play and at the same time ignores important knowledge and challenging evidence that put those same notions into question.

And that’s problematic.

Is language empty or is it already charged or full of meaning before the readers get to it?
It depends, first, on who the reader is. If the reader is the conscious reader, the visible one, you or I, then we can say yes, it is half empty or half full with social meaning, half empty and half full of historical components. But that response is now totally obvious, that is, immediate to our dogmatic scheme of how current Western theories understand texts.

So it’s undeniable, first, that there is a social reading happening in every case reading takes place, so reading is always—as conceptualism understands—unstable, relative and arbitrary—historically determined.

But if the reader of the text is not the conscious reader—or at least not the only one, not the only reader reading the text—the given response falls out of place.

I won’t say, by the way, that the other reader I’m referring to reads the text at the same time as the conscious reader. It may well be the case that (s)he reads the text at a different time and not the same than the conscious reader does. Nor will I say the conscious reader reads it first. It may well be s(he) reads it before or much later than the visible she or he.

We just don’t know in how many simultaneous times a reading takes place.
Pantopia, by the way, builds the illusion that only one space and that only one space controls all findings and remains. My Space!
So there are at least two readers. Or, more precisely, three: because (s)he can be two.
And none of them is unitary. Everyone is more a puzzle than a clear body.

But the two—or three—of them are not necessarily one big—unitary—mess. It appears there’s at least one border between the conscious reader and the other.

When we read, there’s a social reader active but also another reader which I’m not going to call unconscious because that would be to define it from the point of view of the ego—the point of view we need to abandon soon, as we have known for a long time now, but maybe that’s something we can never accomplish.

The unconscious reader is not the so-called “unconscious” but consciousness, which is mostly unconscious of the existence of the so-called “unconscious”.

So what we have called the “unconscious” is, in fact, our consciousness—unconscious about the existence of what it calls the “unconscious”.

So I would simple call it here—both of them—the other reader.

And that other reader—I’m sorry to tell all of us—educated in semiotics, deconstruction and other forms of advanced theoretical neo-rationalistic modes of thinking—does not necessarily read according to social or “historical” patterns.

I like to tell my students—when I play the professor role—that in art and literature—in the life of language or bio-graphy—we are at a problematic stage, similar to that of physics, which has to deal with two sets of different and incompatible laws: those of classic (Newtonian) physics and those of quantum physics.

In our case, in language practices we are split by semiotics—to cover a plural set of social theories that explain the production and reading of social signs—and those discoveries made by psychoanalysis and deep psychology in general.

This means this is one of those epochs when “Negative capability” (Keats) is needed or we are going to suffer a “Crack up” (Fitzgerald).

This is the problematic field in which I ask myself what is writing and what is art. And what is the task of those of us who ask.

We can train the conscious reader to be open and to not cling to fixed meanings of texts or train them to realize that signs have different meanings in cultural space and historical time.
And this training is what we call higher education. Which is fine.

But this is not—like it or not—necessarily the way the other reader, the othereader (“the unconscious”) operates.

To (s)he—it appears—signs are symbols of an un-historical kind.

So (s)he is more akin to a finality, as if (s)he didn’t care about critical theory.

Or post-modernism.

The othereader appears to have a somewhat finite and determined set of meanings that are attached to the language it experiences, regardless of the conscious reader’s social context.
Is the othereader reactionary too?

It may be so.

If the conscious reader operates in pantopia, the other reader operates in timeness.

For now we don’t know enough about (s)he.

To describe the state of language of both being (social) (conventional) sign and (unhistorical) (“natural”) symbol I used the term philatelia.

As I have explained elsewhere philatelia means both friend of meaning, friend of finality (telos) and friend of non-sense, friend of the incomplete (atelos).

Philatelia—thanks to an error by Georges Herpin—who invented the term (in a wrong way!) in the middle of the 19th Century—instead of writing philotelia—teleia meaning their tax (taken care of by the sender, i.e, “already-paid” postage)—wrote philately, because he had figured out—erratically—that atelia could mean “tax-free”, “tax-exempt”.

At the end, philately carries two polar meanings in one word. As maybe every word should.
And gives us—by erratics—the opportunity to employ this word with these two opposite sets of meanings.

Philately describes how language is both (social) sign and (non-social) symbol. A postal stamp, for example, is an arbitrary sign for the conscious mind but a mythic symbol for deep timeness.
Every social concept triggers a parallel and maybe contradictory inner process.

We need to move from a conceptual-social-semiotic understanding of our practices to a philatelic acceptance of reality.

The paradigms of post-modern or experimental writing coming out of the 20th Century theory-based practices—their rationalistic and pragmatic blindness to deep psychology—are simply not enough.

But neither do I think of writing in the inherited notions of the NeoRomantic school. It would be plain silly to ignore Marxism and what came after.

Let’s define ourselves as philatelists. Writing and art are philatelia: both love of sense and non-sense, both a social and a non-social phenomenon.

The philatelic condition of writing and the body-mind escape all of our current categories to describe the two of them.

Philatelia I predict will be the key exploration of our time.

[Originally published in S/N New World Poetics, a publication edited by Charles Bernstein & Eduardo Espina.  Copyright © 2012. All Rights Reserved.]