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  • Rhétorique de la sincérité: la poésie moderne en quête d’un langage vraipar Nicholas Manning
  • Michael G. Kelly
Rhétorique de la sincérité: la poésie moderne en quête d’un langage vrai. Par N icholasM anning. ( Bibliothèque de littérature générale et comparée, 109.) Paris: Honoré Champion, 2013. 488 pp.

In this articulate and wide-ranging study, Nicholas Manning frames what he terms ‘la sincérité poétique’ as a complex and occasionally contradictory object of investigation. Responding to Gérard Genette’s call for a focus on ‘ces éléments transcendants aux œuvres et constitutifs du jeu littéraire que l’on appellera pour aller vite les formes:par exemple, les codes rhétoriques, les techniques narratives, les structures poétiques, etc.’ (Figures III(Paris: Seuil, 1972), p. 18, quoted by Manning, p. 23), Manning seeks to move away from the intuitive tendency to view his governing term as ‘un critère déontologique propre à l’évaluation morale’ (p. 23), with the attendant implications for the understanding of the poetic work. In its reformulation as a trans-textual historical object, adding to the cumulative complexity of poetic practices rather than facilitating their imaginary simplicity or disambiguation, poetic sincerity emerges less as a single identifiable preoccupation across the corpus studied than as an elusive (but nevertheless structuring) horizon for a host of fundamental questions. As a result the study, both in its theoretical architecture and in the individual readings it performs, goes considerably beyond the apparent remit of its main title. A significant strand examines the problematic importance of sincerity as a philosophico-rhetorical posture for lyrical poetry and poets from Romanticism onwards (whether English, French, or German). Manning is attentive to [End Page 281]the philosophical difficulty but also the political dangers inherent in the imaginary of perfect communication, and which inhabit this broad tradition, including the authoritarian potential of the author, to which the standard topos of sincerity gives rhetorical and theoretical succour. A consideration of significant responses to or departures from this tradition, most notably those of Mallarmé, leads him to a shift of theoretical focus in his restatement of the sincerity question for a body of more recent work: ‘une nouvelle sincérité poétique possible peut s’esquisser: une sincérité qui, contrastant explicitement avec le modèle expressif, s’intéresse à la perception autant qu’à la seule expression, et met en valeur l’intellection autant que la seule émotion’ (pp. 217–18). This move opens the way for interwoven readings of a number of major twentieth-century poets, including W. H. Auden, Louis Zukofsky, Paul Celan, Yves Bonnefoy, and Philippe Jaccottet — bodies of poetic and meta-poetic work in which tensions between expressive and perceptive sincerities are traceable to varying extents. The effect is a set of generally convincing critical engagements with individual œuvres in which the governing term can occasionally seem to occupy every point on the theoretical compass. This, it might be argued, is a necessary manifestation of the critical and creative paradox towards which Manning gestures in conclusion: ‘C’est l’envergure utopique fondamentale du sincère qu’il nous faut donc reconnaître, et tout simplement accepter’ (p. 439). Invoking an ‘impossibilité de la sincérité’, he suggests that it is from within this very impossibility ‘qu’ont surgi les formes nouvelles et stimulantes d’une penseé moderne du sincère’ (p. 440). Impressively forthright in its own theoretical and rhetorical investments, this book is a valuable contribution to debates on modern and contemporary poetry and poetics, and is commendable also for a discerning inclusiveness to its comparative range of both artistic and theoretical sources.

Michael G. Kelly
University of Limerick


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pp. 281-282
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