Trans. Emily Gogolak

1. Suppose that you ask me here – and, for the first time, the supposition was actually real – to publish some little verbal things, which I wish to call poems, in collection considered philosophical or rather “anti-philosophical,” I would not be bold enough, in responding to your request, to easily participate in a tradition that refers (but I don’t think so) to a certain seventeenth-century reactionary, vehemently opposed to the Enlightenment or maybe (and I this I do think is true) to the tormented and tabularasant position of Tristan Tzara, and as weak as I am from my personal history of disastrous and painful relationships with philosophical texts – I say this today without the slightest bitterness – and seeing that I use this technique of thoughts through thoughts so rarely that I find myself hardly capable of articulating them in any coherent fashion, you should understand that if the reader were to a make a lapsus lectora (as one would say lapsus oculi or linguae or calami) in reading my anti- or, rather, “ante-philosophy,” then yes, I think it would suit me infinitely better.

Suppose that on the topic of this lapsus you ask me here to show how one of them could belong to the word “philosophy” – in the fashion of the lapsus calumni that strikes my keyboard on certain occasions (and I’ll talk about this later in more detail), where I mistake “poetize” for “poetry” and “theatrize” for “theater” – but I couldn’t really write “ponderize” or “workize,” both understood as noun-verbs like the aforementioned “theatrize” and “poetize,” and especially not “thinkize,” especially not “thinkize,” since doing so would no longer evoke my Dada of the moment: the interrogation of thoughts in a constrained form, with a slight contradiction, perhaps considering Jacques Roubaud’s claim that “poetry does not think, having so many other things to do” (I understand that to “poetize” isn’t to think, namely since it has to prepare everything in advance just in order to understand its own formal meaning or meaningful form), and all the while knowing that although the real lapsus doesn’t wait around to open its door, it nevertheless doesn’t hurry itself, never rushes us through its mixed up letters, and walking through to find the image of a lapsus I could hardly have expected, not “philosophy,” but its apocope potachique, “philo,” unveiled brusquely, and as for me, well, this moved me as much as those first words from the great editor, poet, anti-philosopher, and commander, Benoît Casas, all under the form “pholi.”

Suppose that I intend here to cast on this page a series of letters arranged as words, comprised of only one sentence, following the favor of a reading that mobilizes some reader other than myself, I would willingly think of the little trouble of a tangled thread (on the telephone, on a fishing pole, in a sewing box), a situation that, inevitably, exasperates the subject, drives him to doubt the few certainties he thought he could count on, (i.e. that non-human things can’t have free will, even by the slightest resistance or protestation), however, with the aforesaid in mind, thought alone should be enough to undo this knot – and surrendering nothing to possible difficulty – such that, in facing it, to untangle it mentally you won’t need to steal bulldozers from a construction site or act like Alexander the Great in Gordian, but rather more simply, facing this knot like facing a sentence threaded with good substance and good rhythm, only a soft, reflective, concentrated, informed, critical, free gaze knows to do what it must, without too much effort, in order to appreciate, unravel, and understand it.

Suppose that you ask me here to fill a small space – modest, sufficient – by means of a few lines and an idea, if not a thought, at the back of my mind, having something to do with a tactful (even violent) activity against our lazy (and maybe even more violent) nature, that activity the French call “reading,” I would choose to not break out into some dirge for a so-called loss of speed, and, above all, to not sing an elegy for any other reason than an attempt to develop, upstream at the moment when your eyes passed by it, a good sentence, constructible, constructed, and constructive, one sole meandering sentence, anastomotic, futile, whose only glorious ambition would be to come to resemble, like two drops of water, a body at once one and many, more sure of itself the more it is read, not defensive – a sentence never susceptible to road rage – which will end by recognizing itself, its own unique rhythm,  identifiable only in reference to another Suppose that

Suppose that you ask me here to say what exactly is this “Suppose that…” I would start by mentioning the fact that the first poem I composed with just a single, long sentence (it dealt with the broken branches and sandbags found alongside rivers once they’ve finished flooding) wasn’t meant to be the first one in an entire series and even less the foundation of a future form, a form I am just now starting to understand clearly – and I mean clearly even in spite of some ambiguity, such that if in series I often resorted to “Suppose that…,” it was on the condition of the order, or I’d rather say the request: “We are making a special collection on the theme of the first one, would you please accept our invitation to contribute?” – so this form, maybe imagined initially, to counter Baudelaire, an exercise in the constraints of a poem in prose (with only one phrase, one verse, one long monostich of prose that the reader’s voice unthreads without crossing the line or turning the bend), unravels itself from a second type of constraint and form quite different from the first, the essay, the form which Littré says in his dictionary is a “work in which the author treats his material without the pretention of having the last word,” and that this most artisanal and conceptual embrace of a metrological and reflective poetry was born, well, I couldn’t be more pleased.

Suppose that, for the first time, I started to reflect on “the first one,” I wouldn’t have been able to hide my irritation in seeing this idea of the first attached to the idea of the only, these two opposites here being strung together more by chance than by choice, past as soon as present, such that what is described by the adjective “still-born” would be better named “bornstill,” even though my spell-check highlights it in red, an almost paradoxical situation that, for example, would attach an impossible name to a list of the Perecqiuen type, “titles of impossible films”: Titanic, the return, the first voyage that is at once the first and the last, the “born-still” voyage, while I would readily propose the thought of a screenplay based on a romance novel (there are already too many based on detective novels) that would be titled “in love only once,” and would tell the story of someone who will only be in love once, no more, no less, and who would only make love only once, no more, no less, and all novelists in the world feeling they must write their tale of “love, once” (if you, an amateur, claimed that this first “suppose that…” set the semantic constraint and started the series, I have the feeling that we all would have run from here like the sailors at Vendée-Globe from Port Sables d’Olonne), and conscious as I am that the second, third, thirteenth, and nth loves – like anything else – aren’t stupid repetitions, ridiculous or unpleasant, just as in the verse “I am haunted. The Sky! The Sky! The Sky! The Sky!” not one of the four skies resembles the three others, especially since they even have different names: the first, the antepenultimate, the third, and the last, Mallarmé who might have been inspired to write in the margin: “I am haunted, haunted, haunted, haunted: the Sky.”

Suppose that at nobody’s request I reread the preceding poem with a sharp eye, I would be tempted to deny that I had made any mistake in my previous reading, arguing that if Mallarmé successfully reached the hypothesis: “I am haunted, haunted, haunted, haunted, haunted: the Sky,” he might not have realized that it had the chance to be better suited than the original to the idea of the absolute and the ideal, and the pureness that you, the reader, could feel in it, blasé to the tension between the material and the immaterial, a tension forcing itself from behind the façade of rhetorical paradox: if I am haunted, it is by a plurality of Skies, each a proper noun, a plurality of ceruleans that, Matisse said, though chemically the same are nevertheless different since they look different – a fatal plurality where everything unique falls to singular iniquity – and I don’t say this to be sad! even when I find myself in an observation confining myself to the conviction that the “poly” is full of great and happy consequences – the poly-semic, -glottic, -phonic, -gamic, -theist… (list not closed) – I should know (especially when considering the course of its repetitions) that it, just like love, can’t be made on the first day, let alone on the first time.

Suppose that you ask me here to engage in some careful reflections on two slippery slopes, lyricism and eloquence, I would choose, so as not to veer from my original intention, to start my sentences by hooking them to an epithet, an engine borrowed from the poem of a certain master – and it hardly matters to me whether he’s considered important or not – I chose Tristan Corbière, who manages in the first verse of one of his “amours jaunes” – if I can still call each of the collection’s poems an “amour jaune,” in the same manner that each of Baudelaire’s poems would be a “fleur-du-mal” – to condense twice in six syllables his idea, his intention, not the simple conviction that “Oui, La Muse est sterile” (the phrase also appearing in the poem entitled “Decourageux”), or that the strings of the lyre become mute, but rather that the perpetuation, the renewal, the renovation of the construction of great poems be nothing more than a way to live, at once in the wet concrete of an incomplete building and in the creativity – the art – of the concept, a special paradox, the denial of what I affirm, the rejection of what I assert, the unfinishable of what I am attempting to finish, the paradox of eloquence or of rhetoric, given to a form that sings while saying that it does not (and Corbière, most of the time, knew when he shouldn’t sing out of tune, or shouldn’t even sing at all), and, after dilly-dallying enough, here’s what I’m finally trying to say: “This is a true poet: he never had a song.”

Suppose that you ask me here to explain what “the song” could be in poetry,something other than a bel canto or a song you’d sing in the shower, I would be tempted to make a list of titles: le Cazoniere, le Canioneiro, les Cantos, le Canto general, le Buch der Lieder or le Crepsucle, a list evidently incomplete, a list that manifests a beautiful permanence of entonation and intonation never having abandoned the desires of poets, the most visual also being the most sonorous (Apollinaire), to the point that I’ve wanted to spit without shame in the face of these trite titles and instead propose the idea of the (novel, creative, con- structive…) “construction song” – these poems (all belonging to that same construction site, even though the nouns song and site are quite different) in strong accord with a well-refined work of a Mr. Saint-Amant, “Le Fromage,” which, officially an ode to the rapport between Brie cheese and red wine, could also be understood as an homage to an assembly of poets, I cite it here:
    Sitting by the edge of the construction site
    With the people of my profession
    That is to say with a crew
    That only swears by the brew
    I sing… etc.
and brew having at least three meanings (oenologic, poetic, and olfactory), and the construction site, never at rest, having three others of its own: the smallest corner of a shack, the space of rhetorical work, and, at the end, a song-book.

Suppose that, going forward I promise to say a bit more on the weight that I’d like to give to lyricism (a category I thought until now rather watery and wishy-washy, which is why I used to stay clear, thinking I could only pick it up with tongs), I would grin and bear it and say that, as engaged as I am in a practice of poetry that refuses as much as possible to establish preferences and exclusions – in reading or writing – there is no reason why my desire to encyclopedically create poetry should exclude a lyrical approach, not only in speaking of the world, but also in speaking encyclopedically of poetry itself, such that lyricism, understood as a rhapsody or a song in itself (with itself, against itself), is a terrain imaginable like many others that one could classify according to adjectives linked to lyricism, “lyricism” then becoming a synonym for “poetry”: comic lyricism, historic lyricism, social lyricism, autobiographical lyricism, alterobiographical lyricism, oral lyricism, proximate lyricism, partner lyricism, botanic lyricism … so, yes, lyricism only worth something to the adjective’s noun (if I can say so, since the word “adjective” is indeed a noun) or to the complement of the noun that one could stick to it, the poem anyways being the place of obvious reconciliation between the big false enemies of literature, eloquence and lyricism, the fabricated and the inspired, lyricism and eloquence – quasi interchangeable since they live in each other like body in spirit – then returned to their right places, perhaps wrongly, by the French language.

But suppose that I attempted to suffocate lyricism with my adjectives (giving it, in my opinion, a little strength) and that I twisted its neck with the hands (hopefully eloquent) of “Suppose that…,” I agree that this would be to declare the profane, the linguistic, the impure, the immanent, the transitory, the historic, the shareable, the collective, the intimate, the clear, the complex, the true, the false, the concrete, the irreligious, the simple spiritualist, the local, the memorable, the funny, the erotic, the plastic, the shown, the reusable, the immodern, the immodest of poetry … the greatness of its range, but which is really just one word; and perhaps the best way for me to clarify my theoretical and practical thoughts is to simply make an antonymic return to authoritative words, and thus to convince myself of a reopened and renewed situation: that poetry didn’t do anything concrete, lost in the abstract among too many untouched borders, in the concrete (mother word), for there is not a sole word that is not poetry, not a single turn, not a single subject, not a single form, not a single rhythm, not a single mass, not a single exposure, not a single pair – nothing paired, nothing impaired that is not poetry, the good rhythm of quality Brie having exactly the same poetic legitimacy as that of Time – capital T, who empties all melancholy –, and, reading your expression, I think you might reply: oh la la, dear monsieur, that being said, your poems are such a miscellaneous mix … how eclectic!

. . . . .

Suppose that you finally told me here that what I’ve been saying has been nothing but didactic, even for my own personal ends (though none of it has any analytic or critical utility), I would respond that this, doubly, is not at all true, on the one hand for the reason that my method requires me to look at the History of poets and their poems with an eye which risks upsetting a few vested interests, to challenge patrimony out of my disdain for its oppressive abstract lyricism (that’s to say the opposite of concrete), to reevaluate Lucrece (but is this necessary?), Lucrece the Hercules of poetry, like he himself said Epicurus was of thought, but also, to say that Raymond Queneau whose more recent Petite cosmogonie portative isn’t some bizarre boil but the pure masterpiece of a Hermes of poetry –, and, on the other hand, because of my attempts to speak from experiences (on the battle field, on the construction site, in the song) not at all caught up in the confines of some ivory tower, but rather themselves catalysts of the poetic activity necessary to fix broken machines, those with electric systems that are always overheating, ones that you must temper by means of certain cooling systems, a refrigerative poetry.

. . . . .

Suppose that you ask me here to clarify why I think the concept of the Republic is so fascinating, I would respond that the Republic (which, please note, I capitalize), is without doubt the only idea I’m willing to prop up with some not entirely immanent definition, and I will still affirm that, far from any non-historic nostalgia I’ve never felt (time for Proust, the golden age for I don’t know whom, the individual for the romantics … the list could go on), the Republic is the now, the all concrete terrain, the birth place of the novel, and if it could speak, it would call itself the only worthwhile utopia: not stuck in any particular place, but rather a part of all places, unchained in moving time; to be the place that doesn’t pin-up the “DO NOT ENTER” of the inane, insular utopia of Thélème … all on the contrary, the Republic (and let’s say that on the same plane I put the Islamic Republic of Iran and the fifth French Republic, both with their disastrous perversions of exclusion) gives itself equally to everyone, without reserve and without exception, this being why (rationally, legally), the death sentence is entirely absent from any real Republic, I am serious, because it would represent a failure of its first and foremost most ideal: inclusion.

Suppose that you ask me here to a go a bit farther in clarifying the Republican utopia, I would adamantly argue that this sort of utopia isn’t meant to be entirely epic (full of the ideal of the what or the what is), or even universal, – as for me, it’s no Saint-Just (which would make me run for the hills), but rather the sort of hopeless, futile “infinity” that consumes the most devout disciples of a national Convention, remarkable in the range of its membership, say, at random, Syria, the US, Brazil, Gabon … today in 2006, we see an almost radical diversity: democracy of this kind, absent of the democracy of the other, convinces me of this, especially when I look at History: if popular democratic concern has no national roots, has no chance to grow nationally (what time it took for it to flourish here and become beautiful when everything around it was growing uglier!), because universalism – well aware of its superiority and dreaming of only one thing, that others be both themselves and the same – wants to give itself the space to move quickly, to give orders (never for modest or disinterested reasons), and so, taking its time and convincing us of the necessity, though temporary, for a tyranny of exception, it loses the opportunity to meet the other – who really does exist –, misses the chance for a real, concrete pursuit whose simple dream to understand could easily take a lifetime.

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