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This article is taken from PN Review 90, Volume 19 Number 4, March - April 1993.

The Shaping of Moder French Portry: Plastic Ponge Roger Little

CONCENTRATION ON THE rational discourse of language has brought the benefits of sophistication and subtlety of which we are aware. Any stance which asks us to view the alphabet not as a resource for significant words but as discrete designs inevitably appears perverse. Yet that very perversity is an integral part of the phenomenon which we have been tracing in these studies, and Ponge ranges more persistently across the tracts of the figural than any poet from the 150 years of French poetry which they cover. His quest for re-enactment involves both the micro- and the macro-structures of his texts, and while this search for what he calls 'adéquation' involves traditional elements of imitative harmony, its most striking innovation is the pervasive inventiveness of a figural mimesis which strives to rediscover or more precisely to forge a necessary rather than an arbitrary relationship between words and the object they reproduce. Ponge's word for that endeavour is 'l'objeu', which itself plays on the interplay between linguistic process at its most stimulating and the object of its attentions. Alongside the echo of Mallarmé's designation of poetry as the 'Jeu suprême' stand the ideas of Freud in relation to both jokes and dreams, both of which enjoy, like so much modern poetry, a capacity for bewilderment and illumination. Something primal is scoured when we are invited to consider the potential of writing before the alphabet has congealed it and before the dream and the playfulness have been tamed by rational explanation. Not ...


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