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An overabounding matter of words

à propos Valère Novarina's: " Devant la parole ", P.O.L., 2000

by Jean-Michel MAULPOIX

in Scherzo, XI, october 2000

Translated from the original French by Catherine Wieder

One should read Devant la parole over and over again, i.e. slowly, carefully, with one's pen in one's hand, dialoguing with such a high-pitched book. One should prick up one's ears as deep as possible since our speech is hereby made to quiver. Here must we bend ourselves towards the bottom of the well: there words do rest. There must we go deep down …

What follows is but too short an account of reading, the very first snatches of a quiet and dim conversation. It is uncompleted, hence should be resumed.

One will feel compelled to read over and over again Devant la parole, and repeat it again and again…


Here is a pondering over language becoming more than pondering over a matter of words. Hence taking into account language as such, more than its mysterious whereabouts, i.e. such a specific personal emotion which is experienced by anyone who speaks, by anyone who talks from here within speech. Every one is indeed the traveller of such a language through his own body, his mortal unwilling body experience having become uncanny or alien to one's own self within the very act of believing he may translate it and voice it. How do words exist within us? Such is indeed the question hereby asked.

Valère Novarina thus answers: poetry is man's alcohol, i.e. that very ephemeral distillate of both flesh and existence, the breath of our "light dwelling" of a body clad in mere earth. Poetry is "speech blown in the earthman".

Through speech, do I become strange, thus a living creature. Language serves as memory: i.e. work of art or stock, depositing alluvium over reality. Speech rises and searches: flees and flies away, blows.

Inside are man's wings: two lungs blow, two bags made of air hence from speech may surge. Those wings are not made for rising up but for the poem's sake. Inside, the beat of what is both close and far away. Inside, azure rests. Inside a void swallows space. Within, there must be lips to voice these very lungs.


Impressions from the backcloth of the world

When man believes he sees the backcloth of the world being ajar through language, he is wrong: he takes for granted that such a path towards the far-beyond is but the queerness of his speech. He believes he catches sight of another world whose riddle evidences this very world of his. Thus does he erect his beliefs and churches with what he should use to tumble them down.

Whatever language or religion at stake, God is but the name given by men to this very pocket of both air and meaning through which they speak and breathe, i.e. such an ignorance and silence wherefrom both their thoughts and words do surge.

Speech digs the world through. It bites and chews, introducing both at the same time meaning and negativity. If the task of the Divine Word was to create things, the specific task of human speech would rather be to deny them, i.e. to let them flee away from that kind of inertia where they had been left behind by the divine wording.

When the world is all cluttered up by things, when language gathers up slogans and ready-made phrases, when hope no longer finds paths along which to move forward, what remains but human negativity aiming at fleeing from such a suffocation? That which claims and resists, looks for and questions and yet is never surfeited. Speech is the hard core of what is specifically human, our grandiose rhetoric.

Were we to fancy some kind of powerful air pocket wherefrom a strong resisting wind would blow.

Man exists through his capacity to postpone his knowledge, to wait, to look for, not to know … Writing about such a void, with it and within it, such is his ignorance, capable as he is to survive on earth, achieve works of art and become everyday attune though his incapacity both to remain, to dwell and to tackle.


Crucifixion and phrasing

Lyricism proceeds through division. First to try and attempt some suture. Then in order to do battle with it. Over and over again, digging the wound. Not in order to pin man to his cross, but rather to let speech dance within its torn gap.

On stage, there's a latent crucifixion. One will see both breath and blood of a such a speech blow: such is man's: "here, in front of us all, speech, which is effusion of human matter, does come in the fore". An effusion indeed, not a romantic one of both the heart and its tears but of blown language. A diffusion of language all the way towards exhalation of breath, a spreading of every possible drops of blood. Man come afore to die in front of us by emptying himself of his own self. Here he goes "through void, towards life and speed."

Here is the poet, looking alike that "Jesus crucified as a child" which Novarina discovers in Piero della Francesca's "Madonna amid angels and saints": i.e. a celestial, airy body, falling on earth, figuring through such a movement both its appearance and disappearance: "he, who is just born and yet expires in front of our eyes holds both beginning and end tied up within a large breathing figure recapturing time as a whole".

The very work is this breathing figure, such a fusion of birth and disappearance within a single moment, both his and his breath's, such a conjunction-disjunction where nothing appears but to disappear at the same time and voice such a dying out. Here, "both expiring and surging belong to the same gesture". Such is the poem in making and its combustion of language.



A matter of hand

Poetry is both a matter of breath and hand. For "the hand is the organ of language". It entails and claims acts.

Here are, for example, two kinds of hand devices dealt with and demanded by the poem: Both touch and handedness. The touch may move, sensitises, palpates and caresses forms, enables music, alters the heart beat and rhythm… Handedness is both the acutest touch and the extreme firmness of the grip, the capacity of language to hold or to keep. Where touch goes by, the grip remains. Where the former flees, the latter keeps hold of you. What were the former to be without the latter securing its intensity?

Writing is indeed such a gesture over language aiming at stressing its materiality, its visibility. One should act in such a way as to incarnate all these very words which we use everyday without really seeing them. In such a way as to turn their moves into something perceptible, so that such a human stuff they are made of would become that very mixture which the painter works at on his canvass.

A canvass? Doesn't that word refer both to the theatre and to painting? Novarina's writing enables the page, the canvass and the stage to come closer together: writing joins together the poetic space, the stage and drama. With language in motion, using it as a material, its writing turns the stage into a super activity of the poem: "The stage is where active poetry may surge and show once again to men how the world is caught by language."

How odd are our gestures, both multistage and sleep-walking, every single one groping towards new substances, towards new bodies, different from them he was to embrace, each hiding new gestures towards something else. Almost as if all that, in this world of ours, were but a pretext, an optical illusion or a failure in perspective. In the past, people used to call it but a dream.


Are words anything but the manifestation (evidence? demonstration? cause? consequence?) of our distance to things? That words should thus interpose themselves and circulate between me and my self, between me and the world, between the Other and myself, may indeed be the stamp of such a defect on which existence rests, such an ignorance and precarious balance which compels us forever to be unwedged, now here, now elsewhere, always the same and yet different, hanging over above, pending, slowly turning into something else which we never become, pushing our words, gestures and figures forwards into time made of signs.


© Jean-Michel Maulpoix.