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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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Conclusion Authenticity, Historicity, Judaicity



Authenticity, Historicity, Judaicity

Bernard Vargaftig strikes a balance between the particular and universal, between what is personal and what we all might feel. He enjoys writing as part of a time and place, in response to those around him and to events in his life. As his writing progresses, this process grows more inward-turned. In transmitting to the reader the importance of sacred bonds and expressing through form the elan of curiosity and generosity that brings us together, he finds his own voice. The diverse poetic structures with which he initially experiments evolve into brief, sometimes fragmented, metrically varied stanzas set within book-length sequences, a method that begins to take shape in La preuve le meurtre (1977), Orbe (1980) and L’air et avec (1981). As evidenced by these titles, he deals unabashedly with an array of emotional layers. In La preuve, a blinding, vertiginous absence haunts him, compensated for by an ubiquitous surge of eros whereby words addressed to the female Other resemble “l’éclair / Entre [s]es jambes” (11) and suggestive backdrops are often blinding: “Aveuglante la forêt / L’autre cri dans la mémoire” (2). In Orbe, recognition of Bruna and her always evolving difference interweaves with the space of self and Other that she helps the lyrical “I” explore: “La dispersion / Aveu sans cesse” (13); “Et l’eau si courbe / / Avec […] Le nom de tous” (42); “Et ton signe / Et autrement” (91). The poems do not just...

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