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Charles Bernstein on Seriality

In reading Charles Bernstein’s essay on Charles Reznikoff, “Reznikoff’s Nearness,” I found a quote that, at least for me, helps to locate digital poetics in the context of print-based models.  His closing remarks on hypertext’s distinct penchant for nonlinear readings point to the medium’s potential for poetic seriality.  A question that occurred to me is how much does a work of recombinate literature privilege readings that weigh heavier on form than content (by this I mean addressing the text (content) only as a means to discuss the more conspicuous element, its recombinable form).  I shudder in dividing a poem, no matter its medium, into categories of form and content, but it seems to me that recombinate poems share with sound poetry a resistance to close reading.  I’m wondering if this is a characteristic generalizable to the bulk of contemporary conceptual writing?  Another trait unifying paper and digital poetries?

(By the way, if you’re not up on Reznikoff, I highly recommend his book Testimony…a collection of poems that take their language and occasion from early twentieth century court records.)

Here’s the Bernstein:

There are a number of serial works that are not intended to be read only or principally in the order in which they are printed.  (Serial reading opens all works to recombination.  My favorite image of readerly seriality is David Bowie In Nicholas Roeg’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” watching a bank of TVs all of which were rotating their channels.) Robert Grenier’s Sentences—five hundred discrete articulations each on a separate index card and housed in a blue Chinese box—is the best example I know of extrinsic seriality, though two other boxes of cards also come to mind: Jerome Rothenberg and Harris Lenowitz’s Gematria 27 (twenty-seven recombinable numeric word equivalences) and THomas Mc Evilley’s cubo-serial 4 (forty-four four-line poems).  In principle, hypertext is an ideal format for this mode of composition since it allows a completely nonlinear movement from link to link: no path need be specified, and each reading of the database creates an alternative series  (The Objectivist Nexus 222)

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