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Reviewed by:
  • De la lettre à l’esprit: Pour lire Illuminations
  • Seth Whidden
Fongaro, Antoine. De la lettre à l’esprit: Pour lire Illuminations. Paris: Champion, 2004. Pp. 446. ISBN2-7453-1120-4

One of the most highly respected commentators (alongside Bruno Claisse) on Illuminations, Antoine Fongaro offers that rarest of publications amidst the current crisis in scholarly publishing: a volume of his greatest hits. These studies, collected over the last forty years, have been re-read, updated, and bolstered, making this volume indispensable. The regrouped "Avertissements" from his earlier collections (7-13) show how Fongaro's steadfastness in his approach to the prose poems has led to his being misconstrued: "On a parfois dénoncé dans mes pages un aspect polémique. C'est confondre étrangement la discussion avec la polémique" (12), as he notes in the reprinted beginning to his 1994 Rimbaud: Texte, sens et interprétations (Toulouse: PU du Mirail). "Sens" is singular in that title, as it is throughout much of this volume, since Fongaro is less interested in the polysemy created by Rimbaldian poetics (exemplified in le dérèglement de tous les sens and the littéralement et dans tous les sens) than in a theory of the unity of the prose poems: not unity as a collection, as in Une saison en enfer, but a unity of spirit, register, and topoi. In justifying his point of view, Fongaro quotes fellow Rimbaud scholar Steve Murphy:

Ceux qui prétendent comme [Fongaro] que "c'est à la lettre que le texte de Rimbaud a un sens et un seul," se voient objecter tout de suite la polysémie des poèmes. Mais [Fongaro] entend par là une signification unique d'ensemble, qui permet de dire que, au-delà des éléments (ambi)valents ou ambigus du texte, on peut déterminer un sens global. Par exemple, Chant de guerre Parisien contient toujours des moment d'opacité, mais nul ne pourra contester, sans contresens manifeste, sa nature de poème communard.

(qtd. in Fongaro 9 n. 5)

It follows logically that Fongaro eschews the numerous waves of critical theory that have come and gone ("la lecture individuelle est libre, relative, variable, floue, flottante, etc.; la lecture critique est esclave du texte" [11]). In addition, in the judgemental tone of his word "étrangement" above we see his aggressive style. Fongaro's "Lire Illuminations" [End Page 199] (Studi francesi May-August 1980, reprinted in this volume 15-20) is a relentless attack on the illisibilité camp, championed by Tzvetan Todorov in "Une complication de texte: les Illuminations" (Poétique [April 1978]: 241-53). This article packs quite a punch and puts to rest any attempts at not attempting to decipher Rimbaud's hermetic prose; nevertheless, Fongaro felt the need to add in a footnote: "J'espère qu'aucun lecteur n'aura l'idée saugrenue que je m'en prends à la personne de Tzvetan Todorov. J'emploi ce nom propre pour ne pas répéter des périphrases comme 'on lit dans cet article que . . .' [. . .]" (15 n1). Friend or foe seems to make little difference, as Fongaro spares no one in his quest for "le sens" of Rimbaud's prose poems; such is the case in his differences with Steve Murphy, including the dispute of the potential source for the "giroflées" (118-20) in the last line from "Enfance II," "Les vieux qu'on enterrées tout droits dans le rempart aux giroflées." Added to his aggressive style is Fongaro's playfulness, his sense of humor, which create a text that is always interesting, often funny, and a pleasure to read, as in in the early piece on the legibility of the Illuminations:

Le comble est atteint lorsque Todorov montre qu'il lit mal le texte qu'il déclare illisible. [. . .] Mais à propos du texte du début d'Enfance I il écrit (p. 244): "les bateaux [sic] ont des noms grecs, slaves, celtiques." Or le texte de Rimbaud est: "son domaine, azur et verdure insolents, court sur des plages nommées, par des vagues sans vaisseaux, de noms férocement grecs, slaves, celtiques," où il est clair que ce sont les plages qui sont...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1536-0172
Print ISSN
0146-7891
Pages
pp. 199-200
Launched on MUSE
2005-11-14
Open Access
No
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