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Things in Recent French Literature

Author(s): J. Robert Loy
Source: PMLA, Vol. 71, No. 1 (Mar., 1956), pp. 27-41
Published by: Modern Language Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/460189
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in the way of formation or occasion for reaction to the two types mentioned. 27 This content downloaded from 109.) does not properly forthe motivationof such writing. toward an eventually sterile period of realistic despair. on the other. There would seem to be.63.Mimesis (Princeton.134 on Tue. however. those growing and living plants and animals not endowed with a rational mind and the faculty of speech. or descriptive. or the long studies of things which are.THINGS IN RECENT FRENCH By J. We are.121. thanks to a comfortable anthropocentrism. if any. Examples to prove their point are not lacking. Thus. lie in the fantasyof animalsplayingmen.its charmand attraction. un regard qui t'epie A la matiere meme un verbe est attache?Nerval 0 ressources infiniesde Pepaisseur des choses rendues par les ressources infiniesde l'epaisseur semantique des mots!?Ponge THE SECOND world war. fall underobject-literature. and in order to avoid painful jargon. so important a part of Proust's world. in another way.2 To the exclusion of persons and ideas. pp. xxxi (1955).etc. let it be clear that this use of the word Things does not include the usual background. on the one hand. the crude stone as well as the objet d'art. 2 "La Pens6e circulairede Flaubert" in NNRF. Robert LITERATURE Loy Crains dans le mur aveugle. falls not at all into such categories. 1 Thus. 30-52. although owing something. worlds away from the special objectivesubjective vision of Flaubert which Georges Poulet calls his pensee circulaire. 12 May 2015 23:38:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . The Things would include all that is inanimate matter.1 At the outset. and.1953). the inanimate object becomes the literary subject.medievalfabliaux. the ideas and the emotions that form the descriptive background. therealmofanimalliterature(Colette. it is the persons. or with the documentary display of wares in the Naturalists (Zola's meats and vegetables in Le Ventre de Paris). if and when it exists. as well as Poulet's pointof departurein ErichAuerbach. 482-491. as well as. For lack of a better name. toward an intensification of difficult writing characterized by a kind of supreme indifference to audience on the part of the creator. journalistic critics and generalizing SINCE cultural pundits have been pointing out to us that serious French literature is headed. perhaps. this literature might best be called a literature of Things. we are not concerned here with the historical and descriptive backdrop of the Romantics (Hugo's sewers in Les Miserables). metaphysically and stylistically. or secondary use of things so common in the novel from the beginning of the nineteenth century. at least one other trend in recent French writing which. natural or man-made.

The Impressionists. pp. tentatively. over-refined and elliptical world of the mind where Things existed. Valery's concern with Monsieur Teste and the processes of intellectual effort is not immediately involved with the shape. Those closest to Things from symbolism to surrealism were also those most concerned with style and expression.134 on Tue. makes 8 Rene*Crevel. the hermetic quality of symbolic expression prevented them from calling a spade a spade.63. delighting in the obfuscation of ideas and forms. but only oneirocritically and hazily. the for a moment to be the Symbolists?seem Cubists. the flower "absente de tous bouquets" is not that peculiarly organized collection of matter which one can pluck. Mallarme wilfully laboring after the difHcult. rather than from the intellect down. exceedingly distrustful of words. plastic picture of beauty. was not a friend of Things. It must be seen from the start that French literature in the past century has spoken little of Things per se. they must still look and sound and feel like the material objects they are when communication between writer and reader is first made. roughly speaking. and to suggest that the Things themselves have either directly or indirectly influenced the means of expression. proposes to review.28 "Things" in Recent French Literature This study.however. then. surrealism failed in its incapability to communicate from things up. Sensing the importance of objects. one does not make a revolution against Things. The Symbolists. This kind of Thing. were interested in what lay behind the Thing and came close to rehabilitating it. what seems to be one of the more important recent literary manifestations. But surrealism was a revolution and primarily an intellectual revolution. They have name and substance and extension. and texture of objects. The giants like Mallarme and Valery are equally far from the Thing as object. yet too much in revolt against traditional com? munication. See particularlythe conclusionsof Le Clavecinde Diderot(Paris: EditionsSurr&distes.comes many times in his general veryclose to object-writing and repeatedplea fora returnto the world as it is. This content downloaded from 109. And although they possess secondary symbolic and oneiric attributes. substance. For the Things which interest us here are of solid matter.3 Searching for a new and more honest mode of communication in which the Thing was to play a major role. the subtlety. 12 May 2015 23:38:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . to be sure. 62-63. but they were less interested in the things themselves than in the static effect of the work conjured up by them. they ended by retreating into a difHcult. handle and admire.121. But their very insistence on the suggestiveness. The Romantics were too fond of their own emotional status to consider the inanimate object save in a very secondary manner as the repository for or catalyst of their own feelings. far removed from the world of matter. The Parnassians used Things as a means toward achieving a cold. almost by definition. the Surrealists?like on the track of Things. 128-129.1932).

tout a. out of the crisis of meaning in letters and out of the realm of absurdity and despair in philosophy. that existentialist literary primer. This content downloaded from 109. In the literature at the center of this discussion. center.134 on Tue. je n'en avais pas besoin: je pensais sans mots. most certainly not rare in literature. Other similar scenes from Sartre's 1La Nausee (Paris: Gallimard. or the reason for the attraction they hold for writers. . au jardin. All of them have lived through the confusion common to the twentieth century. In the first group. Robert Loy 29 its most recent appearance in French literature after 1930. They come now to Things in varying degrees of directness and immediacy. the latter problem has become secondary to the first in point of logical process if not in point of importance. l'heure. suffices as an example of the role played by things in Sartre: "La racine du maronnier s'enfoncait dans la terre. with a noticeable concentration of frequency and clarity following the second world war. In considering the philosophic implication of Things."4 It can be said that the gnarled root is no more than a symbol. les faibles reperes que les hommes ont traces a leur surface. and yet it is also a Thing and essentially a Thing. indeed. These two kinds of writers might most rapidly be summed up as those who use Things as a prerequisite to more primary concerns./.63. A discussion of this new direction falls naturally into two broad compartments: the meaning behind Things. juste au-dessous de mon banc. and those for whom the Thing is the primary concern. 161-163. One can as yet speak of no movement. . Les mots s'etaient evanouis et avec eux. . la signification des choses. the accompanying changes in means of literary communication in a literature surfeited with words and basically distrustful of them. Sartre and Camus suggest them? selves immediately. and the moral and philosophic readjustment in France after the second war. avec les choses. at the threshold of surrealism. to be sure. je ne l'ai pas trouve. mais je ne le cherchais pas non plus. Le mot d'absurdite nait a present sous ma plume. It is our conviction that they come to them as a new point of departure for both literature and general world outlook. and final achievement of their writing. Symbol it is. The unforgettable passage in La Nausee. leurs modes d'emploi. the individual treatment given by each artist to his stock of Things seems to preclude the possibility of a movement. two very different climates of thought and feeling are to be distinguished. a change of attitudes toward verbal ex? pression is slowly growing out of a change in general philosophic view- point. motivation. sur les choses.121.1938). Je ne me rappelais plus que c'etait une racine. Some of the writers were formerly surrealists as seems natural when one considers that Apollinaire. 12 May 2015 23:38:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . pp. had on occasion written of such material objects.

but that this ab? surdity should be represented primarily by Things is not so clear. This solution the early Greeks understood well. reason. For Malraux. culture. His richness of invention is immediately an indication of his basic direction. From this confrontation with Things. nor yet to project what he would do with such a state of affairs. or uncooperative?as Nor does Michaux accept Things?cooperative his central theme. perhaps. he invents Things which become 6 Cf. Camus and the existentialists do not continue as far. and menace. and social organization?in was in no alien when he chose material Camus way annexing objects. For Camus.121." This content downloaded from 109. And except for a basic difference in conclusions. Malraux seems little interested in the problem of words. the absurdity leads to "engagement" with little insistence on the secondary problem of literary expression. however.30 "Things" in Recent French Literature later novels in the Chemins de la liberte series could be found. Since words no longer suffice to suggest his immense disgust with the state of the world. For Sartre. this time the object created and impressed with man's will. one might cite the interfering mosquito net at the beginning of La Condition humaine and the line of trees in Malraux' Noyers de VAUenburg. For Sartre.5 The physical universe is adamant. The easiest way out of a bad situation is. and thus at least save one's human dignity. The sun and microbe provide the same sort of basis for the realization of absurdity in Camus. The basic frustration is the same as that involved in the classic humorous example of the runaway collar button. as writers of the second group whose interest in Things is essential. in a less conclusive way. Ernst Cassirer. In his predilection for the plastic arts. There seems to be equally an inherent distrust with particulars of human nature.An Essay on Man (New York: Doubleday). to install into the Thing a personality and superior design of its own.forthe mythic characterof things. these crucial encounters with objects spell out the basic absurdity of all that such existence suggests in the way of human existence?with a universe of inanimate logic. 103. the Sisyphus myth with its perverse rock as the title for his philosophic essay. Nevertheless. and. and nothing is to be gained by human reasoning.134 on Tue. from a point of view of literature. one comes closer to the development: Things-absurdity-experiment in expression. p. 12 May 2015 23:38:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . Camus. the same absurdity has led along several trails to his present if the basic frustration of the Thing's impact on concern with Art?as human nature could lead finally only back to the Thing.63. cajolery. Things can be notoriously unsympathetic to anthropomorphic design. That Michaux is struck with the absurdity of existence there can be little doubt. In the poetry of Henri Michaux. the absurd diverts us from primary literary considerations to the realm of social ideas. his attempt at conveying his own sort of nausea fits into this survey.They have lost their"objectiveor or what he calls the physiognomic cosmological"value but not their"anthropologicalvalue. Malraux.

8 Despite the reservationsof GeorgesBataille. at the end of the third canto after an enumeration of mineral elements. would seem to indicate only a direction toward the Thing. he concludes: "Le poeme jaillit d'un coin de cette terre."6 But Michaux. "De l'age de pierrea Jacques PreVert.7 However bitter the Cosmogonie about man's role in existence. p. "j'ecris hommes. when.121. sont de la litterature-type de l'apres revolution. as it were. "Ayant conscience de mon inmoins en moins et tres peu des autres de justice." says Michaux. There are clearlymany textsof thesepoets whichdo not lend themselvesto our analysis. 195-214. Ponge very simply and forthrightly describes inanimate objects. 6 Passages (Paris: Gallimard. The very title of his most widely read collection tells much?Le Parti pris des Choses.1948).xlix (1951). is Francis Ponge. But "revenons a nos moutons. he is no less aware of the crisis of communication and words than Paulhan: Bien entendu le monde est absurde! Bien entendu. aussi bien qu'il est de nature de l'homme d' elever la voix au milieu de la foule des choses silencieuses. "Et puis donc." says Jean Rostand). 9 Protmes(Paris: Gallimard. In one work he comes close to combining an intoxication with Things and a special mode of expression." one can see in Queneau a potential movement toward the kind of writing under discussion." The clearest example. It is his Petite Cosmogonie portative. Prevert. however. at once. Heureusement. far from the cold description of Things to be seen later." In the Parti pris collection of 1942 (and most of the poems were written before. Supervielle. . or words which become Things.however.8 and Rene Crevel (and perhaps others) would eventually merit mention in any exhaustive analysis of writers who show tendencies rather than clear steps in the new direction. Si les cailloux et la nature m'entendaient.iii-iv (1946). je n'oserais plus parler." Critique."9 The world itself is no less absurd for Ponge than for Camus. however frequent the strong expressions. distrust and nostalgia for such direct inspiration. This content downloaded from 109. His predilection for experimental styles and expression are. There is such an incipient direction in Raymond Queneau. ils n'en savent rien et je n'ai pas a en tenir compte.I am convinced. the most cogent apologist. les Sapates. 208.J. "Le parti pris des choses."Critique. as in the text quoted above. starting in 1928).63. is not honest with the material world as it exists and. 30. la non-significationdu monde! Mais qu'y a-t-il la de tragique? J'6terai volontiers a Tabsurde son coefficientde tragique. 489.thatis whyI speak of tendency. 130. by the very inventiveness of his word-things. pp. . that the poets are basicallyintentupon communicating and that theytrustlanguageas a medium. Robert Loy 31 words. 12 May 2015 23:38:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . 7 "Raymond Queneau et la Cosmogonie. a kind of modern De Rerum Natura ("ou Lucrece voisine avec Jarry. qu'il le fasse du moins parfois a leur propos. with. 1950).134 on Tue. .

tu les armeras de quelques nouveaux proverbes ou lieux communs: voila toute mon ambition" (p."The introductory essay gives a clear indicationof the sympathyof Ponge. this descriptive catalogue pretends to be no learned work. Hence a literature of rain. It pretends only to "talk about" the inanimate object since so much talk of the intellectual and human process would seem to have brought us to a blank wall: "Eh bien! Pierre.63.?del'exprimera exprimerauthentiquement traversune matieretraiteesans vergogne. of seizing their material being in words.. flre. the painterof them.121. . for such process could only lead eventually to literary sterility. his descriptive songs of the is not necessarily any meaning in the Things. But there is a difference. Things constitute a vital sounding-board for the poetry of Guillevic. bread. meat. thus. tu leur fourniras pour leurs discussions entre eux ou avec eux-memes bien d'autres arguments. 12 May 2015 23:38:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . One thinks also of the medieval lapidary and bestiary and with some justiflcation. le reconciliateur. 166) his predilection for Things. 1947) whichhe calls "Braque. there is the There pebble. je ne te juge pas si rapidement. si j'ai assez de talent." This content downloaded from 109. in short. for a new literature in a world whose absurdity has been pointed out with such frequency. the object is not end in itself. . "Si j'ai choisi de possibility la de coccinelle c'est par degout des idees. for Ponge.Non pour troubler.10 Yet there is a difference. poussiere.J'ai dit que la seule facon de nous ?tait de nous enfoncerdans notrediff?rence. et tu serviras des lors aux hommes a bien d'autres expressions.mais pour rassurer. meme. and Hence. celui de l'impossibilite pour rhomme non seulement de s'exprimer mais d'exprimer n'importe quoi. sometimes their collage of disparate objects only "used" the objects to point up the disjointedness of existence. and with good reason where Braque is concerned.32 "Things" in Recent French Literature .non a partirde nous-memesmais a partirdu monde?et donc des objets les plus familiers. and for new forms of expression (new proverbs and new commonplaces). orange-crates. Skira. water. yet one senses in this indignant crusader for a more human society that pression" 10It was Ponge who wrotethe introduction fora folioof Braque reproductions(Paris: A.forBraque. celui [the theme] de Tinndelite des moyens d'expression. C'est parce qu'elles parler ne me viennent pas a bonheur. mais a malheur" (p. Thus. galet. 146). "J'ai dit que la seule raisonet justificationde Part ?tait une imperieusenecessite d'expression. stones. All of the Cubists were not essentially interested in Things. 171). . 146.134 on Tue. . And yet the object is the starting place: for new thinking (disgust with traditional ideas). car je desire te juger a ta valeur: et tu me serviras. no encyclopedia of knowledge. "Oui. 142). le parti pris nait a Pextremite d'une philosophie de la non-signification du monde (et de l'inndelite des moyens d'ex? (p... occasion de sentiments si communs quoique si contradictoires. One thinks immediately of the Cubists. . writerof things. cigarettes. (pp.

In "Veillee" a cascading series of objects. un milieuet une fin. Yet in the same collection. tant qu'il y en a. writes in a style. seems precisely a need to talk. and Edith Kern. Things are not entirely absent from recent prose writing.xlviii (1951). then the measure of his blindness.avec un commencement.63." YFS. the real world of man's hope.Beckett. il faut les dire jusqu'a ce qu'ils me trouvent. Nonetheless. 41: "It is not man's relationshipto theworldofthingsthatcountsforBeckett. the family-style restaurant. He ends the last novel {VInnommable) saying: "II faut dire des mots. Indeed. This suspicion is borne out by many passages of Malone meuri and VInnommable. The whole motivation for Beckett's writing. the theatrical stagnancy of En attendant Godot where objects assume such importance have no more immediate explanation. c'est vous qui menez" gives ample proof that Guillevic has.121. and to talk about Things. The Irish writer in French. "Drama Strippedfor Inaction." the "Mais toi tu savais / T'apdes choses" clear indication that Ponge's direction Thingprocher gives Man has become here Man-thing. in "Le Maitre" the solitary presence of a pine tree serve to spell out. xrv (1955). which shows none of the optimism of a Ponge. one suspects that the author is condemned to talk of Things./. But the long episode of the "pebbles to suck on" which troubles Molloy for several pages is such a pointed example that the reader wonders if Molloy is sensitive to anything except inanimate things in his strange world. is rarely more than an automaton passing noiselessly through the Paris railroad station."ce que savent les mots et les choses mortes.11 There is strong suggestion of similar direction in two other prose writers. nonetheless. and creates an atmosphere of indifference.commedans les phrasesbien batieset dans la longuesonatedes cadavres. The complete absence of human action and motivation." This content downloaded from 109. Their importance throughout Molloy is striking. first. Armand. the Monoprix stores.134 on Tue. in "Tyrannie." And until the words find the me. Samuel Beckett. existence for him is somewhat like the garishly lit counters of the Monoprix where he can quietly observe a multitude of 11"J'en Sais. in Les Premiers Jours. 387-396. The protagonists of Jean Cayrol (Je vivrai Vamour des autres)? particularly in the first two volumes of the three-volume novel?seem somehow to exist only among the objects they see. 12 May 2015 23:38:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions ." says Beckettin Molloy. Although poetry has seemed to yield the richest example in Ponge. and that the secondary step of humanism as seen by Ponge already preconditions the poet's vision of the external thing.see GeorgesBataille. "Le Silence de Molloy.et ca faitune jolie petitesomme. Robert Loy 33 the object begins by being an excuse for talking of men." For different explanationsof the phenomenon. which lean heavily on objects." Critique. understood the message of Things. The stark object painting in "Taureau" and particularly in the glass-jug-and-paper of "Filets"?"Oui. there are striking passages of word still-life.

That visual observation presupposes and encourages no secondary approach: the texture. however.121. the Things come to life under his detached eye and seem to possess the only real existence in the work. and awaiting the moment when they become objects?cold." NNRF. classic description was a prospect of the unchanging Thing. he concentrates upon objects for stylistic and psychological reasons almost wholly within the human realm.What Micha is discussingis not object-literature. passed through his forest of symbols."15 Just so Barthes is right in saying of Robbe-Grillet's own objects that they are there. xxxi (1955). 12 May 2015 23:38:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . he passes through a forest of objects in quite different fashion and with completely much as Baudelaire. "Une nouvelle LittSratureall6gorique.13 the very description of the objects is the life of the literature. it can best be described as visual. If the 12Les Gommes(Paris: Editions de Minuit. JulienGracq. 614H523. I think)as writersinfluencedby the "open universe" of Kafka and absurdity(therefore somewhatlike the writersdiscussedhere) who identifythemselveswith the objects of theirnovels by way of allegory. Robbe-Grillet's description becomes a project of seizing the object in its changing state. as he finishes Les Gommes. an allegory. c'est d'etre la." NNRF. Beckett?and wronglyso. and so it can be said of Ponge and Beckett that the author has only stated that his objects "are there" and are not something else or the explanation of something else. 105112. Critiquey 14See the perceptivearticleof Rene"Micha.14 RobbeGrillet remarked about Beckett's play En attendant Godot. the mood. 581-591. xvi (1954).is Le Voyeur(Paris: Editionsde Minuit. The mute objects. in varying degree. the interpretation of the observer is never known. "Trois Visions reflechies"). than he is of the people involved. characterize a part of modern French writing. or hiding behind something else. xvi (1954). his toothpaste and his knife. and others(e.12 He limits even more stringently than Ponge his literary world. Unlike Ponge. says Barthes.reviewedin NNRF. Whereas. the touch of the object is unimportant and unreliable. pointed up an interest in Things and a mistrust of literary expression which. This rapid survey of recent French literature has. This content downloaded from 109. a symbol. 1953).1955). opposed metaphysic. The reader is more certain of the objective description. 696-706. Cayrol suggests that the human being is far from the motivating force of his life.g. As Roland Barthes points out in a study of Robbe-Grillet. will perhaps never become.Robbe-Grillet'slatest work. it is hoped. using the words of Heidegger: "La condition de l'homme.Noel Devaulx.63.. The most recent prose writer is Alain Robbe-Grillet (Les Gommes. 13In lxxxvi-lxxxvii (1954). "Trois Visions r6fl6chies. Yet it is more than a little difncult to reconcile his shadowy persons with the crystal-clear Things.34 "Things" in Recent French Literature detached.134 on Tue.wherehe groupsRene*Daumal. 18Cited in articleby Barthes. Thus with Robbe-Grillet there is a reaffirmation of the point made above?the Thing or object of this new literature has not yet become.by Maurice Blanchot. Critique.lxxxvi-lxxxvii (1954).

and for the past two centuries it has become increasingly important to distinguish among them. Robert Loy 35 objects seemed secondary and acted only as philosophic catalysts in Sartre and Camus.121... with this difference: the wealth of myth remains and constitutes a twin process of investigation along with rational or objective denomination of Things.ne me paralt avoir ?t? sSrieusement d&nenti. the only alternative would seem to be literary stagnation and philosophic nihilism. It is a renewal and reestimate of a timeless point of view./.la Matiereest Tuniqueprovidencede Pesprit. If it yields nothing startling. far from being isolated cases.16 But there are materialisms and materialisms. the Epicurean or Lucretian17 variety which played an important role in European thought of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. be hidden behind and suggested by this return to Things. Much more than objects may."Texte surl'61ectricit6" in NNRFt xxxi (1955). for some writers. they have reached their fullest expression in the writers last discussed. of course. a return to the human solution and alleviation.Ponge. One looks for some explanation as to why and how they have invaded literary thinking. mon Grceth. The new direction is a humanist counterpart of empiricism in the natural sciences. however disastrous for poetry The such a conclusion might at first appear. simply matter.134 on Tue.Ponge at the conclusionof his shortpamphletNotehdtive d la gloirede Groethuysen (Lyon: Les EcrivainsrSunis.mais au contraireplutdt confirmeV^ This content downloaded from 109.si comme je le pense. Our writers start again from the fact of material stufl in the world. of the basic absurdity of sphere and proposals of shows that the absurdity the adamant object served for the realization existence. its relation to man..63. and most particularly in Ponge. indicate a peculiar contemporary state of mind. the anterior step to 16Cf. There is no conviction. The kind of materialism involved is. It is the basic hypothesis of this study that these instances. if they seemed fragmentary or tendentious in some of the writers discussed. Things analysis are matter. but thus far one is still very much in the realm of the material. Ponge very clearly is a foregone conclusion. What these authors are talking about is a Ding an sich without the spiritual overtones of a Rilke. "Et puis je relisLucrece et je me dis qu'on n'a jamais rien6critde plus beau. and somehow hope to detach conclusions other than those current at present. most men would agree. it must nevertheless be seen as a serious experiment to which. 14. it would seem. que riende ce qu'il a avancS. For Sartre and Camus. 12 May 2015 23:38:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . explanatory hypothesis which arises from the very physical of objects is at once the most immediate and satisfactory." 17Cf. and. One must then suppose that such object orientation in literature represents a basically materialistic conception of the universe. From there.1951): "Mais c'est bien a partird'ici. dans aucun ordre. no credo involved.

For in objects lies precisely the potential clue to existence?material at first. wouldfindfaultwiththeuse ofthewordas wellas withthesubsequentdiscussionofpassing fromdenominationof thingsto comprehension of man.se promene dans un monded'objets habite* par des hommes-objets"(SituationsIII. La Terre et les r&oeries de la volonU. It hopefully assigns to itself the rea very physical and objective19 way?with communion of man?in the him." he says in "Notes premieres de Thomme.ballotte* par les ressacsde l'universphysique. For an excellentpresentationof Ponge as seen by Sartre. humanist: "C'est a un homme simple que nous tendons. which surround It suffices to talk: "II faut le siThings parler: lence . 11..despite his study of Ponge (UBomme et les Choses.36 uThings" in Recent French Literature longer to prove a certain status but rather to returning to Things?no solicit clarification and improvement of the status.p."18 Ponge's long-range aim is. Bachelard suggestsequally egocentricpoetryand object-poetry. human eventually?which Ponge hopes to uncover. 254-261. His experiment is another attempt at a tabula rasa.1947).63.see RobertChampigny.qui tant6tsignifie la valeur absolue d'un regarddSpouille"des faiblessessubjectives. but this time an humble attempt which does not pretend to explain the all in an all-embracing structure.Paris: Seghers. The world is absurd. grace a son epaisseur semantique. 20Protmes.1948). dictionnaire phenomenologique.121.La Terreetlesrdveries du repos(Paris: Corti.dependingupon themeaninggivento "connaissance.il se faitregardobjectifet prStendcontemplerla naturetelle qu'elle est absolument.II y a un la qualite"passivede l'objet regarde" et tant6t jeu de motsurPobjectivit6. a tous les sens du mot refaire. au lieu de se voir chose parmiles choses. as he makes clear in an attack on la subjectivite* materialistmethod.Ainsi le matSrialiste.p. Bachelard's studies are extremelyilluminatingon the whole problemof In thetextquoted. et s'Stantassimile* a la pure vSrite* ayant d6pass6toute subjectivite* objective. says Ponge.and La Psychanalysedu jeu.p. The valuable and unique studiesofBachelardincludeUAir etles songes. est ce qu'il y a de plus dangereux au monde.p. 1949. 21GastonBachelard.UEau etles r&ves." object-literature. Althoughwrittenfroma special point of view. cosmogonie) permet de jouer le grand jeu. 12 May 2015 23:38:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions ."21 There is no need for the poet to feel inferior in the face of the world."Mais une foisqu'il a supprime' au profitde l'objet. As Gaston Bachelard puts it: "Toute connaissance de l'intimite des choses est immediatement un poeme."20 One human attribute follows the poet from the beginning of his descriptive experi? ment?the word. 141).134 on Tue. grace au caractere a la fois concret et abstrait. interieur et exterieur du Verbe. de refaire le monde. Paris: Gallimard. 19Sartre. for it is in 18Protmes.FR. 162. "Seule la litterature (et seule dans la litterature celle de description?par opposition a celle d'explication?: parti pris des choses. therefore Things are." But that humanism is more remote for Ponge than for Sartre. Thus it is Ponge who most clearly sketches the potential of the object in relation to man. 180. and the progression toward it must be made in the close company of Things. of course. This content downloaded from 109.. xxv (1952). and are important and vital to men.

/.121." says Ponge. It seems clear that Paulhan is encouraging an end to verbal distrust and endless discussions about commonplaces. For since the arwas true of the symtist's basic problem is one of communication?as bolists and surrealists in their struggle with words and signs. to put a limit to the silent and hermetic. . dans notre matiere: les sons significatifs. dans le sens qu'admet le savant. . Mais je ne vais pas en resterla .. A Demain la poesie)y despite his occasional propensity toward errantry and an overworked epigrammatic style. Thus he will begin again to know the physical universe from which the poet springs and to reestablish the poet's tool of language as respectable and trustworthy in a literary world long in revolt against that tool."23 His. Le Decryptement. . "Texte sur l'&ectriciteV'p. Protmes." 25Ponge. . 481. Et peut-etre parce que tout le passe de la sensibilite et de la connaissance m'y semble inclus."22 grandes dependre Thus Ponge is not afraid of words. "c'est quand nous nous enfoncons. and until the poet regains his confidence and moves forward to human models)24 by conjuring them in words. parce que les mots. 15. 23Ponge. Robert Loy 37 his power "metalogiquement de le refaire [the world]. "Texte sur l'&ectriciteV'p. c'est l'Homme qui est le but (Homme enfindevenucentaure. nor basically distrustful of them: ". et faire Pobjet d'experiences verbales du m&me ordre que l'experience scientifique. II y aurait donc. and is not as tenuous as it might have seemed at first.a forcede se chevaucherlui-meme). 9. etre le plus fort?et celle aussi que le monde peut a bon droit etre considere par le poete comme reel. enigmatic "issue unique. in the context of all his poetry. nous aussi. fait bizarre. dans une certaine mesure. c'est la preuve que l'homme peut. so for the new materialism an immediate problem of expression or rhetoric imposes itself. parler contre les paroles" can only. ccvc (1949). 12 May 2015 23:38:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . interessent les poetes plus encore (c'est sensible) que les faiseurs de dictionnaires. 22Cahiersdu Sud. . 161: "J'ai choisialors le partiprisdes choses.25 It is Jean Paulhan (Les Fleurs de Tarbes.63. the meaning of meaning and the bankruptcy of organized literary expression..p." To which Jean in a review of Tortel. This content downloaded from 109. Ponge's collection Protmes adds a valuable comon both the mentary philosophic and the rhetorical aspects of Ponge's work: "Si la parole peut refaire le monde.134 on Tue. a l'interieur de Pceuvre de Ponge une tentative pour reunir en une?non pas pour faire deux methodes l'une de l'autre?les d'investigation. The direct connection of the metaphysical overtones of Things with literature and the realm of poetic creation and expression becomes clearer. who has best summed up in recent times the status of rhetoric from the critic's point of view. mean a poetic determination to use words in order to destroy their tyranny. 24Cf. to recreate Things (at first. at first.

see Protmes. cited in Ponge's UAraignee (Paris: Aubier.Thus.63.p. am quite aware. 27My CreativeMethod(a workof Ponge I have not seen).depuislongtemps. the individual at the center of the poetic creation. Surrealism has no other goal. Rimbaud.26 Again it is Ponge who furnishes corroboration that such is the inherent implication of a return to the material object as model and theme. it is essentially romantic if one sees..it seemsto me. continuing a remark quoted above: "C'est a un homme simple que nous tendons.and a style. For whatever name one assigns to all the poetry from Baudelaire forward. . the use of the word classic finds equal justification.pp.one mustnecessarilysuggest"moretendencies in one directionthanin another.misses the whole noveltyand interestof Ponge's experiment. Mallarme. . By classic. . Nouveau If one passes to considerations other than vocabulary and style. La forme meme du poeme est en quelque sorte determinee par son sujet. This content downloaded from 109. they all worked from the particular and idiosyncratic of the individual poet toward a more inclusive truth which assumed mystic and cosmic 26That the termbegs manya questionand is I capable ofarousingmuchdisagreement. ccvc. Indeed we have been nurtured so long on poetry as the expression?very personal and intimate?of the individual at grips with his own particular world."27 Tortel sees this clearly in the conclusion of his article of Proemes: "Comment . that the idea of calling upon the indifferent atoms?as Lucretius did?for the stuff of poetry seems strange and alien to us.1953) would disagreebecause "on ne peut pourtant pas parlerde classicismea proposd'une poesie qui s'eleve en un tempstragique. 29Protmes. in various ways.au milieu d'un mondeen ruines. 205. (Nous y revoila donc!)"28 Ponge himself says simply. "Rhetorique par objet (c'est a dire par poeme).134 on Tue. "II faut travaillera partirde la d&ouverte faite d'une nouvelle rh6torique). as one must. "Poemes en langue morte"in Esprit. 63-56: on Val6ry. 498-500.g. p. e." Garamponis himselfclose to Ponge. .. And yet."just as by "romantic"one does notnicelydelimita metaphysic. Blanc et classicisme.121. G. E. with rising above the trite and stagnant of the so-called world of reality.vide supra. myusage here approximatesthe scientificmannerof on a slidingscale. etrele lieu commundes pensSesou des sentiments d'une societecoherente. "F.Panoramacritiquede Rimdelineatingacidity-alkalinity baud au surrealisme(Paris: Seghers. 28Cahiersdu Sud. 30For Ponge on Mallarmg.x (1951)."Thus Clancier.g. in their own way. 12 May 2015 23:38:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . and Valery30 were all concerned. Clancier. Rimbaud is mentionedfrequently in Ponge's works."My Creative par Rimbaud et Lautr6amont(de la ngcessite* Method. ou la r&olutionhumaine. comme cristalisee. too intenton a purelysociologicalinterpretation of classic tendencies.38 "Things" in Recent French Literature What he (and in general the NNRF reflects similar interests) is underwriting is a return to what might be called classicism for lack of a better term. 163."29 simple.P. n'y pas voir [in Ponge's decision to talk against words] la definition. le defi classiques. 1952) in the introductionto the poem writtenby Georges Garampon. et qui doituserd'un langagequi ne peut plus. d'un eflort: l'art volonte.e. d'un art.a theme.

Clearly this new poet hopes eventually to arrive at some personal awareness of his cosmic position.however.detruireLamartine. Cf. The new understanding of the world remains. Through all this literature there is a pervading sense of loneliness. 12 May 2015 23:38:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions .1945). Ponge's poem. VAraignee. The poet. 208.32 The Things stand of themselves and by themselves.""L'ceuvre de FrancisPonge proceded'un principede sympathie. inanimate.134 on Tue. 587) of Robbe-Grilletapplies to thiswholediscussion:"En somme. 12. however. one studies objects in the hope that the result will be a poem.In the essay by GeorgesGarampon.35 31Thereis no suggestionhere. not as a beginning. one must find some other term. 32In this poem. or nature (as they called it) which was in essence historical human nature coaxed into the confines of a particular social organization. for he starts past human nature with objects. Protmes. had they managed to limit their "revolution" and step out of their Freudian selves. despite its overworked political conclusion.les opeYationsdescriptivesde Robbe-Grilletpeuvent se r6sumerainsi: detruireBaudelaire sous un recoursderisoirea Lamartine.J. 34What Roland Barthes says {Critique. are anti-Pascal. 145. and would have." Critique. Robert Loy 39 proportions.Garampon'sfinalwordforthe attemptPonge introductory makes to synthesizethe object and the poet is "sympathy. that matters little. cela va sans dire. See also the articleof GeorgesMounin.La PoSsie moderneet le sacrS (Paris: Gallimard. hoping that an initiated few readers could follow them eventually and complete the poetic communication. If it must eventually be called non-poetry. Here is where the object-literature differs vitally.121. whereas the classic writers had made a fetish of the second step. is a first step in this direction.1952). If the terminology is misleading. one does not write a poem voluntarily.et du meme coup. Ponge. p. a feeling of isolation not only from other men (which is not new) but from one's own personality." 86As Monnerot.33 The writer of Things is not classic in the generally accepted sense of the seventeenth century.that the Pascalian situationof the humanbeing has influencedthesewriters. and from the exterior world.lxxxvi-lxxxvii." 33Cf."L'Anti-Pascal. the artists are but eyes with words. There would be no new direction without romanticism.63.most of them.p. the reason for the literary work. Ponge is at once the spider and the poet describingthe spider. concentrating on the world of material objects at the start?even if this be simply an exercise in rhetoric?can from that outer.xxxvn (1949).like Ponge.La Rage de Vexpression (Lausanne: Mermod.34 there could be no return to objects without the surrealists who in many ways almost achieved this direction themselves.ou la poesieet les vacances?Francis Ponge.On the contrary. material docuprogress only mentation to humanity in general and finally to the individual himself.p. puts it: This content downloaded from 109. 493-500. Yet he is consciously or unconsciously in revolt against romanticism under all its changing cloaks. but this will come as an end result.31 Yet the writers have made little attempt at identification of the human poet with the object.

which.and as I understandit.p. a great risk if not indeed impossible. .althoughsharingperhaps some commonpoints of insistenceon materialismwith our discussionof Things." The surrealists.36 Iri speaking of Sartre. but they are conscious of the need for communication.de la grammaire. . 151.'apresunelongue et patientemStamorphosequi dans le poete ou l'artiste. the symbol.mustnot be confusedwiththe much-discussedriification. II ne s'agit plus d'annexer le reel a la poesie. in their "guerre search for the honest revolutionized literature. but he had been careful not to include syntax? elegance a la rhetorique.alors qu'une proprietetoute nggativele definit. The writer of objects?seemingly fearful of the jump from object to symbol?prefers for the moment to call a spade a spade. "II semble que les innommables. 169. 12 May 2015 23:38:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions . That communication seems to start with the naming of material objects. 39Reismis the termchosen Yvan Goll fora manifestoon by poetry. en ceuvred'art." 37La Terreetles reveries du repos."Surgie du Verbe seul. in Ponge."38 Hugo's It would be helpful to be able to attach some identifiable name to the direction.40 "Things" in Recent French Literature revolution had aimed chiefly at fixed forms and the empty of rhetoric.134 on Tue. D'avoir nomme un instant ventre ce qui etait banquette. cela a suffi pour faire sortir de Pinconscient des bouffees d'affectivite. at best. la po6sie restedans le domainede la rh6torique. speaking of new directions in poetry without mentioning the Things in that poetry.63. and a stone a stone."37 But the Sartre passage of which Bachelard speaks has already drawn on a secondary form of naming. Picon. p. c'est toujours le meme passage: celui du subjectif a Pobjectif. et paix a la syntaxe.transforme l'objet en Verbe.he seems veryclose to the kind of directiontowardsThings underdiscussion. is a much strongerand broader concept with psychologicaland political overtones. 38Panoramade la nouvelle UtUrature franqaise(Paris: Le Point du jour. . at least capable of communication and ultimate acceptance. The rest?all the wealth of the subconscious and come later. The new writers are still in revolt against the world as it is. cherchent sans fin un nom. des qu'elles sont retenues par Pinconscient. Bachelard calls attention to this naming. mais d'annexer la poesie au reel. sums up well the difference: "Cette poesie est au lyrisme et au symbolisme ce que le recit de reportage est au roman d'imagination.'Au commencement 6taitle Verbe?'Le r&stediraplut6t:'A la fin6taitle Verbe."the recurringand perhaps overdonephrase "Est-ce clair?Je croisque c'est clair. du lyrisme au realisme ou a la mythologie pour le poeme. for lan? guage needs some frame?if not generally accepted. a banquette a banquette. confusing "Us [the surrealists]ont accepte que l'inconscientfut quelque chose d'homogene. Descriptionism? Reism?39 But terms are. This was. "Texte sur l'electricit6.Firstin his Masque de cendre(1945) and later in the Manifestoof Reism.de Partificecr6epar l'hommelui-m6me. 1951). had declared war on both. of course." The termas used here. after the communication of description has mythic?must been established.121. Passage de la psychologie a la metaphysique.and lacks the humanisrawe have This content downloaded from 109." 36Cf. de Pimagination au reportage pour le roman.

It would be a mistake to call the new direction popular. holds to be unique or undeniably dominant. "La R&fication.x (1951). but because the revolution had led to an impasse of fear. There is a trend. . distrust.Ponge. Dans ce monde que je ne comprends pas."40 It would seem that the poet had won out. ou je ne peux rien admettre. 105-107. unless this survey has jumped too quickly to conclusions."42 The with Things is the fond. 459-482.pp.134 on Tue. but fundamental and significant. the naming of their qualities reacquaintance is the forme which aims to make the written word respectable. Robert Loy 41 and there is no movement. and the Word was in Things. dont je ne peux rien admettre. change in the aphorism of Saint John.Pratiquement."Esprit. wheremorethana littlepreciositybegins to show through. "dont on peut dire qu'il s'abime d'abord aux choses (qui ne sont que riens) dans leur contemplation.p. University of Vermont Burlington attemptedto read into a literaturelike Ponge's. and isolation. Je ne rebonderai jamais que dans la pose du revolutionnaire ou du poete. 117. 41It wouldbe equallya mistaketo equate themovementwith politicalsentiment.says: "Les architectes.Jeparledes meilleursd'entreeux. ou je ne peux rien desirer . . ils voientles choses dans FSternite' plus que dans le temporel. .121. 40Protmes. in his mostrecent"Texte surFSlectriciteY' p. at least a refreshing direction for literature.63.41 but it would be equally wrong not to see that it is interested in communicating. . Ponge's outcry in Proemes makes his mission clear: "Le Verbe est Dieu! Je suis le Verbe! II n'y a que le Verbe!" The representatives of the new trend encourage a tentative.J.ils se d?fientde la mode. renait par la nomination de leurs qualit6s telles que lorsqu'au lieu de lui ce sont elles qui les proposent. Here is how Ponge puts it: "Je ne peux m'expliquer rien au monde que d'une seule facon: par le desespoir. not because the revolte was unnecessary in his training.commeles poetes. And there is a new kind of writer who has subjected the "homme revolte" to the talker and artisan in words." 42Proemes. The poetic world of the individual mind in isolation becomes eventually sterile. 17.En tant que tels. and the Word was with Man"?and therein lies perhaps a hopeful. the article by Joseph Gabel. "In the beginning was the Thing. je suis oblige a une certaine tenue. "L'esprit. This content downloaded from 109. Cf. 12 May 2015 23:38:06 UTC All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions ." says Ponge. a trend which this study.sont des artistes. . . in no way.