Similarly, psychoanalysis was revitalized by structuralism. Why this science was not as prominent in France as it was in the United States at the time the twenties may owe to a conjunction of three separate factors. One historian of the psychoanalytic movement in France, Elisabeth Roudinesco, emphasizes French doctrinal hesitation to assimilate a foreign and Jewish Freudian approach in France. To that one must add surrealism's appropriation of Freud's theories in the thirties, which may have contributed to the marginalization of Freud's views.
And last, there was a persistent Cartesian doubt as to the validity of psychoanalysis per se. It is equally clear in Roudinesco's research that Jacques Lacan circumvented these proscriptions by rethinking psychoanalysis in its clinical, interpretative functions, borrowing terms from structural linguistics and rhetoric, whose focus on the speaking unconscious displaced the existentialist and humanist insistence on the conscious I. In Lacan's theory of representation, linguistics provided part of the lexical paraphernalia; but as the analyst.
Toward a New Poetics
The truth would no longer be revealed through Cartesian disquisitions reproducing the content of dreams but through the analyst's interpretative grid, which, for example, spotted metonymies as symptomatic figures of displacement. Much like Dupin, Poe's famed detective with whom Lacan identified, the self-proclaimed inheritor of Freud's psychoanalysis assumed that only the analyst could recognize the placement of the purloined unconscious.
For a moment at least, the social sciences had been relegated to the wings of reigning intellectual debates in mid-to late-sixties France. And then came Jacques Derrida. What had yet to be proposed and without which the momentary eclipse of conventional Marxism would not have endured was the seductive theory that placed the value of writing itself at the center of the controversy over the relation between language and social structures—a theory so new, so unexpected, as to reorient all previous thinking about a subject dear to poets, writers, and intellectuals, that is, the value of writing itself.
Traditional philosophic theory had always accorded priority to speech. In the opinion of the early nineteenth-century Catholic thinker Joseph de Maistre, speech was reason exteriorized, reason manifested: "God speaks through speech. According to this unitary, deicentric logos, speech possessed the purity of nature; it was divinely inspired and therefore constituted a full sign complete in itself. Ecriture, in its conceptual definition, was understood to be posterior to speech; as part of the world after the Fall, it was an empty sign.
Thus when Derrida proposed two recuperative interpretations for the theory of writing, he focused on the Christian devalorization of writing after the Fall as well as its devalorization in the writings of Plato. He emphasized the visual dimension of the text, since as written signs, the letters themselves are polysemic. James Joyce's "he war" in Finnegans Wake is an example. For Derrida the "he war" has a dual, and therefore ideological, significance only if it is seen rather than reduced to one of its meanings when vocalized.
Ecriture for Derrida thus entertains a sequence of supplements, or multiplying meanings. The former, classical insistence on the unity of. What had once been sacrosanct territory where reason prevailed, where a contractual agreement founded meaning within a social context and thus excluded polyvalent, competitive readings , was now left ideologically open, in a sphere where words destabilized words. The Derridean assault did not stop there.
French intellectual discourse takes a fateful turn when Derrida's pioneering studies are joined to the efforts of the influential magazine Tel Quel. Founded in , it represented some of the most intellectually gifted and radical poets, novelists, essayists, and ideologues. There, too, one read the great rediscovered texts of Freud, Joyce, Artaud: all writers and thinkers considered largely as literary and philosophic examples of the applicability of Derridean concepts. Such a rethinking of the grounding of literary texts was to be joined to an equally imperative need to revitalize Marxism and psychoanalysis in the light of theoretical practices of reading both the internal mechanisms of linguistic expression and their translations of external realities.
Marx had already shown the way when he broke with classical economic doctrines of the eighteenth century. Less than fifty years later, Freud was to do the same when he too broke the silence surrounding childhood sexuality in his interpretation of dreams. Sollers could, without batting an eye, recall Lenin's claim that "dogmatism was a word idealists and agnostics most frequently used against materialism. Ecriture, as it was defined by Tel Quel in the sixties, had at least two interconnected, though distinct, meanings. The first played on concepts and the inscription of those concepts in literary works; the second, ancillary meaning centered on past literary and philosophical works that had been marginalized or censured.
For instance, in the poetry of either Marcelin Pleynet or Denis Roche, where a textual concern was never innocent, the place of language per se—of rhetoric, of puns and narrative discontinuities,. Not only is there no equivalent term in English, but more to the point, today as in the sixties, the concept is nearly incomprehensible to many American poets and writers, who simply assume that the term writing describes technical, stylistic practices. This, however, was also partly true in France.
The vast difference between a traditionalist view and those ideas put forth by Tel Quel is typified in Raymond Picard's criticism of Roland Barthes's theories on the plays of Racine. It is most efficient when invisible, and nobly so much as translators, until recently, were to remain invisible in the works they translated.
Or put another way, Tel Quel considered transparency a manifestation of the tastes of the bourgeoisie. As Lacan had ascribed to tropes a significant position in the interpretation of dream narratives, so Tel Quel supposed meaning to be hidden and revealed by the play of metonymies and synecdoches. What was once considered an ornamental addition to verse and to classical oratory now found itself at the center of analyses. Moreover, it had lost its innocence: it was now seen as part of a class-based discourse.
With that analogy, incomprehensible to readers of traditional poetry, an anti-Aristotelian rhetoric is founded, emancipating tropes from their chain of signifieds. Ever since Cicero and Quintilian, right down to the eighteenth-century rhetorician Pierre Fontanier,  analogy or any other form of comparison had been based on two similar elements brought together to highlight the first half of the equation.
As far as Tel Quel was concerned, rhetoric could no longer be left unquestioned, a supposition in Western philosophy—something that could be proved and then universally accepted, like a theorem in mathematics: rhetoric had become a visible carrier or distorter of meaning. This conceptual insertion of the self-mirroring text resulted in a cooling-down process, a desubjectivization, thereby insinuating a distance between reader, text, and author.
That distance was not only an aesthetic strategy, it was also an ideological one, since for Tel Quel one of the justifications for the continuation of writing was to subvert a class-identified neoromantic posture. To further substantiate its position, Tel Quel sought to recuperate as the surrealists before them had begun to do those writers and philosophers who had not conformed to such romantic postulates, and who as a consequence had been shunted aside by a society anxious to preserve its moral imperatives against all forms of expression perceived as dangerous or obscene.
The status of these writers reinforced Tel Quel 's views: aesthetics was indeed intertwined with ideology. A stylistic critique, supported by the power of propriety in a bourgeois conscience, thus sufficed to keep such writers out of schools and anthologies. For its part, Tel Quel proposed a revisionist reading of these texts. In studies like Sollers's Logiques , there was a vitriolic affirmation of the genius of those marginalized writers who condemned Christianity and insisted on erotic, sadistic, or political subjects to assail the smug bourgeois reader.
As early as May Sollers, in an interview with the staff of the Marxist review La Nouvelle Critique , indicated his wholehearted support of their line. Thus, thematics found its way back to the center of critical appreciation, but. At a time when most attention was riveted to the chain of signifiers, to the play of rhetoric, to stylistic practices, that is, to the exclusion of conventional subject matter and especially of biographical considerations, those very concerns snuck in through the politically correct back door to weigh the impact of Nietzsche's views or, indeed, those of the marquis de Sade.
The relation between literature and politics has never been an easy one. I mean the acceptance or the nonacceptance of this regime. Not quite. We find it in Breton's Second Surrealist Manifesto. This often precarious alliance among literary criticism, literature, and Marxism profoundly marked the power and the weakness of French intellectuals, especially during times when it was believed that the left had to be united, that, somehow, writers had to link aesthetics and commitment. Here again we are reminded of surrealism, which had its own critique of that Platonic idea.
It was imperative for that movement to recenter the text, not as a willful act of composition, following traditional modes of writing, but as an activity sufficiently liberated from societal pressures to allow the uncensored content of thought to emerge. In practicing automatic writing, the surrealists assumed they were short-circuiting the dictates of. In this fashion surrealism thought to displace the authorial voice and substitute for it the voice of the unconscious, what Georg Groddeck called the "it. For Sartre, such endeavors were eminently confused. In appreciating surrealism's "dilemma" in , Sartre called for Breton to make up his mind and accord initial priority to the Marxist, collective enterprise, and only after that victory had been won to turn his attention to the Rimbaldian adventure of the solitary poet.
A writer is locked into the socioeconomic order; to save literature from becoming a passive supporter of the system, the writer has to confront the "situation" within that order and consider the act of writing as something also done on behalf of mankind. From the Tel Quel point of view it was unequivocally tainted.
For work to be at one with poetics, it had to negate inspiration, one of the ideological leitmotifs of traditional practices. Ecriture was to become that Trojan horse ready to force its way into the bourgeois fortress. Work held a privileged position in this revision of Marxism, since it offered the possibility, within the world of literature and of writing in general, of linking the productivity of the literary figure with that of the proletariat. Radical thinking had to be accompanied by a radical reformulation of poetics.
Not only was inspiration suspect, it was furthermore intellectually indefensible and politically incompatible with Tel Quel 's efforts to legitimize literature through a series of subversions, many of them founded on an explicit autoreferentiality, that is, allowing the rhetorical underpinnings of the argument to stand out. The traditional emphasis on the identity of those who produced literature also had to be discarded.
A romantic mythology had canonized the author, and in particular the poet, as one somehow outside the body politic. Thus, the fact of being an author returned one to the very system that a rejuvenated Marxism had obstreperously denied. To avoid this pitfall, the one who wrote was no longer to be considered a privileged being but rather a scriptor through whom the values of the social system prevailed, values of which the texts could render an account.
What was needed in this setting was an unambiguous declaration of intention. Denis Roche provided it. And yet, however it might recall surrealism and existentialism in certain ways, Tel Quel breathed a different air. Just as one must see surrealism as a post-World War I manifestation and existentialism as emerging from post-World War II conditions, so must one appreciate the correspondence between Tel Quel and a reenergized French economy, in which vacation homes became the rage and university students and their parents believed that financial advancement lay in graduating from the ENA Ecole nationale de l'administration , a high-class business school, or any other Grande Ecole as opposed to the unmarked, "run-of-the-mill" universities.
In this economy of recovery, power was allied to education. This complicity between pedagogy and politics was to erupt in acts of defiance in late April and early May At that juncture a leftist critique of university practices found an objective correlation with. Student revolts in seemed to be the clearest indication that Parisian activists and a segment of the French university population both students and faculty would no longer tolerate the existence of a caste system blind to socioeconomic inequities.
To be young, intelligent, determined, and dissatisfied in was close to being that blissful William Wordsworth traveling across revolutionary France in For a brief moment intellectuals, poets, writers, and philosophers could—as they had done in , when the left was first put in power in the Popular Front—feel that their repudiation of an ideology, so clearly evident in the structure and curriculum of the French university, would finally bear fruit.
In this euphoric anticipation, feminists seemed equally favored. Simone de Beauvoir, having been eclipsed in France after her ground-breaking Second Sex and then hailed in the United States—the very country she had damned in her study— now returned to the forefront of theory. Articles in Les Temps modernes testify to that, as does the activism of young French university women who decided to join workers in the Billancourt factories.
All the elements were in place for radicalizing the public through demonstrations in the streets. But this did not occur; perhaps the great deflation of the dream reminiscent of the reactions of French poets after the revolution of partially explains not only the rise of the New Philosophers, who proclaimed the death of all ideologies, but also the failure of the left to concentrate its efforts, as well as the political disengagement of the poets and writers I have included in this volume.
Before the enthusiasm of had flagged, one might have expected poetic activity and political activism to join forces, as they did in the United States during the Vietnam War. In France, however, they did not. To understand what may at first seem an unexpected disjunction between two fields that had historically been allied, one must go back to. One could not, of course, condemn the poets' desire to participate in the liberation of their country, nor could one too openly criticize them for having forsaken their previous, experimental, practices.
Intellectuals of the sixties, so as not to appear to condemn those poets outright, turned their ire to an indictment of their position through a critique of lyricism. Georges Bataille had already declared in that "there was an incompatibility between literature and commitment," and in Marcelin Pleynet was to write: "The poet is certainly no stranger to political events; however, it is impossible not to note that his poetry most frequently speaks of other things—that he speaks on the sidelines.
In fact as a poet he has nothing to say, since his "event" is not concurrent with history but rather with his own birth. It is then no wonder that Tel Quel elected Francis Ponge as one of its representative figures: he had long condemned lyricism—not only the lyricism of lachrymose poetry but also that of Resistance poetry, that morally legitimate enterprise. In Ponge's own life, his civic responsibilities during the war had remained entirely separate from his poetic activities.
One might wish to ascribe a patriotic intention to his praise of the plane tree or appreciate his comments on the shortage of soap as a subtle marker of a period's difficulties; for Ponge, such readings were not pertinent. But the rejection of lyric poetry that so typified the poetics of the sixties had its origins in yet another manifestation, perhaps most characteristically defined by Michel Deguy as "autobionarcissism. Lyrical topics—essentially, love poetry—had also become taboo. But more than the topics, the form itself had become questionable. To assail lyricism could then be interpreted as a way of undermining the edifice of traditional poetics.
Although for Americans it may be hard to see the "overthrow" of a poetic line as an ideological act of profound significance, this notion does give us special insight into French concerns, wherein art is never confined to its simple expression. Poetry especially, since it appears neutral except in polemical, satirical, or patriotic moments , has been a thorn in the side of avant-garde debates. As free verse had at one point seemed a departure from time-honored authorial pretensions, so would the rejection of the lyric form and its alexandrine infrastructure seem at another time.
So clear is the association between lyricism and readability that during the war Aragon explicitly supported and practiced the return to sonnets written in classical alexandrines. By the same token, it became a form of betrayal in the sixties to continue writing affective or political poetry in which the heart sang out, sonnets—and lyric verse in general—that might have made poetry more accessible.
For further proof of the vacuity of lyrical expression, one only had to read Apollinaire's love poems or Aragon's devotional, troubadour-like texts addressed to his Elsa. Besides the exclusion of lyricism, a critique of narration in the long run may have been of even greater significance. Classical poetry depends on narration.
It tells a story, whether a love story or a Boileau-like satirical tale. There is thus a collusion of the poet's identity and his or her desire to pursue an understated form of story-telling. The novel, too, having dropped the possible models found in Sterne's Tristram Shandy or in Diderot's Jacques le fataliste , went on in the same linear way. But narration, in light of Tel Quel's , analyses, was associated with the gratification of bourgeois reading needs and was thus off-limits.
Any infringement of this relegation would raise questions, which, taking off from the text, ultimately forced one to reflect on the relation between a type of literary production and class stipulations. Narration, in effect, in all its conventionality, was decried from the standpoint of poetics and branded as a reactionary practice. Since lyricism and narration had been the very models that permitted literature to be used for political purposes, denying the validity of both meant that another formal and innovative poetics had to be expounded—some form, some content heretofore barely present in doctrinal poetic pronouncements.
Risset quotes Bataille to that effect: "Sovereignty is revolt; it is not the exercise of power. To this end, Tel Quel took it upon itself to eradicate all traces of bourgeois tradition from within poetry. An aggressive restructuring of writing itself was to jar the complacent reader. By employing an antirhetoric rhetoric, insisting on autoreferentiality, negating classical narrativity, and substituting a grammatical I for the lyrical subject, writers would accentuate their disengagement and force on readers a new and active involvement in decoding the text.
Pleasure was out: retraining was in. Poetics would be politicized, as Tel Quel argued, through an objective denunciation of bourgeois ideology where it hurt the most—in one's armchair, in one's bedroom, away from the Sturm und Drang of the outside world. As a result, what might have appeared yet another form of hermeticism "unreadability" was actually the avant-garde's fidelity to its semantic origins: the avant-garde, after all, was originally the military force with the most courage, out in the front lines of battle.
It was not, then, merely a question of the relation of literature to politics and, moreover, the efficacy of the word in a revolutionary setting, or even whether literature had anything to say in a revolutionary process. Before asking those weighty questions, one might have asked. In raising the ethical issue of the compatibility of politics and poetry, the sixties answered in the following terms: Literature in general prose and poetry has always sought its place in revolutionary situations, however negligible it might have been in actually changing people's minds.
What counted was that authors figured in that drama and thereby justified their moral existence. As far as poets and writers were concerned, that commitment, more than any other, could break the canonic relation among reader, text, and author—the three subjected to society's needs and to its control. In its theorizing some called it "terrorizing" , Tel Quel decided to violate existing codes whereby reading was a purely aesthetic experience, rather than a confrontation with one's being in the world as embodied in the text.
Sartre's question in "What Is Literature? In sum, this ambition was founded on the proposition that a redefined understanding of the applicability of theory and its illustration in literary texts—themselves at one with theory—would actively participate in a revolutionary process. Having presented the historical context of certain intellectual movements in France, I would now like to move on to some of the formative influences on the writers and poets included in this volume.
The earliest influence was, of course, the educational system before the year in which reforms began. Cultural critics in France as well as in the United States have often remarked on common features in French artistic expression, whether a musical composition by Pierre Boulez, a theatrical production by Georges Lavaudant, or a work of fiction by Marguerite Duras. The distinctive traits these works share can be traced back to the educational model in France, but also in francophone countries such as Haiti or Senegal. What, then, were these readings and exercises considered essential to a French education?
Whether the student was asked to write an essay, recite a poem, or analyze a paragraph of prose, elegance and equilibrium were encouraged, to which might be added a sense of propriety, even in topics that engage the reader or writer in themes of violence. Reading Liliane Giraudon's short stories, one is immediately struck by the refinement and precision of language in its depiction of scenes of sexuality and violence.
To be a writer of prose or especially poetry signals one's remove from the conventional concerns of pulp literature. The combination of stylistic and linguistic refinement with a shocking content follows a tradition that goes back at least to Diderot's Bijoux indiscrets or Restif de La Bretonne's Paysan perverti It should thus. How did this value added to thematics come about?
My first hypothesis centers on a student's entry into the French language through the shaping of letters in the small squares found on schoolbook pages. This inaugural practice—a sort of lay "religious" discipline—places stress on form. Schoolchildren before were not expected to have a thorough understanding of the word or when they had, it was of little consequence , nor were they encouraged to think about what they were doing.
It was taken as an exercise. Writing was first of all watching over one's penmanship. For the children trained under such a regimen, letters and words were a preparation for what would later be defined as the chain of signifiers by linguists and stylists who insisted on the primacy of literariness, that is, on what actually makes a text literary, rather than on the time-honored analyses that privilege the ideas in a given work. Skip over the signifier rope: earn your badges much as Cub Scouts do when they learn to master the art of tying knots.
At no time under this system was a child encouraged to propose variants to this mechanistic introduction to the world of the alphabet. Legible handwriting, correct spelling, neat presentation: these were the major concerns, when I went to primary school in France, when all those I interviewed went to school. All of us were told to hand in our cahiers so that the teacher could grade them not for content but for how well the letters had been shaped, the paragraphs ordered.
My second hypothesis points to that entrenched French pedagogical practice called l'explication de texte. Severely criticized by Barthes and others in the sixties as a reductionist operation that forces all texts, whatever their specificity, into a singular quadratic mold, it obliges the student to provide first a brief bio-bibliographical statement, then an. The result is a near-servile admiration of the instructor's knowledge as well as of the method itself, firmly imprinted by innumerable hours of application.
In the long run, to explicate a text is to render homage not only to the virtues of a given classical French text but also, by implication, to the analytical method at play. Here beauty of language is prized, and the student must, through mimetic application, duplicate what had always been done and had gained an almost ahistorical status, thereby achieving the very definition of classicism. Such training establishes in the minds of schoolchildren an enduring sensibility to form and an acute awareness of the particularities of writing.
My third hypothesis turns to essay writing. Students were encouraged to do what had always been done: write with clarity, economy, and elegance. Brevity was imposed by the restrictive nature of the topics offered by the teacher: let us say, the description of a spoon or a window, or the evocation of a particular character trait in The Song of Roland. If Francis Ponge developed a keen talent in translating from Latin into French, it may have been, as he remembers it, because he had already discovered his own penchant for Latin, a language that refused to overflow.
In speaking of these Loyola-like spiritual exercises, the presence of rhetoric cannot be overestimated. How else does one come to resemble classical poets and writers? By what other means can one learn the ropes, if not by mimicking the tropes and structures of classical eloquence? Poetry, wrote Denis Roche, is no longer admissible. His personal answer, at least for an extended period of time, has been to turn to photography.
One of his photography books contains pictures of himself, his wife, and the places they have visited Egypt and Mexico , as well as of his parents and his grandparents, the latter taken from family archives. These photographs illustrate a less arcane artist, one in fact focusing on images of himself, either directly or indirectly, and, through genealogy, suggesting that a chastened form of lyricism has made a comeback, one marked by the scripting of self in the present.
This development, as seen in the poets and writers here included, sheds light on the emergence of a new poetics. It is a quiet revolution: there are no apparent schools involved and therefore no identifiable "isms. At least on the surface, and in contradistinction to their predecessors, today's poets and writers are not working in a polemical atmosphere. If in a French context it is nearly unthinkable that micropolitical concerns disappear, these concerns have not, in any way that I can observe, affected lyricism's re turn.
When Emmanuel Hocquard invents his poetic situations and crowds them with individuals who respond to the world much as would characters in a TV soap opera, he allows a choice to filter through as well as a presence of self that had not been evident before in avant-garde prose or poetry.
Perhaps most typical in this preference accorded lyricism is the reactivation of the first-person singular, now no longer a mere grammatical unit as it was in the sixties. Hocquard's novels, essays, and poetry confirm this direction. For the informed reader, the autobiographical content is. Not only does Hocquard obviously enjoy this inscription of self, he also takes the opportunity to allude to close friends, though only, as the intimate convention dictates, by initials.
This practice has almost become a topos in his work. To speak of oneself—that seems a fair indication of a lyrical bent. Maurice Roche most deftly reveals this connection in his maxims, entitled "Moi," which, however caustic, humorous, and ironic, however given to verbal gymnastics, nonetheless center on a man's haunting preoccupation with his own life and foreshadowed death. These reflections had already found their place in his Testament In both instances, although the writing and the point of departure may be different, there is a shift away from past poetics and a new investment in the description of events in one's daily existence.
However formalistic Roubaud may be in the composition of the poems in Quelque chose noir , the result makes a deep and moving impression—not because of the constraints he imposed on the composition but because of the theme: mourning the death of his wife. Here we are at the height of descriptive intimacy. If indeed there are markers of lyricism, they would certainly partake of all these elements. The insistence on the everyday also warrants comment. It must be considered as an antithesis to autobiography, in which the individual emphasizes memorable events in his or her life, ones to be preserved for posterity.
The recapitulation of daily experience comes closer to journal writing, which has quite the opposite concerns. For the journal writer, what counts is repetition itself. In fact, what is written down can. The notation of daily events is not intended to supplement memory. On the contrary, it translates a sort of epiphanic moment that passes as quickly as it was felt.
In these fictions and poems what clearly emerges, on the surface at least, are the folds and simultaneities of life itself, stripped of literary pretensions. This inscription of the daily event is one facet of the new poetics. Such a gaze on one's life excludes both the metaphorical excess of surrealism and the topicalized rhetoric of Tel Quel. Metaphors are out, as Claude Royet-Journoud states in his interview. Similarly excluded are the illustrative functions accorded to poetry as an exemplar of poetics circa the sixties.
Thus, they introduce a formal elegance to balance enthusiastic lyrical topics. To be revived as an antidote to the theoretical aggressivity of the sixties, lyricism had to reject the self-centeredness that had typified the caricatural author whose indelible sufferings filled books of poems and autobiographical novels.
Moreover, the alexandrine had to be dismissed once more! If lyricism was to be relegitimized, at the very least it had to be stripped of its classical versification. By now it must be clear that there are no connections between a Lamartinian lyrical expression or for that matter a Wordsworthian one, typified by his Lyrical Ballads and what poets of the avant-garde are doing today, perhaps because theory in France remains inseparable from the practice of poetry.
Theory is the metadiscourse that allows poetry to speak about itself with intelligence, at a certain remove, in order to comment on its verbal inventions and intentions. Theory then acts as a supplement to poetry, facilitating the verbalization of the condensed material that poetry claims to be while constituting a discourse in itself.
In this setting formalism inescapably resurfaces; it figures not simply as technique but more as a means of justifying expression. Two avant-garde movements were founded in Tel Quel and Oulipo. Perhaps the latter group's most identifiable trait was its playfully serious manner of reining in invention by imposing formal restrictions on literary practice. Raymond Queneau, one of the founders of Oulipo, took satisfaction in composing his novels as if they were sonnets, attending to details like syllable count and vowel alternation while constructing, in the larger scheme, geometrical games involving spirals and circles Queneau was, by his own admission, a failed mathematician.
The same might be said of some of the Oulipian experiments, which are saved only by their humor, their inventiveness, or, in Georges Perec's W, or The Memory of. Childhood ,  by a quest for Jewish identity that is deeply felt, for all the stylistic and linguistic juggling. With the exception of Jacques Roubaud, an Oulipian and a professor of mathematics at the University of Paris, the poets and novelists in this volume do not experiment so extensively with form, but I would argue that they all share Emmanuel Hocquard's observation that what assures the value of any given text is not its content but its form.
Roland Barthes observed that what appeared to be the zero degree of writing was actually a rhetoric in counterpoint to classicism. One of the doors leading to a diminished investment in classical rhetoric is the subject matter of what I have called the everyday. Another door is the rejection of versification on the part of contemporary poets. In it Deguy delights in literary and historical allusions, as well as the incontrovertible mechanics of the French language itself.
There is no escape from internal rhyme or rhythm, however much contemporary poetics might have. Of all the poets here, Joseph Guglielmi is perhaps the most openly concerned with formalism, going so far as to establish an ironclad octosyllabic line in Fins de vers , while otherwise defying all the usual restrictions of French poetic language.
Guglielmi is at home in languages: a translator of contemporary American poetry, his ancestry is Italian, and he has affinities to both German and Latin. All testify to his textual identity as a postmodern poetician, one whose work might have been translated into a musical score or an artistic installation.
In trying to assign a definition to this formalist preoccupation, Liliane Giraudon recalls one of Hocquard's formulas: poetry is a little language within language. Meaning is to be found in line with poetry, in poetry's indivisible trajectory. Although some of the demands of poetry remain unchanged, today's poetry is dramatically at variance with the cerebral, conceptual efforts of the sixties.
An unabashedly intelligent poetry, it is also moving, humorous, meaningful, and. Furthermore, as in Guglielmi's case, the re current formalist trend is marked by a concurrent change in language. Poetic expression no longer borrows heavily from linguistics; it no longer insists on issues pertaining to grammar or syntax; finally, it certainly doesn't see itself as existing solely on a metapoetic level though all of the above may at times still be present. The languages within the French language that. But even in the manifestations of these so-called ordinary languages laid bare of their most visible rhetorical effects , neologisms, for example, are difficult to spot, since the French language steadfastly refuses such incursions into its expressive field.
From the time of Ciceronian poetics, the body has played a fundamental part in justifying eloquence. Cicero may have been the first master rhetorician to accord importance to emotions, pathos, gestural language—to all the elements dependent on the body that philosophy had, ever since Plato, prudently avoided. Roland Barthes put it the most succinctly: Writing passes through the body. The body's presence is closely associated with vocalization, if the body is to be more than a distanced representation, a textualized body, something to be described rather than heard.
Marcelin Pleynet is clear on this subject, both in his novels and in some of his erotic poems which are reminiscent of the eighteenth-century Venetian poet Baffo and, closer to the present, to Apollinaire or to Aragon's calendar in In the new poetics being expounded today, however, the presence of the body through orality must be taken seriously.
When Maurice Roche declares, in "The Body's Design" translated in the appendix to his interview , that "we write with our bodies"—Nietzsche went farther, saying that we. Of all the writers selected here, with the possible exception of Marcelin Pleynet, Maurice Roche is the most concerned with the body—his own body, specifically. When Roche insists on corporality rather than on the body itself as a figure of speech, a geometry of the mind, he does so in Villonesque terms, showing life being eaten away by death, which will unavoidably claim it.
Roche's accompanying drawings, of a charmingly macabre bent, highlight this preoccupation with the disintegration of the body and, as a consequence, of the text itself, for one belongs to the other, and it is impossible—as Cicero understood it—to separate corporal truth from literary eloquence. Roche then joins the company of those writers who have, often in a most un-French manner, worked over the body in their texts. For them the body is not merely an image; it is a form of discourse, with its own terms of expression.
This discourse is indeed far removed from Ronsard's lyrical declarations of love to his idolized ladies. In Pleynet's work the body is more explicitly socialized than in Roche's. Erotic themes such as homosexuality, which up to now have rarely been the direct topic of literary works, find their way into his prose and poetry. For Pleynet it is the voice—in absolute distinction from the written word—that permits rules of decorum to be violated.
In his most recent novel. Emotions are back. The body speaks. Writing orality allows both to reenter the matter of poetics. Narration is making a comeback, thanks to a lyrical reinvestment in an authorial I —however tempered by structural and linguistic concerns—inherited from the recent past. The clearest indication of this development is a shift from the nearly impenetrable writings of Sollers in the sixties to Leslie Kaplan's novels, Liliane Giraudon's short stories, and Maurice Roche's interest in telling "good story.
But the prevalence of narration is not limited to fiction. Claude Royet-Journoud may surprise some of his readers by insisting that his poetry reflects the structure of the detective story. What is surprising, in fact, is his vision of narration, which defies the usual principles as these are currently understood in the United States, especially by writers of narrative poetry. Royet-Journoud's allusion to the detective story incorporates both the notion of obstacle and that of discovery.
Whereas the phrase "to turn a new leaf" is used metaphorically in English, in Royet-Journoud's vision of the physical nature of the book it is taken literally. A new leaf: the lefthand page becomes a sign of the past; it is also the site of memory, from which a continuum is established. It thus becomes the necessary base for all other pages to come. The difference of this vision becomes only too apparent in a bilingual anthology in which the English figures on the left and the French on the right, a strategy that immediately vitiates the concept of narration in its deeper sense.
That is why, given the blank verso that is integral to Royet-Journoud's "Port de voix," the. French and English texts are not placed en face in this anthology. This narration is explicit, visible, and tactile: it is the continuum of the book as a thing unto itself. On this conceptual level a narration unravels that coexists with the theme of any particular book.
In Royet-Journoud's scriptural universe, to turn the page is not a mechanical operation; quite the contrary, it is tantamount to overcoming an obstacle, thereby also founding the possibility of discovery. Thus, movement itself has meaning, movement that is not limited to the verbal procession of words, though the text is clear on its "mission. Although plot and characters have reappeared, an identifiable distance remains between French and American interpretations of such terms, particularly to the extent that the French believe the American model to have been influenced largely by the poetry of Walt Whitman as opposed to the more elusive poetry of Emily Dickinson.
The contrasts between the American model and the French avant-garde would then be located in the way narration has been rethought and considerably modified in France.
Nothing he hasn’t done, nowhere he hasn’t been
When reading Jacqueline Risset's Sept passages de la vie d'une femme or the more recent L'Amour de loin , one is struck not only by the performative I in these two collections but also by a narrative insistence in both. The first alludes to Stefan Zweig's Twenty-four Hours in the Life of a Woman , which inspires the telling of the events that define the concept of passage. These "passages" range from micronarratives to the larger context of writers and thinkers that inform the text. Freud, Dante, and Gertrude Stein figure among the latter in the second collection. They are there, as is the poetics of the troubadours, to enrich the "plot," to provide it with a referential echo, so that through the adjunction of mythological, linguistic, psychoanalytic, or autobiographical elements the poem becomes a layered text, existing on a number of cellular levels, both personal, in which emotions are undisguised, and formal, in which.
For Michel Deguy narration is a concept too easily confused with a representative sector of American poetry in which the poet "lives" his times and exploits his feelings, either in short, uncorrected poems like Allen Ginsberg's or in larger works like Robert Lowell's historical poems, in which individual consciousness also reigns Deguy does not, for all that, exclude the narrative from his work; instead he redefines it and, in a metaphoric illustration, circumvents the genre: for him narration is an indispensable clothesline on which the poet pins up his thoughts With this metaphor, which offers a new meaning of narration but resists a clear statement of that meaning, Deguy exemplifies its essential though restrictive role in the articulation of the poem.
Deguy's work falls in a number of genres, from polemical nonfiction  to a poetry rich in intellectual manifestations. His professional responsibilities as codirector of Galerie Lelong in Paris and New York have provided him with analogies to the visual arts that allow him to free his story from the story.
First, he appreciates the possibility of substitution and the option of inserting quotations in the text. And second, he has mastered the fragmented narrative, whose origins go back to Dada, if not further. The narrative need no longer follow a linear pattern; the writer is no longer responsible for the "invention" of the tale. Meaning is constructed through borrowing and incorporating other texts. Ready-mades have. This referential order is indicated sometimes by the use of italics or quotes, sometimes by the insertion of proper names to document the extratextual sources.
But often material is included without specifically acknowledging its origin. This patchwork poetics Pound and Zukofsky were masters at it now orders the composition of a narration in which discontinuities are as much witness to the telling of a story as the plot structure had once been in a Greek tragedy.
Leslie Kaplan's work further illustrates the differences between narrative as conceived in contemporary French and American literature. Kaplan has systematically returned to her stylistic-philosophic vision of the world in her novels. Her identifiable practices are not of aesthetic intention but rather of what I would call a "philo-graphic" intention. Thus, the problem of simultaneity is resolved in Kaplan's insistence on providing the reader with a coexistential, nonnormative series of snapshots, "insignificant" events, and sound or color sketches that document a given moment.
Through them, a story of passion unfolds in which individuals find themselves in the protective custody of "real" clouds, smoke, noises, people, buses. The reader recognizes the world within which fiction evolves—in the case of Le Pont de Brooklyn , a world that is close at hand for many American readers, since the novel appears to be situated in New York. Kaplan's portrayal of New York lends itself to immediate recognition, and yet in the novel's scriptural insistence, it disturbs the conventional, passive relation between reader and text.
This double aspect—in which narrative is combined with an ever-present writerly preoccupation—produces a novel that is fiction in the generally accepted sense, all the while resembling poetry as it locates and then dislocates the site of the real. Two examples highlight the differences and similarities between Kaplan's fiction and that of American practitioners of the genre: first, Marge Piercy's Summer People , and second, Raymond Carver's short story "Feathers.
The beginning of the novel is so fact-filled that the reader is immediately gratified as he or she meets the principal players. The writing doubles the accessibility of the narration. It is conventional in its use of realistic props as it describes and transcribes the ways people speak and think. There is nothing here that unsettles or challenges the reader; nothing that makes the reader consider the place of language or the style of writing. This novel, and the hundreds like it published each year, testify to the persistent allegiance to subject matter in order to minimize resistance on the part of readers.
The second example, from Carver's collection Cathedral New York: Knopf, , is totally unlike the above model. The visibility of the writing a characteristic usually associated with poetry directs the reader toward a sophisticated discordance with traditional fictional purposes—to assure an easy passage from topic to reader's reception. The care accorded to language, rhythm, structure, syntax, and silence all amount to a passion for writing akin to that of French writers. The translations of Carver's stories and the critical acclaim accorded to his work in France attest to a correspondence between his sensibility and the one I have been defining.
Here too, as in Marge Piercy's work, oral qualities are present. In Piercy's novel they constitute a mimetic exercise; in Carver's story they form a strategy to lull the reader into recognizing his or her own universe, or at least one possible universe, resembling a Sam Shepard play. However weird, "Feathers" defines an "American way of life," just as Edward Hopper's paintings have done. Perhaps the topical analyses of Hopper's work facilitate a certain critical refusal to enter into the coded world of both psychological motivation and scriptural insistence.
In addition to lyricism, narration, formalism, voice, and the body, an important element of the new poetics in France is the influence of American poetry, in which the above elements are to some degree objectified. This influence does not exclude other foreign influences, of course, but for French avant-garde poets, the American model has been privileged ever since the sixties.
Translation is an odd practice, as many theoreticians have demonstrated, from Saint Jerome to Walter Benjamin. One particularity is of special interest here: Why have certain American poets received acclaim in France, while others, though translated, remain marginal? Why, specifically, have Ezra Pound and the Objectivists, and in more recent times the Language Poets including Charles Bernstein, who translated one of Claude Royet-Journoud's books of poetry into English , become. Why have these poets been invited to French poetry festivals?
Why, at another moment, were the Beats so appreciated? In the first place one might cite the distinctiveness of American poetry and prose beginning in the late fifties. What was happening in American literature and in the theater as well bore almost no resemblance to the French concerns of the Tel Quel years.
The attraction of opposites can also be seen in the other direction: Americans discovered the nouveau roman through publishers such as Grove Press and George Braziller and the Evergreen Review. From the postwar years on, and especially in the more prosperous sixties and seventies, cultural exchanges between France and the U. These connections were marked by invitations to poetry festivals, public readings, and publications of contemporary American poetry in French anthologies representing an avant-garde view of current American poetic production.
Its charm was its espousal of an absolutely antithetical poetics. Jacques Roubaud, then one of the keenest readers of American poetry, is quick to admit that he found it so attractive precisely because of its "otherness. Nothing quite like it had ever been written in France, where at that time any sign of romanticism in the realm of letters was rejected wholesale. The American model which went beyond poetry, encompassing Raymond Chandler's novels and Jerry Lewis's films, as well as those two ubiquitous American viruses, blue jeans and T-shirts appeared as a dialectical Other, one that perhaps even proved the value of the French attitude in contrast to American practices, or more specifically to the American poet's lyrical presence in his or her text.
Levertov—were shaped by an often barely veiled autobiographical enterprise and characterized by common speech, a form generally alien to French poetry. Ever since the translations of some of the Cantos , by Denis Roche in ,  that poet became a literary fetish, but—as always in such cases—of an ambivalent kind. Was this ambivalence in part because Pound had failed to gain admission not only to mainstream American poetry but also to American intellectual life and that, of course, before World War II?
Together with his poetics, his fascist, anti-Semitic politics assuredly contributed to his later, quasi-definitive exclusion. That bit of pro—antiAmericanism cannot in itself account for his reception in France. As a result of this ambivalent status which was also the case for Louis Zukofsky , there was one Pound who could easily be assimilated to French avant-garde poetics and another who had to remain outside it.
In the first instance, it is clear that Pound, as the paradigmatic figure of modernism, reassures the avant-garde reader and poet who can appreciate both the new forms developed in the Cantos and the traditional allusions to historical, literary, and mythological sources. When Pound exclaimed that to translate, one had to "Make It New," he might not have been alluding only to that specific literary enterprise. This enticing formula could also define his own contribution—the way he worked, the way he conceived of his own poetics. The use of typography in the Cantos , the inclusion of foreign languages, and the mixing of linguistic registers, complete with colloquialisms and accented speech to mock.
Pound's Jewish friend, the French medievalist Gustave Cohen —all these elements could "pass" into the French order of cultural artifacts. In the second instance, there is the "invisible" side to Pound's poetics. Whereas the signifier found a ready avant-garde public, the signified could not, in Pound's lifelong project to rewrite a Homeric epic in which, as he so succinctly stated, History would converge with personal experience.
In the sixties, when French poetics had renounced this postromantic historical posture—as it had with equal vigor rejected the accompanying lyrical voice, one able to carry the autobiographical concern—it was impossible to subscribe to Pound's whole project. He was thus at once present and absent: present, of course, in translations; absent as a wholly useful model for French avant-garde poetry. French translations of Louis Zukofsky's poetry further illustrate this absence.
Much like his better-known friend and compatriot, Zukofsky has in recent years gained a small but impressive following in French avant-garde circles. These readers see in the American Objectivist's poetics a model that preceded yet paralleled their own concerns. What, then, filters in to French? Quite evidently the rejection ot the sentimental, lyrical voice, and Zukofsky's metadiscourse, which informs his project and provides it with a theoretical justification—the intellectual analogy to Bach's fugues, especially the St.
Matthew Passion. This formalism is clear in Zukofsky's treatment of language and placement of lines on the page. His principles of verbal condensation, his retextualization of borrowed material, and his montage techniques, as well as his musical sonorities and use of punctuation and capitalization, all attest to his centrality in the world of French avant-garde poetics. It is also worth noting that his espousal of Marxism like Aragon's, from Marx through Stalin represents a perfectly recognizable legacy. Finally, his reworking of classical rhetoric is the most readily acceptable lesson.
But something else remains outside the cultural option, remains, so to speak, in the shadow of Zukofsky's legend and defies translation. The rich vein of the spoken register in " A " is both a highly distinctive trait and a major stumbling block in assuring a commensurate restructuring of the American text within French poetic language. We find base or "obscene" sexual terms in Joseph Guglielmi's poetry, as in Joyce Mansour's surrealist poetry, but avant-garde poetics in France has no place for the inscription of a spoken text. There is no room for the newspaper editor's diction in " A "-1 or for Henry Ford's voice in " A " For the sake of poetic language, then, Zukofsky's commitment to a multiple linguistic experience is brushed aside.
The French unisemic code washes away what it considers impertinent information, unreadable material, renegotiating vulgarity within an acceptable aesthetic medium. The frenchification of Zukofsky's poetry forcefully reduces the impact of his poetics in France, or at the very least demonstrates the principles of cultural refraction noted above. A second difficulty appears on the conceptual level. What does not pass are three essential elements of " A ": the poem as a man's life; the epic project,.
The body, the voice, narration however elliptic , forms of lyricism—all point the way toward incorporating Zukofsky's multilayered autobiographical commentary into a possible French appreciation. And yet, both the epic poem as a genre and the historicization of the text remain as stumbling blocks. The grandiose cannot be entertained when the everyday is flaunted. Furthermore, while Zukofsky has found favor among readers opposed to a surrealist, metaphor-laden poetics, they have failed, as far as I have been able to make out, to read his Jewishness into the text; thus, his translation and adaptation of Solomon Bloomgarden's Yiddish poems within " A " have gone unobserved.
The lesson is clear. When Zukofsky or George Oppen, for that matter is translated, he serves a dual function: on a theoretical level, he is acknowledged as one of the principal innovators of twentieth-century American poetry; on a domestic level, he is brandished as an "outsider" to marshal forces against competing subcategories within the poetic avant-garde in France. Although Zukofsky is a glorious absence in booklength studies, his American adepts are prominent in French poetry festivals, translation workshops, and anthologies.
Reciprocally, though with less financial support, French poets have also been invited to the United States. Contacts are now better than ever between New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and various American universities and their corresponding organizations in Paris, Royaumont, and Marseille. Increasingly, cultural exchanges encourage poets and writers to participate in joint activities, including collective translations, thereby enriching the literary scene on both sides of the Atlantic.
This cosmopolitanism is indicative of a new configuration in the world of letters: eloquently defined, systematically translated, the works of French and American poets and, to a lesser extent, fiction writers have now gained access to a broadening circle of readers and practitioners. Rich in variants, its multiple productions nonetheless all honor that contract between author, text, and reader that is founded on reality, textuality, and readability. The numerous translation projects on both sides of the Atlantic attest to this trend, which is essentially a shift toward recuperating meaning by exploiting themes taken from daily experience or from dramatic events, a communion of interests that envisages a telling compatibility between French and American poetry and poetics.
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