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Bernard Vargaftig

Gestures toward the Sacred


Aaron Prevots

The French poet Bernard Vargaftig (1934–2012), first known in 1960s literary circles as a writer mentored by Aragon, published regularly and served on the editorial boards of Action poétique and Europe. His poetry foregrounds identity and alterity, eros and notions of self, an immediate present and an onrushing past. This book examines Vargaftig’s evolution and aims. It explores his postwar search for self-acceptance, ontological rootedness and shared forward paths. Using close readings of his poetry and prose, complemented by his comments in interviews, the book particularly considers his emphasis on the sacredness of words. His spiritual yearnings, as well as a need to heal due to lingering trauma from wartime hiding, are shown to underlie his focus on allusive imagery, recurring motifs and compact structures, where silence and sound interweave. Comparative analyses are used to show how his enthusiasm for the female Other attunes us to interpersonal bonds and to the outer world’s creative surge. The study of Vargaftig through the lens of gestures toward the sacred thus highlights poetry as a healing ritual, one that facilitates not only immersion in emotion and sensation, but also a continual process of renewal and self-discovery.

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Chapter 1 Early Poems: Finding a Voice


Chapter 1

Early Poems: Finding a Voice

Vous souvenez-vous du cri de Georges Rouault: “En art, il vaut mieux se perdre par ses propres moyens que d’essayer de se sauver par les moyens des autres.” […] La sincérité est la première attitude du créateur. Et cela ne signifie pas sans méthode, sans connaissances. Il doit être lui-même […].

— “Art et réalité” (21)

In his first two decades of writing, Vargaftig seeks a higher purpose via love and implicit social engagement. He identifies obstacles to his search including a need for personal stability. As he communes with the elemental world, he laments what seems missing in everyday routine. The female Other strengthens him, particularly through maternity, yet psychological scars and youthful melancholia can surface. Amid autobiographical elements, including a confessional tendency concerning the difficulties of finding a poetic voice, realistic narratives about his and others’ experiences emerge as a stylistic focal point. Above all, his writing as of age 20 reflects a desire to refine his craft in order to understand himself and “aider les gens à s’aimer” (“Notes” 4). He must face his history as a child survivor of ethnic persecution and the anomalies of writing itself, and thus search for knowledge that eludes him (“Témoignage” 2007, 1) while still trying to identify a forward path. Having already been immersed in literature in his studies, he must sift through his influences and refine his vision of poetry as...

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