Bruce Andrews: Thinking System
Hopelessly remiss in my blogland duties of late -- reading little and writing less -- but I think of all of you often. Most likely no one's reading this either, so I'll cry tears of guilt by myself and be done with it.
I caught Bruce Andrews reading at the Vis Arts space on UCSD campus last week, and that was fun, especially when Sally Silvers got up and started moving to the atomized rhythmic "media bites" (as Michael Davidson introduced them) of Andrews's documentary deluge.
In the end, Language Poets are fun because they perform language as differential information, as "difference that makes a difference," which is I believe the way Gregory Bateson (Steps Toward An Ecology of Mind) defined information a few decades ago.
Language Poets -- and maybe all poets for that matter, big or little 'p' -- are not poets but rather "thinking systems" or networks -- and I take that from Bateson as well:
The total self-corrective unit which processes information, or, as I say, 'thinks' and 'acts' and 'decides,' is a system whose boundaries do not at all coincide with the boundaries either of the body or of what is popularly called the 'self' or 'consciousness'; and it is important to notice that there are multiple differences between the thinking system and the 'self' as popularly conceived:
(1) The system is not a transcendent entity as the 'self' is commonly supposed to be.
(2) The ideas are immanent in a network of causal pathways....
(3) This network of pathways is not bounded with consciousness but extends to include the pathways of all unconscious mentation....
(4) The network is not bounded by the skin but includes all external pathways along which information can travel....
Information traveled up out of the podium and through the microphone out the speakers and into/through Silvers's gestural signings / contortions, then I guess through the sensory pathways of a packed audience and out somewhere into the darkening night sky.
Rothenberg and Antin asked questions afterward about 'translation' and 'word strings' respectively, and I had the rare urge to ask a question myself -- about Andrews's work not as poetry or even writing/language in the sense that both those initial questions were couched, but rather as documentary evidence (or difference that makes a difference) for a specialized mode of communicative interaction, as a kind of training or lesson maybe in rituals of coding and decoding. I wanted to ask: What difference does it make?
I didn't know how to read Silvers's movements and that was probably the point -- dissonance as antidote to embedded habits of sense-making and reference-hunting. There was a pulling and pushing against speech rhythms, puffing up pauses and silences, sometimes in synch with the words/phrases but again not in any direct relational way.
I had the impression, in fact, that I was watching two "language poems" unfold before me, not one in stereo, for example. Two language poems that were in a way identical even in their obviously different modes or occupations. Each performed the other, I guess is one way of looking at it.
But I was wondering while watching if this was a kind of sameness that makes a difference -- a dis-information or in-communication. While the dance and the word-strings were somehow the same they were also incommensurate -- I couldn't watch "it" but could only bounce back and forth between "them." Seeing/hearing that segment of the reading as one performance, that is, would have been like trying to hit two pitches (one a golf, the other a bowling ball) at the same time.
Well, like Bateson said, anticipating L.P.: "You can't mix thoughts, you can only combine them."
I would have asked the question, too, but I had to duck out early because the reading lasted for over an hour and I'd put only 50 minutes worth of change in the meter, and the parking vultures at UCSD are just that.