back toJacket2

May 2003  |  Jacket 22  Contents  |  Homepage  |  Catalog  |  Search  |

  |   Andrews Contents list   |

Roberto Tejada

Becoming Bruce Andrews:

A User’s Guide to Starting Over Stars

This piece is 1,000 words or about three printed pages long.

1978, the year Bruce Andrews and Charles Bernstein launched L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E magazine, coincides as well with the release — and hardly irrelevant to Andrews in particular — of Joe Strummer and Mick Jones driving the furious head-on exuberance of ‘Safe European Home’ into Give ‘Em Enough Rope, but also, perhaps less evidently, the year that gave us the alternately sexed-up and outrageous George Clinton on One Nation Under a Groove. Those familiar with this latter album will recall its P-funk mock-propaganda of ‘Rhythm and Business,’ and the rhetorical tonal torque of tracks like ‘Promental-Shit-Backwash-Psychosis-Enema-Squad (The Dodoo Chasers).’

The Clash, Funkadelic, Bruce Andrews: it’s a series to ponder. Somewhere between abrasive anti-empire anthems and the seductive psychedelic promise of a cosmic R + B; between the counterfeit fear over homeland security and the groove allegiance to a parallel universe; between the pleasures of and compliance to advertising publicity; between the logic of upper and lower bodies, between ‘getting ready to have been frightened’ and ‘gettin’ down just for the funk of it’ — Bruce Andrews arouses also a politics of sense and purpose flamed into artifacts of ‘[w]ords over far-flung unctuous cotton vagina anus penis spiders’ (W: 33); into energy-effects that incite further disturbances, be they civic or somatic, ‘over disappearance social in air victories into a web to clear scrim a device unruffled as to be evidence.’ (W:86)

As he derides the pieties of what passes for liberal well-meaning or good consciousness, Bruce Andrews has produced multiplying rhetorical worlds wherein image-making and language use — as potentials in the aesthetic sense — have rarely appeared so structurally ripped-through and so demanding of examination and argument — and it all hangs heavy as a limit-case in the precarious hegemonies from which he speaks as a US cultural producer. In his writing, silent omissions, performance anxiety and the acting-out of public identities in a mediated sphere repeatedly beg the desperate questions of sexual and social organization, and of cultural reproduction as rendered by the endowments of the yet to be known. For Andrews, eroticism is to politics as kiss-and-tell is to show-and-tell, or as gossip is to demagoguery.

Subjects and meaning in the general economy of what he calls ‘bodily excitability’ or ‘the value of erotic mutuality between self and other,’ draft a vanishing map of sense as the troubled surface of the attainable: a paradox of location and movement prior to its attributes and irreducible to any scrap of self-similarity. So, from the subject-effect that claims ‘I dream to slump little pointy verticals / unfathomed width tuxedos cock rests on form’ (LS: 108) to the assertion that avows ‘I moisten your armpits, undone accepting this / love tickle often mercy of the meatgrinder’ (LS:195), Bruce is fucking with us, or just plain fucking the residue of what gets excluded by those patterns that have yet to account for a question he posed as early as 1977: ‘How have we come to the words, to our selves, our absenting community — all flesh, all fleshed together.’ (PM:15)

The poetry of Bruce Andrews gets ready to have been glorious and incongruous as those pleasures not always inclusive of our genitalia — but just as voluptuous and unpredictable. If, as he writes, ‘[t]he genital organization is monarchic, or mimetic,’ then it’s one task of poetic discourse to overthrow a politics of the person with an erotics of the ever-shifting terms of the conditional, as in:

Elixir little hunt too hot lives--
hummingbird lace on my breath that trouble sails in flame--
you didn’t learn it several bone, at home
calculation regrets the damage wrong without it
semen spent all quiver mischief dancing hush
helping beckons nude deeps of the twists (...)

Bait cheats spoiled fist fallible tears
pulsing through valentined all the
how you like hard edges off. (LS:317)

Bruce knows that it’s the microtechnologies applied to a body rendered thus into liquids and plosives on the tongue that flow as sexy as the most unsettling lip service — no surprise from the author of books that range from Wobbling (Roof, 1981) to the performance texts and collaborations with avant choreographer Sally Silvers featured in Ex Why Zee (Roof, 1995), to the essays on poetics and praxis gathered in Paradise & Method (Northwestern University Press, 1996). Indeed, there’s much yet to be remarked on Andrews with an ear to his concrete excursions into the visual limits of the sayable, and the seeable limits of the rhetorical.

Andrews points to an alarming rift between the location of poetry as a critical practice and the audiences it seeks or has sought to address within the overdetermined web of our global economy, its geo-politics and cultural renderings. As a diagnostic clinic of possibilities, Andrews legislates hysteria, perversion or schizophrenia in his work not as representative of a popular or mass psychopathology but as the stuff of experimentation in the modes of life in art, where communication effects are axiomatic of a brain’s ‘uncertain system’ and where corporeal sensations and the fetishized expenditure of money or merchandise are of a piece.

Can we imagine social and formal relations other than the present world system — Andrews seems to ask — by pleasuring or displeasuring the points of vulnerability in our sometimes not-so-unruffled representations? If ‘[p]romise tames control,’ then the poetics of Bruce Andrews invites or stupefies us into ‘[a] crush on the possible.’ (PM: 268) where ‘liability (is) unanimous’ (LS: 343) There’s no paradise without a method, so becoming Bruce Andrews is a utopian project in the sense that inclination and adversity are productive of experience, readerly or otherwise, and a swerve away from the crash test that terminates in the tyrannies of the ontological. You can hear it in works as early as ‘Jeopardy’ of 1977, where: ‘Words   were   what   were   whole   what   wasted   words   want   waiting   whose   travel   there — tips,   threats   necessary    noise   nothing    needed  .....,’ all of which surface as displaced and displacing movements that exude with ‘most   latest    ratified   reference   recursive   light.’ Or as recently as Lip Service, where the ‘total in parts lights back’ (LS:8) to be repeated and made ever more twofold ‘for hope lay still late / let’s start all over stars’ (LS:380).

Jacket 22 — May 2003  Contents page
Select other issues of the magazine from the | Jacket catalog | read about Jacket |
Other links: | top | homepage | bookstores | literary links | internet design |
Copyright Notice: Please respect the fact that this material is copyright. It is made available here without charge for personal use only. It may not be stored, displayed, published, reproduced, or used for any other purpose

This material is copyright © Roberto Tejada and Jacket magazine 2003
The URL address of this page is