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“On her promise of recognition.”

Intersubjectivity and Richard Berengarten’s The Manager

By KAY YOUNG.

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

.

Eighty-One

After betrayal and after bereavement. After nights of panic and weep-
ing. And their small hours spent rotting and shrinking in shadows.
Worn by ūhtcearu, the Grief Before Dawn.

As summer’s summit weighted on gardens. With falling of first plums
….and pears in our gardens. While straw was baled out of harvested
…. fields. And burnt stubble blew through suburban windows.

Come, you said, North. In my small Renault. Come, away
from loss and despair. I’ll do the driving and you’ll read the map. We’ll
head for the Peaks and stay overnight

In a cheap B&B. I know we’re both broke but what does that matter.
I mean something simple. Nothing too fancy. Let’s phone for a
booking and make up a picnic. We’ll both derive comfort

From the year on the turn. And the place. And oldfriendship. I sense
….I begin to find self-acceptance. Of a new kind. I can’t quite explain.
I mean new ways to live

Now middle age is real. I rejoice in the beauty of children and young
folk. Hope blooms through their pores. From their speech. In their
eyes. And I can consent, unjealous, to this.

And in Ye Derwent Hotel that night I too consented. You surprised
me. You took me. You opened your body. Through your sadness
and warmth you received me in. Dark eyed black haired woman

Who might be my own half-sister or cousin. Secret granddaughter of my
forefathers’ fatherings. Showed me the store of years I’d dis-
paraged. Returned sight in my right eye. (Berengarten 2008: 129)

SECTION EIGHTY-ONE OF Richard Berengarten’s The Manager brightens the disappointments and sorrows of this long poem of midlife with a surprising and profoundly relieving shift. Something has happened—the appearance of someone else—and how such an appearance can change the lights for us. As I read The Manager, there is, if not a progression then an accretion of experiences that make us feel the effects of loss on the course of our dreams. “I think my thoughts are bees. My hopes are silk and money. My pockets overflow. My head is a promised land I glimpse through mountain haze” (13). These youthful thoughts of the poem’s protagonist Charles Bruno become ours, too, as do his hopes. The poem traces what happens to those hopes and makes us be a witness to their transformation and feel how experience comes over time to give shape to and define the limits of dreams.

This intersubjective zone suggests the particular intimacy that can arise between poem and reader, where the medium of poetic language makes possible at least for a moment the transformation of “I” into “we.”

About the crossing-over that can happen between poem and reader where the internal landscape of the poem comes to reflect the reader’s mind and experience, Berengarten writes, “If a great deal of the process of writing The Manager involved exploration of subjectivity, I knew I was touching layers and zones of experience and sensibility that weren’t just mine. Through and out of subjectivity, I was writing about the way other people felt, too. I think poetry operates in an inter-subjective zone” (Personal Communication from author). This intersubjective zone suggests the particular intimacy that can arise between poem and reader, where the medium of poetic language makes possible at least for a moment the transformation of “I” into “we.” Such a moment of transformation is embodied in the scene of greatest intimacy in the film of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys—it is a scene about how poetry creates intersubjectivity. Hector the literature teacher and his student Posner read together Hardy’s poem “Drummer Hodge.” From reading the poem aloud together and its discussion emerges a bringing to consciousness of how Hardy, Drummer Hodge, Hector, and Posner find themselves sharing in one another’s minds—as if they are one collective living mind. Hector tells Posner, “The best moments in reading are when you come across something, a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things you’d thought special, particular to you. And there it is set down by somebody else, a person you’ve never met, maybe even somebody long dead. And it’s as if a hand has come out and taken yours.” Not only does this “hand” of poetic language stretch across the written page to connect the reading mind to the poet’s mind to the mental portrait of the poem, it does so across time and even across the boundary between life and death. How does a poem do this? What is it about poetic language that dissolves such separation? How does the poet Richard Berengarten create this zone of intersubjectivity in The Manager? Section Eighty-One is about that zone and its creation.

1. After

After betrayal and after bereavement. After nights of panic and weep-
ing. And their small hours spent rotting and shrinking in shadows.
Worn by ūhtcearu, the Grief Before Dawn.

“THE GRIEF BEFORE DAWN” is what comes after betrayal and bereavement, after nights of weeping, after their small hours of rotting and shrinking in shadows. There is much to grieve in The Manager—the loss of youth, the loss of marriage, the loss of possibility, the loss of life. Repeated three times, the “after” of the first stanza of Eighty-One makes us feel how hard it is to survive betrayal, bereavement, and nights of weeping, and how remarkable it is that there is an “after.” This pre-light pain of Section Eighty-One, ūhtcearu, the Anglo Saxon for “dawn-sorrow” (a feeling-time for which we have no modern English equivalent), differs from the night’s darkness of Section Eighty—“The fickle, sickened soul nightly confronts despair. While the wizened heart cries out, Is there no-one to love out there?” (128). Moving from Section Eighty to Eighty-One means moving past a nightly recognition of despair, a nightly call out into the dark for someone to love, breaking that cycle, to discover the “after” of dawn. Bruno names himself “Homo aspirans. Incipient man” in Section Thirty (46), and often considers himself “Used-Up or Useless Man,” the Latin term for the beginning of the end. This is the actual course of the poem’s character Sam, whose wife leaves him, and who “downs another scotch” and “Brays: I’m Bloody Useless Mate. Failed. As a Man. As A Male” (69). Exhausted by life, poisoned by marriage, Sammy leaves his toxic life by breathing in that toxic air of his wife’s green Volvo. Such an early model in the poem of a used-up life prepares us for this to be Bruno the Incipient man’s course, too, or something like it; but it is not. For me, the question of The Manager is, why not? What is it that Bruno can manage that Sam or the other spent figures of the poem cannot? If there is no dawn to follow Sammy’s grief, why is there a dawn to follow Bruno’s sorrow?

Where “There is no-one to love” is final and decided, “Is there no-one to love out there?” is as unsure and wobbly as are its italics undecided, vulnerable, searching. It sounds like a song, a call put “out there” to reach beyond what is known. As deadened as Berengarten’s “Manager” feels by his life at the office between memos, at home between fights with his wife, on the telephone between crossed lines, traveling between planes, in bed between women, he continues in all that ongoing between-ness to want to feel. There is a resilience to his despair that makes him still feel alive. Mixed up with verses that read as torn strips of evidence of a person’s life, externalized in the documents of modern office life, the unfeeling “memo,” the ironically dead “curriculum vitae,” we read verses of the profound longing to feel. These are internalized fragments of intrapsychic representation and intersubjective experience that live inside and define the life of the mind in relation to others and make possible that shared zone between reader and poem, self and other.

Poetic form and practice dwell deeply in the land of psychic representation. Poetry forces our attention on words as and for themselves—how they make us feel sensation and emotion, how they make us imagine. Our intrapsychic minds force our attention on how we represent others and our relations to them, not necessarily in words but as imagined or fantasized objects of mind. Both poetry and our psychic internal objects prompt us to experience how to feel, think, and imagine words on a page or the relational representations that fill the mind, consciously and unconsciously. A narrative needs a reader to make sense of things—to “get” it one way or another so as to hold the story in mind—much like we hold our own stories in mind as a way of making sense of our lives. The chief object of poetic language is not to explain or make sense, to order or to organize. It’s not sense-making that a poem asks of a reader, but instead sensation-making—to feel its rhythmic heartbeats, to hear its sounds, to dwell in the felt-qualities of its being. Likewise, the intrapsychic representations in our minds need not make sense, need not even be conscious. Our fantasies move through us as themselves, without order or logic or even meaning—they express something of the ego’s needs, drives, cognitions, perceptions—the mind’s land of internal creation. How we make use of others and our relations to them, how we carry them around inside us as internalized objects of mind, help define and shape our minds and how we experience life. But intrapsychic objects are not subjects with minds of their own. Rather, they are our fantasies, creations, projections, ideas, and representations of how we internalize others and our relations to them. Poetry embodies the intrapsychic land of creation where the equivalence, I want to suggest, between the mind’s relation to its intrapsychic objects and language is laid bare. A poem insists there is no forgetting it is language, even as it represents ideas in words. So, too, do the mind’s internal objects insist on their presence as “real,” even as they represent the idea of others. How words look, sound, act, play, and mean remind us how language fills our minds, as our fantasies remind us of how much of our lives are given over to the making of psychic representations.

Somewhere between the poetry of the long syllabic verses and prose of a hundred parts, Berengarten makes evident in The Manager how Bruno moves between the intrapsychic and intersubjective dimensions of mind, which is to say, how he makes use of others as objects in his mind and how Bruno tries to make sense of others as subjects outside his mind:

_____________[…] You have locked your image inside me

And thrown away the key. I wear it under my skin. I cannot dis-
miss or banish it. I rot and shrink in your shadow. (81)

This is poetry of the intrapsychic representation—its very embodiment. Who is this “you”? This “you” has no mind or subjectivity of “your” own; the “you” is the “I’s” subjectively conceived object: “your” image lies locked beneath “my” skin, with no key to remove it. Bound to the “I’s” subjectively conceived relation to the “you,” the “I” rots and shrinks. After betrayal and bereavement and nights of weeping and their small hours of rotting and shrinking, we know some thirty sections earlier that the intrapsychic object—this “you” who has “locked your image inside me”—is the shadow yet to depart and the cause of the “I’s” rotting and shrinking. “You” are not really there locked beneath my skin, but your imagined presence feels no less real than if you were.

If poetry by nature lends itself to the representation of intrapsychic experience, the flexibility of the verse-paragraph helps make possible the representation of intersubjective experience:

Who supposes? She said. Is it them or you? Them Insaid. It’s a deadline.

[…]

Well, it’s me I suppose, I ventured. I want to get it done right. Not let
.anyone down. And show the bastards I’m up to it.

[…]

Course you do, she said. But who’ll give a tinker’s if just for once you
.don’t? You Expect Too Much Of Yourself. Really You Do Darling.

She advanced and stood behind me, placed gentle hands upon me, and
kneaded my shoulder muscles. I flinched but didn’t turn. (40)

This is poetry of failed intersubjectivity. Here are two minds—of “she” and “I”—whose very topic is the separation of mind of “them” from “you.” The intrapsychic object of Section Fifty-One lives in Bruno’s mind and the intersubjective subject of Section Twenty-Six lives outside Bruno’s mind—real and alive. The section reports live speech as a dialogic exchange between Bruno and his wife. Its “prosiness” of the he said/she said exchange progresses from italicized, to capitalized, to silence, to a summary of her action and his response. Her call to him to be with her, “Who supposes?”, falls not on deaf ears, but on a mind that can offer only the non-response of something flat and defensive. He does not let her words in. And her actions, standing behind him, putting her hands on his shoulders, kneading the muscles, fall on defensive shoulders. Like Sir Gawain fearing the touch of the Green Knight’s axe on his neck, he flinches at his wife’s touch. Where the intrapsychic is a representation of how the mind holds the other in mind as its object, the intersubjective encounter stages the real drama of subjects with minds of their own. If we can’t help but live with and in relation to our internal objects of mind, we can fail in our external engagement with other minds—probably most often do fail to let the other “in.” Though present to each other, the minds of the “she” and “I” remain outside each other. There is no meeting of minds here, only impediments and resistance. What would a successful, attuned intersubjective meeting of minds, like that which crosses over from poem to reader, be like in this verse-paragraph poem? Berengarten leaves us to wonder about and even doubt such mutuality is possible in the world of his poem, until Section Eighty-One.

2. As

As summer’s summit weighted on gardens. With falling of first plums
and pears in our gardens. While straw was baled out of harvested
fields. And burnt stubble blew through suburban windows.

“AS.” “WITH” “WHILE.” “And.” What follows “After”? The unstressed syllable. The feminized beginning of the iamb. And gravity. And time. The force of time. Summer brings organic life to ripeness, to full-grown weight. Fruit falls from the tree and hay is harvested. No intrapsychic objects, no intersubjective encounters. No internal landscape of feelings to manage. Here is the life cycle of nature, as it pushes organic life to take the next step—and fall. For Bruno the time that follows great sorrow is the time outside of mind. It is the present of continuity—“as,” “with,” “while,” “and”—that makes itself present as life in the garden, as it falls down and is harvested. How can we not think of Eden and the fall? Charles Bruno has already: he names himself “Adam Kadmon” in Section Forty-Five.

“Adam Kadmon” means “original man” in the religious writings of the Kabbalah and is a phrase that signifies the potential for all future creation. To imagine Charles Bruno as homo aspirans is to read “Manager” as “Man, ager”—the man who ages and must die. By contrast, to read Charles Bruno as Adam Kadmon is to imagine him here as the original “man” of the garden whose fall forward in age as “ager” embodies the fall forward into future creation. What ages and falls makes possible what comes next in time and space—and what comes next is “you.”

3. Come

Come, you said, North. In my small Renault. Come, away
from loss and despair. I’ll do the driving and you’ll read the map. We’ll
head for the Peaks and stay overnight

WHO IS THIS “you”? A living breathing beckoning encounter with “you” is the invitation to come away from “loss and despair.” Here is not an object of mind, the “you” worn under the skin, a shadow causing the “I” to rot. Here is not a subject “you,” the you against whom I can only defend and flinch. Instead, here is a “you” who offers a new idea—“come away from loss and despair”—and who offers herself and her Renault as the way to get there. Here is why we need other people, with minds of their own, who understand, to save us from our solitary and misunderstood selves. Threading their way through The Manager are women to whom Bruno turns for salvation or a chance to forget, or from whom he turns for salvation or a chance to forget. A woman in Section Eighty-One appears with an imperative and directions and empathy. She brings her attuned mind and she brings the surprise and change and new ways to imagine of another mind.

What happens when we encounter others and hold them in mind not just as objects but as subjects with minds of their own? Mustn’t such a holding in mind be a profoundly different experience? The relational psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin presses my questions further when she asks: “[H]ow is the meeting of two subjects different from the meeting of a subject and an object? […] [W]hat difference does the other make, the other who is truly perceived as outside, distinct from our mental field of operations? Isn’t there a dramatic difference between the experience with the other perceived as outside the self and that with the subjectively conceived object?” (Benjamin 1995: 28-29). The Manager gives expression to both dimensions of minding others by interweaving a poem’s techniques for representing the mind’s intrapsychic objects with a narrative’s techniques for representing (most often) the failures of intersubjectivity. “Come, away from loss and despair” focuses our attention on the single-stressed “come” as what makes possible the “away from” with the ease of rhyme, even as it confronts the “loss and despair” to follow and invites Bruno away. We hear echoes of the “Song of Solomon”—“My lover said to me, ‘Rise up, my darling! Come away with me, my fair one!’”(Solomon 2:10)—transformed. She invites him. There’s a direction, North, and a way to go away, “In my small white Renault.” And there are roles to play—she leads—“I’ll do the driving” and he rides shotgun—“you read the map.” The plan is particular—a named destination—“The Peaks” and a circumscribed time—“and stay overnight.” And still things grow more specific, as she, like a director, describes what their scene will be and its conditions before they assume their roles and take their places—where?

4. In

In a cheap B&B. I know we’re both broke but what does that matter.
I mean something simple. Nothing too fancy. Let’s phone for a
booking and make up a picnic. We’ll both derive comfort

ENTER MY DREAM—a cheap B&B, simple, nothing fancy. Let’s make a reservation, make a picnic, make an “us,” together. Enter my dream and dream with me. “We’ll both derive comfort” by driving to comfort. If she asks him to join her in her dream, she begins that dream by offering him a way out from loss and despair. We assume it’s just his, this circle of sorrow, and that she is that woman he has longed for, the rescuer, in this reverse rescue narrative of the woman who saves the man by offering him her love. But she is not the intrapsychic object who exists just in his mind as the answer to his plea for someone to love, nor is she the intersubjective other who just mirrors his pain in empathic reflection. Rather, she is somebody altogether herself, a woman with a story of her own and pain of her own and dreams of her own and possible solutions of her own, which is to say—with a mind of her own—who, as it turns out, also understands and cares about him. “We’ll both derive comfort”—

5. From

From the year on the turn. And the place. And oldfriendship. I sense
….I begin to find self-acceptance. Of a new kind. I can’t quite explain.
I mean new ways to live

FROM SUMMER’S SUMMIT, like the ripe pears and plums that must fall, so, too, people ripen and fall with time, turning to what comes next, autumn and us, again, at this time, in this place. We learn that this isn’t new, that they aren’t new, that this is a return. It is this “old friendship” that makes the space for such a turn to be a return and that makes imaginable such a change from how things have been to how they might be. For two sections and a bit, we hear only her voice, hear nothing of his response, inside or out. She is real. She appears. She tells him her plan. She offers him her presence and her company. These sections read like descriptive prose, defining the appearance of a new character in space and time that sets into motion the action of plot: such are the requirements of narrative to represent “the real.” Here is narrative’s capacity to set in motion the intersubjective encounter, one mind meeting another in space and time, and it does. Caught by her presence and all that her subjectivity brings, the poem and Charles Bruno change—“I sense I begin to find self-acceptance. Of a new kind. I can’t quite explain. I mean new ways to live.” Her presence does not first cause him to find her, but rather his self and to know a feeling the poem until now has mostly been missing—“self-acceptance.” His sensing of her and how she is with him sparks beginnings of a “new kind” and new intentions—“I mean new ways to live.” Berengarten writes how it happens that the presence of someone else can cause us to find or experience or become ourselves. We imagine the stages on life’s way unfold as a reflection of our particular, individual beings. Others and events may affect us, but we develop into who we individually, independently, inherently are—Libor so we like to imagine. But Berengarten here makes clear the intersubjectivity of being. To have subjectivity means paradoxically to exist in relation to others’ minds: to have a sense of self requires that one be known and held in mind by others. Developmental psychologist and analyst Daniel N. Stern writes about why our natures are intersubjective:

We live surrounded by others’ intentions, feelings, and thoughts that interact with our own, so that what is ours and what belongs to others starts to break down. Our intentions are modified or born into a shifting dialogue with the intentions of others. Our feelings are shaped by the intentions, thoughts, and feelings of others. And are thoughts are cocreated in dialogue, even when it is only with ourselves.

In short, our mental life is cocreated. This continuous cocreative dialogue with other minds is what I’m calling the intersubjective matrix. […] We used to think of intersubjectivity as a sort of epiphenomenon that arises occasionally when two separate and independent minds interact. Now we view the intersubjective matrix […] as the overriding crucible in which interacting minds take on their current form.

Two minds create intersubjectivity. But equally intersubjectivity shapes two minds. The center of gravity has shifted from the intrapsychic to the intersubjective. (Stern 2004: 77-78)

Section Eighty-One shows how successful intersubjectivity works, between minds, in verse-paragraphs. If we experience how her intentions enter his mind and shape his intentions and feelings as an epiphenomenon (it happens here, in this moment, this meeting of two minds), I want to suggest the encounter models more generally how the intersubjective matrix works. However much intrapsychic voices live in Charles Bruno as the poetry of his mind, his experience of life as an ongoing intersubjective matrix between himself and “real” others—the poetic prose of life—shapes all of The Manager, for better and for worse. In this instance, it’s the encounter with an attuned other mind—a woman who recognizes him, whose recognition he can receive—that makes all the difference to how he experiences his own mind now.

6. Now

Now middle age is real. I rejoice in the beauty of children and young
folk. Hope blooms through their pores. From their speech. In their
eyes. And I can consent, unjealous, to this.

EVERYTHING IS DIFFERENT. As Charles feels a new sense of self-acceptance, so too can he accept his age and his difference from others, even rejoice in it—middle age is real; children and young folk are beautiful. Because he knows the hope of self-acceptance and feels the desire to start again anew, he can experience the hope that resides in youth, apart from him, sense it from their “pores” and “speech” and in their “eyes,” and can consent to its presence in the young without jealousy. Having such recognition of others only happens if one has known such recognition. Jessica Benjamin writes, “Intersubjective theory postulates that the other must be recognized as a subject in order for the self to fully experience his or her subjectivity in the other’s presence. This means we have a need for recognition and that we have a capacity to recognize others in return, thus making mutual recognition possible. But recognition is a capacity of individual development that is only unevenly realized” (Benjamin 1995: 30). Bruno lives mostly hungry for recognition, before the woman’s appearance in Section Eighty-One and what her recognition of him means.

7. And

And in Ye Derwent Hotel that night I too consented. You surprised
me. You took me. You opened your body. Through your sadness
and warmth you received me in. Dark eyed black haired woman

HOW SURPRISING THE other can be: to be with a woman who acts the part of the man can prompt a man to act the part of the woman. “You surprised me. You took me.” It is for Charles to assume the position of consent, even as she opens her body and receives him in, through her own sadness and warmth. It is here that Charles begins to recognize her—through touch. Her recognition of his loss and despair and her solution, the drive to derive comfort, prompts in him a new-found sense of self-acceptance. Only after he recognizes himself through her can he recognize her, the surprise of her, which is to say, who she is, not his intrapsychic image of her and what she means to him. The most profound fact about the other always is that s/he is other and not one’s self. Why else would the touch of another feel so profoundly moving? Jessica Benjamin writes:

It is certainly true that recognition begins with the other’s confirming response, which tells us that we have created meaning, had an impact, revealed an intention. But very early on we find that recognition between persons—understanding and being understood, being in attunement is an end in itself. Recognition between persons is essentially mutual. By our very enjoyment of the other’s confirming response, we recognize her in return. What the research on mother-infant interaction has uncovered about early reciprocity and mutual influence is best conceptualized as the development of the capacity for mutual recognition. (Benjamin 1995: 33)

It is in the moment of contact to follow her recognition of him that he discovers his own capacity for mutual recognition. The intimacy of this moment of intersubjective encounter happens in the gender confusion, the switching of roles, the movement between her capacity to act and his to give consent and her capacity to feel and his to feel for her. Here is their intersubjective matrix and the pleasures of their mutual recognition: “Let us dream together”—her offer causes him to dream anew of himself and to feel the dream of union—you take me, you open, you receive me—and I experience your feelings of “sadness and warmth,” feelings that mirror mine and yet are not the same because they are yours. Your recognition of me enables me to recognize myself, which enables me to recognize you, “Dark eyed black haired woman”—

8. Who

Who might be my own half-sister or cousin. Secret granddaughter of
my forefathers’ fatherings. Showed me the store of years I’d dis-
paraged. Returned sight in my right eye.

WHY “MY OWN half-sister or cousin”? Why is it significant that the woman who recognizes him be part of his family, secretly so, at a certain remove? There are four such moments in The Manager when Charles meets the dark-eyed black-haired woman who feels like the “Secret granddaughter of my forefathers’ fatherings.”

The first is when he tells us in Section Twenty-Two of his sixteen-year-old virginal encounter with Una, his older cousin. “Big breasted, full-lipped,” her womanliness beckons to him as deeply as do her eyes. “Tell me, my fine young man. Are you happy in your life?” she asks him. In his terror of being touched, he does not answer. But, like Cassandra, she answers his silence predicting, “We shall meet again.” Here is what Charles takes from the encounter: “Though I move still in darkness, I know she, or her like, already waits for me at the other end of my story. And much and deep have I dwelt in my heart on her promise of recognition” (Twenty-Two: 34-35). “At the other end of my story”—is this Part II, or in death, or both? Una recognizes him now: “You’re Charles I know, aren’t you. I could swear for a split second I saw your father Philip. I thought I’d seen a ghost. And she began to weep.” We don’t hear of Philip and whoever his mother might have been. The mother of Charles is the great missing figure of the poem. From whom and from where has Charles come? Like ghosts, his parents and his past haunt The Manager, as do the dead. We don’t know who the dead that Charles hears are, but we know they are there, always. “There go the dead again. Wailing. Constantly I hear them. Even when not listening. Even in this blind side of the partition wall” (Fifty-Eight: 96). For me this is the refrain that moves through The Manager: “There go the dead again. Wailing.” Who hears the soundings of the dead, always? We do, Berengarten tells us, though mostly we turn a deaf ear to their call until we can avoid it no more, until we must join them. Bruno hears them and the poem makes us hear them, too. Berengarten insists on making the dead present and felt throughout The Manager: the dead’s hold on the protagonist Charles Bruno’s experience fills the layers of his mind as they fill the verse-paragraphs with an ongoing presence, energy, and power that predict and even beckon to the incipience of Bruno’s end. Both psychic representation and embodied presence, the dead exist for Bruno alongside the living, on both sides of the partition wall, wailing, in and out of him. How Bruno experiences the dead, hears them, holds them in mind, expects to meet them at “the other end of [his] story” make the dead his primary intrapsychic object. They come to life in his mind often in simultaneous relation to that black-haired dark-eyed woman who may hold some secret familial bond to Charles, not mother but female and generationally-near: “I hunger for the touch of your eyes kind and warm upon me. Oh beloved, my sister, my cousin, when I come, knocking upon that door, open to me, I entreat you. Do not turn away from me. Do not ignore me.” This is the final stanza of Section Ninety—here is that hunger, that longing for recognition—“the touch of your eyes kind and warm upon me”; “Do not ignore me.” And here is that beloved sister or cousin. It is followed later by the opening of Section Ninety-Five: “My cousin, my sister […] At this very still point—which is not yet an ending—I pray do not come yet. For I am by no means ready, I still have things to do” (Ninety-Five: 150). If the intersubjective subject of Section Eighty-One is the she in life who asks him to come away, the he of Section Ninety-Five asks the intrapsychic object in his mind of the dead “my cousin, my sister”, “’do not come yet,’ do not be there” to greet him at that place of crossing over where we are “fully bereft of futurity.”

Before “the other end of my story” and the ghosts who wait to meet him, Charles Bruno meets the dark-haired black-eyed woman in life. Charles knows his own longing, has known it, always—“And much and deep have I dwelt in my heart on her promise of recognition”—from “she, or her like” (Twenty-Two: 35). This is what he waits for, what he longs for from all the women of The Manager. And this is what the woman of Section Eighty-One at last fulfills: “Showed me the store of years I’d disparaged. Returned sight in my right eye.” With her recognition of his disparaged years comes the power for him to bear to look back and to look ahead—“returned sight in my right eye.” The promise of recognition brings with it the recognition of promise. “I pray do not come yet. For I am by no means ready, I still have things to do” (150). Charles Bruno may hear the wailing of the dead, but he now knows the recognition of the living—and wants to live.

If poetry creates an intersubjective zone between poem and reader, The Manager as well creates a drama between intrapsychic fantasy and intersubjective reality and in that drama reveals a longing for a different kind of intersubjectivity—a longing to know and be known by the living and the dead. This is the crossing over that takes place in this long poem: the woman who recognizes him in intersubjective relation joins Charles’s intrapsychic fantasy of the dead—my sister, my cousin, You. At the end of The Manager, Section One Hundred, we arrive “at the other end of my story,” and a Charles who acknowledges perhaps us, his readers, “You who sit waiting” and the morphing of “my cousin, my sister” into the unknown “You.” “Who are you, out there? I cannot scry your features.” “You” is the great figure of recognition: “But how infinite your patience. And how replete in acceptance your interiorized smile” (One Hundred: 157). Bruno personifies “You” as the future and the past still in familial terms, but now as “Child” and “Parent”: “Child of all our futures. Parent of all our pasts.” Time waits as an infinitely patient Parent to stop for Charles as it continues to go on as the Child of his future. In the mother’s absence and filling her necessary presence, the woman stands as the chief figure of recognition, the eyes that see him and hold him in mind and give him the presence of mind to see and accept himself. And as his female peer, my cousin, my sister, You, she is the other self he holds in mind, the intrapsychic object who represents his own great figure of recognition from within.

Didn’t you get the memo?

1. I have spent much of my time looking for a small piece of joy I seem
____to have lost somewhere. Maybe in early childhood. (Sixty-Five: 104)

2. Married couples tearing each others’ hearts out. Then silence. (Fifty-Two: 87)

3. There go the dead again. Wailing. Constantly I hear them. Even
____when not listening. (Fifty-Eight: 96)

CHARLES BRUNO LOSES his childhood somewhere along the way, a puzzle piece, “a small piece of joy,” that’s gone missing. At midlife, what’s gone missing is marriage, the silence that follows its heart-ripping storm. What remains? The dead, wailing, they are his constant. The Manager is a long poem of modern English life at the middle—middle-age, middle-income, middle-accomplishment, middle-earth—that somewhere between life and death. It is a poem that could sing in its hundred parts of the easeful comforts of middleness, but instead dwells most often in the midst of dis-easeful dissatisfactions, longings, and confusions. Yet, in the midst of all this middling angst is a woman, perhaps of secret familial ties, who breaks through the cycles of middling dissatisfaction and ongoing despair and loss. She is a bridge between the living and the dead, the intrapsychic and intersubjective dimensions of mind. She is “my cousin,” “my sister,” “You”—the mother figure— in life, in death, and in mind. Her “promise of recognition” and how that plays out in his mind and in his life calls forth from Charles Bruno a sense of self-acceptance in life, in death, and in the long middle that lies between. It is the mysteriousness and complexity of that human need for recognition by the other that Richard Berengarten captures in his poetry and about which the philosopher Stanley Cavell writes:

A natural fact underlying the philosophical problem of privacy is that the individual will take certain among his experiences to represent his own mind—certain particular sins or shames or surprises of joy—and then take his mind (his self) to be unknown so far as those experiences are unknown […] There is a natural problem of making such experiences known, not merely because behavior as a whole may seem irrelevant (or too dumb or gross) at such times, but because one hasn’t forms of words at one’s command to release those feelings, and hasn’t anyone else whose interest in helping to find the words one trust. (Someone would have to have these feelings to know what I feel.) Here is a source of our gratitude to poetry. (Cavell 1976: 265-266)

“Here is a source of our gratitude to poetry.” It words what we feel and enables us to know the others of its poetry can feel what we feel—we are not alone—this is the intersubjective zone of poetry.

This is the source of my gratitude to Richard Berengarten’s The Manager.

Return to Dossier introduction and index.



Kay Young is a professor of English and Comparative Literature and a member of the Literature and Mind Initiative at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She completed a five-year Academic Fellowship at the Institute of Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles and received her AB, AM and PhD from Harvard University. She is the author of Ordinary Pleasures: Couples, Conversation, and Comedy and, most recently, Imagining Minds: the Neuro-Aesthetics of Austen, Eliot, and Hardy, along with over 60 articles and papers on a wide range of topics in narrative studies.

WORKS CITED

Benjamin, Jessica. 1995. Like Subjects, Love Objects: Essays on Recognition and Sexual Difference. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Berengarten, Richard. 2008. The Manager. Cambridge UK: Salt.

Cavell, Stanley. 1976. Must We Mean What We Say? Cambridge, London, New York, Melbourne: Cambridge University Press.

Stern, Daniel N. 2004. The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life. New York and London: W. W. Norton.

The History Boys. 2006. Dir. Nicholas Hytner. With: Richard Griffiths, Frances de la Tour, Clive Merrison. Screenplay Alan Bennett. Fox Searchlight Pictures.


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