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This article is taken from PN Review 257, Volume 47 Number 3, January - February 2021.

Envoi to the Self Michael Heller
‘Envoi to the Self’ is part of my ‘Tibet Sequence’, a series of poems loosely based on the French poet Victor Segalen’s Odes suivies de Thibet. In his short life (1878–1919), Segalen, a medical doctor for the French navy, travelled extensively in Polynesia and the Far East. Like Gauguin, with whom he is often linked, Segalen was one of the great explorers of indwelling, of otherness. In his little-known ‘Essay on Exoticism’, he explores ‘the notion of difference, the perception of Diversity, the knowledge that something is other than one’s self. Exoticism’s power is nothing other than the ability to conceive otherwise.’ In Odes suivies de Thibet, he takes up his interests in Buddhist and Taoist thought, attempting at times to mimic the language of the Sages whose genius, compassion and knowledge of the illusory self he venerated. The critic Haun Saussy has written that Segalen’s poems seem to be ‘translated from a work that does not anywhere else exist’. My own poems, written in the spirit of Segalen’s phrase ‘to conceive otherwise’ follow his habits of mimicry, seeking an opportunistic, even perhaps exploitive mingling of Segalen’s thought and language with my own. Playing with his words and with mine, I have called these poems ‘transpositions’ and not ‘translations’, attempting in my own way to produce a language that does not elsewhere exist, possibly the goal of all poetry itself. All along, my aim has been to conjure an imagined, a timeless ‘Tibet’, a place not only of great and rugged beauty but of spiritual instruction and ethical ...


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