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BOB PERELMAN Building a More Powerful Vocabulary: Bruce Andrews and the World (Trade Center) ?t 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 loadbearing 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 Times article is interesting in itself: it was a rapid-response anodyne to the spiral of geopolitical-urban trauma, and, at the same time, undet the covet of a discussion of engineeting, it invited its readers to participate in transgressive calculations of how the Trade Center towers might actually be btought down. Translations of violence to papei ate 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, in beginning to consider the structure of the problem that Bruce Andrews has been confronting in his woik over the last two decades and particularly in a recent book, I Don't Have Any Paper So Shut Up (or, Social Romanticism) . For those who are not familiar with his work, Andrews has been one of Arizona Quarterly Volume 50, Number 4, Winter 1994 Copyright © 1994 by Arizona Board of Regents ISSN 0004- 1610 ii8BobPerelman 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.1 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 Í 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"? Before turning to I Don't Have Any Paper, 1 want to look at an article ofAndrews, "Constitution / Writing, Language, Politics, the Body," that provides a good summary of his intentions, constructive and destructive , for writing. I will also cite two passages from his earlier and subsequent poetry; these will demonstrate the difficulties of linking radical politics with radical poetics. The article makes clear that Andrews does not share my perception of these difficulties and that, for him, writing and politics are to be one thing. Such strong claims have given quite a charge to the reception of language writing. The strength of Andrews' claims on politics will not, however, rule out messy complications. As is the case with any critique, the object of his dissatisfaction is in better focus than the kinds of activity he ultimately wants to see. He criticizes "conventional literature (the novel as exemplar)," whose goal, he says, "is clarity, transparency; the medium should go away, leave no trace," and instead be "a direct window on the world." This results in "a laissez-faire order, presided over by the invisible hand of language (as if it were hegemonic Great Britain in the nineteenth century .)" It leaves...


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pp. 117-131
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