Le Livre des figures hiéroglyphiques: édition intégrale (Littérature ésotérique) (French Edition)

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.


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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.