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This article is taken from PN Review 121, Volume 24 Number 5, May - June 1998.

Yves Bonnefoy's Hinterland: An Introductory Essay Stephen Romer

There are certain works that escape definition. The Hinterland by Yves Bonnefoy is one of these; to borrow Yeats's phrase, it is an 'excited reverie', in part a sustained essay on aesthetics, in part a spiritual autobiography. It is also a belated addition to Quest literature, in which undivided Presence, and the 'true place' would be the grail. In its metaphysical false starts, red herrings, riddling enigmas and visionary moments, it even has elements of the supernatural thriller. Bonnefoy, searching for the 'hinterland', his 'place of absolutes', follows clues wherever they may be found, whether in Italian painting, the deserts of Asia or in his own childhood; he retains something of the sleuth with his magnifying glass. There is a 'novel' that never gets written, a thwarted narrative which, in its auto-destruction, recalls many of the preoccupations of post-modernism. Bonnefoy's vexed attempts, in the drafts of this novel, to further the progress of his protagonist, are described with a rueful humour: 'The efforts I made to get him into a hotel or a station merely ended in their conflagration.' Such a confession also reminds us that The Hinterland belongs to that special category, a poet's imaginative prose. This is by no means an easy work: its catalogue of signs and wonders exists in the medium of abstract analysis. In his war against 'concept', Bonnefoy sets out to give a new, personal nuance to chosen words, and this is a project that requires the invention of his own idiosyncratic, elliptical ...


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