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This review is taken from PN Review 79, Volume 17 Number 5, May - June 1991.

AN ABSENTEE AND A HOST OF PRESENCES Richard Stamelman, Lost Beyond Telling: representations of death and absence in Modern French Poetry (Cornell University Press)

Lost Beyond Telling comes complete with approbatory remarks on its dustflap from two of the figures most persuasively covered by Richard Stamelman - Yves Bonnefoy and the late Edmond Jabès. Whether this privilege was also extended to Philippe Jaccottet, Jacques Dupin and André du Bouchet remains a mystery, though it was doubtless prudent on the part of the publishers to solicit the comments of poets with a wider general readership, and of apparently secure status in the critical debate. Stamelman is a vigorous, if not especially elegant, apologist irrespective of personality, though the figure of Pierre Jean Jouve remains more elusive than one might have expected, given the two thousand pages of his Oeuvre published by Mercure de France in 1987. Somewhat ironically, however, it is when Stamelman shifts his acknowledged focus to include Roland Barthes, and specifically Camera Lucida, that Lost Beyond Telling comes most alive, and tells its own story to maximum effect.

Stamelman's subject is so distinctively 'French' that a beguiled, but perplexed, Anglo-Saxon may feel that he needs more context in which to situate these 'representations of death and absence'. Why it should be so is a question Stamelman does not see fit to address in the one chapter devoted to a general airing of the problems endemic to a 'Poetics of Loss'. Blanchot is, naturally enough, much in evidence here, though largely absent thereafter (except as a kind of foil for Jabès). There is something perverse, however - even when Stamelman is ...

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