The Poetry of Absence: Parataxis in Bob Perelman and Lev Rubinštejn

Gerald Janecek, University of Kentucky

Parataxis is a main trope of postmodernism, consisting in the combining of disparate materials without overt syntactic links. Montage, collage, and assemblage are terms for it in the cinema and visual arts. The paper will compare two poems, “China” by the American Language poet Bob Perelman and “Eto ja” by the Moscow Conceptualist Lev Rubinštejn. In both instances, the scenario is that we are dealing with verbalizations related to viewing a book of pictures which is not shown to the reader. In the case of Perelman, this is a Chinese primer with illustrations; in the case of Rubinštejn, it is evidently an album of personal photographs. The reader is challenged to assemble an impression of the absent book from the fragmented remarks and to attempt to make sense of the whole, thus highlighting reader involvement in the creation of a work of verbal art. A close reading and comparison of the two works reveal a range of paratactic effects based on the absence of the referent. In the Perelman poem, there is little overt patterning or organization, while in the Rubinštejn, a fairly clear structure emerges. In any case, as works of the postmodern era, they position themselves at a rather far point toward the metonymic pole of language use.