Illegibility Writ Large: Dark Ages and Pages with Charles Bernstein and James Bridle

January 20th, 2019


To accept that truth and expression can be easily conveyed is to become a ploy of dark forces, says poet, essayist, and scholar Charles Bernstein, whose "difficult" poems take on the opacity, adjacency, multiplicity and technology of language by "slipping on the banana of words." Picking up where our conversation in the stacks of the Co-op leaves off, James Bridle calls for new metaphors and questions to guide us through our new Dark Age of computational information.

This episode opens with Charles Bernstein reading his poem, "The Lie of Art," which appears in his new collection, Near/Miss. Above, Bernstein and Colin discuss Language poetry, an avant gardge poetry movement associated with the likes of Lyn Hejinian, Rae Armantrout and others you can read about in Bernstein’s many books of criticism, including Attack of the Difficult Poems and Pitch of Poetry, and listen to on PennSound, an ongoing archive of recorded poetry that Bernstein co-directs at the University of Pennsylvania. This isn't the first time Bernstein read with us. In 1999, he was interviewed for The Front Table after reading at 57th Street Books from his collection of essays and poems, My Way.

We couldn't fit in every line of Bernstein's "Pitches for Poetry," but we do have a fuller edit of our conversation in the stacks. Have a listen by clicking here and explore a selection from his recommended reading for yourself:

Best American Experimental Poetry 2016, ed. Charles Bernstein and Tracie Morris, Wesleyan

Best American Experimental Writing is the third volume of this annual literary anthology compiling the best experimental writing in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. This year's volume, guest-edited by Charles Bernstein and Tracie Morris, features seventy-five works by some of the most exciting American poets and writers today, including established authors--like Sina Queyras, Tan Lin, Christian Bök, Myung Mi Kim, Juliana Spahr, Samuel R. Delany, and even Barack Obama--as well as emerging voices. Intended to provoke lively conversation and debate, Best American Experimental Writing is an ideal literary anthology for contemporary classroom settings.

Who Do With Words, Tracie Morris, Chax

"With hip talk and logic, Morris lays some shine on the be in our being as Black folk, writes us a love song for our lingo and a manifesto for making it plain. She asks all of us to flip the script with finesse, to hold the bullshit of public discourse to a flame and make art from the funky embers. Finally, a philosophy we can get down to. Like a quilt full of codes to crack and spill. Like a cowrie on the divination board of Black genius."--Yolanda Wisher

The Quarry: EssaysSusan Howe

A powerful selection of Susan Howe's key essays, The Quarry moves backward chronologically, from her brand-new -Vagrancy in the Park- (about Wallace Stevens) through essential texts such as -The Disappearance Approach, - -Personal Narrative, - -Sorting Facts; or, 47 Ways of Looking at Chris Marker, - -Frame Structures, - and -Where Should the Commander Be- to end with her seminal early art criticism, -The End of Art.-

An Introduction for Me to Think, Alexander Vvednsky, NYRB


A Vvedensky poem doesn't make a statement. It is an event. Vvedensky's poetry was unpublishable during his lifetime--he made a living as a writer for children before dying under arrest in 1942--and he remains the least known of the great twentieth-century Russian poets. This is his first book to appear in English. The translations by Eugene Ostashevsky and Matvei Yankelevich, outstanding poets in their own right, are as astonishingly alert and alive as the originals.

The River of Time: Time-Space, History, and Language in Avant-Garde, Modernist, and Contemporary Russian and Anglo-American Poetry. Ian Probstein, NY: Academic Studies Press, 2017


This book explores the changing perception of time and space in avant-garde, modernist, and contemporary poetry. The author characterizes the works of modern Russian, French, and Anglo-American poets based on their attitudes towards reality, time, space, and history revealed in their poetics. The author compares the work of major Russian innovative poets Osip Mandelstam, Velimir Khlebnikov, Vladimir Mayakovsky, and Joseph Brodsky with that of W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and, in spite of the postmodernist "estrangement" of reality, the author proves that similar traces can be found in the work of contemporary American poets John Ashbery and Charles Bernstein.

Common Sense, Ted Greenwald, Wesleyan

First published in 1979, Common Sense evinces a spare street-wise style rooted in the vernacular of the city. Now something of a cult classic, the book is recognized as an understated masterpiece, pushing at the edges of spoken word. This is the language of everyday, brought onto the page in such a way that we never lose the flow of speech and at the same time we become attuned to its many registers musical, emotional, ironic. 

James Bridle discussed his book, New Dark Age, October 6, 2018 at the Co-op, with the Renaissance Society's Anna Searle Jones. On this epsiode, he spoke to why, despite the breath of knowledge we have access to, computational technology leaves us divided and "lost in a sea of information." Bridle touches on the idea of technological literacy as well as the history of weather forecasting, which he describes as a "birth of a certain way of thinking about the world." Read William B. Gail's New York Times Op-Ed about the future of weather forecasting, one of the inspirations behind the book's title. And if you're left still curious about the future of forecasting, check out Bridle's Cloud Index, a political weather forecaster, which analyzes the weather over the past decade and compares it to poling data.

Finally, it's not uncommon to walk into a bookstore like the Seminary Co-op and feel a little in the dark. But trust us, you’re not alone. Our booksellers share openly the books they didn't "get" on this episode, and we'd love to hear what books you've deemed "illegible." Whatever you're reading, or trying to, drop us a line at