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  • Poetic Figurations as World Configurations(Literature and the Secret of the World)
Keywords

poetics, critical transcendentalism, literature, poetic forms, figural analysis, stylistic analysis, Plato, Timeous, Bible, Genesis, Creation, metaphor, analogy, parallelism, correlation, montage, metaphysics, E. Pound, P. Valéry, W. von Humboldt

I have a very strong memory of a globe I owned as a child…But it was not mere curiosity about far-off lands that shaped my way of seeing and that has stayed with me and even unsettles me slightly to this day. In the middle of the South Atlantic, about halfway between Angola and Brazil, the globe showed a very large island, about the size of Madagascar I should say, and almost the same shape, of the same ochre color as the two neighboring continents. And I had spotted this extraordinary thing right at the start …

Of course, as I already knew, there was no island like that in that part of the world. … But a voice inside me never stopped repeating that what I was looking at was not a stain but an actual island in the middle of the Atlantic, a reality and not a mirage. And that voice… asked me to draw disturbing conclusions from this. … Because it was on my globe, the simple reason must [End Page 1] be that there were beings who saw what we could not see, knew what we did not know. And these beings must live in very close proximity to us, perhaps in the same streets, the same houses even…

There was a thought, a rather vague but persistent intuition, that caused me more concern and that I shall now try to articulate…

The thought? Well, if there are beings—and perhaps we should still call them human beings—that can perceive this great island when our sailors pass right alongside without seeing it, there must be all sorts of other things that they apprehend differently from us, as our blindness bears witness: and so they must have tongues that are not just variants of ours in the vast field of language, but go beyond this, being endowed with dimensions, with categories that are unthinkable for us. Tongues—and here I am going to take over from the boy I was then, though I think without betraying him—that transcend us as non-Euclidian geometries transcend old-fashioned space…

It was here, in its day-to-day reality, that I wanted that other tongue. And it was rather the dream of it that led me, in a wholly negative way, I mean one that was uncomfortable and unpleasant to experience, to have doubts about the reading of the world our simply earthly tongue allowed us.

It is our whole universe that is imperiled if we come to doubt the rights of language.

—Yves Bonnefoy, La hantise du ptyx

“Literature and the Secret of the World”: thus the rubric under

which we have been convened and enjoined to speak, a rubric whose three elements—“literature,” “secret,” and “world”—combine into a range of possible questions that have already been unfolded: What might be the secret action of literature on the world? Is it possible to constitute the world, any world, without literature, without the invisible, concealed action of literature? Does literature secretly predate the world itself? What gives the literary its specificity and difference? Above all, what gives literature its prior and exemplary status relative to other discursive practices when it comes to processes of subjectivization and objectivization, as a condition of possibility for the experience of the world? [End Page 2]

The enormity of the questions we have been called upon to answer in a short space of time means there is no choice but to respond either exemplary or dogmatically, in a manner more illustrative or axiomatic than fully explanatory, passing over the series of arguments from critical philosophy and the many additional examples from comparative poetics that would need to be patiently combined to justify the stylistic-transcendental perspective that is to be adopted in what follows. So it is with this caveat—an inelegant way of getting out of a fix—that one can respond by...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1539-6630
Print ISSN
1532-687x
Pages
pp. 1-48
Launched on MUSE
2014-11-25
Open Access
No
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