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L’ESPRIT CRÉATEUR this country, and when French poets themselves bemoan the neglect of poetry by the educa­ tional establishment and the media, it is refreshing to be told, as we are in Virginia La Charité’s forceful study, that “ no other century in French literature has produced as much poetic activity and generated as much attention to poetry as the present one.” This upbeat appraisal is linked to the contention that surrealism, with its belief in the revelatory power of poetry and search for new forms, is the major poetic movement of the century, its ambi­ tions traceable even to its most critical heirs, “ metapoets” such as Bonnefoy, “ iconic poets” such as Pleynet, “ neo-formalists” such as Roubaud. La Charité encapsulates her convincing argument in a clever salvaging of the notion of change, essential to the avantgarde but open to postmodern suspicion, by its coupling with the notion of ex-change. This second notion enables her to replace the vexing question of the referential dimension of poetry with a focus on the relationship between poet and reader in the enactment of the poem. Underlying her account of the development of twentieth-century French poetry is the theory that, however hopefully or desperately poets question the connection between language and reality, they converge in inviting or challenging the reader to take part in the springing or fracturing of meaning. Since chronological studies easily carry teleological overtones, contemporary neo-formalist poetry appears as the logical outcome of this dis­ placement from ontology to human connection: “ What exists are the words and the group­ ings of those words, but what is true, superior to what exists, or what is meant as existing, is the poem which ties together that which is expressed and that which is silent in the destruc­ tion of poet-reader distance.” In the limited space of this review, it is impossible to discuss adequately La Charité’s provocative categories and admirably knowledgeable accounts of individual oeuvres. Hers is an ambitious project, which aims at nothing less than tracing the major outlines of the whole century’s avant-garde poetry. Inevitably, when canon formation is at stake, one is tempted to squabble with choices and demarcations. Isn’t there a contradiction between the underlying claim that the avant-garde impetus has lost none of its vitality, and the fact that all the poets discussed in the book were born before 1940? Shouldn’t Anne-Marie Albiach (the only woman mentioned, with Danielle Collobert) be allowed more attention than a passing nod? More narrowly, if we equate formalism with a denial of emotion, do we not negate essential dimensions in the works of Roubaud and Veinstein? The internal dynamic of categorical definitions may occasionally lead La Charité to distorting simplifications; but bold overviews such as this are effective precisely inasmuch as they provoke dissent. Another drawback of the book’s self-assurance is that, on some occasions, its verbal brilliance obfuscates rather than illuminates its object, as, for instance, in this definition of neo-formalism: “ Reversion, inversion, subversion and perversion have given way to ver­ sion, just as reforming, deforming and unforming (restructuring, destructnring, unstruc turing) are variations on the act of form ation.” Because such distinctions are detached from any connection to the intellectual history of the century, the poetic landscape which they seek to map out appears at times somewhat blurred and unstable. However, none of these methodological side-effects lessen the importance of Virginia La Charité’s study and its value for all readers of modern French poetry. E lisa beth C a rd o n n e-A rlyck Vassar College Alain Finkielkraut. Rem em berin g in Va in : T h e Klaus Ba rb ie Tr ia l a n d Crim es against H u m a n it y .Trans. Roxanne Lapidus with Sima Godfrey. New York: Columbia UP, 1992. Pp. xxxvi + 102. $19.50. Originally published in France in 1989, Remembering in Vain: The Klaus Barbie Trial V o l . XXXIII, No. 3 119 B o o k R ev iew s and Crimes against Humanity is Alain Finkielkraut’s controversial and polemical assess­ ment of the trial of Klaus...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 119-120
Launched on MUSE
2017-07-05
Open Access
No
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