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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)