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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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Bruna Vargaftig, Cécile Vargaftig, and Valérie Minetto shared invaluable insights during initial research. I would like to acknowledge my gratitude to them for their kindness and generosity, including permission from Bruna Vargaftig to print poems, a brief correspondence excerpt, and material from Bernard Vargaftig’s archives at the Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques Doucet. Thanks are due to Obsidiane and VVV for additional approval of the publication of selected poems. I am also grateful for permission to reprint material as follows.

An early version of Chapter 2 appears in the anticipated proceedings of the Colloque Pierre Jean Jouve: dans l’atelier de l’écrivain, Université d’Artois, Arras, France, 21–3 mars 2019, as “Pierre Jean Jouve et Bernard Vargaftig: tremblement et nudité du dire.”

Chapter 3 appears in French Review 93.2 (December 2019), as “Self-Awareness and Feminine Presence in the Poetry of Bernard Vargaftig: Aveu, distance, ouverture, nudité.”

Chapter 5 was published in preliminary form in Notes Guillevic Notes 6 (Fall 2016): 17–34, as “‘Les mêmes mots débordent’: The Sacred in Guillevic and Vargaftig.”

Thanks for research support are due to The United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, for Sam Taylor Fellowships, and to the Fondation des Treilles: “La Fondation des Treilles, créée par Anne Gruner Schlumberger, a notamment pour vocation d’ouvrir et de nourrir le dialogue entre les sciences et les arts afin de faire progresser la création et la recherche...

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