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Bernard Vargaftig

Gestures toward the Sacred

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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 5 “Les mêmes mots débordent”: The Sacred in Guillevic’s Le chant and Vargaftig’s Un récit

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Chapter 5

“Les mêmes mots débordent”: The Sacred in Guillevic’s Le chant and Vargaftig’s Un récit

Expressions of the sacred in Guillevic intersect distinctively with Vargaftig. Among the broader characteristics is his generous spatiotemporal sense, including what Stella Harvey calls a “mythical atemporality” (3). His fascination with the real engages us in dialogue with our surroundings and invites reflection on our place in the cosmos, attunement to the outer world’s ebb and flow. The intensity of his gaze and sharp focus of his style intuit the intimacy of the here and now, while surpassing notions of physical setting to suggest that an understanding of the past and immersion in the present can imbue us with the passion to move gracefully toward a shared future. His religious materialism tends now toward mystic awe and wonder, now toward material discovery and frank questioning, thus resisting critical commentary on the naming of the divine. His meditative, iterative approach foregrounds poetry’s ties to everyday spiritual life, as an essential means of communication with one’s “labyrinthes” (Vivre en poésie 148).

The following analysis uses a comparative approach to address related aspects of his quanta as a critical lens for understanding Vargaftig and Guillevic. It argues that Le chant establishes a sacred space rooted in daily spiritual life. Guillevic achieves this aim in numerous ways: he ritually returns to writing as an exploratory process, emphasizes elemental deep words that recur, reveres poetry’s expressive ability, delights in...

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