Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Adieu, Arthur Rimbaud: A Future for Syntax in 'Le Parti Pris Des Choses.'

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Adieu, Arthur Rimbaud: A Future for Syntax in 'Le Parti Pris Des Choses.'

Article excerpt

"La revolution spirituelle doit se faire actuellement, dans une certaine

mesure, contre Rimbaud."

"Un bon texte nourrit aussi la generation contradictoire."

--Francis Ponge.(*)

Since its first publication in 1965, Pour un Malherbe has stood as Ponge's most explicit pronouncement of poetic affiliation, one in which the poetson wrests the poet-father from the hands of academia in an attempt to reintroduce us to what Ponge perceived as France's most important avant-garde poet.(1) Nonetheless, Pour un Malherbe is not the first work in which Ponge looks to important poet-predecessors to establish himself as son and heir to certain distinctly French poetic traditions.(2) Already in "Notes pour un coquillage"--clearly the most straightforward testimony of affiliation in Le Parti pris des choses (1942)--, Ponge mentions Malherbe, this time in the company of other, no less familiar figures: "j'admire surtout certains ecrivains ou musiciens mesures, Bach, Rameau, Malherbe, Horace, Mallarme--, les ecrivains par-dessus tous les autres." Nowhere else in Le Parti pris des choses does a poetic text so directly express Ponge's cultural parti pris, and nowhere is it clearer that those preferences will not serve to exalt the shock of the new, but will rather confirm the value of continuity. In "Notes pour un coquillage"--written just a few years after the death of Armand Ponge, the poet's father--,(3) Ponge adopts the role of respectful son, whose mission, in his own words, is based on the desire later expressed in Pour un Malherbe to "porter dans ses bras son pere mort d'une generation precedente, le dresser et forcer tout le monde au respect de lui" (316).

But what happens when the father is no longer a figure of France's cultural elite, as was the case with Malherbe or Mallarme, but rather Arthur Rimbaud? How can Ponge reconcile Rimbaud's self-imposed isolation, his self-fashioned "barbarity"--"si j'avais des antecedents a un point quelconque de l'histoire de France! Mais non, rien" (CEuvres 213)--with his own favorable view of family and tradition?(4) To be sure, Rimbaud's dereglement, what one critic has termed his suradolescence (Ross 49), makes him a particularly unusual candidate as poet-father to Ponge's role as dutiful poet-son as he expresses it in Pour un Malherbe. Nonetheless, Rimbaud's influence is apparent throughout Le Parti pris des choses. Indeed, in many ways Ponge's prose poem collection constitutes an attempt to retune Rimbaud's verbal alchemy to a new pongean key. In order to appreciate the dynamic role Rimbaud's poetic legacy plays in Le Parti pris des choses, it is necessary to grasp the interconnectedness, to hear Rimbaud's voice as it resounds within Ponge's descriptive prose.(5) "Pluie" and "Vegetation" provide perhaps the richest examples of Ponge's engagement with Rimbaud's poetic legacy in Le Parti pris des choses. They are, however, by no means the only poems in the collection to commemorate Rimbaud's contribution to poetry in late nineteenth-century France. The text immediately following "Pluie," for example, recalls the destabilizing forces at work in Rimbaud's Illuminations. In "La Fin de l'Automne," a prose poem whose very title brings to mind apocalyptic overtones characteristic of Rimbaud's work, Ponge praises the destructive forces of nature as they effortlessly lay waste to any sense of law and order. Nature's "depouillement" unfolds in chaotic fashion: "Voila ce qui s'appelle un beau nettoyage, et qui ne respecte pas les conventions!" The earth's autumnal mien acquires an unmistakably rimbaldian physique: "Ses chaussures, comme celles d'un vagabond, s'impregnent d'eau et font de la musique." Its hair is disheveled, its appearance irreverent (much like Carjat's photographs of Rimbaud!): "Decoiffee, elle a la tete dans la brume." In the midst of Ponge's praise of Fall's humid nature, we are reminded of Rimbaud's familiarity with the liquid element: "Dans cette grenouillerie, cette amphibiguite salubre, tout reprend forces, saute de pierre en pierre et change de pre. …

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