French contemporary poetry and ways of worldmaking

In this post, Jeff Barda explains the topic of his research, and how he makes use of the UL’s collections. Jeff is undertaking a PhD on French contemporary poetry at Trinity College (Cambridge) under the supervision of Dr Jean Khalfa. He has taught at the Charles University of Prague and at King’s College London. 

Two recently acquired works on lettrism: Lemaître : une vie lettriste / par Frédéric Acquaviva (2014.10.1191); and De l'impressionnisme au lettrisme / par Isidore Isou (2014.13.6)

Two recently acquired works on lettrism: Lemaître : une vie lettriste / par Frédéric Acquaviva (2014.10.1191); and De l’impressionnisme au lettrisme / par Isidore Isou (2014.13.6)

The idea that a collection of junk, debris, detritus or waste could generate new representations, filiations, forms and meanings has become a significant and patent feature of a great number of poetic practices of the 20th century in France that work with or from pre-existing materials. From the Dadaist’s unaltered everyday objects to Debord’s détournement, through Breton’s ‘objets trouvés sur le vif’, Bataille’s violent and primal pictures to Isou’s holistic Lettrism, the use of documents has become, in many ways, a means of both generating the novel while broadening the scope to new perceptions, visions and forms of knowledge.

Yet from the early 1970s a set of poetic practices whose directions and upheavals continue to prompt and inflect, ramifies in a variety of contexts and media. Marjorie Perloff and Kenneth Goldsmith have proposed a detailed mapping of the new conditions of writing: Perloff’s conceit of ‘unoriginal genius’ have provided an extensive illustration of how poets, with the impetus of technology and Internet, reject Romantic premises, in favour of immanentist practices that include collage, montage, reappropriation or installation. For Goldsmith, who has recently identified a new paradigm, ‘uncreative writing’, ‘the world is full of texts, more or less interesting and [he] do[es] not wish to add any more’ and suggests that today ‘the problem is not needing to write more; instead we must learn to negotiate the vast quantity that exists’. Yet for Jean-Marie Gleize, poetry must continue by other means and he appends ‘ce qui est pertinent aujourd’hui c’est la question de savoir si l’on tient à faire oeuvre de poésie, de poète, ou si l’on a d’autres projets’. These other projects which Gleize calls ‘postpoésie’, eschew traditional models of postures, which he calls ‘lapoésie’ epitomized by the totemic and ontological poetry of Bonnefoy; ‘repoésie’ of which conception Maulploix’s critical lyricism is so far the best example; or ‘néopoésie’ which implies a conception of poetry combining traditional and new literary enterprise such as Roubaud’s. My dissertation aims to unravel how post poetry – a conception that rejects lyricism and formalism, and favours contextual displacement, code shifting, redeployment of texts and repurposing via linguistics pragmatics as key operations principles – can help us to develop reflective capacities (cognitive awareness)  that (re)shape in turn our forms of life and ways of world making.

I am grateful to Cambridge University Library for providing support for my research. I do hope that the books I ordered will pave a way for scholars or anyone interested in 21st century forms or writing, not just those assumed to be ‘poetic’.

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