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This paper argues that the significance of death, a recurrent theme in Yves Bonnefoys
work, stems from the fact that it cannot be considered outside its relation to representa-
tion. Analyzing the different modalities and functions of death in Douve, this paper
suggests that the passage from excarnation to incarnation, arguably the most important
objective of Bonnefoys poetic work, must be seen in relation to the passage from
thematics to rhetoric, from the referential to the metalinguistic level. Considered against
the philosophical opposition between the intelligible and the sensible, Douve is approached
in the light of the transference it attempts to effect: from images of death to the death
of the image and the singularity of naming.

Lesprit [. . .], says Yves Bonnefoy in Les tombeaux de Ravenne,

sinterroge sur ltre, mais rarement sur la pierre (11). Neglecting the
value of experience, humans struggle to master concepts, but we forget
that concepts cannot embrace the totality of the real: [y] a-t-il un concept
dun pas venant dans la nuit, dun cri, de lboulement dune pierre
dans les broussailles? De limpression que fait une maison vide? (13).
The endeavor to conceptualize stems, for Bonnefoy, from the desire for
permanence and identity, a naive hope that life can overcome death. Such
a desire, nevertheless, disregards that death is organically tied to life:
it provides that very point of anchorage, that totally irreversible attach-
ment to the earth [. . .], that allows for continuity and cyclicalness
(Bishop 197). This paper will attempt to outline the problematics of
representation of death in Du mouvement et de limmobilit de Douve.
The double character such a representation exhibits is particularly inter-
esting, since there is a shift in the semantic field of death from a
referential to a metalinguistic level. Accordingly, what the represented
object that points to death will have accomplished is the transference
of its reference to something extratextual: from images of death to the
death of the image, the annulment of representation in order to capture
the real.
Let us start, then, by attempting to outline Bonnefoys understanding

Neophilologus 85: 5369, 2001.

2001 Kluwer Academic Publishers. Printed in the Netherlands.
54 Dimitrios Kargiotis

of images and concepts. Il y a une vrit du concept [. . .], Bonnefoy

claims, [m]ais il y a un mensonge [. . .] en gnral, qui donne la pense
pour quitter la maison des choses le vaste pouvoir des mots (Tombeaux
13). Words put distance between [men] and things (Image and Presence
168) because words are representations of things. For Saussure, for
instance, a linguistic sign is not a link between a thing and a name,
but between a concept and a sound pattern [image acoustique] (66);
the sign is constituted of the interweaving of a representation of a con-
ceptual image and an acoustic im-pression of an articulation which takes
place in the mind. Rather than a particular referent, such a sign has a
broad semantic field: to use the Saussurian example, the sign tree
does not refer to any specific tree. Focusing his investigation on the signs
themselves rather than examining how they relate to the world the
referents , Saussure draws a distinction between [. . .] la langue, which
is to say the ensemble of linguistic possibilities or potentialities at any
given moment, and la parole, or the individual act of speech, the indi-
vidual and partial actualization of some of those potentialities (Jameson
22). Attempting to analyze the way the former operates, Saussure does
[. . .] not so much describe how language works as wonder what, in
language, guarantees that it will work (Avni, Reference 40). The
Saussurian langue is accordingly defined in a negative way: [I]n the
language itself, there are only differences (118). If there is something
that the sign signifies, it is solely what is not signified by the totality
of all other signs different from it.
Bonnefoys emphasis on objects (Interview 146), however, entails a
much more essentialist understanding. He is interested in the referent,
in the thing itself rather than abstract representations of it. It is only
inevitable, then, that in the beginning of his career he becomes associ-
ated with the Surrealists who proclaim another relation to things, a more
real one. A more real understanding and, subsequently, creation, of
reality takes place, among other ways, through a new conception of the
notion of image. According to Bretons incorporation in the Manifeste
du Surralisme (324) of Reverdys definition of an image,

Limage est une cration pure de lesprit.

Elle ne peut natre dune comparaison mais du rapprochement de deux ralits plus
ou moins loignes.
Plus les rapports des deux ralits rapproches seront lointains et justes, plus limage
sera forte plus elle aura de puissance motive et de ralit potique . . . etc.

Such a new perception involves, above all, a certain revolutionary magic.

Indeed, Bonnefoy admits, [. . .] the Surrealist image, especially when
it is most arbitrary and most gratuitously provoking, never strikes me,
not even now, without stirring up the beginnings of fascination; it is as
Bonnefoys Du mouvement et de limmobilit de Douve 55

though some mysteriously rooted hope were suddenly making itself

known through a sign intended less to present me with some good than
to call me to battle [. . .] The greatness of this movement it is the
only genuine poetic movement this century has had was its effort to
reanimate in secular times, and necessarily outside the perimeter of
religion because of the times that are ours, the feeling of transcen-
dancy (Transcendancy 135, 137).
This feeling of trancendancy is enough for Bonnefoy to make him
accept the Surrealist image, [. . .] even if it is in fact a denial of coherent
representation (Interview 143). For within a conceptual framework that
explicitly rejects concepts, it is not even if, but rather because of
the fact that such a denial takes place that an interest in Surrealism
emerges: Bonnefoy sees in it a new force in accordance with many of
his beliefs.
Bretons definition, however, is not unquestionably valid, despite the
fact that, provocative as it is, it provides a new, revolutionary concep-
tion of the image. Its problematic nature was implicitly perceived even
by Breton himself, (when talking, i.e., of an aesthetics a posteriori
(324), or when examining the degree of intentionality (337340)), and
has been put into question1 by scholars as well. Indeed, such a defini-
tion can be said to disregard the referential, cognitive and metalingual
functions of language such as Jakobson defined them in Linguistics
and Poetics, and ignore the dimension of motivation in the image.
Motivation is a crucial factor in the poetic process, because it plays a
chief role regarding the way syntagms and paradigms (or else, word
combinations and substitutions) will be not only understood, but, in the
first place, constructed in the text. The concept of construction, on the
other hand, implies a self-conscious process, and it would be unfair to
criticize on such a basis a poetics that insists on the automatic char-
acter of creation. Post-surrealist poetry, however (and by this is meant
poetry that creatively assimilates surrealist heritage, such as the poetry
of Bonnefoy), does emphasize intentionality in the creative process.
Consequently, the poem is no longer approached in terms of an
addressor/addressee dialectic; a third term, that of the message, comes
into play, a message that now requires decoding. And precisely in such
poetry is the role of the image central.
The centrality of the image, on the one hand, but also the limita-
tions of its surrealist definition, make the later Bonnefoy adopt a different
position. For, in the end, even the surrealist image does not escape
representability; on the contrary, it is susceptible to a double bind.
Surrealist representations, so to speak, are twice removed from truth,
to use a vocabulary that Bonnefoy detests: on the one hand, they are
images, which means that they are distanced from the world, since they
represent it; on the other hand, these images are surreal: they repre-
56 Dimitrios Kargiotis

sent a world which cannot objectively exist, to which there is no

objective reference.
Bonnefoy, then, is caught in a dilemma. As John T. Naughton puts
it, [t]he paradoxical reality of images is that they give us our world
[. . .]; but through providing us with an approach to the world, images
do not, in themselves, have any being (14). Or, to use Bonnefoys new
definition: this impression of a reality at last fully incarnate, which
comes to us, paradoxically, through words which have turned away
from incarnation, I shall call image (Image and Presence 164). The
binary opposition incarnation/excarnation, central to Bonnefoys poetics,
reproduces the binaries we have mentioned and refers to the opposi-
tion between a seizure of materiality, a capturing of reality on the one
hand, and its representation through the mediation of words, concepts
or images on the other; in other words, the tension between what
philosophy calls le sensible and lintelligible,2 codifying the paradigms
of feeling, affectivity, passibility, on the one hand, and cognition, on
the other. Considered within the framework of Lyotards theory of
phrases3 according to which phrases from heterogeneous regimens
cannot be translated from one into the other (xii), Bonnefoys task
may be described as an attempt to answer the question: how is it possible
to translate (literally: transpose) an incarnate (sensible) phrase into
excarnate (intelligible) words without creating an excarnate image?
How is it possible to reconcile phrases which, since they belong to the
sensible, have no referent, with phrases which, cognitive as they are, since
they use language, are characterized by reference? Or, to put the
question in its most elementary formulation, how do we re-present the
To present means, above all, to make present. Bonnefoy is against the
substitution of an image for the world in favor of presence (Image and
Presence 171). His attempt is directed towards the domain of things,
of the world, of le sensible, the domain of what Husserl calls
Gegenwrtigung or Prsentation (which Derrida renders as perception
or prsentation originaire), while images partake of the world of
concepts, lintelligible, and, therefore, all they can do is only create an
impression of presence, of Vergegenwrtigung (of re-prsentation or
re-production reprsentative or prsentification) (Derrida 50).4 Thus
Bonnefoy now comes to define his poetry as a war against the Image
(Image and Presence 170). From the surrealist quest to consider an
imaginary, non-existent, hyper-real representation/image of an object
as real, Bonnefoy now arrives at a poetics of an image of an object
that questions its representational real-ness. A poetics of death is
Bonnefoys way of attaining such an image. Death is a major category
in Bonnefoy for two reasons. On the one hand, because he explicitly,
as we have seen, insists on the idea of death as a major parameter of
Bonnefoys Du mouvement et de limmobilit de Douve 57

incarnation; this insistence becomes poetically realized in representations

(images) of death. On a second plane, Bonnefoys ingenuity consists
in a masterful depiction of the death of language: death is presented as
the annihilation of imagery and linguistic representability themselves.
Consequently, Bonnefoy, in an indicative way, proclaims the death of
representation by representing death in this double aspect.
Images of death are abundant throughout Douve, and they appear in
a variety of ways:
a. As a dialectic play with life. Death and life are not to be under-
stood as opposite or complementary, but rather as two faces of a being,
of an existence that always is, in which death and life are only phases.
Douve will always be alive and dead, continuously questioning the
boundaries between the two: . . . chaque instant je te vois natre,
Douve,/A chaque instant mourir (48).5
A poem that expresses more obviously the problematics of such a
dialectic, is no. IV from Derniers gestes (70):

Es-tu vraiment morte ou joues-tu

Encore simuler la pleur et le sang,
O toi passionnment au sommeil qui te livres
Comme on ne sait que mourir?

Es-tu vraiment morte ou joues-tu

Encore en tout miroir
A perdre ton reflet, ta chaleur et ton sang
Dans lobscurcissement dun visage immobile?

This life/death play is constructed on two planes; first, the very way of
questioning (vraiment, ou joues-tu) shows that the poetic subject
is ignorant of the truth, or might be suspicious: are you dead or alive?
At the same time the poetic device of semantic inversions is func-
tioning: complementary to the question es-tu vraiment morte we
would expect dissimuler le sang and not simuler, since if Douve were
dead, she would not have any blood; the same way, in the second stanza,
we do not expect her to perdre son reflet dans lobscurcissement, but
rather to find it. These inversions undermine the conventional semantic
fields of life and death and lead to their new understanding.
b. Death also appears in relation to the poetic subject, as a situ-ation
that the poetic subject discovers, reveals or simply sees. For instance:

O plus noire et dserte! Enfin je te vis morte,

Inapaisable clair que le nant supporte,
Vitre sitt teinte, et dobscure maison. (72)

Or the following:
58 Dimitrios Kargiotis

[. . .] Prsence ressaisie dans la torche du froid,

O guetteuse toujours je te dcouvre morte [. . .] (53)

here the play on vision is double: the guetteuse who sees and the
poetic subject who sees her (je te decouvre).
Images of death are operative on both rhetorical and semantic levels.
Let us consider, for instance, the powerful description in Vrai Corps:

Close la bouche et lav le visage,

Purifi le corps, enseveli
Ce destin clairant dans la terre du verbe,
Et le mariage le plus bas sest accompli. (77)

Here, the three participles (close, lav, purifi) function on three

planes: first, they refer to Douve, whose vrai corps the reader is
expecting to see; at the same time, the participles have their own subjects.
This creates an impression of fragmentariness: the dead body, deprived
of life, ceases to be an organic unity and is perceived as a sum-total of
limbs. Nevertheless, the inability to tell whether the destin of line 3
is the grammatical subject or the object of enseveli, along with the
abstract signified of the subject/object signifier, resulting at an image
of significant abstraction (enseveli ce destin clairant dans la terre du
verbe), function in such a way as to provide a perception or impres-
sion of death, one which might not be fully understood at first, but which
the reader comes to contact with despite the incapacity of language to
express it.
But the very opening of the poem constitutes an image of death:

Je te voyais courir sur des terraces,

Je te voyais lutter contre le vent,
Le froid saignait sur tes lvres.

Et je tai vue te rompre et jouir dtre morte plus belle

Que la foudre, quand elle tache les vitres blanches de ton sang.

We are to discern two temporal moments in the poem: a past time of

continuity and repetition versus a momentary, instant past. Life is, then,
represented by three imperfects; the first two are verbs of energy, of
power: courir, lutter. The third, saigner, through a poetic inversion,
(instead of les lvres, it is le froid that saignait) connects the
first part of the poem to the second: the image of red faces because of
the cold is an indication of health; nevertheless it is blood, associated
with death, that gives this color. Death, moreover, does not signify a
negative moment: she (for we know that the tu is a she from line
4) enjoys (jouir) death, being prettier than le foudre . . ..
The imagery of the text is powerful. Not only is the poem itself
Bonnefoys Du mouvement et de limmobilit de Douve 59

constructed through images ending in a simile, but there is also a play

on the actual reception of images: the poetic subject watches the tu
rendering to the reader, through words, those images of tu in a section
intitulated thtre, whose Greek root contains the meaning of
watching or vision. But this vision ultimately leads to the vision
of death, which, in this first poem, annuls temporality (the instant pass
compos). To annul temporality is, of course, to cancel a fundamental
linguistic operation and, create, therefore, a context of incarnation from
the beginning.
c. Finally, death is also represented in the poem through a powerful
textual voice. This voice can appear through the simple narration of an
omniscient poetic subject. Douve is full of such descriptions: Et des
liasses de mort pavoisent ton sourire. . . (63), or even more explicitly
in Le seul tmoin. There the poetic subject sees Douve die, provides
a description of the process and makes an authorial comment: je fus
. . . le seul tmoin, la seul bte prise/dans ces rets de ta mort . . . (67).
In other words, the reader that sees this theatre is urged to accept
those images that the only witness is able to provide. Thus, the act of
vision provides death. Regarde, diras-tu, cette pierre:/Elle porte la
prsence de la mort (93).
This textual voice sometimes appears very authoritative, and this
occurs when the power of the text gains authority even over that of the
poetic subject. A central example of this constitutes the poem Hic est
locus patriae (94). Here death is implied rather than explicitly described,
the image of death is evoked for the reader of a text which is an account
of the poetic subject seeing a place of death. The landscape (sky, trees)
evokes the romantic topos of nature, and the use of the imperfect
intensifies such an impression. But then, Cassandra appears, a silent
figure associated with death. We will examine in a moment the figure
whose silence is in accord with the silence of the place. The presence
of silence becomes thus overwhelming, literally monumental; along
with the sky, the trees, the marble and, of course, the latin inscription,
an image of a place of death, of a cemetery, is made present. The inge-
nuity of the inscription/title is that the emphasis can be put on any
word, not only without altering, but rather making more prominent the
image of death: Hic (here, in the cemetery) est locus partiae or hic
est (in present/is present) locus patriae or hic est locus (le lieu)
patriae or hic est locus patriae (our real country, our father-land).
To represent death, or better, to provide images of death, is only one
way in which the text is structured. On the one hand, we have simulta-
neous images of life and death, images where life and death are either
directly represented or implicitly expressed, juxtaposed or combined
together; or we have a vision of images of death provided either through
an omniscient narrator or through the text itself. We have seen such
60 Dimitrios Kargiotis

examples above. Finally, on another level of representation, it is

metaphors or metonymies double representations , that take prece-
dence: Douve being Phoenix/Salamander being death.
Douve is metonymically identified with Phoenix and the Salamander.
Phoenix, a bird which, dying, at the same time refuse toute mort,
(Phnix, 75), whose chevelure is at the same time its cendre, (Une
autre voix, 81), always se recompose (Voix basses et Phnix, 90).
The poem where the dialectical images of life/death and all their para-
digms are more evident in their understanding not as opposite but as
complementary, is Une voix (87):

Souviens-toi de cette le o lon btit le feu

De tout olivier vif au flanc des crtes,
Et cest pour que la nuit soit plus haute et qu laube
Il ny ait plus de vent que de strilit.
Tant de chemins noircis feront bien un royaume
O rtablir lorgueil que nous avons t,
Car rien ne peut grandir une ternelle force
Quune ternelle flamme et que tout soit dfait.
Pour moi je rejoindrai cette terre cendreuse,
Je coucherai mon coeur sur son corps dvast.
Ne suis-je pas ta vie aux profondes alarmes,
Qui na de monument que Phnix au bcher?

Feu as destructive is opposed to vif olivier, but as a non-tangible

object is combined with the constructive btir; then from the oppo-
sitions nuit/aube and vent/strilit we pass to the subtlety of
the indirect opposition chemins noircis (negative)/royaume (positive)
that will reestablish (and we expect something concrete)/lorgueil
(an abstract notion). Also, the ternelle force will be grandie through
a flamme, which is normally a destructive (or purifying/destructive)
image, but also by a destruction proper: que tout soit dfait. The second
appearance of the poetic subject is to declare that it will join the terre
which is, however, cendreuse; but is it the ashes-remains of a destruc-
tive fire, or the ashes of the Phoenix which are about to be reborn? The
same play takes place in the opposition coeur/corps dvast. Finally,
the dialectic of the oppositions ends up in a triumphant way, when, at
the end of the poem, both the rhetorical and semantic aspects of the
line are together at play: on the one hand, monument (concreteness,
stability, presence) is not only contrasted to Phnix au bcher
(in-concreteness, instability, destruction, annihilation of temporality/
presence), but rather is this Phoenix itself; the monument is nothing-
ness, but one which is about to stop being one, which will again annihilate
itself, and so on. On the other hand, to the rhetorical question am I
not your life . . . the implied answer yes, you are is latent; but yes,
Bonnefoys Du mouvement et de limmobilit de Douve 61

you are means you are nothing but a monument of nothingness, a

present monument of absence.
The Salamander operates in a similar way. Its figure reconciles images
of earth and spirit, life and death, presence and absence, purity and
impurity, happiness and sadness. Lieu de la salamandre is one of the
salamander poems where it is somewhat more transparent to discern
the dialectic of this image:

La salamandre surprise simmobilise

Et feint la mort.
Tel est le premier pas de la conscience dans le pierres,
Le mythe le plus pur,
Un grand feu travers, qui est esprit.
O ma complice et ma pense, allgorie
De tout ce qui est pur,
Que jaime qui resserre ainsi dans son silence
La seule force de joie.
. . . . . (111)

Here the dialectic death/life is presented through the characteristics of

the reptile. The salamander is able to stay so still as to appear dead
because the temperature of its blood is very low; in fact, the mythological
tradition presents the salamander with the power to put out fires with
the coldness of its body. This simultaneous aspect of life and death is
presented as the first step (movement) of consciousness (the extreme
manifestation of life), in contrast to the image of death (immobility and
death of consciousness). The play on such oppositions continues
structured around the centrality of pierres: indeed, pierres as a
concrete object is juxtaposed to mythe (abstract idea), to feu (intan-
gible object which nevertheless exists, which nevertheless the
salamander can annihilate) and finally to esprit (spiritual object).
Like in the Phoenix poem above, the rhetorical and semantic aspects
of the lines function harmoniously: on the one hand, le premier pas
is an expression denoting beginning, but at the same time it contains
pas, actual movement, which is what the salamander annuls; on the
other hand, the salamander is an allegory of everything pure, a
characteristic attributed to the animal, but at the same time an explicit
depoetization of a literary device, allegory. Finally the characteristic of
the salamander mentioned in the very first line of the poem, alludes to
the title of the collection: [la salamandre] est, en un mot, le mouve-
ment et limmobilit de Douve runis (Jackson 263).
Except for Phoenix and Salamander, there is a third figure that
represents death in the poem: Cassandra. Cassandras function is double.
On the one hand, she operates in a direction similar to that of Phoenix
62 Dimitrios Kargiotis

and the Salamander in that she is a living presence who nevertheless

carries in itself the message of death and perdition. On the other hand,
Cassandra constitutes a third way in the representation of death we have
insofar seen. Indeed, either as strict images of death, or as metonymies
of a dialectic life/death, death is represented through images, that is,
through signs. It is Cassandra who marks a passage from narrative to
non-linguistic representation. A mythological figure who either does
not speak, or, when she does, is not believed, Cassandra invalidates the
function of speech as bearer of truth and presence. Her figure, above
all, symbolizes the death of language and death as language.

Lisse-moi, farde-moi. Colore mon absence.

Dsoeuvre ce regard qui mconnat la nuit.
Couche sur moi les plis dun durable silence,
teins avec la lampe une terre doubli. (101)

This third double presence of death (death of language/death as

language) is more evident in the poems where the image of Mnade
comes into being. It is not by chance that the first poem where Douve
appears as a Maenad is Le seul tmoin, a poem where death is present
in a very direct way, as we have already observed. A multidimensional
play on vision is the means of this presentation, and the figure of Maenad
follows this direction. Maenad as a dionysiac figure refers to an archaic
conception of the primordial drama: the act of worship. There repre-
sentation (lintelligible) is constituted through an extreme favoring of
divine delirium (le sensible) that posits even death as its telos (as becomes
the case in later representations, i.e., Greek theater). In a similar way,
Maenad, a figure who, through an act of extreme incarnation, love,
nevertheless kills her victims in the end, appears in the poem consume
herself. In part III of the same poem, we have another appearance of
her death and her reconciliation with nothingness, with an ombre.
But more than a simple metonymy for death, the image of Maenad has
an implication of another dimension. Her dionysiac character can also
be seen as a return to a prelinguistic state of things, where pure presence
was available since no language existed that could put distance between
men and things. As has been put, le dionysisme est interprtable comme
une lutte contre laveuglement du concept et comme un refus de
lautonomie du signe linguistique (McAllister, Mnadisme 223). The
only way that Douve herself, as Maenad, can be presented is through
an expression of sublimity, of non-representability, an exclamation that
means nothing because, at the same time, it comprises everything: .
We are reminded of the Kantian typology of the sublime, where pleasure
and pain arise in the subject as a result of the violence done to the
imagination by the unboundedness of the referent which awakens the
Bonnefoys Du mouvement et de limmobilit de Douve 63

desire for its representation (Kant 114115). The Maenad is, accordingly,
always introduced with the sublime . And it seems that for Bonnefoy
there is only one way that the unrepresentable can be represented:

Art potique
Visage spar de ses branches premires
Beaut toute dalarme par ciel bas,

En quel tre dresser le feu de ton visage

O Mnade saisie jete la tte en bas? (78)

Where are beauty and sublimity to be housed? The question is rhetorical,

of course, since the title provides the answer: this tre is poetry, in
the shift in the status of representation the latter enacts. What is at stake
here is the difference between poetic language and ordinary language:
[l]e langage potique nest pas la relation dun signifi et dun signifiant,
mais lacte qui fait passer du non-tre qui prcde loeuvre ltre quelle
sera (qtd. in Fauskevg 241). If [the language of concepts] leads to
the fragmentation of demonstration, the divisions and reifications of
structure and reason, [the language of presence, on the other hand,] offers
a totality, an identity, a destiny that eschew all sectioning and reduc-
tion (Bishop 203). It is within the framework of a language of presence
that Mnade is simultaneously what has created the poem and what
is created by it. But precisely because of that every attempt to approach
this figure in terms of language is doomed to fail, since ordinary language
annuls presence. We cannot explain what the Maenad is, because she
is herself the death of language but she also is death insofar as she
is language.
Death, therefore, becomes a category in this poem which involves
not only inevitable physical decomposition but also the inertia and life-
lessness of established representation, that paralysis of la langue and
the ever renewed struggle of la parole to pass beyond, to resurrect from
the ashes of a spiritless letter (Naughton 46). The undermining of
established representation seems to be Bonnefoys constant task
throughout Douve: indeed, strange, unusual images can be found
throughout the poem. But if the image of the Maenad symbolizes the
death of language, there are poems where the death of image is also
proclaimed. It is now a specific poetics which is the target, the poetics
of image as conventional sign. It is not that various figures, for instance,
are presented as whichever symbols, as is the case of Phoenix or the
Salamander, but rather the specific annulment of the idea of the image
itself, the death of the image, so to speak, and the laying bare of a
poetic device.
64 Dimitrios Kargiotis

Ton visage ce soir clair par la terre,

Mais je vois tes yeux se corrompre
Et le mot visage na plus de sens.

La mer intrieure claire daigles tournants,

Ceci est une image.
Je te dtiens froide une profondeur o les images ne prennent plus. (57)

Here Douves face, through a poetic inversion, will be illuminated by

earth (instead of sun, for instance); but before the image becomes
complete, the poetic subject sees her eyes fall apart and comments that
the word face does not mean anything anymore. The poetic subject
itself annuls the very image it has created, somewhat recognizing the
impossibility of description. The description started in the second stanza
is annulled in a similar way. After its beginning, the narrator intervenes
to inform the reader that this is an image. Finally, in the last line of
the poem, we have an explicit invalidation of the idea of the image
itself. As James McAllister puts it, the image slip[s] away from the fixity
of the trace, broken before it attains a monolithic association of signi-
fier and signified, as successive detours inscribe their variant Douve
figures in a complex network of reprises. [. . .] This unrepresented
pretextual Douve is the icon that the text gradually elaborates as
orientation, beyond the sign, toward an ineffable experience of being
(Image 100).
Another side of this second level of the representation of death as
the death of the image, is the annihilation of the metrical image,
of the metrical frame itself. If we adopt John Hollanders differenti-
ation between rhythm and meter, according to which rhythm
characterizes the series of actual effects upon our consciousness of a
line or passage of verse, while meter [. . .] appl[ies] to whatever it
was that might constitute the framing, the isolating (135136), then
Bonnefoy very often annuls the image of rhythm imprinted upon the
readers mind as a result of the poems perfect alexandrins, for instance,
by introducing a metrically disruptive line. This results in the defamil-
iarization of the reader who is following the path of the rhythm, and is
inscribed into the same device of rendering poetics itself a literary device.
Such a treatment of the rhythmical image is repeated throughout the
To intermingle poetic material (in our case, various sorts and levels
of images) with devices of poetics proper, or, in other words, to render
the process of poetic creation into poetic myth itself, can only take
place through the cancellation of conventional imagery. The poem that
best captures the impossibility of images as an image itself is one from
Derniers Gestes:
Bonnefoys Du mouvement et de limmobilit de Douve 65

Que saisir sinon qui schappe,

Que voir sinon qui sobscurcit,
Que dsirer sinon qui meurt,
Sinon qui parle et se dchire?

Parole proche de moi

Que chercher sinon ton silence,
Quelle lueur sinon profonde
Ta conscience ensevelie,

Parole jete matrielle

Sur lorigine et la nuit. (66)

This new image tries to realize the impossible in a seemingly contra-

dictory and paradoxical endeavor. It seeks to represent the unrepresent-
able, by attempting to capture what cannot be captured, see the
unseeable, desire the annulment of desire, look for the silence of speech.
The sinon reveals the imperative of this attempt. Another poem that
perhaps illustrates better this effort is the following:

La lumire profonde a besoin pour paratre

Dune terre roue et craquante de la nuit.
Cest dun bois tnbreux que la flamme sexalte.
Il faut la parole mme une matire,
Un inerte rivage au del de tout chant.

Il te faudra franchir la mort pour que tu vives,

La plus pure prsence est un sang rpandu. (74)

What is explicity at stake here is not only how to capture le sensible,

but also the necessity of such an attempt (Naughton 59). To the difficulty
of such a task, only faith can provide the force: [o]n ne doit jamais
abandonner tout espoir (Bonnefoy, Fonction 273). When words
revealed death to men, when conceptual notions put distance between
them and things [. . .] something in fact like faith was needed for us to
carry on with words; and everything indicates that it is also in words
themselves but this time understood as names, cried or called out in
the midst of absence that this faith has sought its way (Bonnefoy,
Image and Presence 168) (emphasis added). Faith in words, accord-
ingly, is the first step in capturing le sensible. And this operation will
not take place in an abstract, conceptual way: [j]e ne poserai pas de
quelque faon philosophique le problme du sensible. Affirmer, tel est
mon souci (Tombeaux 24). The affirmation is realized through a poetic
device: the creation of Douve, a sign which is, at the same time, a
name, a referent, an image and a metonymy.
Carrie Jaurs Noland has codified the various levels of approaching
66 Dimitrios Kargiotis

this cryptic name. We would like to focus on Douves double aspect.

On the one hand, the word douve exists in French, and the image of
its signification inevitably comes to mind: douve is a moat around a

Douve sera ton nom au loin parmi les pierres,

Douve profonde et noire,
Eau basse irrductible o leffort se perdra. (104)

The castle is thus protected by the moat; the moat guarantees its safety
through the perdition of the trespassers. In this aspect, the linguistic
sign douve is itself an image of death. But what is this castle that
the moat surrounds to protect?

Je nommerai dsert ce chteau que tu fus,

Nuit cette voix, absence ton visage,
Et quand tu tomberas dans la terre strile
Je nommerai nant lclair qui ta port. (73)

From death as an image (douve), we pass to the death of imagery as

we saw it above. Things are renamed and a double image is at play,
that of the previous referent and that of the new one. Thus chteau
becomes dsert, voix becomes nuit, visage becomes absence,
clair becomes nant. This is why the poem is called vrai nom.
Douve as a name, as a proper name, is inscribed in the same problem-
atics. The poetic voice gives to the castle which Douve as moat is
supposed to protect the name dsert. What is surrounded by the moat
is nothingness; the very existence of the castle is undermined. But the
disappearance of the castle entails a shift in emphasis. When both the
moat and the castle are there, what is at stake is the safety of the castle;
but if the castle does not exist, the focus is shifted from the surrounded
to the surrounding, the moat itself.
The only thing we know about this moat is its name, Douve. But
who or what is Douve? Bonnefoy talks about her: [e]t si jai prouv
si intensment pour ma part lattrait dun vocable quun moment de
mon criture avait vid de tout sens, ctait certes dabord parce que
sa syncope dans lnonc avait incit, comme je lai dit, la dcoagu-
lation, lespoir, mais aussi parce que Douve, ctait dj un nom,
un nom propre, ce qui suggre sous son nigme une veille, qui nous
concerne, et non un en-soi, une indiffrence. Un visage, non une essence.
En posie il ny a jamais que de noms propres (Entretiens 141). Thus,
what is functioning here is the double aspect of the sign Douve. Douve
the noun has a particular referent, but Douve the name comprises
all the characteristics of proper names. As Lyotard puts it, [n]ames
transform now into a date, here into a place, I, you, he into Jean, Pierre,
Bonnefoys Du mouvement et de limmobilit de Douve 67

Louis. [. . .] Names grouped into calendars, cartographical systems,

genealogies and civil statutes are indicators of possible reality (emphasis
added). They present their referents, dates, places, and human beings
as givens. A phrase, otherwise deprived of deictic marks, presents Rome
instead of over-there. The name Rome acts like a deictic: the referent,
the addressor, and the addressee are situated in relation to an as-if
right here [comme-si ici] (Lyotard 39). Reality is not expressed
therefore by a phrase like: x is such, but by one like: x is such and not
such (45). Whereas the common name can have universal reference,
the proper name refers, on the contrary, exclusively to one reality to
whose uniqueness it responds.
To give a unique proper name means to baptize; to baptize alludes
to a divine power, since, by naming, one creates a being. For Benjamin,
for instance, [t]he absolute relationship of name to knowledge exists
only in God, only there is a name, because it is inwardly identical with
the creative word, the pure medium of knowledge (323). God/the poetic
subject has brought Douve into existence in a process similar to the
biblical in the beginning was the Word. Douve comes into being
because she is named.
The divine character of naming is evident in the implications of the

A peine si je sens ce souffle qui me nomme. (79)

In Genesis, chapter 2, we read: then the Lord formed man out of the
dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and
man became a living being. In a similar operation, it is now Douve who,
through a poetic breath, has acquired life. Once a living being, to question
who is Douve is irrelevant. Douve is Douve, in a similar way that
God is God: I am the being (or I am the one who is) God replies
when asked who he is. To a question of knowledge (intelligible) God
answers with a verb of presence (sensible), in an apparently tautolog-
ical sentence. In a similar way, then, [. . .] Douve is absolutely nothing
beyond the long and taunting place called Douve (Argyros 263):

[. . .] je tenserre
Dans lacte de connatre et de nommer. (77)

What thus realizes a passage to incarnation is the name. Its unique ref-
erentiality captures the real, and is explicitly contrasted to the universal
referentiality of the noun which creates distance from it. Since it is by
nature an intelligible form, the common noun can be approached in terms
of language; it can answer the question what is it. But any attempt
to explicate a name in intelligible terms is not simply doomed to fail;
68 Dimitrios Kargiotis

it is irrelevant altogether. This is why Bonnefoy insists: je ne prtends

que nommer. Voici le monde sensible. Il faut que la parole, ce sixime
et ce plus haut sens, se porte sa rencontre et en dchiffre les signes
(Tombeaux 25).
Thus l acte de saisie et de nomination de Douve se confond avec
un acte de saisie et de nomination du rel (Jackson 253). And this has
to presuppose and proclaim the death of re-presentation in favor of pre-
sentation. The literary history of the poetics of such an impossibility
comprises significant figures, and this paper has attempted to analyze one
of the ways Bonnefoy is inscribed in it.


1. See Ora Avni, Breton et lidologie . . ..

2. I shall henceforth be using the French term sensible, since the English sensible
has different connotations.
3. Expressed at its best in The Differend, Phrases in Dispute, according to which a
phrase is the only thing that is indubitable [. . .], because it is immediately presup-
posed (xi). There are phrases, therefore, there are to be understood in its most exist-ential
meaning. There is no non-phrase (xii). As opposed to language, which is an articu-
late form of expression, phrase can be any semantic unit, articulate or not. There is
neither a first nor a last phrase: silence and death are also phrases. Each phrase involves
an addressor, an addressee and a meaning; whether there is a reference or not depends
on whether the phrase is articulate or not. A phrase, even the most ordinary one, is
constituted according to a set of rules (its regimen) (xii).
4. The etymology of the German words elucidates from another angle than that of
Derridas translation the poetics of Bonnefoy: Gegen-wrtigung, literally against
waiting explains this notion of im-mediate, atemporal, incarnate, sensible present, as
opposed to the notion of making it (as if) against waiting of Ver-gegen-wrtigung.
5. All page numbers refer to the Gallimard edition.

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