Francis Ponge boldly proclaims his poetic goal in Mute Objects of Expression: "To accept the challenge that objects offer to language." These objects—less chosen than received spontaneously—are perceived with inimitable Pongean humor and rendered into glimmering still lifes. He gives voice to the often unnoticed aspects of natural objects and beings. Shunning familiar poetic modes, Ponge forges new visions, images drawn from nature, from mythology and the classics. In this volume, springing from the Loire countryside in the early 1940s, Ponge’s "prôems" recall the violent perfume of the mimosa, the cries of carnations, and the flirtations of wasps. From a small note- book, his sole supply of paper withinthe wartime deprivations, he composes repeated drafts of an innovative form combining poetry with analysis and impish play. Despite the demoralizing clouds of Occupation, Ponge wrests a soaring paean to his beloved sliver of Provence.
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Born in 1899, Francis Ponge studied both law and philosophy before taking up a variety of editorial and teaching jobs. Le parti pris des choses, published by Gallimard in 1942, caught the attention of writers and artists. Wide recognition came in the sixties when Gallimard published several large collections of his poetry and essays. Ponge avoided appeals to emotion and symbolism, and instead sought to minutely recreate the world of experience of everyday objects with playful neologisms and his own phenome- nological ballet. He described his poetry as "a description-definition-literary artwork" that avoided both the drabness of a dictionary and the inadequacy of poetry. He died in 1989. Lee Fahnestock is a translator and critic. Long an admirer of Ponge, she has published translations of Vegetation, The Nature of Things, and The Making of Pre. Her translation, with Norman MacAfee, of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables and her translations of Jean-Paul Sartre’s letters to Simone de Beauvoir have been widely celebrated.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
BANKS OF THE LOIRE
Roanne, May 24, 1941
From now on, may nothing ever cause me to go back on my resolve: never sacrifice the object of my study in order to enhance some verbal turn discovered on the subject, nor piece together any such discoveries in a poem. Always go back to the object itself, to its raw quality, its difference: particularly its difference from what I’ve (just then) written about it. May my work be one of continual rectification of expression on behalf of the raw object (with no a priori concern about the form of that expression). Therefore, writing about the Loire from a place along the banks of the river, I must constantly immerse my eyes and mind in it. Any time they dry up over an expression, dip them back into the waters of the river. Recognize the greater right of the object, its inalienable right, in relation to any poem... No poem ever being free from absolute judgment a minima on the part of the poem’s object, nor from accusation of counterfeit.
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