Bob Perelman on the language writing
of Bruce Andrews
"Building a More Powerful Vocabulary: Bruce Andrews and the World (Trade Center)"

Below are the opening few paragraphs of Perelman's essay. The full essay can be found here.


Not many days after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the New York Times ran an article discussing the structure of the building and the possibilities of its being brought down by a larger and more thoughtfully placed explosion. It turns out not to be easy: apparently, each tower is built to withstand the impact of a fully loaded jet liner taking off. In addition to the strength of the structure, attackers would have to confront its complexity: there are twenty-one load- bearing pillars and they could not be reached simultaneously by the force of an explosion. In being destroyed, a particular section would in fact shield other areas by absorbing the impact. The timing and placement of the article is interesting in itself: it was a rapid-response anodyne to the spiral of geopolitical urban trauma while at the same time, under the cover of a discussion of engineering, it invited its readers to participate in transgressive calculations of how the Trade Center towers might actually be brought down.

Translations of violence to paper are hard to make convincing. Literary revolutions may be hard to pull off on the page, but it is much harder to translate any of their energy from the page to the outside world. I am invoking the bombing here, however, to begin to consider the structure of the problem that Bruce Andrews has been confronting in his work over the last two decades and particularly in a recent book, I Don't Have Any Paper So Shut Up (or, Social Romanticism). Andrews has been one of the more visible language writers, publishing over twenty chapbooks and books of poetry, and co-editing L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine with Charles Bernstein in the late 70s and early 80s as well as The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book. In his criticism he has been insistent on the politicization of poetry, attacking conventional writing as the signature of laissez-faire politics; his poetry has been highly disjunct in syntax, semantics, and typography. I Don't Have Any Paper marks a significant change in his work: while it is still resolutely antinarrative, it ventures into the most charged and obvious areas of contemporary politics in easily legible and very aggressive ways. In I Don't Have Any Paper the bombs may be verbal and their targets metaphorical, but the scale and complexity of what Andrews is trying to bring down presents him with a conundrum whose social geometry is similar to the physical geometry that ultimately contains a bomb blast: whatever he destroys tends to shield contiguous and remote areas. Of course, this is all just a metaphor. Does "destroy" here simply resolve to "ironize"?