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This review is taken from PN Review 258, Volume 47 Number 4, March - April 2021.

Cover of The Red Scarf: Followed by Two Stages and Additional Notes
Chris MillerAdieu
The Red Scarf: Followed by Two Stages and Additional Notes, Yves Bonnefoy, translated by Stephen Romer (Seagull Books) £18.99 (hardback)
Bonnefoy’s last piece of extended prose is a sort of memoir, an exploration of his parents’ origins and relationship. But that suggests a book much simpler than this one. For Bonnefoy writes here as the frustrated author of a poetic narrative that would neither resolve itself nor leave him alone. The structure of the book is seemingly determined by Bonnefoy’s psychoanalysis of that story; the ‘events’ of the eponymous poem open out to reveal a suppressed autobiography. We are thus firmly conducted through his own childhood by the interpretative psychopomp.

Barthes, in the non-memoir of his mother, La Chambre Claire, bitterly interrogates the hermeneutics of suspicion for a space of innocence in which he can declare his filial love. By contrast, Freud is here the conventional but pliable authority that Bonnefoy brings to bear on his recalcitrant creation. His decision to approach a memoir through his aporetic poem might itself be a defence mechanism, allowing him to see the life of his parents only through the prestige of authorship and the symbols of poetry. Yet our sense of the poet following l’écharpe rouge through the labyrinth is convincing and often moving, as each repressive bulkhead dissolves into a further chamber.

‘The Red Scarf’ of the title is at once the fertility offered by the young wife to the suitor and the consanguinity of the nuclear family. Central to this story is Bonnefoy’s guilt; he could not release his father from a silence born of Élie’s sense of inadequacy to the intellectual slant of his wife’s family, ...

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