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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 4 Sacred Gestures and Talmudic Traditions: The Eros of Unknowing in Comme respirer


Chapter 4

Sacred Gestures and Talmudic Traditions: The Eros of Unknowing in Comme respirer

Vargaftig’s poetry from the 1980s and beyond can pose challenges even to the advised reader. Mystical inner landscapes, strings of abstractions, and missing links in the semantic chain within and between brief lines make for variations that only partially resolve to recognizable themes. Enigma by design and perpetual movement take centre stage, standing out as signal characteristics as the author careens toward an eternally present past. One invaluable means of examining such verse is to recognize his status as a child survivor who still faces the trauma of his years spent in hiding during the Occupation. Another is to unpack the fascinating interplay of signs that he sets into motion, including fruitful ambiguities established on many levels – affective, existential, ontological, psychological, spatiotemporal. The following analysis complements existing scholarship by highlighting spiritual-religious currents as additional interpretive possibilities. It posits that Vargaftig’s interest in Talmudic traditions provides insights into his aims and methods.14 Far from asserting the presence of religious dogma, it explores how Judaic culture features in his writing, motivating him to←55 | 56→ engage with texts, alterity, and the sacred in significant, life-changing ways. It uses Comme respirer (2003) as a primary source, along with Marc-Alain Ouaknin’s Le livre brûlé (1986) and Lire aux éclats (1989) as overviews of Talmudic history and interpretation with which Vargaftig was familiar.15 Commentary will emphasize excerpts from poems and interviews, as well as essentials from...

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