[Wgcp-whc] WG/Poetics--Deguy minutes, 10/7

richard.deming at yale.edu richard.deming at yale.edu
Fri Oct 14 00:33:47 EDT 2005


Dear Friends,

Last Friday, October 7th, the group met to discuss the work of Michel Deguy. 
Deguy, who had given a reading at the Beinecke a few days before, is one of the
luminaries in the firmament of contemporary French thinking.  Thinking seems the
most apt word to use as he is acutely indebted to the work of German philosopher
Martin Heidegger, author of Was Heisst Denken (What Is Called Thinking).* 
Indeed, the group discussed the ways that the poems that comprise Recumbents
(translated into English by Wilson Baldridge) are often a series of
propositions that accumulate in such a manner as to challenge expectations and
to provide occasions for additional thinking about the implications of the
claims that poems make as poems.

Clearly, Deguy?s work provided an occasion for the group to consider the role
of form in poems.  Indeed, we spent a great deal of time trying to find a
language for form, a word that has increasingly become a slippery, abstract
term.  For some, form is in fact the sine qua non of poetry, although form need
not be traditional or received ideas of form.  The fact that the form of
Deguy?s work can seem more or less a secondary concern for the author
(especially when read against other poets that we have looked at?from Louis
Zukofsky to the members of OULIPO)  meant that it might be easy to dismiss
Deguy?s poems.  Of course, this strikes at the heart of critical assessment. 
In other words, we asked, what criteria does one hold a poem to, and why?  And
if a poem works with a different set of aesthetic concerns, can one dismiss it
outright, or is it the critic?s duty to meet the poem on its own terms,
rather than simply from within his or her own system of aesthetic value?  This
is important beyond the fairly immediate and certainly subjective sense of
whether one likes a poem or not, and speaks to the work that a poem does in
terms of constituting its own parameters and the potentiality of the poetic on
a large scale.  We discussed the ways that Deguy?s poems, in their challenges
to traditional ideas of form (and MacLeish?s axiom that ?a poem should not
mean but be?), put a premium on their ideational force.  This is not to say
that the propositions of Deguy?s poems are straightforward.  I?ll cite a
passage that we looked at quite carefully from the long sequence ?Journal of
the Poem?:

     Poetry deprives itself in order to be-like
     As a lover devours without devouring
     To signify the letter of love
     Ut musica ut pictura ut poesis

     Constrained by body thanks to the loss
     To demote the senses to sense
     Depriving itself of what it lacks
     The Poem entrusts the want thereof to its language
     That the blind man be named the seer

We see here a dense set of allusions?from Deleuze (one of Deguy?s peers) to
Mallarme to Tiresias--that Deguy fashions together in terms of a poetic
genealogy that inscribes not simply his own argument but also a structure of
poetics that exists in language at the level of thinking; therefore, the
references he makes occur indirectly, beneath the obvious meaning, and so only
speak to one another by way of the context of his poem.  Moreover, these
allusions also participate in a longer, more subtle consideration of what
constitutes sense as the milieu by which meaning is possible.  In this way,
Deguy?s offers challenges to the ways that one might consider form in that it
enacts a view of poetry in which the poem's terms are still in the process of
becoming. It is self-consciously, then, both poetry and a poetics.  This
isn?t to say that the poems are autotelic; it is to suggest that the work
suggests that the issue of discovering what form is ?despite centuries of
work?is still not finished.  One can see here the implication of these poems
negotiations with and against form for Deguy?s idea of poetics in which
ethics and poetics have a common or at least analogous model of working with
and against mores and conventions.

This is not to say that all of Deguy?s poems are equally compelling.  Indeed,
many found the propositions of ?Journal of the Poem? to describe thinking,
rather than to enact thinking or give an occasion to move towards thinking. 
With some of the poems, members found the work to be the relaying of ideas that
Deguy already had prior to the act of writing, rather than being ideas that
he?and thus the reader?are moving towards by means of the lyric itself.  In
such cases, many found there was no formal, intellectual, or emotional risk and
that the poems didn?t succeed on their own terms in light of Heidegger?s
injunction that ?We must allow ourselves to become involved in questions that
seek what no inventiveness can find.? People felt that this wasn?t the case,
however, in poems that seem more directed towards the other?in Deguy?s case
often the beloved.  In those poems (for instance, ?Cardiogram), poems where
Deguy used images and sense impression to evoke experience, the work discovered
and revealed heretofore unapprendended connections?sometimes at the figurative
level, sometimes at the aural, and sometimes at the homonymic.  These
associations reveal not only a connectedness of things, but the impossible gaps
and distances that occur between language and the world of things.  Although
this may not be a new position, he tries to narrate that gap in ways that
bridge the differences between poetry and philosophy in more overt ways that
reveal the likeness (what we might term?however quaintly?re-semblances) and
thus the differences between argument and lyric, but more emphatically the
distance and closeness of language and the world.  In the spirit of Deguy?s
work, the group?s discussion revealed itself by way of an admixture of
consensus and dissensus.  But then, as Deguy writes in ?Didactics,? ?the
center is too dialectical to act as a position.?  In any event, the
discussion was extremely lively and provocative.

If one does a Google search of Deguy?s name, over 33, 000 hits are listed. 
I?ll include here a useful, if incredibly preliminary URL as further
introduction to the poet?s work:

As reminder, the next session of the Working Group in Contemporary Poetics will
occur on Oct 28th.  That day we will meet at the Beinecke and guest Ulla Dydo
will lead us in a discussion of Stein?s primary materials.  We have ordered
copies of Professor Dydo?s recent book on Stein for members of the group.  We
will then continue our discussion of Stein?s work at the subsequent meeting,
Nov 11th.  We have also ordered copies of the Stein Reader, which will serve as
the source for the Stein texts that we?ll be discussing at that meeting.  When
the books have arrived, I will post an announcement to that effect.

Speaking of books arriving, member-at-large Bert Hirschhorn has asked that I
mention his new chapbook, The Empress of Certain. The cover and a sample poem
may be seen at www.poetscornerpress.com .  Anyone interested in more details
should e-mail him. The book is available from him directly and he can be
reached at bertzpoet at yahoo.com

Also, since the group has frequently discussed the poems of Zukofsky I wanted to
recommend this new site ?Z-Site: A Companion to the Work of Zukofsky,? which
includes an impressive set of notes for ?A? as well as a very useful
bibliography and so forth.  It is available as

?The Working Group in Contemporary Poetry and Poetics meets every other Friday
at 3.00 PM in room 116 at the Whitney Humanities Center at Yale University to
discuss problems and issues of contemporary poetry within international
alternative and /or avant-garde traditions of lyric poetry. All are welcome to


Richard Deming, Group Secretary, Scribe, and Scrivener

*?We come to know what it means to think when we ourselves try to think.  If
the attempt is to be successful, we must be ready to learn thinking,? writes
Heidegger (1).

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