Friday, May 25, 2012

I’m enjoying greatly Claude Royet-Journoud’s the whole of poetry is preposition, translated by Keith Waldrop. I have a lot to say about it and with it, but as I only started reading it today, I’m not wanting to jump in quite yet.

So here’s a short interview I found online, to hold us:

Shearsman No 2 - 1981

Mathieu Bénézet
Claude Royet-Journoud Interviewed


1972 : Gallimard publishes a 96 page book by Claude Royet-Journoud entitled “Le Renversement” (Reversal). In “Le Figaro”, Maurice Chapelan goes wild. Under the title “So much white, so much white”, he writes “That much white would certainly inspire dreams. Why not of a first communion procession in a snowy field ?” “Can you then be surprised that our contemporaries don’t seem to give a damn about poetry or poets! The latter - or their publishers - need only stop taking them for idiots.”

1978 : Gallimard publishes a 112 page book by Claude Royet-Journoud entitled “La notion d’obstacle” (The notion of obstacle). Lionel Ray writes in “L’Humanité” “ Arranging ten lines (the first of which repeats the title, vois ci ) on six pages does not strike me as such a feat; nor does placing one word, “fragility”, all alone in the middle of a page. It’s as if the last century’s Mallarméan enterprise had degenerated into an intellectualism which is naive and, in the last analysis, without perspectives.

What provoked this outburst which borders on an infringement of creative freedom ? Accusations such as intellectual naivete or scorn for the public deny literature its rightful activity, and are closer to denunciation than critical discussion. The review, in fact, goes against the current of literary history, seriously misunderstanding the notion of space represented by the book, which is the object of Royet-Journoud’s work, and that of many others. As can be seen in the following interview, more than the publication of these two books is at stake. The problem is ideological, political, since we are unable to reflect upon the a priori or unspoken assumptions underlying this “critique”.

And then - there is so much beauty and rigor in Claude Royet-Journoud’s writing. I use these words intentionally to express the fact that with his rigor, he exposes a language within language. What’s emotion if not a similar kind of apparition? Read…

it should be blue
the literary color
when we hold wake over a new form of obscurity

(tr. Keith Waldrop. From The Image-Maker)



Mathieu Bénézet : Your texts can be found in poetry anthologies and you are often called a “poet”, but the genre is never indicated on your books. Why?

Claude Royet-Journoud : My books consist only of a single text, the genre of which cannot be defined. It’s as much a question of narration as fable or poem. It’s a book that I write, and I feel that the notion of genre obscures the book as such. If I don’t want a genre to be indicated, it’s because the book, always assuming that one considers oneself to have written a book, is undefinable. In fact, I think “theatre” is the most exact description of my books, in that they are concerned with characters - a bit like a detective story. I might add, quoting Klossowski : “The words assume postures.”

M.B. : How do you interpret the attacks on you?

C.R-J. : I’d prefer to say that reading, like writing, is necessarily “ideological”. If I investigate the motives behind the “paternalistic” review in L’Humanité”, I must admit, with sadness, that it strikes me as reactionary. Not because I am attacked! But because of its assumptions. In effect, the poem is considered as a hermetic object on the page, the book as something finished, completed ; whereas “modernity”, I think, has born witness to the fact that books are open-ended. To structure a book is to seek a disequilibrium where it is necessarily incomplete. You can understand that the ideology underlying this kind of review, the assumption that a book is completed, absolute, , the refusal to consider a book as its very volume, creates a non-existant dichotomy between blank space and text and denies the existence of a mental space which is, moreover, never free of violence.

M.B. : “The notion of obstacle” . . . the title might seem enigmatic.

C.R-J. : What interested me was the etymology of the word “obstacle” to stand before - my position with respect to my work table, the world in a kind of tragic flatness from which a scene begins to emerge, where evrything is represented, imitated: a miniature theatre, if you like . . . which explains why this word haunts me. I must also confess that the etymological relation between “obstacle” and “scandale” pleases me . . . The title should, then, be seen in relation to “Le renversement”, with which it is linked and from which it is separated: It is, in fact, between these two books that a “blank space” can be found, if one insists on it!

M.B. : The blank space which constitutes the effort to write and which is within the text . . .

C.R-J. : Yes . . . In the same sense that it constitutes thought. In order to become act, thought must first be arrested.

M.B. : You spoke about narrative. This is perhaps not evident to the reader.

C.R-J. : I think that there is a narrative, as I said - a plot as in a detective story - in the sense that there is always a search for a missing body, an absent entity, in my books. To state it concisely, there is an accident which permits legibility. How can I explain it? It’s rather like the restoration of a painting when a crack in the surface reveals another image underneath. At this point the real investigation begins. In order to find out what the nature or state of the hidden image is, the restorer scratches the surface in various places, provoking himself those accidents which permit the image to be deciphered. He needs to know if the covered painting is complete in order to proceed…Should he efface or restore the surface image, uncover or blot out the second image. It is not, in fact, a question of choosing between a real but imperfect surface image and a second image which is virtual but solicited. What counts is the “passage” from the surface accident to the virtual image; as the accident changes position, the investigation becomes integrated into the surface, which as a consequence becomes self-narrating. It is not surface and depth - old and new image, which defines my work, but this mobility constituted into the book.

M.B. : You concentrate oh certain words which seem to be the “real” characters in your books . . .

C.R-J. : Yes . . .but only some words (he, she, they, image, sentence, hand, voice sleep, cold, etc.) . . . I work, construct my texts, from the common-place. The fact that I try to narrate with ordinary language is criticised and, at the same time, misunderstood. Let me add that this “investigation” is not a chore, but an activity which excludes neither passion nor emotion. And I don’t mean this metaphorically. It’s exactly this investigation that eliminates the metaphors from my texts.

M.B. : Can you explain how you work, how you arrive at a finished book . . .

C.R-J. : Each of my books is composed of a number of sequences, five to ten pages in length. Each sequence starts out as four to five hundred pages of prose. That’s why it takes me about six years to produce a book! All of this is contained in large notebooks. I write prose texts on the right-hand pages from which I later extract certain elements. These are noted on the left-hand pages. The object of this effort is enter into the mental space proper to the act of writing. This stage can last a long time, until it “gels”. When the text finally takes form, it is distributed over several pages. It is essential to the narrative that the text circulates across facing pages as well as recto-verso; even the volume of the book itself is important. If you will, I always write from within the book, from the very start. Later, when I already have a few pages of text, a sketch, I begin to work on the language, neutralising the text. How? By tracking down and suppressing metaphor, assonance, alliteration - to see what narrative emerges -what appears, embodying this language within a language.

M.B. : A language which is flat, flattened . . .

C.R-J. : Of course. Moreover, it’s this “platitude” which seems to me to incite violence, which is certainly problematic and for which I am criticised unwittingly. The problem resides in literalness (not in metaphor) , the need to to measure language by its “minimal” units of meaning. For me, Eluard’s verse “The earth is blue like an orange” can be exhausted, it annihilates itself in an excess of meaning. Whereas Marcelin Pleynet’s “the far wall is a whitewashed wall” is and remains, by its very exactness, and evidently within its context, paradoxically indeterminate as to meaning and so will always “vehiculate” narrative. This might be experienced painfully.

Translated by Merle Ruberg

And a poem:

Claude Royet-Journoud
The Narrative of Lars Fredrickson

                                          draft one

                                          she crosses over

                                          from one border to another


                                          in that named space

                                         of the neutral

                                         on the pressing spread

                                         where interrogation and rest

                                         figure in


                                         ...near the muscle

                                         an infinitive pain

                                          draft two

relay:                               the dejected sense
                                       that a sheaf beats
                                       and spreads
                                       over the interval, the sum

relay:                               ...OF A FIGURE DISPERSING VERTICALITY

relay:                               simulacrum of a body
                                       the perishing of a scene

relay:                              “my words in your mouth”
                                       that a resemblance disseminates

trans. Joseph Simas


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