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He Do the Different Voices: ‘The Manager’ Speaking.

By A. ROBERT LEE.

On Richard Berengarten’s The Manager:
A Fortnightly Critical Dossier.

.

First, there was the need to get the voices ‘right’, not just the protagonist’s but all the speakers in the poem: their accents, tones, timbres, registers, argots. This involves first ‘hearing’ each voice in my head, followed by careful ‘listening’, authentication – linguist’s skills – not to let my own overlays, constrictions, or interpretations interfere.’

— Joanne Limburg and Richard Berengarten, ‘Managing the Art’.

HORSEMEAT MAY STRIKE an odd, or at least unexpected, point of entry into literary critique. But Europe in 2013, and the UK especially, became full of controversies over food labelling: viande de chevaline had somehow worked its way into off-the-shelf beef and related products. Accuracy of ingredient was in the headlines. It was, to be sure, a passing moment in the news cycle. Alighting on the dust-jacket, and then the title-page, of The Manager: A Poem, readers with a shared eye to correct labels might want to ponder the scriptural equivalent of the EU’s Trade Description Acts. Is not this a composition that apparently teases its professed genre, its one hundred component parts, mid-division, and three ‘buffers’ as Berengarten designates them, less A Poem than a diary-novel? Well, kind of, but no. For whatever first appearance, the whole in fact could not more deliver on its own designation, a poem indeed, a Long Poem, a Poem in Prose, and with quite its own ordering poetics of voice from start to finish.  

Berengarten’s orchestral fashioning of voice (or voices) actually gives unity to the whole, a consolidating force of counterpoint and integration.

It has often enough been said of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, also a Long Poem of extended line-units, that it gives way to catalogue or list. Even ‘When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d’, his intimate mourning lyric for the slain President Lincoln, is alleged to give way to crowding. Other modern texts in which voice serves as organizing dynamic likewise have met resistance, from Melville’s canniest Mississippi River masquerade The Confidence-Man (1857), to Joseph Zitt’s recent neo-biblical The Book of Voices (2013). For its part The Manager risks charges of a similar kind, its one and several voices too enumerative or in danger of repeating themselves. Even so, such a view would bespeak inattention, casual or too quick reading. As with Whitman, Melville, or even Zitt, it fails to give recognition to how Berengarten’s orchestral fashioning of voice (or voices) actually gives unity to the whole, a consolidating force of counterpoint and integration.

In its vision of selfhood steering between hope and existential fracture, be it on account of a society under techno-corporate writ, suburb-to-office routine, or individual loss of marital and sexual self-esteem, The Manager could hardly offer a work more carefully purposive in its uses of speaking voice. Runs of interior consciousness make their own circuits. Memory affords conversation with the dead as with the living. Joycean parallel and wordplay alternate with child idiom. Flurries of rage or mock-politesse, many of them edging into the darkly comic, enter and exit. CEO-speak and departmental memo, together with marketing and IT buzz words, yield their lifeless parlance. TV and radio lingo blare and babble, sometimes a background of white noise, sometimes blatant and obtrusive, as do bar-room, drinks-party and dinner-table talk. Advertising jingles and their billboard counterparts mock life even as they appear to idealise it, ever to the chagrin of the poem’s main speaker. Bedroom speech, be it rough-and-tumble or edged in impossible desire, rises and falls, just as, much to purpose, do cross-sword arguments and accusation. CVs become irreal cascades of detail, suitably inscribed in different font or typescript. All play into and across each other, a strikingly varied yet composite gallery aided and abetted by fragments of speech in other languages (among them French, Italian, Serbian and Hebrew), plays of the two kinds of Atlantic English, and resort to varying British class registers.

The telephone features prominently, calls variously mock-routine or full of staccato desperation, together with words spilled into answering-machines, un-picked-up ringing, wrong numbers and abrupt cut-offs. The phone in this way assumes darker iconography; it becomes a kind of sinister marker for non-connection, failed connection, mis- or dis-connection, rather than any kind of meaningful connection, and even assumes the status of a pointer to death’s final call. Section Sixty-Four expresses matters with sardonic, half-bluesy brevity:

The telephone rings and rings. I will not answer it. Though it says,
You’re not dead yet but we’re waiting for you baby.’(103)

One should add, too, Bruno’s skirmish with break-down (Sections Seventy-One through Seventy-Eight), a map of voices that carry his turbulence towards fissure and interior battling. Seventy-Eight, notably, contrasts a species of word-and-sound Finneganese – a language of self at odds against itself – with a ‘sane’ clinical statement of might-be medical treatment. The two versions imply a schism, a Bruno of, and in, halves.

Berengarten has several times indicated his aspiration to offer a riposte to Eliot’s The Waste Land, the chorusing of self-seeking centre within the ‘managed’ terms of latest modernity, even post-modernity. Eliot’s context was the social rupture in the wake of World War I. For Berengarten it is the ambience of market-hype, privatisation, and the legacy of Thatcherist Britain (Section Fifty-Five especially applies), and his unwillingness to share Eliot’s recourse to Shantih Shantih Shantih as a history-less retreat. His parody of Eliot in Section Ninety-Seven adds weight to this point. Both the life, and assuredly the voice or voices, of Charles Bruno/Adam Kadmon – the Corporation Man of Middle Management as Everyman successor to the foundational Adam of The Book of Genesis and the Kabbalah – are thereby to be met, and heard, as not merely contemporary but possessed by an entire gamut of wide-ranging cultural echoes. This concourse of symptomatic utterances, his own and that of those about him, creates the intricate interplay that greatly validates a large part of The Manager’s imaginative claim. It is voicing, moreover, to throw an ironic light on a dedication which reads, cryptically, as if to highlight and simultaneously mock conventional usage: ‘To Whom It May Concern’.

THREE INSTANCES OF the poem’s fashioning in matters of voice and voicing can serve as point of departure. Entry into The Manager is by way of four italicised stanzas which form a poem virtually in their own imaginative right. Destiny takes form in the figure of a female ancient, at once creatrix and prophetess:

Under the plane tree an old woman knits. She
Unhas passed beyond need or mourning. She
Unneither frowns nor smiles.

She is patterning our destiny. She is
Shfashioning our future. She is re-working
Shfate. She is making history
. (3)

No doubt there is a hint of Eliot’s Cumaean Sibyl in his epigraph to ‘The Waste Land’ here, but this passage also bears an unexpected resemblance to how Leslie Marmon Silko prefaces her classic Native American novel Ceremony (1977):

Thought-Woman , the spider,
named things and
as she named them they appeared.

She is sitting in her room
thinking of a story now

I’m telling you the story
she is thinking. (1)

Both passages give a mythic armature to the mini-narratives that follow, section by section, so that while each one calls up a specific life and suggests a certain sequence, it also voices a human story-pattern within a far larger timescale.

Section Ninety-Nine, for its part, gives a key indicator of the main first-person speaker in The Manager and his inveterate will to situate himself as both would-be communicator and recipient of unimpaired communication:

I’ve been trying to get through for ages but your
My line was engaged.
My And you know I can’t say a word into an
My answering machine

My voice dries up. There has to be somebody
My real on the other end of the line. No, anybody
My won’t do at all. It’s you I want to speak to

So I’ve gone on trying till now. One has to go on
My trying. No it’s not the past I’m talking about.
My I’m trying to talk about love.
(156)

Albeit almost freestanding, the passage irrefragably links into the overall conspectus – the sense of dis-ease with the ‘managerial’ world, the quest for love’s hold and sustenance. How, for the speaker, to ‘get through’, or ‘say a word’ against the odds of ‘engaged’ lines? How, again, to deal with the un-answering answer machine, or with being kept on hold, or with his own implicitly psychosomatic dry throat? How, in other words, to ‘manage’ self, the missing ‘you’, the relevant intimacy in an un-intimate world? That the argot again mimics so instantaneous a technology as the phone points up, more than a little adroitly, the permanence of search for love’s humanisation amid the reifications and controls of prevailing (and greatly pre-emptive) corporate or media power.

‘Can you hear me? Are you there?’ asks the speaker in Section Twenty-Seven (42). The question once more cuts to the heart of The Manager. The scene opens with uncertain lovers’ remembered lovemaking on the carpet next to a convector heater, as near ungainly as it is illicit (‘when her husband was away’). The woman, albeit heartfelt, speaks cliché (‘I want your child’). He gives a would-be roué’s estimate (‘She liked being squeezed’). Remorse rather than guilt prevails (‘Much of our time we spent weeping together’) even if, for the stolen adulterous moment, there is a sense of better or more authentic feeling. There will be no further meeting, train or airport, only an after-voice of un-love, life betrayed and sour. ‘There’s somebody else on the line. It is the dead. Who will not lie down and rest’. This encounter and its aftermath is one aspect of the morass from which the speaker seeks escape. Section Ninety-Nine again supplies the necessary gloss: ‘I’m trying to talk about love’ (156).

IN THESE CROSS-LIGHTS the issue to arise in The Manager lies in best discerning the coming-together – the interplay and balance – of its contributing multi-vocal seams. Mention has to be made of the verset, a literary form Berengarten has been at pains to explain as essential to The Manager, each a local verse or verse-prose paragraph and often pitched to run over one into the other. The effect is cumulative: voice units ­– be they those of Bruno/Kadmon/Everyman, office colleagues, a boss like Sir Keith Lawdon, lovers, dead mother, his ex-wife, children, or of yet others – are made to coalesce into the poem’s overall composition. Even so, no final authorial voice intrudes. The poem, rather, is presented as a dialectic, a tension of competing registers. Not a few times Berengarten has spoken of his attraction to, though far from slavish imitation of, both literary and other art forms that coordinate seeming un-coordinates, whether B.S. Johnson’s The Unfortunates (1969), the novel-in-a-box with its invitation to interchangeable chapter sequence, improvisational jazz counterpoint – especially that of Charlie Parker, or the virtuoso and always brilliantly camp discontinuities built into the riffing of the English actor-comedian Kenneth Williams (1926-1988), notable for the Carry On films and classic BBC Radio shows like Hancock’s Half Hour, Beyond Our Ken, and Round the Horn.

First, indeed, has to be the Bruno/Kadmon voice, itself a variorum of anger, sorrow, frustration, the inwardly lost and found, but always and above all fiercely life-driven in its different and frequently contradictory currents. Singular to a fault even as it carries the marks of a wider historical condition, this voice becomes the poem’s unfolding outlet – one of desire, breakdown, sexuality, hope, will (one might say willfulness), and throughout reflective of a life marked one way or another by different kinds of interruption. The arc of experience this voice speaks from insists upon almost unbroken attention on the part of the listener, a desideratum pitched full of modern confessional demand.

This is the voice who says of himself: ‘Adam Kadmon lies upside down in the Sistine of my skull. My poor damned Cad Man’ (Seventy-Four, 118), who hears himself mocked in the Chav Cockney or Estuary of ‘Can’t you see he’s a poofter(Forty-Eight, 76) – with its echo, perhaps, of Pound’s ‘aw them Cockney voices’ – and who, on greeting Madame Takhireva for company business at the airport, hears the words ‘You err Mistair Charles Jordan Bruno of Prosepicked(Fifty-Three, 89). The implications lie busy within the play of nomenclature. It is the voice of the Bruno who works under the auspices of MAPLAN, full version ‘Market Advice for Living and Necessity’ (Ninety-One, 145). Most of all, perhaps, it is the voice of the Bruno who haunts and accuses himself, the voice always within a voice.

Tracking the variations of this Bruno voice, even selectively, indicates the degree to which its turns operate as though ever-simultaneous, as though the past, too, is always time-present. In this respect the varying expressions of voice can be said to run closer to, say, J.D. Salinger’s ‘improvisational’ Holden Caulfield first-person tactics in The Catcher in the Rye than to Dickens’s timeline autobiography in David Copperfield. The opening sections bear out this point with some emphasis. Section One, entitled ‘Gemini’, offers a species of warning horoscope, a life prospect of being beset by devils disguised as angels. Various kinds of risk are said to threaten, whether false friendship, or being undermined, or a possible flood into ‘darkness’ (7). In this regard, its imagery acutely serves to preface the warring circuits of life, the contrariety, in which Bruno sees himself located and to which he will give full and whole voice.

Section Two uses a domestic Sunday of TV hymn-singing (from the cryptically named ‘parish of Bishop’s Cleaving’), late-night horror movie, charity appeal (‘for the Distressed Mortgage-Holders Fund’), pork chop supper, and some too-regulation marital sex, to articulate Bruno’s sense of being trapped into banality (8). Is not this the suburb as dystopia, genteel evisceration? Section Three, in another time-band, takes us into a father’s story-comfort for his child, bedtime assurance against the plaint ‘Dad I can’t get to sleep’, which is told through a fantasia of elves, dragons, bows, arrows and swords in the form of slivers of mined coal dust whose glitter bespeaks ‘a thousand sparkling jewels’ (9). The play of metaphor could not better match the fantasia being offered to both child and reader.

Section Four mines office-gossip in an English pub, faux-hearty bar-room patter (‘Well Charles what’ll it be. […] How’s your patch doing then.’), all of it spoken over orders for the food standbys of a Ploughman’s Lunch or scampi. It carries the perfect ring of backstabbing, spite (‘Wilkins […] Thinks he can handle policy but won’t ever go it alone’), and not least Bruno’s raking anxiety even as he is being offered antacids for his growling, likely ulcerous, stomach (10). Each vignette modifies as it aligns with the other, coeval voicings as it were, all easily imagined as interchangeable. No matter whether read in sequential continuity or as interlayered contiguities, they lay down further opening markers to Bruno’s sense of his own condition.

THE SECTION-BY-SECTION ongoing concourse in The Manager confirms a rare invention of tongue and ear on Berengarten’s part. A gathering of illustrative sections do duty, be it through Bruno speaking or through the voice of others. To select may risk arbitrariness but would not be inappropriate, given the author’s wariness of prioritising any portion of the whole. If, and where, the sections draw upon footfalls from Greek and Italian (Thirty-Nine, Forty-Six), a Judaic food blessing in Hebrew (Eighty-Nine), the Chinese I Ching (Seventy-Two), Serbo-Croatian dicta (Ninety-Eight, Hundred), Polish place-names (Seventy), erotic endearments and drinks in Czech (Fifty-Four), and even Anglo-Saxon usage (Eighty- One), they unerringly point to life lived and spoken fully in the present tense. The poem, in these allusions and all its other inflections of voice, may not yield the full Bakhtinian carnival, but it points in that direction, a past-into-present colloquium de nos jours.

Bruno first: the voice of a late, though let it be said, very English and male-inflected, modernity. It can hardly go unnoticed that this is a voice seeking in every way – sexual to vocational but always at root existential ­– to pitch against depersonalisation, the fear amid routines of market-dominant culture in which the self itself spirals down into commodity. Section Six gives measure. Its span, a party full of drink and flirtation through to a follow-on tryst in an attic, has Bruno asking ‘life’ questions even as he lurches into booze-driven sex: ‘What do you want? Meaning. From Life. From the World’ (12). The interrogation, in fact, reveals as much of Bruno himself as of his seeming exotic sari-clad (and quickly un-clad) partner, including his unvoiced but clearly thought refusal to buy into her fashionable soul-body-mind mantra.

Even Bruno’s ranting and self-ranting can offer a feast of pleasures. If Section Eight offers a charge against business-cult, it does so in the voice of a Bruno full of self-recrimination at his supine accession to its lingo and justifications: ‘How I piss myself off. Being so polite to them’ (14). The listings that follow might be thought a flyting, a charge-sheet, assembled to take down the mundus bureaucraticus of profit, commerce, rectitude, along with perks, by those who in high or low degree lay claim to being what Saul Bellow’s Herzog famously calls ‘reality instructors’, and whose Old Testament-named protagonist is repeatedly said to be ‘taking stock’ (125). The players in this order of things, whether seen through Bruno’s paranoia or not, are enumerated in near-absurd listing:

[…] The Directors and Deputy-Directors. The Customers Clients End Users. The Strategists Tacticians Negotiators. The Specialist and Expert Consultants. The Marketers and Marketeers. The Banker-Member-Racketeers. The Arbitrators and Advisers and Researchers and Developers. (14)

The roster hardly stops there, a web of conspiracy and bad faith as Bruno envisions it, from ‘Chairpersons’ to ‘Shareholders and Stakeholders’, from ‘Graduates in Bloody Everything these days from Plumbing to Leisure Promotion’ to each and all of the ‘Paladins of Global Bullshit’ (14). None of these, Bruno readily concurs, excludes himself as he reels and exhales, harried, accusatory, the voice at once of both spider and fly.

Whatever his dismay, Bruno leaves no doubt that he, too, will under no circumstance go gently into the dying of the light. Section Seventeen summons childhood nursery rhyme and game, Ring a Ring o’ Roses and boy-girl circle Tag, to shadow the sense of adult enclosure in which he feels pinioned. Are not these activities of voice and play given presence here in order to anticipate death’s own calling-card, the final ‘all fall down’? Like Hamlet, Bruno so ponders as though in soliloquy: ‘What would it be like, to be dead. To be not here, or anywhere. Simply not to be here(28). At this point one might also hear Beckett, be it the voice of Godot or Krapp or Play, the voice paradoxically talking as if to and from an existential void. But the final sentences, with due citation from the folk song ‘Oh Sir No Sir No’, speak in contestation of endgame – ‘This will not do for me. I want. I want to. I mustn’t. I won’t. I was not made for death. I just refuse to die’ (29). Bruno may well discern deathliness in his time, his own asphyxiation and even obliteration, but his voice remains intransigently on the side of life, breath over breathlessness. Aptly, in Section Thirty, he will call himself Homo aspirans (46), not merely spirans but aspirans.

The same will to meet, and redeem, the voices of the haunting dead, and to find the best, fullest voices of life, runs through Section Sixty-One. Fashioned as if it were yet another phone-call to yet another lover – fantastical, nocturnal, lyrical – it actually rebukes deathliness:

And if I were to greet you with my whole voice
Anevolved and empty. As ready to be occupied
Anas a cello or hive.

You wouldn’t hear them howling. You wouldn’t
Antrack their silences.
AnYou wouldn’t need to fear them under the
Antraffic drone.

[…]

If I were not afraid. And afraid of my own fear.
AnTo speak. Of their howling and their silences.
AnThey would be one with this voice.

Can you hear me. Can you hear. As fearless as.
AnDamn. The pips are going. But I haven’t
Anfinished yet. (100)

In this self-call to speaking the complete agenda of being, there is a necessary sense of urgency, even of pending time-up. The whole section might be thought an Ode to Life, with imagination, or at the very least the imagination of imagination (‘We should be comrades sworn into the heart of the buried dream continent’ [100]) as cornerstone of humanness, of Menschlichheit. However bound or frustrated (‘But I haven’t finished yet’), the resolve falls upon carpe diem, the dismantlement of ‘my own fear’, and with it, time measured as though it consisted of mechanical pips. The voice belongs, if not to an anti-Prufock, then to a Prufock almost demandingly vocal in his unwillingness to settle for any and all consensual life-and-death status quo. That refutation of final settlement, of any kind, finds its reflection, too, in the resort to synoptic and implicitly Beckettian half-phrasings such as ‘As fearless as’ (100).

None of this is to underplay Bruno’s persisting sense of displacement. Section Eighty-Six begins, characteristically, ‘All the people I need to talk to seem to be unavailable’ (135). Berengarten has Bruno persist, throughout, as a spirit beset by the absence of a shared and companion fellow-voice, among lives so caught in cliché that his own life has become a mock-life. In one of his symptomatic run-ons the narratorial voice lays out an ironic barrage of jargon, so that the all too familiar Business-School-and-Management-speak acquires the look and sound of an alien lexicography:

[…] They’ve just been redesignated or redeployed

To downsizing or downloading or decommissioning or deregulating.

Or re-visioning or revaluing or resourcing or recycling. Or empowering or hot-desking or outreaching or leveraging. Or marketing or mentoring or manhunting. Or stripping suspending liquidizing freezing assets. Or venturing networking or headhunting or troubleshooting. Or evaluating new premises or commandeering global niches or transferring technologies with top know-how and expert follow-through

They’re engaged in risk-assessment and crisis-control alternatives. (135)

All eleven of the versets in this section work their changes on this bereft language by means of a reified, mechanistic voice, participle piled upon participle, and whose streams of jargon might take on joke status were they not so heartless, indeed virtually nonsensical. How for Bruno to say anything even close to living speech within this wall of gibber, Circumlocution Office-Spracht or something close? The concluding lines veer tactically between the plaintive and comic, especially as they plunge into italics:

[…] And whoever I do get through to regrets with deep-dish crisp satisfaction, I’d really like to help but regrettably we are not permitted to divulge information pertaining to associates or personnel to any unauthorized persons. Sorry – it’s just one of our in-house rules. (137)

Maybe it is the ‘Sorry’ that weighs most, Bruno spoken to in a voice of faux-apology, all the more distant for its ostensible show of familiarity.

Bruno equally plays interlocutor, the agent of reported voice. Sections Twenty-Nine and Thirty-Seven are typical in this respect. The former, a cascade of indictments by a woman in her experience of ‘men’ in their inadequacies, might be Bruno’s opposite-gender parody. Her rhetorical complaint ‘What’s a woman like me to do’ (44) opens the proceedings, with quick-to-follow slaps at ‘fragile graduate wimps’ clad in ‘Pin-striped Mon-Fri’ suits, networkers in ‘Cybersmog’, failures when confronted with ‘a Real Woman’, and divorcees not unlike Bruno himself. She is actual enough, fed up with the notion that Bruno may be it for her, and also a travesty, a woman un-mated, even un-mate-able within the assigned role of company wife: ‘Sockwashing and cooking his goulash’ (45).

Other women’s voices in The Manager do not go missing. If the voice above is one of upper-crust complaint, the poem avails itself of a wider range. Section Ten might be Young Mum-speak, the prams and three kids, their shared-name husbands (Edward), the holidays and furnishing (18-19). Section Eleven might be a Brighton day-out pick-up, a go-to-it-girl of remembered rough excitement at ‘Nick the Prick’ (20). Section Forty-Four does a laid-back (in all senses) voice of an American business woman of the world, a veteran of sales and motivation and amid the lovemaking full of cries of ‘Wow’ and ‘I think you’re kinda cute’ (70). Section Fifty-Four gives voice to a Czech lover cheating on her own husband as Bruno has on his wife on earlier occasions: ‘I love also my husband. But whole truth is too painful’ (90). Each reflects on Bruno’s own sexual shifts and turns, his promiscuity a rage for love even as it contradictorily bespeaks ego and selfishness in kind with the market appetite he inhabits.

In Section Thirty-Seven, in company with his Susan, Bruno suffers a Linguistics lecture full of allusion to ‘algorithmic tree’, ‘notation-set’, ‘Chomskyisms’, and above all heshe pronominal uses with their frequent favouring of masculinist bias. As Berengarten tells it, this episode carries a perfect reflexive irony: if this is language then its academicism veers a world away from actual voice – and not least Bruno’s hostile lapse into ‘with-it’ wordage after Sue’s accolades of ‘brilliant’ and suggestion of an after-lecture drink. ‘Cool, I venture, shyly and for the first time ever’ (59), as though this mock-enthusiasm will cover his un-conversion to gender PC in the wake of Dr. Muriel Thorpe’s lecture on Purging Obsolescent Notations. None of this, it can readily be assumed, speaks in any way to Bruno’s sense of sexuality, the ever nuanced he-she (and other gendered) push and pull of human desire. The lecturer’s own suggestion for an un-gendering third-person singular pronoun reflects a wonderfully self-serious oblivion as to her dip into ridiculousness:

Now, the new notation-set which we propose to deploy henceforward

[…]

– here, let me write it for you onto this slide so you can all get it off the screen and all just jot it straight down. I’ll use this nice green marker I think, – is S/H/IT. (58)

Bruno also needs to be located within the various memos and circulars which lay down terms and conditions for his life within the world-as-business. Section Nine does a razor-edge pastiche of the Chairman’s Confidential Memo for a ‘Hostess/Consort’ as secretarial-sexual bait for ‘international clients’ (16). The language once more carries its own shadow (‘attentive personal support entertainment/hospitality etc’, ‘car expenses & flat’). Its final desideratum, ‘I shall need to see photos’ (17), says all. Section Twelve, ‘PROSPECTUS’, does a similar deflation in advertising modish Gated Community housing, with CCTV, Securicad, emergency beams, ‘personalised’ remote control, through to ‘precautionary safeguards such as broken glass spikes on walls’ (21).

The buffer, as Berengarten designates his various intervening sequences, of a posthumous Curriculum Vitae straight out of Science Fiction (‘Born in Mars’s Bellona’), does satiric duty with spirit (83-4). Is not this persona or alter-ego the galactic espionage figure of face-surgery and six-year silence, author of ‘An Approach to Approaching Shadows’, actor celebrity, whose death at 97 in ‘Commune B-302 (bisexual) on South 44th in Unlicensed Sector’ (84) belongs in the annals of the fantastical obituary? In Section Fifty-Seven, the ironic beam turns upon a Memo to the Psychometric Testing Evaluation, a shy at Psychologese and its exploitation by the Human Resource Management and Planning Department. That Bruno, or the subject in question, declines to submit to the competency test required by the company takes its smack at the self-mimicry built into such would-be quantification (94-5). Section Seventy-Nine assumes form as a Fax, in which Bruno’s ‘mislaid’ quantum of Joy is rendered as urgent communication to ‘Prospect International’. Under the guise of ‘NAPALM Floating Manager Mddx’ he turns both the MAPLAN acronym of his company and the cliché-stuffed Fax on their heads, thereby making his bid to take the management of his life fully, conclusively, into his own hands (126-7).

SECTION ONE HUNDRED, if numerically the closing act of voice, could not bring The Manager to a more provisional state of rest. The words aim for a listener, a semblable, who may be Bruno’s elusive own self or a self in whose very being the times as set out throughout will find redemption. It resembles nothing if not a love poem, a run-on message, to the awaiting future:

You who sit waiting for me at the other end of my story. At its dead
Yoend. In the No-More space. Down the long corridor where your
Younnumbered room

Has a sign on its door that reads Nowhere

[…]

Who are you, out there? I cannot scry your features. But how infinite
Whyour patience.

[…]

Child of all our futures. Parent of our all pasts. Singularity of
Chsingularities. All I know is this. Volim te puno puno. Mnogo mi
Chnedostaješ. (157)

 

The Manager predicates no Happy Ending, only engagement with history, the hope of imaginative fulfilment through love (The end-notes helpfully translate the Serbian as ‘I love you lots and lots. Miss you awfully’). Bruno, against blockage and imperfection, has assumed the voice of would-be prophet. There may be a future, and a self within that future, fuller, more self-imagined, than that mandated by present terms of reference. Or at least so implies the last italicised vignette of the girl child scrawling with her stick, she and her brother (respectively yo and shi in a suggestion of a changed order of naming and language), the writers of new code. Berengarten can be said to leave it to his reader in turn to ‘manage’ that future in its own deserved best voice.

Return to Dossier introduction and index.

A. Robert Lee A. Robert Lee, formerly of the University of Kent at Canterbury, UK (1967-1996) until 2011 was Professor of American Literature at Nihon University,
Tokyo. He has held visiting US appointments at Princeton, the University of Virginia, Bryn Mawr College, Northwestern University, the University of Colorado, the
University of New Mexico and Berkeley. His book publications include Designs of Blackness: Mappings in The Literature and Culture of Afro-America (1998);
Multicultural American Literature: Comparative Black, Native, Latino/a and Asian American Fictions (2003), which won the 2004 American Book Award; Gothic to
Multicultural: Idioms of Imagining in American Literary Fiction (2009); Modern American Counter Writing: Beats, Outriders, Ethnics (2010); and the collections Other
Britain, Other British: Contemporary Multicultural Fiction (1995) and China Fictions/English Language: Diaspora, Memory, Story (2008). He has also edited four
multi-sets. Among his creative writings are Japan Textures: Sight and Word (photography Mark Gresham, 2007), Tokyo Commute (2011), Ars Geographica: Maps
and Compasses (2012), Portrait and Landscape: Further Geographies (2013) and Imaginarium: Sightings, Galleries, Sightlines (2013).

Works Cited

Bellow, Saul. 1964. Herzog. New York: Viking Press.

Berengarten, Richard. 2011. The Manager: A Poem. Exeter: Shearsman Books.

Johnson, B. S. 1969. The Unfortunates. London: Panther Books.

Limburg, Joanne and Berengarten, Richard. 2017. ‘Managing the Art’ in Paschalis, Nikolaou and Dillon, John, (eds). Richard Berengarten: A Portrait in Inter-views. Bristol: Shearsman Books: 2017.

Silko, Leslie Marmon. 1977. Ceremony. New York: The Viking Press.

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