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Essais de Pascal LERAY
Meschonnic now

 Article publié le 14 avril 2009.


Tributes rain over french poet Henri Meschonnic. Did he publish some new and especially significant volume ? Did he add a stone on the edifice of his own theory ? No. He just died. In other words, he is now harmless. He shall not be fearfully rejected anymore, as he has been, as long as he lived, even in the latest weeks. On the other side, the furious idolatry which surrounded him since several years should get even stronger. And, in these critical times (french university is the object of important changes), there is no doubt a church could get new faithful members : we shall call it (we have no better words) the Church of University Poetry. Henri Meschonnic belongs to the History of french literature. His death closes a time of this History and it seems to us necessary, better than joining the concert of polite formulas, to pursue (on a mode which seems not far from the critics he promoted himself, when linguist Roman Jakobson died) the questioning of what his career meant, as it seems hard to define because nowadays french literature is more readable in its silences than in its positive existence.

Four or five disciplines can be affected by Henri Meschonnic’s death. Lexicography, first. In this domain he was excellent but it was maybe too narrow to him. Although, at every steps of his career, the meaning of words was something precious to him. And the meaning of the meaning of words itself was for Meschonnic a powerful weapon. But lexicography could not be large enough for him who had the ambition of thinking the whole language. So death of this original figure of nowadays thought should also plunge linguists into mourning. But Henri Meschonnic has never really belonged to this discipline, because its processes tend to be those of exact sciences and as he progressed in his own thought, the poetician evolved further and further away from these methods. Translation – or translation studies – has also been marked by this great specialist of the Bible. But, if zealots see him as the origin of all things, this domain is maybe the one in which the linguist seemed to us the more problematically narrow-minded. Henri Meschonnic knew people go rarely back to original texts, especially in a country as France which has for so long grown in the belief that its language was the most universal of all languages and where few people learn foreign languages. This situation conferred to him an undeniable superiority over most of his readers. And, concerning poetry.... Let’s see now who among our nowadays poets will sincerely complain about Meschonnic’s death. Let’s remind the effervescent time when was published the essay Celebration of Poetry, more than polemic. This text should be saluted at two levels : the first one is due to the fact it caused a debate, certainly limited but which existed. That is in itself a performance. The second one is linked to the first point, being : this book is certainly the only one which offers a global survey of early XXIst century french poetry. The survey was a little bit short and full of resentment but such a global view cannot be found anywhere else.

We clearly believe Henri Meschonnic’s poetic fate has been perverted par the unfavorable context where it developed itself. The different crisis of the economy of edition (and of economy itself) from the late seventies to our days have had a lamentable consequence on intellectual life : literary space have tended to organize itself in clans and this trend has reached a point which is hard to imagine. Henri Meschonnic has first been a victim of this sectarian logic, before getting himself involved into such practices. And if we talk about sects or clans, we don’t speak of furious disagreements between different trends which would be fiercely expressed. We must represent the situation as the coexistence of parallel worlds which never communicate one with another. This is the reason why each of these worlds defines itself as the whole « contemporary poetry ». Inside these spaces, there is no debate. Out of these spaces, there must be two or three abysses because we never find the point where they should interfere. It is not surprising, in such conditions, none of these churches can be heard by any audience.

We should now speak about poetics. But is poetics a discipline ? We are not sure we may revolve this question. But the fact is clear that, if poetics was a discipline, its representatives should give a sincere tribute to the one who raised so high the flag of its learnings. And the sincerity of the tribute should in no way diminish its critical dimension. Because we can see a more complicated situation than traductology (this discipline has solid theoretical bases). The author of a « Critics of Rhythm » leaves behind something really inextricable. He has left Roman Jakobson to his so-called « cratylism ». He has buried Youri Lotman under the painful denomination of « semiotics » (which, according to Meschonnic, can’t think the subject). Meschonnic’s theory defines the poem as a « semantics without a semiotics »). Moreover, it gave a method to note the rhythm of a text which let a large place to individual interpretation. Where can we find, in scientific literature, a critical view of this approach ? We must recognize that, until today, we are in a desert. Either the method is ignored (that is especially the case in linguistics), or it is raised as a belief which cannot be contested, though except for the « group accentuation » (which was finely described, in the early XXth century, by Paul Claudel), not many elements are scientifically granted. Why couldn’t there be those debates when the author was living ? The only explanation we can see, we don’t find it anywhere else but in the logics of clans which rules nowadays french literature, theory – and research. This situation allows all incompetences as long as it stays obedient to the local intellectual potentates.

How debates about so-called « death of french culture » are vain, in this context ! The only thing about which we are sure concerning this point is the following one : if you think the friendly discussions between Bernard-Henri Levy and Michel Houellebecq is representative of the intellectual life of this country, if you see french main-stream edition’s commercial events as the beating heart of creation, you will certainly be happier by exploring the fields of foreign production, among which some writings are animated by a vital necessity. But you will then insult all that exists, now, on this territory and which cannot be heard as what allows public existence is due to a logic of submission. We consider Henri Meschonnic has been the victim of this situation. We consider his work has been affected by the logics of clans which kept it in a narrow circle. We deplore the only solution he has found was to reproduce the same mechanisms that led him to this isolation. We ask for a real debate, for critics, for the recognition of the other. And this appears to us as the most productive and honest tribute to a man who accompanied our thought for better and for worst.

Pascal Leray

as Charles Hectorne


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