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English 589.301 / Comparative Literature 577.301
Modern, Modernist, Contemporary: Reading Poetry/Poetry Reading
Charles Bernstein <charles.bernstein at>
Wednesdays 6-9

THE ATTACK OF THE DIFFICULT POEM: Weekly informal discussions focusing on a set of exemplary works that present both obstacles to reading and, at the same time, suggest new or unexpected ways of reading.

Required Books at Penn Book Center
John Berger, Ways of Seeing
Erving Goffman, Frame Analysis
The Laura (Riding) Jackson Reader, ed. Elizabeth Friedman
Paul Celan: Selections, ed. Pierre Joris
Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp by Pierre Cabanne

There is a class listserve. Info here.

Course Requirements: Weekly postings to the class list, responding to the week's reading. Leading one week's discussion as a respondent. A final paper or project is due at the end of the semester.

Silicon Gallery will be doing a small Granary Books exhibit that relates to this course. Please try to visit the show between Sept. 2 and Sept. 30. 139 N 3rd St. Opening: Monday September 26 from 6-8 pm

1. (Sept. 7) Introduction: The Difficult Poem

Poetry is difficulty that stays difficult.


I have had to learn the simplest things
last. Which made for difficulties.
Even at sea I was slow, to get the land out, or to cross
a wet deck.
                             The sea was not, finally, my trade.
But even my trade, at it, I stood estranged
from that which was most familiar. Was delayed,
and not content with the man's argument
that such postponment
is now the nature of
that we are all late
                        in a slow time,
                        that we grow up many
                        And the single
is not easily
—Charles Olson, "Maximus to Himself"

It is a puzzle. I am not puzzled but it is a puzzle. … I am not puzzled but it is very puzzling. — Gertrude Stein, The Mother of Us All

  • Charles Bernstein, "The Difficult Poem"
  • Marjorie Perloff, 21st Century Modernisms (Blackwell, 2004)—note the chapters on Duchamp and Eliot are on line at Perloff's EPC page; "The Aura of Modernism" (also at her EPC page); see also her "Emily Dickinson and the Theory Canon"
  • Leonard Diepeveen, The Difficulties of Modernism ( Routledge, 2003); see also Nick LoLordo's review of this book, available via Project Must, in Contemporary Literature 45.2 (2004)
  • George Steiner, On Difficulty and Other Essays (Oxford Univ. Press, 1978)
  • Gail McDonald, "Hypertext and the Teaching of Modernist Difficulty" in Pedagogy - Volume 2, Issue 1, Winter 2002 (Project Muse)
  • Louis Armand, Mind Factory: From Artifice to Intelligence
  • Bob Perelman, The Trouble with Genius
  • Clement Greenberg, "Art and Kitsch" (psswd required)
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The American Scholar" (1837) (alt. site)
  • Jean-Michel Rabatè, lecture on reading Finnegans Wake on Sept. 28, 3:30-5:30, Van Pelt Library Class of 55 Conference Room, Library
  • Donald Ault, Narrative Unbound: Re-Visioning Blake's Four Zoas
  • Stanley Cavell, "The Availability of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy" in Must We Mean What We Say
  • Also, some related syllabi may provide background on the approach:
    Textual Conditions
    Whose Ordinary: Modernism and Its Others
    Second-Wave Modernisn
    English 88: 20th Century American Poetry
    English 62: Twentieth Century Poetry (from everywhere but the U.S.)

2. (Sept. 14) "brief and indeterminate glimpses": The Critic as Artist
Edgar Allen Poe, "The Poetic Principle"
Oscar Wilde, The Critic as Artist
Charles Baudelaire, "What Is the Good of Criticsm?"
Wilde, Decay of Lying
Poe, "Philosophy of Composition"
—— Eureka -- see online works of Poe
See also, Ben Friedlander, Simulcast
Jerome McGann, The Poetics of Sensibility

3. (Sept. 21) Framing the Frame, or How to Do Things with Frames

Before I made a frame I'd ask to know
What I was framing in or framing out
Something there is that doesn't love a frame,
That wants it laid bare ...

... but frames are what we are inside of

two frames are better than one; three's the thicket ...

John Berger, Ways of Seeing
Erving Goffman, Frame Analysis
respondent: Meria Levinson
Further Reading:
George Lakoff: Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things; Philosophy in the Flesh; Metaphors We Live By, Moral Politics
Goffman: Stigma, Interaction Ritual, Asylums, Forms of Talk, Gender Advertisements, etc.
Louis Althusser: "Ideological State Apparatus"
Michel Foucault: Power/Knowledge
Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics and Aesthetic Theory; see esp. Jameson's discussion of Adorno in part two of The Political Unconscious.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations
Sergei Eisenstein, "The Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram", "A Dialectical Approach to Film Form" in Film Form
Dziga Vertov, Kino-Eye
Key Points:
Berger: three frames for social interpretations/interrogations of the art work: significance of reproduction (which can be extended to the "textual condition"), significance of the economic role (who owns the work, who consumes it and why, how it circulates); gender/class/race/ethnic/national narrative in the form or reception.
Goffman: what the "event" is (including the art "object") is determined by the frame (often there is more discussion about an event than the event itself; the discussion brings the event into focus); new frames often push out other frames and some frames stick (e.g. "stigma"); frames are cued or keyed; what is out-of-frame is often most significant. Frames are related to ideology (in Althusser's sense) and also "metaphors we live by" and categories: that through which we perceive/value. Compare also Wittgenstein's "seeing as" in Part II of Philosophical Investigations and especially his notion of "aspect blindness" (duck/rabbit).
Extensions: negations of frame (negative dialectics) versus conflict between frames (Blake's contraries) vs dialog (dialectic) among frames vs serial frame (serial poetry).
Does the text frame the interpretation or the interpretation frame the text? Or is a text a work without a frame?
Critic as artist/artist as critic: both critisism and art may engender new frames or context existing frames, or both. (Cf: "Frame Lock" in My Way: Speeches and Poems)


Elective Affinities Conference: VVV-On-Line: Three Panels
Tuesday, September 27 at Kelly Writers House

I. 9:00-10:30
Johanna Drucker -- "Graphical Affectivity"
Steve Clay -- "Resistance to the Web: the art of the Book in the Age of Digtial Reproduction"
Kari Kraus -- "Vectors on a Grecian Urn"

II. 2:00-3:30
Al Filries -- "'It is 3:17 AM'": Digital Poetics and the End of the Classroom as We Know It"
Sue Sallinger -- "Taste My Mouth in Your Ear: Taking the Kerouac Collection Online, Year One"
Kenny Goldsmith "If It Doesn't Exist on the Web It Doesn't Exist"

III. 4:00-5:30
Matt Kirschenbaum -- "Mining nora: Poetry, Pattern Recognition, and Provocation", with special reference to Dickinson; more info here.
Charles Bernstein, General response to the panels and discussion of PennSound

4. (Sept. 28) Emily Dickinson: Dwelling in Possibility — fascicles, fragments, sumptuary value
Selected Dickinson manuscript pages
(pswd req): Level One Frame (please complete this level before going on to levels two and three)
ED publishing history (Level 2A)
Susan Howe, "These Flames and Generosities of the Heart: Emily Dickinson and the The Illogic of Sumptuary Values" from The Birth-Mark (Level 2B)
Perloff, as noted in the list for week one.
Level Three Frame. You are not authorized to access this level until you have passed through Levels One and Two. Failure to comply may result in frame sequencing dysfunction.
[Please bring a print-out of this file to class:]
A Compiltation of Versions and transcriptions for several of the the Poems
Respondents: Julia Bloch, Aliki Caloyeras
Further study:
Fascicle 16
Dickinson Electronic Archive
Complete Poems (Johnson) in one html file (without varients) (restricted acces) (very large file)
Guttenberg Project edition (Todd/Higginson)
Barteby's Bianchi 1924 edn
PAL Johnson 1954 edn (but with no stanza breaks)
"Complete Poems" via "Given Randy" (but all centered)
ED Random Epigram generator (refresh to get new eprigram)
Susan Howe, My Emily Dickinson
Marta Werner, Emily Dickinson's Open Folios: Scenes of Reading, Surfaces of Writing
——, ed. Radical Scatters: Emily Dickinson's Fragments and Related Texts, 1870-1886 (digital)
Antoine Cazé , "’Tropic Show’; or, Dickinson's Heliotropes,“ The Emily Dickinson Journal 11.1 (2002) 33-48 via Project Muse
Domhnall Mitchell , "'A Foreign Country': Emily Dickinson’s Manuscripts and Their Meanings" available on-line from Legacy 17.2 (2000) 174-186 & see also his book Measures of Possibility: Emily Dickinson's Manuscripts
Sharon Cameron, Choosing not Choosing (Chicago, 1993)
"Considering the poems in the context of the fascicles, Cameron argues that an essential refusal of choice pervades all aspects of Dickinson's poetry. Because Dickinson never chose whether she wanted her poems read as single lyrics or in sequence (nor is it clear where any fascicle text ends, or even how, in context, a poem is bounded), "not choosing" is a textual issue; it is also a formal issue because Dickinson refused to chose among poetic variants; it is a thematic issue; and, finally, it is a philosophical one ..."
R.W. Franklin, ed. The Manuscripts Books of Emily Dickinson ( Harvard UP, Belknap Press, 1981).

5. (Oct. 5) Stéphane Mallarmé: The Ecstasy of the Blank

Like eyes that looked on Wastes --
Incredulous of Ought
But Blank -- and steady Wilderness --
Diversified by Night --
                                      — ED

Un Coup de Dés
html version
1914 scan as pdf file
full spread version (pdf).
English tr.:
Christopher Mulrooney of "Coup" (via Ubu)
alt. tr. by Basil Cleveland (Ubu)
Word lists and more from Un Coup de Dés
"Salut" -- in four versions; English translations
"Crisis in Poetry" (full essay), excerpt.
respondent: Edward Lybeer
Books Cited:
Comlete Poems of Mallarmé, tr. Henry Weinfeld (Univ. of Calif. Press)
Dominique Fourcade, Everything Happens, trans. StacyDoris ( Sausalito : Post-Apollo Press, 2000).
Christian Bok, Pataphysics : The Poetics of an Imanginary Science
, Coach House Books (text on-line; note complete reading on PennSound)

6. (Oct. 12) T.S. Eliot: He Do the Police in Voices (Knot)
For this class, we will meet with Rachel DuPlessis's modernism seminar from Temple.
"The Waste Land" via or LION (library electronic resources)
Eliot reading the poem or RealAudio at Factory School (go to Poetry and Audio Links).
"Tradition and the Individual Talent" ( (part of "The Sacred Wood"); alternate pdf file of essay (psswd req)
from Marjorie Peloff's 21st-Century Modernism; , Chapter 1: Avant-Garde Eliot .pdf | .rtf
respondent: Vicki Litvinov
further readings:
"The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock" (audio)
What the Thunder Said (Eliot site with full texts, including essays)
Prufrock web site: hypertext of poem, early reveiws, full text of Prufrock and Other Observations (1971) &c
Web Guide to Eliot

Selected Prose, ed. Frank Kermode
B.C. Southam, A Guide to the Selected Poems of T.S. Eliot
David Chinitz, T.S. Eliot and the Cultural Divide (2003)
Tom and Viv (1994)

7. (Oct. 17) Duchamp: The Bride Stripped Bare by Its Viewers (Maybe)
Pierre Cabanne. Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)
Duchamp collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Digital Images:
Bicyle Wheel, Bottlerack/Dryer/Hedgehog, Disk inscribed with puns, Fountain, Rrose Savlevy (Man Ray), Bride Stripped Bare (via Phil. Museum of Art)
short sound clip
Further Reading: : interview with Duchamp and another interview; Duchamp web site: Toute-fait; Marchel
The Writings of Marcel Duchamp, De Capo Press
from Marjorie Peloff's 21st-Century Modernism, Chapter 3: The Conceptual Poetics of Marcel Duchamp [ .pdf | .rtf ]
Respondents: James Fiumara, John Shurmer-Smith

8. (Oct. 26): Gertrude Stein: When This You See Remember Me
"If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso"
note: New Stein PennSound page (under construction)
Tender Buttons (Project Guttenberg e-text)
"Identity: A Poem"
"Composition as Explanation"
"Five Words in a Line"
"What Are Masterpieces": excerpt
Further reading:
Note Stein resources also at UIC.
Ulla Dydo: Gertrude Stein Reader (Northwestern) & Gertrude Stein: The Language that Rises" 1923-1934 (Northwestern, 2003)
Steven Meyer, Irresistible Dictation: Gertrude Stein and the Correlations of Writing and Science (Stanford, 2001).
Lyn Hejinian,“Two Stein Talks.” The Language of Inquiry. (California, 2000)
Kirk Curnutt, ed., The Critical Response to Gertrude Stein (Greenwood, 2000)
References from discussion:
Peter Burger, Theory of the Avant-Garde
Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze,Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia
Julia Kristeva, Revolution in Poetic Language
Peter Nichols, Modernisms
Charles Baudelaire, "À une Mendiante Rousse" (1845-6)
William Carolos Williams, "The Young Housewife", "Pastoral" "Between Walls" (LOA1) (WCW audio of "Between Walls
Respondent: Paige Conteras-Gould

9 .(Nov. 2) Laura ( Riding) Jackson: Hard Core Second Wave Modernism
The Laura (Riding) Jackson Reader, ed. Elizabeth Friedman
Selection of poems from The Poems of Laura Riding (plan is to focus on "The Quids," "Comes, Words, Away," "The Wind, the Clock, the We," "Poet: A Lying Word"
From Survey of Modernist Literature
From Contemporaries and Other Snobs
From Anarchy Is Not Enough
Prefaces on pp. 191, 230, 239, 253
The Telling
Respondents: Michael Leong, Brian Sheppard

10. (Nov. 9) Paul Celan's Folds and Veils
Paul Celan: Selections, ed. Pierre Joris
"Todesfuge" audio (and other poems)
&  (commentary)
Charles Bernstein, "Celan's Folds and Veils" (from Texutual Practice 18:2, 2004) on "Todtnauberg"
Marjorie Perloff, "On Celan"; see also break out of translations of "Sprachglitter"
Shira Wolinksy,"The Lyric, History, and the Avant-Garde: Theorizing Paul Celan" in Poetics Today, as excerpted (full article via Project Muse)
Discussion planned to focus on "Todesfugue," "Todnauberg," "Sprachglitter"; also
"Conversation in the Mountains" and "The Meridien"; also Joris's introduction
John Felstiner's Selected Poems and Prose of Paul Celan (Norton, 2001)
John Felstiner, Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew
Piere Joris, tr.: Breathturn, Threadsuns, Lightduress, from Green Integer
Sander Gilman, Jewish Self-Hatred
Andrew Welsh ,The Roots of the Lyric: Primitive Poetry & Modern Poetics
Respondents: Brenda Haak, Melanie Micir

11. (Nov. 16) Visual Poetry
: Thomas Ward & Erin Gautsche
PLUS: each patricipant should pick ONE work to dicuss in some detail in class and post to the list which one you pick.

12. (Nov. 23) Digital Poetics

Reading  and Works Lists MOVED HERE

respondent Nick Montfort:
(1) A Night at the Movies
Young-Hae Chang / Heavy Industries, Dakota (2002)
More by Young-Hae Chang:
Brian Kim Stefans, "I Know a Man, One Letter at a Time" (2005)
    More by Brian Kim Stefans:
(2) They Might be Hypertexts
The Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot, Stephanie Strickland, 1999 
More by Stephanie Strickland:
Intergrams, Jim Rosenberg, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992
Not available for download online, consult your university librarian
More by Jim Rosenberg:
(3) Form and Shape
Rob Wittig, The Fall of the Site of Marsha, (1999); more by Rob Wittig:
William Gillespie, Letter to Linus (2001)
More by William Gillespie & his press:
(4) Interludic Juxtapositions
Nanette Wylde, About So Many Things (1998): Not available for download online, consult your university librarian   
More by Nanette Wylde:
(5) The Machine Starts
John Cayley, Translation 5, c. 2004-2005 
    More by John Cayley:
Dan Shiovitz, Bad Machine (1998)
    Montfort review::
    More IF by Dan Shiovitz & others:
6) Important Notes for Posterity
Stuart Moulthrop, Loss Pequeno Glazier, and Jim Carpenter  will be reading at the Kelly Writers House next semester (two events)  stay tuned for details
Several pages of recommended digital writing
are available at the Electronic Literature Organization site   
Maurice Black, 2002. "The art of code." University of Pennsylvania [English Department] Ph.D. Dissertation.
Mateas, Michael and Nick Montfort. "A Box, Darkly: Obfuscation, Weird Languages, and Code Aesthetics." To be presented at Digital Arts and Culture, 2 Dec 2005, Copenhagen.

Roderick Coover recommends:
Works of Santiago Ortiz particularly"sphere"

13. (Nov. 30) This class intentionally left blank. (Discussion of projects, if time permits, close looking at material from 11 & 12, following opening presentation.)
Opening Presentation: Roderick Coover

14. (Dec. 7) Last Class


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