Welcome to the Pataquerical Night Show (Episode-2)

Runa Bandyopadhyay
Essay, Reviews, Translation
Welcome to the Pataquerical Night Show (Episode-2)

Bengali Version & Transcreation here >>> প্যাটাক্যুয়রিক্যাল নাইটশোয়ে আপনাকে স্বাগতম

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         Today human life is at stake in this queasy state of Covid. Could we move on from human to human abstract? Just think. We are already in the process. We have lost our faith on government, on science and everything else. Our last resort could have been God, but He is also under lockdown. Human is not able to reach temple, church or mosque to reach him and “sits down with holy fears,/ and waters the ground with tears.”[1] But who is this God at all, who lives only in temple, church or mosque? Once upon a time human himself created the God to get a feeling of affirmation for the right direction of life, just a religious feeling. Human experienced his spiritual qualities in this physical natural world and imagined that as God. There was neither doctrine, nor dogma, but the self-appointed representatives of God capitalized the yearning of human to control human energy. Through the million years of evolution, the modern human has reached to “the human abstract”, a marvelous square-cut finish of spirit and growing the Blakean tree where “Humility takes its root/ underneath his foot” that “bears the fruit of Deceit,/ Ruddy and sweet to eat.” Actually the origin of humility and humble comes from the Latin word humilis ─ literally means low ─ human spends his life under the care of God as the religious authority taught us, and so we feel low, insignificant in front of God. It’s a lack of confidence on our own ability i.e. not able to negate the negative and realize the human divinity, the God whose kingdom of heaven is within us as our great Vivekananda said.

          In this Second episode of the fantasy “The Pataquerical Imagination” Charles Bernstein presents “The Human Abstract”, one of the fits of his fantasy, with the Bernsteinian version of William Blake’s iconic poem with the same name. William Blake’s Songs of Innocence was published in 1789 and Songs of Experience was published in 1794. The first one includes “The Divine Image” and the second one includes “The Human Image”, which was named as “The Human Abstract” in the next edition. About two centuries ago, the visionary poet felt the real picture of the modern human. He could realize that human, being detached from his original form, makes his own abstract image for his own existence, as a fence of his own security, under the veil of the universal humane sentiment; and drew symbolic image in his poem “The Human Abstract”. The poem is still relevant to the poets of twenty-first century. Bernstein’s view of “The human abstract” has been expressed in this fit, where Bernstein’s “abstract” is to mean “reifying the human, making it into an idea; in opposition to the human concrete, the human particular.”

           Reality is toggling us between sanity and insanity in the midst of the increasing Covidic depression, frustration and helplessness. We are trying to find actually who the insane is, who should be put in a straight jacket. When we leave the mythos and beliefs of our own time and the standard social understandings, when we discover the new realities and our relation with the multidimensional realities that gives the affirmation of our existence with our dreams of life, we are stigmatized as insane by the institution. Are we living in a utopia? Yes, we are “In Utopia”, the poem as the pataquerical poet Bernstein writes in his Near/Miss,

…In Utopia the monkey lies down with the rhinoceros and the ghosts haunt the ghosts leaving everyone else to fends for themself. In utopia, you lose the battles and you lose the war too but it bothers you less. In utopia no one tells no-body nothin’, but I gotta tell you this. In utopia the plans are ornament and expectations dissolve into whim. In utopia, here is a pivot. In utopia, love goes for the ride but eros’s at the wheel. In utopia, the words sing the songs while the singers listen. In utopia, 1 plus 2 does not equal 2 plus 1. In utopia, I and you is not the same as you and me. In utopia, we won’t occupy Wall Street, we are Wall Street. In utopia, all that is solid congeals, all that melts liquefies, all that is air vanishes into the late afternoon fog.[2]

           It is a “Pirate Utopia” in Hakim Bay’s sense, where “we could realize many of our True Desires, even if only for a season, a brief Pirate Utopia, a warped free-zone in the old Space-Time continuum.”[3] Pirate is in the sense that they are “social bandits,” an outlaw against authority and occupy empty spaces on the map with total freedom. The occupied space is Temporary Autonomous Zone (TAZ) as coined by Hakim Bay.  “Autonomous” in the sense of denial of institutional authority and ruled by complete freedom because: “they lied to you, sold you ideas of good & evil, gave you distrust of your body & shame for your prophethood of chaos, invented words of disgust for your molecular love, mesmerized you with inattention, bored you with civilization & all its usurious emotions” as Hakim Bay writes. And “Temporary” in the sense that poetry is a provisional space as Bernstein writes:

“It is a provisional space or holding area in which we consider alternative formations, alternative modes of convention and constellation, and live with these imaginal realities for the duration of the poem,”[4]

          Poetry is a model for another world, but the other world is always, anyway this world. The imaginal realities exist between real and unreal.  Those who don’t believe in the imaginal realities are called sane by the standards of the conventional normalcy of the society. Edger Allan Poe’s “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” was published in 1845, which was a short story about the mad house in the south of France. Though literal translation of “Maison de Santé” “is not mad house but the reverse, house of health”, a radically progressive lunatic asylum that is practicing “soothing” method. Bernstein probed into Poe’s image, which is crucial to bent studies and found that the inmates of the asylum are pataquerical insane and their reality is queer and mysterious. In this episode Bernstein includes the fit ─ “Tarr and Fether” based on this story of Edger Allan Poe.


@@@  Let us start the Episode-2 of the Fantasy by Charles Bernstein  @@@

The Pataquerical Imagination
Midrashic Antinomianism and the Promise of Bent Studies
A Fantasy in 140 Fits


XII. The human abstract

There is nothing so rank it does not smell of man.

The human is not an honorific but a transcendental stain, an animalady that shines brighter the more we rub it.[5]

      Humane poetry partakes of the gospel of “Pity,” “The Human Abstract” in Blake’s sense: a viral form of “Cruelty” emanating from the “Human Brain.” Pity is a parasite nested in the humane, feeding off the abstraction of “Poor” to fabricate the feeling of being better off, call it the pharmakon of condescension. Emerson echoes Blake when he writes, in “Self-Reliance” (1841), “Then, again, do not tell me, as a good man did to-day, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor?”[6](Pity does not change income inequality, mercy does not change racially skewed incarceration. Human[e] is prophylactic against the human.)

      In “Plato’s Pharmacy,” Jacques Derrida dwells on the double sense of pharmakon (drug) as both poison and medicine. For Blake and Emerson, pity is a pharmakon for our animalady: salve (or remedy) for the desolation at the plight of the poor, poison (or malady) in scapegoating those so stigmatized.[7] Our affective presence to the poor (sympathy) is also our affective absence (having paid off our obligation in sentiment or cash).

      It’s a relief the poor are on relief.

      Stigmatizing is a healing ritual of purification that poisons the ostracized.

     Affect, to come back to Blake on Pity and Mercy in “The Human Abstract,” is “the fruit of Deceit. / Rudy and sweet to eat”: a viral abstraction enfolded in “dismal shade.”[8]

    Nor is the answer inhumane poetry: my transgressions comfort too, making me feel I am the better person on account of them. I pity those less daring than me. I pity myself, if truth be told. And make a pitiful show of it.

    The metaphor of the humanitarian or of universal human sentiment is based on a mythopoetic distinction between humans and nonhuman animals: our virtue compared to their barbarity, our self-consciousness compared to their (relative, brute) unselfconsciousness. As Marc Shell has observed, those who subscribe to universal human fraternity cast out of the human family those who don’t adopt their universal religion.[9]

     Humans may feel (or inflict) guilt or shame, but they just as often fail to feel guilty or ashamed. Is that a failure or a success?

    The absence of affect is an affect. The absence of feeling had itself to be felt.

   Language is a trait that differentiates human and nonhuman animals; as such it is a primary justification for human exceptionalism. Then again, language is like a pharmakon—a remedy and curse, a tool for truthfulness and for deception: there is never a document of culture that is not at the same time barbaric.[10] If, as William Burroughs says, language is a virus, it is not because of its inherent metaphoricity but because of the denial of this all-too-human condition.[11]

     The unbearable sentimentality of human self-regard. (“A Species stands beyond . . .”)[12]

     It is not the truth of the human we seek but its animalady. (Our prehumanness may be more repressed than how we became posthuman.)

    “The Raven his nest has made,” says Blake, in the “thickest shade” of tree that “bears the fruit of Deceit.” Poe’s “nevermore” is an echo of Blake’s “Pity would be no more.”

     Williams again, the final lines of “Paterson”:

They are the divisions and imbalances
of his whole concept, made small by pity
and desire, they are—no ideas beside the facts—

This is what poetry looks like.


       We are most familiar with the estranged.


     “The Human Abstract” has several discrepant frames in the form of background images: there is no definitive version of the poem but rather a series of intertwined emanations. Each frame offers a variant reading of the poem. Indeed, the poem does not exist as a purely alphabet entity; there is no original poem, only these manifestations, a series of ostensive versions or aspects.[13]

     “The Human Abstract,” one of Blake’s Songs of Experience, echoes “The Divine Image” in Songs of Innocence, where pity has a “human face” in which God dwells. Yet when Blake, even in his intimations of innocence, recognizes that the “human form divine” must extend beyond the nepohumanist horizon, that is, must recognize itself not only in fellow Christians or those inside a received circle of recognitions:

   And all must love the human form,
In heathen, turk, or jew.

     Blake begins in innocence. While I—I find myself in the company of those for whom innocence is an alluring—not to say blinding or incapacitating—fantasy emanating from the pitch of the dark, neither origin nor destination.

XIV. Tarr & Fether

       A Poe work crucial to Bent Studies is “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” (1844).[14] As you will recall from our earlier meetings of the Society for the Devolution of Midrashic Antinomianism, Poe’s tale takes place at a “Mad-House” in the south of France, though the literal translation of “Maison de Santé” is not mad house but the reverse, house of health. Poe’s tale rests on this reversal. The lunatic asylum in the story is radically progressive, practicing a method based on indulging the delusions of the inmates, neither punishing nor contradicting them. This “soothing” method is the basis for a pataqueroid utopia in which no standard of normalcy is enforced.

     As explained earlier (though perhaps you were out of the room): it came to pass that there was an insurrection in the madhouse. The lunatics imprisoned the keepers, whose liberal treatment via amelioration was replaced by the violent introduction of a harsher, symbolically dehumanizing/ostracizing treatment plan: tarring and feathering.

    Poe’s narrator, a naive visitor to the asylum, is deluded by the madmen’s claim that they are sane, and so he disregards the doglike howling of the captured keepers. But the visitor does find something “odd,” as he says, indeed “a little queer,” about the counterfeit sanity of his hosts. However, he is reassured that those now in charge are not mad by the putative “superintendent of the establishment,” Monsieur Maillard. Maillard, it turns out, is a former superintendent who had gone mad while working at the asylum and has now resumed his role as superintendent—but as one of the insurrectionists. Maillard is one of those perennial supers who can work for whatever regime is power. (The dear reader will recall that Poe wrote decades before Freud, and yet a certain relation of the figure of Monsieur Maillard to the superego cannot be completely shaken.) “Why, do you really think so?” Maillard asks the narrator: do you really think something is not right with us? “—We are not very prudish, to be sure, here in the South—do pretty much as we please—enjoy life, and all that sort of thing, you know.” At the end of Poe’s yarn, order is restored, or so we are led to believe.

      Poe’s narrator describes the scene in the dining hall at the time of the counterrevolution: “As for my old friend, Madame Joyeuse, I really could have wept for the poor lady, she appeared so terribly perplexed. All she did, however, was to stand up in a corner, by the fire-place, and sing out incessantly, at the top of her voice, ‘Cock-a-doodle-de-dooooooh!’”

     The ostensive keepers regain control and return to their system of soothing. But there is a telltale sign that something is rotten in France (and not just as a consequence of the French Revolution or capitalism). The narrator describes a “fighting, stamping, scratching, and howling” among the counterrevolutionaries who, pele-mêle, join the fray to successfully overthrow the usurpers and restore order: they are, he says, “a perfect army of what I took to be Chimpanzees, Ourang-Outangs, or big black baboons of the Cape of Good Hope!” Before jumping to conclusions, pele-mêle, please keep in mind that many of the ostensive lunatics in the story imagine themselves to be nonhuman animals: frog, donkey, and rooster. As to Superintendent Maillard, it would be prudent to ask, “Why a duck?” For his double character—super turned sub turned sub playing super—turns on context. Poe invents Wittgenstein’s “duck/rabbit” avant la lettre.[15]

       Poe draws his moral midway in the tale, noting that the greatest danger from the truly mad man is that he is able to conceal his madness: “If he has a project in view, he conceals his design with a marvelous wisdom; and the dexterity with which he counterfeits sanity, presents, to the metaphysician, one of the most singular problems in the study of mind. When a madman appears thoroughly sane, indeed, it is high time to put him in a straight [sic] jacket.”

      On its non-Levinasian face, “Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether” is a Hegelian parody of the master–slave relation and of the mythopoetics of progress. The darker truth of “Dr. Tarr and Prof. Fether” is not the Foucauldian one that the insane and sane are not essential categories, that if you want to valorize a group designated as sane you need to stigmatize and scapegoat a group designated as insane. That parasitic relation is, no doubt, foundational for bent studies. Poe’s uncanny revelation is that the insane are perfect mimes of rational order, normalcy, reasonable authority, and medical compassion. They have convinced us that they have overcome the insurrection of the lunatics and restored order and they have taken over the reins of power. Our protests—that we are falsely designated mad!—are humored but rendered mute. That is our treatment. Our keepers have donned their “straight” jackets and rendered us all “queer” (in that “we enjoy life” and “do pretty much as we please”).

       That our society is in the hands of a “perfect army” of predators, primitives, is neither paranoia nor a metaphor.

       Whitman, in one of his greatest poems, and surely his most dystopian, knows how it works:

Let that which stood in front go behind! and let that which was behind advance to the front and speak;
Let murderers, thieves, bigots, fools, unclean persons, offer new propositions!. .
Let faces and theories be turn’d inside out! Let meanings be freely criminal, as well as results! . . .
Let the theory of America be management, caste, comparison! (Say! what other theory would you?) . . .
Let freedom prove no man’s inalienable right! Every one who can tyrannize, let him tyrannize to his satisfaction![16]



        There is another train directly behind this one.


Bengali Version & Transcreation here >>> প্যাটাক্যুয়রিক্যাল নাইটশোয়ে আপনাকে স্বাগতম (২য় পর্ব)

Note: Transcreation Project

      It is a transcreation project in series for the essay “The Pataquerical Imagination: Midrashic Antinomianism and the Promise of Bent Studies” by Charles Bernstein. This second episode contains 5 sections of the essay. The transcreated part is included in the Bengali section of Ongshumali. The essay was published in Bernstein’s book Pitch of Poetry, published by University of Chicago Press, Chicago in 2016. To know the details please click the following link:


[1] Poem “The Human Abstract” from Songs Of Experience by William Blake

[2] Bernstein, Charles. 2018. Near/Miss. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. “In Utopia” was first published in the Occupy Wall Street Poetry Anthology (New York: Occupy Wall Street Library, 2011).

[3] TAZ: The Temporary Autonomous Zone, Ontological Anarchy, Poetic Terrorism by Hakim Bay.

[4] Bernstein, Charles. 2016. Pitch of Poetry, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[5]Animalady might be defined, provisionally, as the human malady of being and resisting being animal. See “Close Listening” in My Way: Speeches and Poems.

[6] Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance,” www.rwe.org/complete-works/ii-essays-i/ii-self-reliance.html. In his second Tanner lecture at Harvard University, “Myself as Stranger: Empathy and Loss” (April 9, 2014), Rowan Williams provides an illuminating commentary on Stanley Cavell’s “The Avoidance of Love,” Cavell’s essay on King Lear in Must We Mean What We Say? (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1969). Williams argues that empathy (when understood as a measurable cognitive state) is ethically insufficient because it rests on a model of affect as reception rather than acknowledgment as doing (or performance).

[7] This double sense of drug is vernacular: the scourge of drugs versus miracle drugs. Pharmakós, as Derrida explains in his detailed account, is the ancient Greek rite of antiabsorption in which the pharmakeus (sorcerer, magician, poisoner, healer, druggist, sophist) casts out the pharmakoi (denigrated, scapegoat, exiled, ostracized). See Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. Barbara Johnson (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981), xxv, 70–75, 82, 97, 119.

[8] Textual transcription of William Blake, “The Human Abstract,” from Songs of Innocence and Experience (1794),44; from the collection of the Yale Center for British Arts, reproduced in The William Blake Archive, ed. Morris Eaves, Robert N. Essick, and Joseph Viscomi (2008): <www.blakearchive.org/exist/blake/archive/object.xq?objectid=songsie.l.illbk.44&java=no>

[9] See Marc Shell, “Marranos (Pigs), or From Coexistence to Toleration,” Critical Inquiry 17 (Winter 1991).

[10] Benjamin, “Über den Begriff der Geschichte” (On the concept of history), cited above: “Es ist niemals ein Dokument der Kultur, ohne zugleich ein solches der Barbarei zu sein.”

[11] Burroughs develops this idea in The Ticket That Exploded (1957–61): “From symbiosis to parasitism is a short step. The word is now a virus. The flu virus may once have been a healthy lung cell. It is now a parasitic organism that invades and damages the lungs. The word may once have been a healthy neural cell. It is now a parasitic organism that invades and damages the central nervous system. Modern man has lost the option of silence. Try halting your sub-vocal speech. Try to achieve even ten seconds of inner silence. You will encounter a resisting organism that forces you to talk. That organism is the word.” Word Virus: The William S. Burroughs Reader, ed. James Grauerholz and Ira Silverberg (New York: Grove, 1998), 208.

[12] Poems of Emily Dickinson, no. 501, 2:384–85.

[13] See Donald Ault, Narrative Unbound: Re-visioning William Blake’s The Four Zoas (Barrytown, NY: Station Hill, 1987).

[14] Quotations from the 1844 manuscript: www.eapoe.org/works/info/pt053.htm.

[15] The figure was first published in Fliegende Blatter, October 23, 1892, 147) and formed the basis for Joseph Jastrow’s 1899 study, which in turn became the basis for Wittgenstein’s discussion of the ambiguous (“or reversible, or bistable”) figure in Philosophical Investigations. See John F. Kihlstrom, “Joseph Jastrow and His Duck—Or Is It a Rabbit?” (2004), socrates.berkeley.edu/~kihlstrm/JastrowDuck.htm.

[16] Whitman, “Respondez!”: 1867 version of “Poem of the Propositions of Nakedness” in the 1856 Leaves of Grass, www.whitmanarchive.org/published/LG/1867/poems/126. See Vaclav Paris’s essay on this poem in Arizona Quarterly Review 69, no. 3 (Autumn 2013).

Bengali Version & Transcreation here >>> প্যাটাক্যুয়রিক্যাল নাইটশোয়ে আপনাকে স্বাগতম (২য় পর্ব)

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Runa Bandyopadhyay, a bilingual poet, essayist, translator and critiqueer in the New Poetry world of Bengal, India, a scientist by profession, but fully addicted to innovative experimental literature. As a critiqueer she invented a new genre in 'recurring poetry' and...

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