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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 2 The Influence of Jouve: Poetry as a Spiritual Vocation and the Trembling of Words


Chapter 2

The Influence of Jouve: Poetry as a Spiritual Vocation and the Trembling of Words

One pillar of Vargaftig’s gestures toward the sacred is the inspiration he finds in Pierre Jean Jouve (1887–1976). Like Baudelaire in his devotion to art and exploration of the inner self, given to gravitating around axes of study such as sexuality in relation to the Freudian unconscious and Catholicism as a potential path toward salvation, Jouve envisions writing as a space of constant self-discovery. In his poetry as in his prose, Jouve writes to explore renewal and acceptance. Language plays a central part in a process of psychological, ontological and spiritual rebuilding. In his poems, each encounter with words rethinks such rituals, through the daring of the dramatic situations, the complexity of the emotions, and the pulsating rhythms and slowly unfolding textures that make yearning palpable. Structurally, each grouped series of poems exemplifies ritual as part of the rebuilding process and the human conscience’s encounters with language as a site where rebuilding takes place. A struggle gets played out between tensions within the human spirit or soul, in the context of a far-reaching, often ascensional “vocation spirituelle” (Jouve qtd by Starobinski in Œuvre, I, XVII). This trembling of the soul reflects at once a personal search for meaning, a reliance on words for revelation, and an ache for inscription in a collective whole.

Vargaftig, who read Jouve daily (“Le cœur a son compte”; cf. Minetto), likewise...

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