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Bob Perelman

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Bob Perelman Feature

Lyn Hejinian

Dreaming Something Else


In late 1995, Bob Perelman and I came up with an idea for a collaboration. Its guiding constraint delighted us for its transgressivity. Our method would involved changing each other’s dreams. To begin, we would each record a dream and send it to the other, who would then enter the dream — really enter it: not as in “you were in my dream last night, Bob” but right there, dreaming it, too. Fucking with it, if you will. We would each insert sentences, images, even whole paragraphs or new scenes, into the other’s dream. We envisioned a sequence of these dreaming and intervening collaborations.


Some of the conceptual fun lay in the “mind fuck” aspect of the procedure we’d devised. But that — in less coarse terms — is an important motif, as well as motive, in other collaborative forms. I’m thinking, for example, of the classical Japanese renga form. Its constraints are quite demanding — requiring each poet in turn to add a five line stanza, two of whose lines have to repeat two designated lines from the preceding stanza, so that the new stanza is both linked to the preceding one “through fragrance, reverberation, semblance, flow, fancy, or some such indefinable quality” and directs the flow of the poem in an unexpected, new direction. [1] “[O]ne of the charms of writing renga must have lain in seeing how the author of the second stanza worked on the mood of the first and changed it.” [2] Another charm might have been anticipatory — the fun might have come from laying a trap, for example, that the next poet would find difficult to get out of: “sticking it to him (or her),” in other words.


The terminology of vulgar eroticism is hard to avoid. The project was willfully perverse in conception. And its play — like so much play — was based on a fiction; an impossibility made possible fictively. It is only in fictions, or in dreams, that two people dream a single dream.


But we weren’t proposing to dream together. We were proposing to merge dreams, not dreaming; we would each go forward separately from our respective nocturnal worlds, intersect in the daylight hours, and sneak back, as it were, into the other person’s night life.


Only one of the “dreams” was completed. Or, rather, only one of the collaborations we proposed ended up as a published work. It appears as the fourth of Bob’s “Fake Dreams,” first published as an issue of A.bacus in July 1996, and then appearing again in Bob’s 1998 collection, The Future of Memory, where it bears the title “The Game.” I hope that Bob doesn’t mind if I quote it in full.


The Game

February 24: Yesterday there was weather;
tomorrow there will be none. I’m

in an academic office, surrounded by
screens, each with a keyboard attached.

The screens depict scenes in cities;
I’m to type in words. I

type “PLAY” and a section in
the southeast of one city blows

up: a seven-story parking structure and
a big boxy sewage treatment facility

with its attendant pond goes boom:
a grainy spray of particles expands

up in a vee and then
falls while the sound system produces

a sharp burst of static until
the particles have vanished, leaving a

tan crater. “GUILT,” on the other
hand, creates a whole flat small

town on a screen which had
shown ‘verdant’ forest. I see a

little car moving down “Main Street.”
It stops and makes a right.

I go over to a third
Screen with a generic New York

City and type “I LIKE HORSES”
but nothing happens. “I GET OFF


nothing. Apparently syntax cancels out the
effects. Okay, so just plain “HORSES.”

Anything? Yes, a tiny pup tent
has appeared in the lower righthand

corner, on the sidewalk in front
of a department store. I try

“I”: a second pup tent. “LIKE”:
a third. The power of writing

in this particular game is starting
to feel, shall we say, illusory.

An authority (dressed in blue) is
in the doorway with three large

yellow envelopes. He is holding them
out to me; none have return

addresses and the authority is both
offering and withholding them. It is

mail / not-mail (perhaps one is a letter
bomb). I can see the address

on the top envelope — it was
written with a sweeping gesture by

someone using a two-tone (red and
silver) pen and shows great flourish,

I know from this that the
top envelope contains a literary magazine.

Suddenly I feel deeply vexed: tears
start, though I hold them, and I

feel dizzy. I don’t know
about the other two envelopes. I

don’t take them. I gesture toward
the screens. “You take a turn,”

I say. But he pauses, “a
turn” doesn’t compute. He seems to

feel the screens and keyboars are
a site fraught with dignity and

heroic challenge. I offer him a
cigarette. He takes it with earnest

gratefulness. As I offer the match
he’s in bureaucratic heaven inhaling with

rapt concentration. I drop the pack
to the floor, squash it, rubbing

it heavily with the ball of
my foot until tobacco and paper

are spread. Tears are flowing down
my cheeks. He’s smoking, wide-eyed, silent.

Soon I’m standing on the grass
near home, which is set amid

an array of terraced gardens. Other
people are there, including T. Three

times in quick succession a terrific
thunderous roar fills the air and

the ground rumbles and shakes. We
all know then that hundreds of

miles away great monsters have emerged
from the ground. They are reptilian

but insect-like, giant ants with nimble
alligator limbs. It is comforting to

know they are “hundreds, maybe thousands”
of miles away, but eventually they

will come; it’s common knowledge that
they particularly hate poets. Their most

fearsome posture is when they arrange
themselves into words. They can get

us at a distance that way.
We talk nervously, trying to inhabit

our seconds with the timbres of
our voices; we make long sentences;

we gesture and laugh as accurately
as we can. Timing is crucial. [3]


Bob’s and my conversations about the project never got as far as discussing the form in which the finished works would appear. The arrangement into couplets, six words to a line, was entirely Bob’s invention. My own contribution to what has become a poem, is an account, in prose, of a dream I had on January 27, 1996, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama:


I’m in an academic office. An authority (dressed in blue) is in the doorway with three large yellow envelopes. He is holding them out to me; none have return addresses (they are “unmarked”), and the authority is both offering and withholding them. It is mail/not-mail (perhaps one is a letter-bomb). I can see the address on the top envelope — it was written with a sweeping gesture by someone using a two-tone (red and silver) pen and shows great flourish. I know from this that the top envelope contains a literary magazine. I don’t know about the others. I don’t take any of them.

Soon I’m standing on the grass near home, which is set amid an array of terraced gardens. Other people are there, including T. Three times in quick succession a terrific thunderous roar fills the air and the ground rumbles and shakes. We all know then that hundreds of miles away great monsters have emerged from the ground. They are reptilian but insect-like, giant ants with nimble alligator limbs. It is comforting to know they are “hundreds, maybe thousands” of miles away, but eventually they will come; it is common knowledge that they particularly hate poets.


That was my dream. Or, rather, that, written down as accurately as I could manage, is my record of what I remember of a dream — which was mine, though I have no idea how to claim it, or what to claim in it. There is always something improper — inappropriate, yes, but also unowned — in a dream.


“The Game” is, in some senses, about disreification, decommodification — the game of language — or, rather, the game of “writing it down” — only proves that what’s said to exist evaporates or emulsifies. What’s left is the dream. I’m not able now to say whether it is the game of the dream or a dream of a game.


When I dreamed my half of “The Game” (a title, by the way, that was Bob’s addition; my dream has no title), I’d only been in Tuscaloosa (where I was to teach at the University of Alabama for a semester) for a short time. My impressions of the place were fresh, but I don’t think this is a dream about Tuscaloosa. But perhaps the name of the town might have triggered the presence in the dream of a T (whom I can’t identify with certainty now, but it might have been a dreamed version of Travis Ortiz or Tom Raworth). And the T, in turn, might have triggered the “three times” and the “terrific thunderous” roar, as well as, from an entirely different register, the emergence from underground, as in the movie Tremors, of monstrous, man-eating reptiles (they were giant worms in the movie).


Tremors (directed by Ron Underwood) came out in 1990, and there’s no reason memories of it would have been lurking in my subconscious — despite the rather primal fear it plays with, of monsters lurking under one (under the bed, under the water when one’s swimming, etc.) — except that one of the first people in the film to get devoured is an actor, Richard Marcus, who is an old friend, and who had gone to college with my sister-in-law in the south. But that in itself wouldn’t seem to be sufficient reason for the rather ridiculous monster movie Tremors to make its way into the dream, except that my sister-in-law, who had grown up in the deep South, had loaned me her car for the four months I was to be in Tuscaloosa, a Volvo that she insisted was safer than my Toyota.


But all this is an aside. Bob would have known nothing of it when I sent him my dream account. The T would have been to him a neutral cipher, a conventional gesture, a mark of discretion imposed by waking life on the dream world, which itself knows nothing of discretion.


I, meanwhile, have no idea where the materials that Bob dreamed into and around my dream came from, nor what, in the unbounded world of possible experiences outside what is now “The Game,” they signify.


And I have to ask — not for the first time: did he, indeed, dream them? Were the dreams that became Bob’s “Fake Dreams” fake?


Bob has suggested that they were. He has suggested that he made them up. Perhaps he has even said so explicitly. But one could quibble over the meaning of the term “to dream.” My sense is that, far more than I, Bob can dream while awake. I’m not speaking of fantasy life but of combinatorial genius. Over the years, in work after work, he has gotten at some kind of truth in unlikeliness — which is more or less the same as finding the truth of unlikeness.


Think how dreamy, for example — though what I want to point out isn’t something inherent to dreaminess per se. What I want to call attention to is something about the resonant relationship between the moment to moment (or word to word) unfolding of the particulars in Bob’s work the whole that they ultimately comprise. My argument — though I hardly have the terms in which to argue it — is that the comprised wholes are that relationship. And, furthermore, that relationship takes a great deal of its affective charge from the fact that what we feel to be the intimate, immediate terrain of the poetry is alien.


I don’t know of a single poet whose writing has equal or equivalent affective power. Nor one for whom the intimate world is more ubiquitous and less intimate. It isn’t that nothing is as it seems but that everything is also something else.


I am often conscious, yet rain is now visibly falling. It almost combines to be one thing, but here I am again. Though he dreamed he was awake, it was a mistake he would only make at a time like that. There are memories, but I am not that person.


This, the opening paragraph of a.k.a., is intensely particular, but at the same time it seems to be uttered out of the extrinsic, ambient air. It articulates an experiential flow drawn from moments of experience in that flow. The writing evokes — since one can’t name, can’t separate out — the environmental conditions of non-self that provide the experiences of it. The tension within whatever “It” at the beginning of the second sentence refers to what — the it that “almost combines to be one thing” is a visionary force that (despite Fredric Jameson’s (mis)reading of Bob’s poem “China”), even as it holds everything apart, lets everything cohere. [4]


Indeed, in some ways the differences at work — the differences that apply such pressure along the margins and slip into the interstices of sentences and the images or events they realize — are what activate the forces of coherence. “I am often conscious, yet rain is now visibly falling.” The conjunctive “yet” in that sentence precisely is a conjunction. It makes the visibly falling rain, or the falling of visible rain, or the visibility of the falling of the rain, or all of these, pertinent to the consciousness — or to the being often conscious — of the I. The invisibility of the intermittence of consciousness plays against the visibility of the intermittence (or percussivity — drip dropping) of rain producing one, non-intermittent condition — almost.


What accumulates in this work — and, in different ways, and with different intentions and effects, in other works of Bob’s — is something akin to a Bergsonian interior duration. “What is duration within us?” Bergson asks. “A qualitative multiplicity, with no likeness to number; an organic evolution which is yet not an increasing quantity; a pure heterogeneity within which there are no distinct qualities. In a word, the moments of inner duration are not external to one another.” [5]


But the contents of what accumulates into that inner duration are extrinsic to it. This is what is so unusual — so astonishing — about Bob’s poetry.


As, sentence by sentence, the prose of a.k.a., or line by line, the verse of the “Fake Dreams” continually draws more and more into their loops, the text — as a whole, as a meaning-bearing, percept-borne “thing” — becomes more and more of itself.


This whole is not a totality, and certainly there is no impulse anywhere in Bob Perelman’s writings, critical or poetic, toward totalization. Instead, his imagination plays strange host to an odd form of omniscience, one that doubts its own senses and eschews power.


This is not to say that Bob has no knowledge of power. Power, in its multiple forms of nefariousness, has been under scrutiny since his earliest writings. Persuasion, hypocrisy, deceit, and other powers of language; judicial and legislative and corporate — and other instantiations of political and economic — power; powers of image and information and technology; familial and sexual powers — I doubt that there’s a single published work of Bob’s that doesn’t address at least one of these.


The affective resonance in his work — the resonance I’ve attempt to foreground in these comments of mine — is more than a mere effect of the writing. As I’ve said, it is a relationship that his writings realize. But I would be negligent if, in speaking about Bob’s texts as formations, I didn’t point out that much of his thinking has been addressed to formations: to social formations; psychological formations; linguistic formations; and to the mind as the imaginative, creative, interceding, as well as created, and intervened upon formation with which the human attempts to understand the world not only as the reality it is but also as something else


[1] Matsuo Bashō, quoted in Makoto Ueda, “The Taxonomy of Sequence: Basic Patterns of Structure in Premodern Japanese Literature,,” in Earl Miner, ed., Principles of Classical Japanese Literature (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1985), 63.

[2] Ibid, 95.

[3] Bob Perelman, The Future of Memory (NY: Roof Books, 1998), 50–54.

[4] See Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Cate Capitalism (Duke University Press, 1991), 28–31.

[5] Henri Bergson, Time and Free Will (Dover reprint of. 1913 original George Allen & Company), 226.

Lyn Hejinian

Lyn Hejinian

Lyn Hejinianis a poet, essayist, and translator; she was born in the San Francisco Bay Area and lives in Berkeley. Published collections of her writing include Writing is An Aid to Memory, My Life, Oxota: A Short Russian Novel, Leningrad (written in collaboration with Michael Davidson, Ron Silliman, and Barrett Watten), The Cell, The Cold of Poetry, and A Border Comedy; the University of California Press published a collection of her essays entitled The Language of Inquiry. Translations of her work have been published in France, Spain, Japan, Italy, Russia, Sweden, and Finland. She is the recipient of a Writing Fellowship from the California Arts Council, a grant from the Poetry Fund, and a Translation Fellowship (for her Russian translations) from the National Endowment for the Arts; she was awarded an Award for Independent Literature by the Soviet literary organization “Poetics Function” in Leningrad in 1989. She has travelled and lectured extensively in Russia as well as Europe, and Description and Xenia, two volumes of her translations from the work of the contemporary Russian poet Arkadii Dragomoshchenko, have been published by Sun and Moon Press. From 1976 - 1984, Hejinian was the editor of Tuumba Press and from 1981 to 1999 she was the co-editor (with Barrett Watten) of Poetics Journal. She is also the co-director (with Travis Ortiz) of Atelos, a literary project commissioning and publishing cross-genre work by poets; Atelos was nominated as one of the best independent literary presses by the Firecracker Awards in 2001. Other collaborative projects include a work entitled The Eye of Enduring undertaken with the painter Diane Andrews Hall and exhibited in 1996, a composition entitled Qúê Trân with music by John Zorn and text by Hejinian, a mixed media book entitled The Traveler and the Hill and the Hill created with the painter Emilie Clark (Granary Press, 1998), and the experimental film Letters Not About Love, directed by Jacki Ochs, for which Hejinian and Arkadii Dragomoshchenko wrote the script. In the fall of 2000, she was elected the sixty-sixth Fellow of the Academy of American Poets. She teaches at the University of California, Berkeley.

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