‘Où vont les chiens ? ’, ‘Where do the dogs go?’,1 this question is posed by Baudelaire in the last ‘prose’ poem (in Spleen de Paris) in order to evoke a kind of literature that would correspond with urban, modern life – a kind of poetry which is adapted to those ‘sinuous ravines’ of the cities where the ‘poor’ roaming dogs are, the famished dogs. This question is also relevant to poetry: ‘where does poetry go?’, ‘where do the poets go?’.
This question has troubled me for far too many years, and this is the reason why I cannot separate my poetic endeavours from a critical reflection on these. This critical reflection constitutes both the context and condition for my poetry (which for me constitutes the conditions of legibility).
It is in this spirit (of active questioning) that I recently published a book titled Sorties (Exits) which forms the third part of a project (begun more than twenty years ago), with which I intend:
- To comment on a number of choices and tropisms concerning the part of literature called poetry – in sum why, for instance, I prefer this or that literary movement/praxis rather than another one: why this and not that Baudelaire, why les Petits Poèmes en Prose and not Les Fleurs du Mal; or Rimbaud and not Verlaine; Francis Ponge instead of René Char, or Saint John Perse, or André Breton; Denis Roche rather than Yves Bonnefoy or Philippe Jaccottet, and so forth.
- To emphasise the contours of a space more or less defined by practical notions (methodological tools) which progressively emerge during contemplation or reflection (literalism, realness (réelisme), prose in prose, a post-poetic praxis…). Rather than having fixed definitions, these terms are continuously being tested in concrete analyses of texts.
Though elusive, these terms are consistent throughout my critical work, always susceptible to further modifications.
To describe the contours of this space is to find ways which enables one to intervene in this field and to situate this intervention. Not only to describe and demonstrate a fact, but, if it is possible, to modify the map of the landscape (through literature, but also through publications and joint collections, through magazines, and in teaching…).
I have mentioned the fact that Sortie is the third part of a larger project. Thus, two previous attempts exist.
The first book was titled Poésie et figuration, and was published in 1983 at the publishing company Seuil in the collection ‘Pierres Vives’ (which does not exist today, but which in my opinion had much power at that time because this was where the Essais critiques of Roland Barthes were published). Through a number of actual analyses from romanticism up to contemporary modernity, this critical essay endeavours to demonstrate the process of de-figuration, of progressive de-representation at work in the poetic text which makes it increasingly illegible, or legible in a different way. The purpose of this venture also was to draw attention to two different positions: 1.) the inventor of modern lyricism, the founder of a modern poetic language, profoundly de-conventionalised in his Méditations from 1820, Lamartine, and 2.) the ‘frantic’ poet or anti-poet, author of Mécrit (1972, the ‘Tel Quel’ collection at Seuil), Denis Roche, who with this ultimate work proclaimed the death of his own poetry and poetry as such (‘poetry is inadmissible; besides it does not exist’2 or that it no longer makes any sense or has any legitimacy).
The second book, titled A noir and with the subtitle ‘Poésie et littéralité’ (from 1992 and published at the same company, but this time in the collection ‘Fiction & Cie’, founded and directed by exactly the aforementioned poet Denis Roche) was much more free in its formal aspects and corresponds with the development of my conception of literary criticism: the word ‘fiction’ in the collection’s title may be understood in a broad way, as it exceeds the genre of the novel. Concerning ‘& Cie’ this term opened the doors to much theoretical ado in various ways, which was if not downright perverse, then at least polymorphous. A Noir is hence a book which I regard as an indirect manifesto (a manifesto for the literal literature, for a prose conversion) which intermingles texts of criticism, panorama texts, poetic, metapoetic, autobiographic and polemical texts without masking the heterogeneity of the work…
Sorties, the last part of the triptych picture, definitely emphasises and tightens the characteristics of A Noir. It is a book containing fifty texts, which may be regarded as different contributions to the understanding of contemporary poetry. They are both interior and exterior to the academic institution, and they often explicitly stress the context of the enunciation. They progress step by step dialectically through deliberate repetitions (foregrounding certain key texts through reformulations and re-descriptions, juxtaposing them with exemplary theoretical models, like for instance ‘La Mounine’ by Ponge in la Rage de l’expression or in the beginning of ‘Aprés le déluge’ in Illuminations by Rimbaud), which because they are not written at the same time produces a permanent montage – montage and re-montage. Therefore it is a matter of different versions, readjustments and possible contradictions of the same texts and themes; an approach that should be regarded as a continuing movement (cf. the fourth volume, where it says: ‘I don’t understand, still not: I continue’).