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  • The Material, the Real, and the Fractured Self: Subjectivity and Representation from Rimbaud to Réda
  • James Petterson
Harrow, Susan. The Material, the Real, and the Fractured Self: Subjectivity and Representation from Rimbaud to Réda. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004. Pp. 269. ISBN0802087221

Susan Harrow's The Material, the Real, and the Fractured Self: Subjectivity and Representation from Rimbaud to Réda is an exacting, carefully researched and ultimately rewarding cross-century reading of the creative intersections of subjectivity and the dual materiality of language and the real in the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud, Guillaume Apollinaire, Francis Ponge and Jacques Réda; a reading attentive to the disruptive ways in which, within poetry, "the language of materiality rolls into the materiality of language" (5; 13; 221). Harrow's keen eye for Rimbaud's visual detail along with her attention to the materiality of his language allows for refreshing perspectives on phrases worn nearly threadbare by decades of critical attention. Thus, rather than reading "JE est un autre" as yet again suggestive of "floating a-sociability" within configurations of "meaningless pieces [. . .] merely available for new relations" (Bersani, cited in Harrow 15; 51), Harrow notes that "the disjunctive syntax of the proposition calls urgent attention to the constitution of self in language" (10). Prolonged attention to material detail does occasionally obscure the rhetoric of materiality – for instance, "Oh! là! là!" in Rimbaud's "Ma Bohème" is read without irony as simply "exclamation and impassioned repetition" (17). Whereas Rimbaud's Une Saison en enfer is read partly in terms of twentieth-century cubist fracturing of self and aesthetic subject, constituted in their very failure to "unify" (40) and where "the crisis of subjectivity is, at root, a crisis of language" (41), the Illuminations are presented alongside surrealist visual art to reveal the poet as 'self-ironizing anthropologist' (22). Throughout, Harrow aptly recognizes that the "readerly anxiety" triggered by Rimbaud's images and form points to the poet's social ability to "force the reader to engage in the making of meaning, rather than in the reception of pre-formed meaning" (54-55). Similarly, "even as the 'objective' brilliance" of Apollinaire's 1912-1914 modernist poems "work to obscure subjectivity" they remain redolent "with sparks of self-expressivity" (64). The modernist drive toward language's autonomous a-historical materiality thereby remains erotically charged with and positively distracted by personal and historical realities, not the least of which were the poet's lover, Lou, and the slaughter of World War I (79). Harrow thus demonstrates that the collision of historical circumstance and the imperative of modernist autonomy offers up a hybrid autobiographical self located "between the extratextual [End Page 152] writer and a writing-written self textually present in the specificity of a historically and materially located 'je'" (84). In passing, Harrow suggests that André Breton's reading of Apollinaire's war poetry "presupposes an ethically committed subject, hardwired to History and able to supply an authoritative, monological representation of the bitter reality of combative experience" (82). More thorough consideration of the materiality of surrealist subjectivity would have revealed it to be anything but monologically "hardwired to History." Through Ponge's Douze petits écrits – "twelve little textual incendiaries" (121) – Le Parti pris des choses and his art-critical writings, Harrow explores the relation between "self and world, self and word" (161), where the formal deflections and warping of this relation reveal "the visible traces of subjectivity in process" (115) and produce a "therapeutic shift" for the sake of "re-investing self" and "re-nurtur[ing] human subjectivity" (152-53). Harrow carefully situates Ponge's culture critique within "the stylistic and syntactic disturbances manifest in the text" (129) that leave their impression on both the material self and the linguistic-aesthetic subject. Just as closely examined is how Ponge's "desire to capture in language the rush of consciousness at the point of material contact with the world generates analogy and allegory" (9); though perhaps analogy and allegory also dazzlingly rush in to forcefully enroll the reader's belief in this point or "seam of contact between self and world" (9). Harrow's reading of Réda shifts decidedly toward...


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pp. 152-154
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