[Wgcp-whc] Pierre Alferi Visit, Sept 17, WHC 116, 3-5pm (Screening tonight! 8pm WHC)

Jean-Jacques Poucel jean-jacques.poucel at yale.edu
Tue Sep 14 16:33:09 EDT 2010

Chers Amis,

	Our initial discussion of the year, based on Pierre Alferi's OXO and To Seek a Sentence (pt.2) generated a rich series of questions which have been sent to Pierre in preparation for his visit this coming Friday afternoon, Sept 17, 3-5pm, WHC 116. While these questions (attached below) may serve our discussion as points of departure, we needn't limit the scope of the dialogue to them alone; please do not hesitate, during the session, to open other threads of discussion based on your own readings of Pierre's work. 

	As promised during our session, I am sending along a PDF file that contains Kate Campbell recently completed translation of Alferi's more recent book of poems, Sentimentale journée. On the last page of this book you will find the following brief remark:     These are poems improvised like a conversation. An epigraph extracts a subject. So what is being spoken about is clear enough (love, day and night, time, cinema or movement), and what they say is quite obvious: what is less obvious is what they mean. Each poem reverses ‘communication’: each pushes meaning from one image to the next, taking it apart, transferring it from one line to the next, sentences cut short, kicked like footballs. Perhaps they mean nothing. Perhaps they capture a ‘monstrous feeling’, an experience of the present in which ‘blurred contours are unavoidable’. 

	If you were to ask me which poems to consider in the short time that remains prior to Alferi's visit, I might suggest the two opening poems,"You are Invited" and "Put a Voice to her Prose", and then "A Defense of Poetry" (p. 30) and "Hyperaubade" (p. 67)

	Given that our discussion touched recursively on questions of prose and its relationship to poetic rhythm and the actual practice of line breaks (and other craft oriented facts), I dug up a short dossier Alferi published online several years ago (title: Penser la poésie), and translated the first integral segment of that series of essays (title: Vers la prose). Even if it is still a bit rough--a work in progress--I've attached it below (in both French and English) for your perusal. 

	Finally—and most urgently for those who can make it—there will be a screening of Alferi's Cinépoèmes and Films Parlants this evening, beginning at 8pm in the Film Studies Center at the Whitney Humanities Center. We will screen some (not all) of the 2003 DVD; as many as we can in approx 90 minutes. All are welcome; bring your own tea and popcorn. 


	Jean-Jacques Poucel
	co-coordinator of whc wgcp

1. How do you think about your work in relation to the writings of other contemporary writers?  How does a poetics based on prose/verse, or the letting go of that opposition, situate your work with respect to other recent writings in France?

2. Do you consider American or English poetry an important influence on your work? How would you draw a relationship between modern American poetries and your own? Which English language poets, or groups of poets, enjoy a particular ascendency in the context of French poetry?

3. To what degree is cosmopolitan pop culture (including strategies in international consumerism) an important resource for your work?  To you mind, is there an emergent 21st century aesthetic of viscera based on poking fun at the experience of mass culture? If so, how would you like your work to participate?

4. The Paris seen in Oxo seems, to some degree, the inside view of an outsider addressing other outsiders. What kind of political currency would you (want to) ascribe to this collection of poems?

5. In the segment subtitled “The ‘Unsayable’” in To Seek a Sentence, you state that “The only task of literature is to invent new syntactical forms, new rhythmic patterings: to expand the language,” to which you add: “The only obstacle is the totality of overused sentences that, at every turn, evade their own cutting-edge possibility. Each sentence has its obstacle and not a single one is insurmountable.” Could you further expand on this insistence on the dynamics between clarity/unsayability? What relationship do you perceive between the scale of frames (Quelle relation tracez-vous entre les échelles de dispositifs)? How has this question evolved for you over the past decade? What is at stake for the currency of a work in this question? Or, more precisely referring to Oxo, how (if at all) is this explorative, innovative notion of literature aimed at in the structural constraints and thematic concerns you adopt for this book?

6. Would you please speak a little about the physical design of Oxo/ Kub Or? To what degree were you involved with designing the precise spatial layout of each text, and how important to your mind are these specific relations to the internal economy of the books?

7. What role do Suzanne Doppelt’s photographs play in the critical acts of Oxo? In what order were the images and texts created; which came first, the photos or the poems (and does this query about origin (image/text) help illuminate other competing myths of origin (oral/written literature))? Could you speak a little about the actual production of the images; is there some overlap in the craftsmanship of the photos and the texts?

8. Naming, it seems, occupies an important place in your poetics. In both Oxo and Sentimentale journée, each poem is accompanied by a title, a caption or a recap that refers, with various degrees of literalness, citation and irony, to the text itself, or to the stories that unfold in the texts. We wondered in our discussion about the types of authority the name exerts over the object it names; to what degree are you deliberately (and/or intuitively) resisting or accelerating the fascination of substitution in these instances (“Tai-Chi,” for example, is one of the poems that oriented this segment of our conversation).

9. What, to your mind, are the most consistent connections between the various types of creativity in which you engage, spanning your work as a translator, your writing of novels, your composition of poems (books of poems), your collaborative compilation of short films and video-poems, and… (other activities) ?  How does this trans-field, inter-material craftsmanship relate to your idea that a “Philosopher is not a geometer, but a surveyor.” What vital or agonistic relation do you experience between the artist and philosopher in you?

Vers la prose 							

Toward Prose

by Pierre Alferi		
La prose n'est ni un genre ni  l'opposé de la poésie. Elle est l'idéal bas de la littérature, autrement dit un horizon, et lui souffle  un rythme, une politique. 

Prose is neither a genre nor the opposite of poetry. It is the ideal base of literature, in other words a horizon, and it whispers a rhythm, a politic. 

Quant au rythme, on a coutume de le mesurer au moyen des formes  évidentes qu'il prend dans les vers réguliers. Sans  doute la prose a-t-elle le sien, mais, disait Cicéron, pas  facile à reconnaître. On a coutume aussi de louer dans  la poésie, fût-ce pour la cantonner, la "parole  des origines" à quoi la prose devrait sa pulsation première,  plus ou moins assourdie.

With respect to rhythm, we customarily measure it by means of the obvious forms it takes in standard verse. Undoubtedly, prose has its own standards, but, as Cicero stated, not so easily recognized. In poetry, we also customarily praise, if only to delimit it, the “original word” to which prose would owe its first pulse, more or less deafened.

De cette légende s'autorise l'usage laxiste  de "prose" pour désigner ce qui n'est pas vers,  formellement flou, prose dont on fait sans le savoir. Mais on peut  distinguer le rythme, qui n'est pas sans la régularité,  de sa mesure, irrégulière en prose ; et revendiquer  pour celle-ci la tâche poétique la plus délicate.  On peut aussi raconter l'histoire des naissances à rebours,  dire que de la prose sortit toute la poésie moderne et qu'elle  se retourne vers elle.

Out of this legend springs the lax usage of “prose” to refer to what is not verse, formally fluid, prose made without knowing it. But rhythm, which is not without its regularity, can be distinguished in its measure, irregular in prose; and for prose we can reclaim the most delicate poetic task. We can also recount, against the grain, the tale of birth, state that from prose all of modern poetry sprang forth and that it turns back toward prose.

Ainsi Charles-Albert Cingria, dans un chapitre de La Civilisation  de Saint-Gall qui a pour titre " Renouveau, par la "prose"  de toute la poésie occidentale ", narre-t-il l'histoire  récente du rythme. L'événement qu'il relate  est, vers 880, la découverte par Notker, moine bègue,  d'une nouvelle façon de mettre des mots sur un chant. C'était  pour ne pas oublier, comme mnémotechnie, qu'il avait dû  inventer ces mots. Mais ils ne composent pas des vers reconnaissables.  Sachant ce que c'est que la poésie - l'art appelé  poésie - ; il n'est pas très sûr, malgré  le plaisir qu'il y éprouve, que ces mots, si bien disposés  et assonancés qu'il invente en soient. Il croit plutôt  que c'est de la prose ; alors on dit les proses, et le genre, parti  de Saint-Gall, tout de suite, avec l'impétuosité d'une  bourrasque, fait école d'une mer à l'autre. Le rythme,  ici donné par la musique, fut donc premier. Mais, passé  dans les mots, qu'il informa néanmoins par une vrai prosodie,  il adopta d'abord une mesure irrégulière. Voilà  la " prose ".

Thus, Charles-Albert Cingra, in a chapter of The Civilization of Saint-Gall entitled “Renovation, by means of the ‘prose’ of all occidental poetry,” narrates the recent history of rhythm. The event he recounts is the discovery, around 880, by Notker, a stuttering monk, of a new way of putting words to music. He’d had to invent these words in order to not forget them, as a mnemonic device. But they did not consist of recognizable verse. Knowing what poetry was—i.e. the art called poetry—, he is unsure that, despite the pleasure they bring, these well-placed, well-assonated words are part of it. Rather he believes they are prose and calls them prose, and thus the genre, beginning with Saint-Gall, promptly sweeps the land from coast to coast with the impetuosity of a gale force wind.  Rhythm, provided here by music, therefore came first. But, shifted into words, which it nonetheless informed via a real prosody, rhythm took on to begin with an irregular measure. And this is “prose.”

 A vrai dire, n'importe quoi, même les bruits d'eau et  des rythmes d'engins de bois ou de fer lui paraissaient dignes de  faire bien s'accoupler et rimer les mots. Ekkehard raconte que,  de son dortoir, Notker entendait certains gémissements et  des craquements périodiques d'une roue tournant lentement  à cause de très peu d'eau. Aussitôt il fit une  prose. Prose en ce sens aussi que tantôt la nature tantôt  la technique y passent de plain-pied selon leur cadence.

Actually, anything, even the sounds of water and the rhythms of wooden or metals contraptions seem to merit the careful coupling and rhyming of words. Ekkehard reports that from his room Nokter could hear certain periodic creaks and moans from a wheel slowly turning by the trickle of water. He promptly wrote a prose. Prose also in the sense that now nature, now technique directly enters and passes according to its cadence.

La primauté du rythme fait un art " dyonisiaque ".  Cingria cite Nietzsche et, surtout, Pétrarque. Sauf que la  poésie moderne (en langue vulgaire) a puisé dans des  rythmes irrégulièrement mesurés. Cette naissance  prosaïque orienta son histoire. La complainte de sainte Eulalie  qui est le tout premier document de poésie française  est une séquence. Dante et Pétrarque ne sont que les  derniers des troubadours et les plus grands. Or, le chant des troubadours  est le lai, et le lai vient des tropes et des séquences,  qui sont la prose ordonnancée au cours du XIIème siècle.  On oublie sa naissance. La poésie se referma bientôt,  imposa au rythme - et, le cas échéant, à la  musique - une forme régulière a priori, une métrique  rigide qui supplanta bruits d'eau, gémissements et craquements.  Mais l'ère de la nouvelle poésie n'est pas encore  close. Elle se ravive à la forme irrégulière  primitive. Et Cingria termine en citant Cendrars, Whitman, Une  saison en enfer .

The primacy of rhythm constitutes a “Dionysian” art. Cingra cites Nietzsche and, above all, Petrarch. Except that modern poetry (in common languages) drew its inspiration from irregularly measured rhythms. This prosaic birth has determined its history. The Canticle of Saint Eulalia, the very first document of French poetry, is a sequence. Dante and Petrarch are but the last and the greatest troubadours. Besides, the lay is the troubadour’s song, and the lay consists of tropes and sequences that are but prose put together over the course of 12th century. It’s birth is often forgotten. Poetry soon closed up, imposing upon rhythm an a priori regular rhythm, a rigid metrics that supplanted the sound of water, the creaks and groans. But the era of modern poetry is not yet closed.  It is revived by irregular primitive forms. And Cingra concludes by citing Cendrars, Whitman, A Season in Hell.

Cette histoire vaut ce que valent les mythes. On peut y objecter,  ou rester froid devant le lieu communqui sacre la musique modèle  de tout rythme, préférer la roue lente, les engins  de bois et de fer. Au moins le mythe montre-t-il une poésie aux antipodes de cette " parole des origines " deux fois  incroyable, une poésie redevable de sa modernité à  la prose qui est à son départ et en son cÏur [? Sic].  La généalogie que traçait Cingria se prolonge en effet jusqu'à nous, après l'abandon de l'ancienne  métrique : en France, par exemple, de La prose du transsibérien  de Cendrars, de Zone d'Apollinaire, du Voleur de talan de Reverdy  à Ponge, à Michaux, Novarina, Lucot, Cadiot. Les retours paniques à l'ancien code, d'une part, de l'autre les répudiations  spectaculaires d'un genre jugé inacceptable ou obsolète,  la pratique opiniâtre de la coupe et de l'enjambement aux  dépens de tout autre signe de reconnaissance du vers, tout  cela trahit dans la poésie d'aujourd'hui la hantise de la  prose.

This history has the same worth as any myth. You can object to it, remain unmoved before the commonplace consecration of music as the model of all rhythm or prefer the slow wheel, the wooden and metal contraptions. At least the myth reveals a poetry opposite to that “original word,” twice unbelievable, a poetry owing its modernity to prose, which is present at its birth and its closure [?]. The genealogy that Cingra was drawing up extends, in effect, to us, after the letting go of our old prosody: in France, for example, from Cendrar’s Prose du transsibérien, to Appolinaire’s “Zone,” to Reverdy’s Voleur de talan, to Ponge, to Michaux, to Novarina, Lucot, Cadiot. The panicky resurgence of the old codes, on the one hand, and on the other, the spectacular repudiations of a genre judged to be inacceptable or obsolete, the unrelenting practice of the line break and enjambment to the detriment of all other recognizable signs of verse—all of this betrays, in today’s poetry, the hauntings of prose.

Aussi bien elle s'affirme : projet non héroïque, à  ras de terre. Et elle n'est pas plus étrangère au poème qu'au roman, et pas moins. Penser la prose, ne serait-ce  que penser à elle, l'envisager, la rêver, c'est vouloir  pour la littérature - toute - la rigueur d'une prosodie irrégulière,  d'une poétique mutante, en même temps que l'abandon  à l'existence profane et à l'état " vulgaire  " (contemporain) du langage. Si la prose désigne cette tension maximale entre une forme qui ne se connaît pas de  modèle et un champ réel qui ne laisse pas de point  de vue surplombant, alors les romans ne l'atteignent pas plus souvent  que les poèmes.

Nonetheless prose reemerges : a non heroic project, at ground level. It is no more a stranger to the poem than to the novel, and no less. “To think prose” would be but to think about prose, to imagine it, to dream it; it would be to want for literature—all of it—the rigor of an irregular prosody, of a mutating poetics, as well as a letting go of the profane existence and the “vulgar” state of (contemporary) language. If prose refers to this maximal tension between a form that takes no model and a real field that leaves no point of view overseen, then novels do not reach it more frequently than poems.

Et cet horizon, cette idée, si libre et  large soient-ils, appellent une politique (donc une critique) de  la littérature. Sans préjuger de cette politique à  venir, parler de la littérature en tant que prose doit permettre  - à nouveau, dès maintenant, en attendant - d'évoquer  un travail, des programmes d'écriture complexes, précaires,  sans pour cela se reposer sur des catégories stylistiques  ; et d'évoquer une façon, mille façons qu'ont  les livres de se mettre à niveau avec la " prose du  monde ", sans pour cela parler de sujets (il n'y a pas de sujets).

And this horizon, this idea, as free and broad as they are, calls forth a politics (thus a critique) of literature. Without prejudice to this emergent politic, to speak of literature in terms of prose must allow us (once again, beginning now, in the meanwhile) to evoke working, projects of complex, precarious writing, without consequently relying on stylistic categories; and, to evoke a means, the thousands of means that books have in putting themselves at the level of the “prose of the world,” without consequently speaking of subjects (there is no subject). 

Face à la prose réelle, la poésie paraît  plutôt se donner pour tâche de prélever : où  couper ? Et le roman, plutôt de tout prendre : comme faire  consister ? Ni l'un ni l'autre, ni quelqu'une des techniques mixtes  du moment ne trouve plus dans la prose ce chemin en ligne droite  - prosa oratio - vers le monde, ou quelque nom qu'on veuille  donner aux circonstances, à l'élément où  l'on se noie. Elle gît dans les méandres de la syntaxe et la violence des coupes, rusée, brute ; tous les coups  sont permis excepté ceux déjà joués. 

Confronted with real prose, poetry seems rather to take on the task of sampling: where to cut? And the novel, rather to take it all : how to make it consist (cohere)? Neither one nor the other, nor any of the mixed techniques of the moment finds any better in prose this straight line path—prosa oratio—into the world, or whatever name we want to give to circumstances, to the element in which we drown.  It groans in the wanderings of syntax and the violence of line breaks, cunning, brutal: all moves are permitted except those already played.

Ces remarques sont banales. Attendre qu'il y ait du nouveau, du travail, c'est la moindre des choses.

These remarks are banal. To await the new, the work, that's the least of matters.

Seulement, en cette époque de regrattage,  il se trouve beaucoup d'écrivains pour éluder et la  difficulté d'écrire et la demande impérieuse,  assez peu claire (d'autant moins qu'il est partout excellemment  " représenté ") du monde. Cela fait une littérature de complaisance dont beaucoup de critiques, éludant la difficulté de lire, délivrent le certificat. De sorte qu'il faut tamiser des tonnes de récits, de dialogues, de vers pour recueillir une once de prose. Quoi de plus accessible, pourtant, de plus modique ? La prose n'est qu'une rumeur à quoi sait assez répondre une humeur, non pas grave, mais basse comme elle.

Only, in this era of refurbishing the façades of edifices, one finds many writers to elude the difficulty of writing and the imperious demand, rather unclear (no less so because it is everywhere excellently “represented”), of the world. This leads to a literature of complacency, which many critics, eluding the difficulty of reading, deign certify. Thus must one sift through tons of stories, dialogues, and lines of poetry to gather but a single ounce of prose. What, however, could be more accessible, more modest? Prose is but a rumor to which a sense of humor well enough knows reply, not a serious one, but one similarly low.

																	—Translation Jean-Jacques Poucel


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