Homage to Guillevic: The Poet of Atavistic Nostalgia for the Primeval

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abstract

This essay provides a brief account of the phenomenological and psychoanalytic descriptions of nostalgia for the primeval and its poetics. It considers the primeval as an originary mode of the "thing-in-itself" (Das Ding an sich) of German philosophy and applies it the poetry of the 20th century French poet (Eugène) Guillevic. In doing so, it also offers a psychoanalytic definition of obsessive nostalgia with its strong elements of secondary narcissism. The essay explores the spatio-temporal structures of obsessive nostalgia as lived experience, making manifest how such nostalgia endeavors to constitute an imaginary world in the present through idealized past memories. Subsequently, it proposes the particular case of nostalgia for the primeval as the thing-in-itself. Finally, it gives examples of nostalgia for origins as recurring images in a representative selection of Guillevic's poems.

For Thomas R. Flynn in friendship and appreciation

When each day/ is sacred/when each hour/ is sacred/when each instant/ is sacred/earth and you/ space and you/bearing the sacred/through time/you'll reach the fields of light.

(Quand chacun de tes jours/Te sera sacré,/Quand chacune de tes heures/Te sera sacrée,/Quand chacun de tes instants/Te sera sacré,/Quand la terre et toi,/L'espace avec toi/Portorez le sacre/Au long de vos jours,/Alors tu seras dans le champ de gloire.)

-Guillevic, "Opening"/"Ouverture" in Guillevic: Selected Poems (137-38)

I

I intend to provide brief phenomenological and psychoanalytic descriptions of nostalgia for the primeval. The thrust of my effort will be to show how such nostalgia for the primeval coincides with the search for the "thing-in-itself," "Das Ding an sich," of German philosophy and particularly of phenomenology. That is to say, the object as it appears to our consciousness before any other consideration. Even though creative imagination is intensely at work in the equation of the thing-in-itself with the primeval, the result is not merely phantasmagoric. I will then apply this description and analysis to the innovative poetry of the distinguished 20th century French poet (Eugène) would like to. Born in Carnac, Brittany, in 1907, as a poet he used the patronymic Guillevic. He died in Paris in 1997, leaving behind an impressive body of innovative poetry.

This psycho-phenomenological description of atavistic nostalgia for the primeval will serve as a category to the psychoanalytic definition of nostalgia in general. Thus, the aim of this combination of phenomenological and psychoanalytic approaches will be threefold. First, I shall try to make as intelligible as possible my understanding of the psychoanalytic origin of obsessive nostalgia with its secondary narcissistic elements and illusory spatio-temporal structures in lived experience. This effort will make manifest how such nostalgia psychically strives to restore and then maintain a fantasy world sustained by idealized remembrances of things past. Subsequently, I define the particular case of nostalgia for the primeval, as an imaginative search for the thing-in-itself in the arts, which henceforth I shall refer to as atavistic nostalgia. Finally, I give examples of atavistic nostalgia as recurrent images from a representative selection of Guillevic's poems.

One of the most characteristic dimensions of nostalgia (in Greek nostos + álgos), and Heimweh or "homesickness" in German, hic no doubt conveys a negative and deleterious effect. Its psychical pain occurs with various intensities as a delusional but relentless effort to relive one's past. Within this perspective, nostalgia develops into pathology of associative memories. As appealing and often compelling as nostalgia may appear, it always carries in it an irreducible quotient of what Freud designated as "secondary narcissism" or "ego libido." One experiences it as an uncanny melancholy, even painful moroseness, yet its experience is paradoxically at once sweet and agonizing. …