Thursday, January 3, 2008

Concrete Poetry, Max Bense

(1965) Germany

Our languages are on the road to formal simplification, abbreviated, restricted forms of language are emerging. The content of a sentence is often conveyed in a single word. Longer statements are often represented by small groups of letters. Moreover, there is a tendency among languages for the many to be replaced by a few which are generally valid. Does this restricted and simplified use of language and writing mean the end of poetry? Certainly not. Restriction in the best sense-concentration and simplification-is the very essence of poetry. From this we ought perhaps to conclude that the language of today must have certain things in common with poetry, and that they should sustain each other both in form and substance. In the course of daily life this relationship often passes unnoticed. Headlines, slogans, groups of sounds and letters give rise to forms which could be models for a new poetry just waiting to be taken up for meaningful use. The aim of the new poetry is to give poetry an organic function in society again, and in doing so to restate the position of poet in society. Bearing in mind, then, the simplification both of language and its written form, it is only possible to speak of an organic function for poetry in terms of the given linguistic situation. So the new poem is simple and can be perceived visually as a whole as well as in its parts. It becomes an object to be both seen and used: an object containing thought but made concrete through play-activity (denkgegenstanddenkspiel), its concern is with brevity and conciseness. It is memorable and imprints itself upon the mind as a picture. Its objective element of play is useful to modern man, whom the poet helps through his special gift for this kind of play-activity. Being an expert both in language and the rules of the game, the poet invents new formulations. By its exemplary use of the rules of the game the new poem can have an effect on ordinary language.

The constellation is the simplest possible kind of configuration in poetry which has for its basic unit the word, it encloses a group of words as if it were drawing stars together to form a cluster.

The constellation is an arrangement, and at the same time a play-area of fixed dimensions.

The constellation is ordered by the poet. He determines the play-area, the field or force and suggests its possibilities. the reader, the new reader, grasps the idea of play, and joins in.

In the constellation something is brought into the world. It is a reality in itself and not a poem about something or other. The constellation is an invitation.

Tr. Mike Weaver

above copied from:

Concrete Poetry II (1965)

Max Bense, Germany

The world is only to be justified as an aesthetic phenomenon; and if there is such a thing as an aesthetic conception, it is an artistic one. This has been known since Nietzsche. Much in modern art demonstrates the validity of these postulates, primarily the material concept of poetry -which is less poetry about a world than creation -with linguistic means. Design in words. Text design.

Concrete poetry is a style of material poetry if it is understood as a kind of literature which considers its linguistic means (such as sounds, syllables, words, word sequences and the interdependence of words of all kinds) primarily as representation of a linguistic world which is independent of and not representative of an object extrinsic to language or of a world of events. Furthermore the language of material poetry is not subject to the conventional rules of grammar and syntax in the common speech, but is ruled by unique visually and structurally oriented models. The communication scheme serves less an understanding of meaning than an understanding of arrangements. It is therefore an aesthetic communication scheme.

As to the term concrete, it is to be understood positively, as in Hegel, as the opposite of the term abstract. The concrete is the non-abstract. Everything that is abstract is based on something from which certain characteristics have been abstracted. Everything concrete, on the other hand, is nothing but itself. To be understood concretely a word must be taken at its word. All art is concrete which uses its material functionally and not symbolically. To some extent therefore concrete poetry can be considered to be material art. The "Pilot Plan for Concrete Poetry" published by the Noigandres group recognizes the verbal, the vocal and the visual materiality of the word and of language. However the problem is not to create a traditional linguistic sphere of communication, which conventionalizes meanings in exploiting the verbal function of the word. The word is being manipulated so-to-speak in three dimensions verbally, vocally and visually. Seen as material the communication sphere is three-dimensional. The word has simultaneously a verbal, a vocal and a visual positional value. This is the reason why a word that is to be used in a text should not be chosen according to its role or position in a possible sentence. Sentences are not the aim of concrete texts. What is to be created are ensembles of words which as unites represent a verbal, vocal and visual sphere of communication-the three-dimensional language object, and this three-dimensional language object is the carrier of a specifically concrete aesthetic message. The graphic positional value of the word or the grouping of words on a surface must, it is evident, be considered in the same way in which phonetic phenomena are used on the acoustical borders of speech. It is equally clear that to the same extent to which the word is not the basis of the message of the text characterized by the linear distribution of the conventional communication sphere of classical poetry, it is being replaced by the surface arrangement.

Note: Originals of Bense's statements were printed without capitals.

Tr. lrène Montjoye Sinor, M.E.S.


(From Konkrete Poesie International)

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