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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 3 Self-Awareness and Feminine Presence: Aveu, distance, ouverture, nudité


Chapter 3

Self-Awareness and Feminine Presence: Aveu, distance, ouverture, nudité

In Vargaftig’s poetry, eros plays a complex, vital role. Interpersonally, his oeuvre ritualizes a profound relationship with his spouse Bruna. As his beloved, she is an overt or implied addressee, resurfacing at intervals as “Bruna” or as “tu.” Their intimate communion as life partners calms and reassures him. She serves as a driving force and gravitational centre, counterbalancing the psychic wounds – due to the six years he spent in hiding in the Limousin during the Occupation – that his writing foregrounds. Whether sexualized or diffuse, her presence in his poetry suggests completeness, shared happiness, and mutual understanding. Depicting such potential, for example through the simple phrase “Je t’aime” amid abstractions that underscore perceptual flow and inner turbulence, serves a crucial purpose. Because his time in hiding required him to deny his own name, change residences, fear abduction, inhabit silence, revert to imagination for psychic sustenance, and invent an unspoken personal language in which counting, naming, and gestures figured strongly, he suffers lingering trauma. Despite a productive adulthood, his deeper identity can seem to have come undone. Childhood, along with its peculiar wartime memories and ways of seeing and feeling, continues to accompany him, particularly in the atypical sense of perceiving the past to be in front of him (Un même silence; Aucun signe particulier; Minetto).

In his poems’ words and imagery, Bruna frequently functions as a salve for instability. Moreover, countless references to her...

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