Charles Bernstein

"Catachresis My Love" and "The Lie of Art"

Catachresis My Love

It’s not permission I crave, but possibility.

Time's not on our side or anybody's. It just blows and mostly we blow it.

People sometimes say, in exasperation, that you can’t be two places at the same time. But I’ve learned all too well how to be in two times at the same place.

The ordinary is never more than an extension of the extraordinary. The extraordinary is never more than an extension of the imaginary. The imaginary is never more than an extension of the possible. The possible is never more than an extension of the impossible. The impossible is never more than an extension of the ordinary.

Every wish has two wings, one to move it into the world, the other to bury it deep within the heart.

The exception assumes/subsumes/sublates/averts/acknowledges the rule/standard/norm. It's never either/or nor both/and. Anyway, whose rule, or which rule, and which part of whose rule. Whose on first, like my buddies like to say, or as the superego prefers, who's? That's whose.

I am not as far along as I would have liked, considering tomorrow’s already gone.

A tear in the code: the code weeps for it’s been ripped.

Town crier or weeper?

I wonder if such crises show who we really are or some darker side to us. Or is that who we really are?

There are no true colors, just different camouflages.

Language is our companion, steadier than most friends, but failing us, inevitably, when we burden it with unwarranted expectations.

“After drinking, we take a walk through foggy streets, with Mendacious in the lead.”
                                                                                                             [—Alfred Jarry]

as if the stars
became clouds
& our fears
the heavens

If you can’t stand the kitchen, get out of the heat.

Award season like mint julep on a soccer field. Good luck bound to spill over.

If nothing is possible, then everything happens.

ostranenie, ostranennah, life goes on boys . . .

All poems are untranslatable. This is why we translate.

Lots of water under heaps of bridges. Bridges getting wiped out, turned over, and even making paths to places that never existed. Who knew you could live this way or that there was any other way?

A parking lot can also be paradise.

Returning to Buffalo after many years, everything looked familiar, almost just the same; the stage set was unchanged but the play had long ago closed, the actors moved on to other cities, and the theater was now showing movies. The company present I knew mostly from other places, a pick up group assembled for the week, along with many faces new to me. So a familiar place and with familiar people, but imported from somewhere else. You can't go home again. Or home is where you are now, in the present ever forming before you (not behind you). Home not what we did or done, but what we are doing. Present company included.

We who are not in control must always make-do, use the materials at hand as best we can.

My interests, ideological and poetic, are quite different than most other poets, so my methods are necessarily particular, a swerve. I do not suggest that such approaches be taken as a general model, which would be a form of tyranny, but that poetic practices be developed – and articulated – to meet the needs of particular and emergent circumstance.

Still water runs only as deep as you can throw it.

The desire to add insult to injury is no greater than the compulsion to add injury to injury or insult to insult.

then there / now here
now here / then there

The there there there then is not there now. The there there there now is another there than the there there then.

Omniscient I’m not, just plenty conscious.
                                [—Mesphistopholes, Goethe’s Faust]

If e’er I say, stay, this moment so fair
Then take me away, beyond human care

If you were a girl you’d be home now.

Poetry wants to be free or at least available at a discount

You can only do what you can do and sometimes you can’t even do that.

You can only say half of what you think and sometimes even that comes out wrong.

You can only be part of what you’d hope to be and sometimes no part.

A tough road to the end just makes the end tougher.

So this guy tells me he doesn’t know what a schlemiel is. What a schmuck!

I am a man of constant second and third thoughts (and I’ve seen trouble all my days).

Don’t revise: Rethink.

The courage to be wrong even when right is a fool's paradise and wisdom's delight.

“Don’t tell me not to tell you what not to do.”

All good things come to a beginning.

I feel like a screen door without a screen.

I don’t know if I am anxious because I’m depressed or depressed because I am anxious.

You know what they say: What doesn’t kill you, brings you to your knees. What doesn’t kill you, mortally wounds you.

One man’s religion is another man’s hell. One woman’s freedom is another woman’s manacles. One boy’s fantasy is another boy’s nightmare. One girl’s reason is another girl’s superstition.

The tyranny of reflection is the gateway to liberation. The road to freedom is paved with unanswerable questions.

This the Lord has not taught and has not blessed, so that whatever truth it may come to have would not be destroyed at the outset.

“I prefer her sincerity to his irony.”
—I prefer her insincerity to his duplicity.

Irony is as close to truth as language allows.

What’s the market close on African grief today? Asian grief? South American grief? —What you don’t understand is that we’ve got to make profit to have the wherewithal to develop these drugs. Your altruism doesn’t save lives, it just makes you feel good about yourself.
—As if the cure for capitalism is more capitalism; the cure for theft, more theft; the cure for misery, more misery.

Capitalism is all about the process. Not accumulation of wealth but the acquisition of wealth.

In truth, there is no truth: No truth but this (no truth but that). In reality, the truth lies under.

I’d follow you to the ends of the earth, even if I had a choice.

Like a haystack in a needle, to see the whole mind in a grain of thought.

“Even you, Rick, wish you were on that plane.”

Sometime when we touch, the dishonesty’s too much.

Better a rude awakening than insidious deception.

Because we love him, because he’s our son, we don’t care if he is black or brown, gay or straight, smart or dull, animal or human. He could be a zebra and we would love him just the same.

Common sense is the consistent foolishness of hobgoblins.

too many crooks roil the spoils
too many flukes spoil the rule
too many kooks soil the truth

Nature’s promise: we’ll destroy you.

you see blue
and I see
blue too, just
not the same
blue as you

I have no more quivers in my arrow.

the ear hears / what the eye elides

saying light when there is no light
tremble when everything shakes

Judaism is the record of God's vexed struggle to have a juridical relation with Jews.

The rapture did come. It always does. This is what it looks like.



The Lie of Art

I don’t want innovative art.
I don’t want experimental art.
I don’t want conceptual art.
I don’t want abstract art.
I don’t want figurative art.
I don’t want original art.
I don’t want formal art.
I don’t want emotional art.
I don’t want nostalgic art.
I don’t want sentimental art.
I don’t want complacent art.
I don’t want erotic art.
I don’t want boring art.
I don’t want mediocre art.
I don’t want political art.
I don’t want empty art.
I don’t want baroque art.
I don’t want mannered art.
I don’t want minimal art.
I don’t want plain art.
I don’t want vernacular art.
I don’t want artificial art.
I don’t want pretentious art.
I don’t want idea art.
I don’t want thing art.
I don’t want naturalistic art.
I don’t want rhetorical art.
I don’t want dull art.
I don’t want rhapsodic art.
I don’t want rigid art.
I don’t want informal art.
I don’t want celebratory art.
I don’t want cerebral art.
I don’t want formulaic art.
I don’t want sardonic art.
I don’t want sadistic art.
I don’t want masochistic art.
I don’t want trendy art.
I don’t want adolescent art.
I don’t want senescent art.
I don’t want grumpy art.
I don’t want happy art.
I don’t want severe art.
I don’t want demanding art.
I don’t want tempestuous art.
I don’t want incendiary art.
I don’t want commercial art.
I don’t want moralizing art.
I don’t want transgressive art.
I don’t want violent art.
I don’t want exemplary art.
I don’t want uplifting art.
I don’t want degrading art.
I don’t want melancholy art.
I don’t want chaotic art.
I don’t want provocative art.
I don’t want self-satisfied art.
I don’t want nurturing art.
I don’t want genuine art.
I don’t want derivative art.
I don’t want religious art.
I don’t want authentic art.
I don’t want sincere art.
I don’t want sacred art.
I don’t want profane art.
I don’t want mystical art.
I don’t want voyeuristic art.
I don’t want traditional art.
I don’t want expectable art.
I don’t want hopeful art.
I don’t want irreverent art.
I don’t want process art.
I don’t want static art.
I don’t want urban art.
I don’t want pure art.
I don’t want ideological art.
I don’t want spontaneous art.
I don’t want pious art.
I don’t want comprehensible art.
I don’t want enigmatic art.
I don’t want epic art.
I don’t want lyric art.
I don’t want familiar art.
I don’t want alien art.
I don’t want human art.

CHARLES BERNSTEIN is author of Attack of the Difficult Poems: Essays & Inventions (University of Chicago Press, 2011), All the Whiskey in Heaven: Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2010), and Blind Witness: Three American Operas (Factory School, 2008). He teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, where he is co-director of PennSound. More info at