Friday, July 25, 2008

CHARLES BERNSTEIN . CREELEY . COMMONS

In a recent and especially useful essay on Creeley called "Hero of the Local," Charles Bernstein discusses the relation of the particular to the common. BOO. Both terms are highly abstract, fungible and often completely unmanageable. Abstraction's not always such a terrible thing, but it's especially bad when it discloses itself as something other than (an) abstraction, as something like an impenetrable and sovereign "particular" or "singularity." In the case of each, we've beaten these terms to death, ground them down, sapped whatever residual meaning might be lurking within them. Each time I hear the word "particular" I want to vomit. And I imagine this nausea has something to do with the excess of meaning that characterizes the word — its meaning is indeterminate, undecidable, utterly beyond location. Particular. From the moment I first encountered poetry it was one of those words that was — without mercy — beaten into me. The particular this. The particular that. It didn't set the terms of the conversation so much as it shackled the conversation, narrowed it, presiding over it like a little dictator. It deluded us into believing that the multiple, the reproducible, was singular and singularly unique. This particular moved through the world like a god or Big Brother, at once everywhere and nowhere. But this particular dictator ...

The same is the case for "common." What "common" and "particular" hold in common is their malleability. We can do any damn thing we want with these words, fiddle with them to meet our ends, stretch them like pennies to make ends meet. It is precisely because neither are particular in any essential way that each are so useful to so many.

But what happens when neither the particular (difference / singularity) and the common (sameness) are not framed as mutually exclusive terms, but terms that collapse into one another. What happens when the common is defined not as sameness but the terrain within which multiple differences or singularities reside. As Bernstein says of Creeley's poetic practice:

Creeley's equal emphasis on both the particular and the common is another one of his paradoxes: for it is the particular within the common that is the obscure object of his desire and frequent frustration. The common is not one thing (or one idea) believed by all but a shared space in which our individual differences converge without disappearing. A commons is a place of dispute and provisional agreements, a convention not a conversion, a particular place not a universal claim. In Creeley's prosody, and here the mark of Zukofsky is evident, we count by ones: a serial order in which the contingency of the next is honored and each word (nouns no more than prepositions) carries its own weight. This is a poetics not of subordination but of the sublimity of the modular and the local. Each part doing its part against an horizon of a whole that never arrives.

This notion of the common is not only spatial but also exterior to difference, outside of singularity, delimited by the "horizon of a whole that never arrives." But a "common" space can also be internal or interior and may have a location in (or jurisdiction over) consciousness, the unconscious, etc. What about difference within? Can we conceptualize each and every material being and / or body as (part of) a common within which contrary subjectivities compete, converse or negotiate with one another. Identity is many, right? And competing ideologies (the production mills of subjectivities) move through the body and act on it, determining its movement and position within the world, its relation not only to others but ultimately to itself. If discourses or ideologies pass through bodies, do these bodies — these singular beings, these particulars — also become part of "the common"? Doesn't something of the common reside within each particular? But perhaps this is the paradox Bernstein refers to in Creeley.
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ADDENDUM: I've decided to construct what I would like to call THE PARTICULAR STICK. I imagine this as a sort of truncheon or fraternity paddle with the word "particular" inscribed on it. It is for beating people. Into submission.