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Schneider, Steven P., ed. Complexities of Motion: New Essays on A. R. Ammons's Long Poems. Teaneck, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1999.
ANDREWS, BRUCE (1948- ) Bruce Andrews has been a key player in the language school, both as a poet and theorist. Along with Charles bernstein and others, Andrews has, over the past 30 years, explored the limitations of language within artistic expression. Employing such devices as radical fragmentation and juxtaposition, Andrews's poetry represents the pinnacle of the avant-garde. Andrews strains the limits of familiar representation, which makes his poetry often difficult to understand but which also gives it power, as the reader must become an active participant. As Bernstein claims, Andrews's "poetics of 'informalism' advocates the continuing radicalism of constructivist noise" (4). His poetry makes reference to familiar objects; however, his extreme linguistic experimentation serves to make the familiar strange, breaking any neat, mathematical equivalence between signifier and a socially constructed signified. Meaning is no longer passed from poet to reader; the reader must take an assertive role in the construction of the text. Andrews thus represents the culmination of a literary tradition dating back to Gertrude stein. Along with Virginia Woolf and James Joyce, Stein popularized the practice of foregrounding the mechanical structures of written communication, often at the expense of an easily decipherable narrative. This project was expanded by the poets of the new york school, particularly John ashbery. Andrews and the Language school followed in this vein, bringing linguistic signification into an apocalyptic phase.
Andrews was born in Chicago, Illinois. Educated at Johns Hopkins and later at Harvard, where he received a Ph.D. in political science (1975), he has worked as a government official (National Institute of Education), an educator (Fordham University), and an entertainer (musical director for Sally Silvers and Dancers).
As a Language poet, Andrews has experimented with many poetic forms. His desire to explore the limits of language extends beyond his poetry: Andrews is also a theorist and at one point coedited, along with Bernstein, the seminal journal L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E. In one of his essays, Andrews makes the following declaration: "Words are mere windows, substitutes, proper names, haloed or subjugated by things to which they seem to point. 'Communication' resembles an exchange of prepackaged commodities. Here, active signifying is subordinated, transitive" (133).
The poem "Stalin's Genius" brings together Andrews's fragmented style and equally fragmented narrative: "[A]djudicate your own spermatazoa. Fallout teaches us money burns, all I / can say is: Jessica Christ!—garbage in, garbage out, rest assured." A wonderfully opaque and challenging piece of writing, "Stalin's Genius" provides images of sexuality, religion, and nuclear war, all brought together under the control that language exerts over everyday life. Andrews does not use language merely as a vehicle for passing along meaning; instead, he destabilizes language, creating a system whereby meaning must be constructed not only by associations between separate links in the linguistic chain but by filling in the missing links. By the early 1970s, well before others, Andrews was actively forcing the reader to become a partial author of the text.
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