Norma Cole has combed through books, little magazines, and correspondence to gather an exciting body of writing by our French contemporaries. There are letters, poems, interviews, critical pieces, and texts that cannot be classified. The authors include Anne-Marie Albiach, Jöe Bousquet, Danielle Collobert, Jean Daive, André Du Bouchet, Dominique Fourcade, Liliane Giraudon, Emmanuel Hocquard, Claude Royet-Journoud, Jacques Roubaud, Agnès Rouzier.
The texts (whether excerpted or complete) were selected for their interest as writing and for the conversation they enter into by appearing together. A conversation that creates new contexts for each individual text, but also widens the perspective in which a great deal of writing imported from France, for instance poésie blanche — the writing of the “blank page” — can be read. This conversation, rigorous and vigilant, addressing issues such as biographical and historical circumstances, and the relation of writing to other writing (reading), has been taking place for some time. Here are some pieces of it, most of them appearing for the first time in English.
Introduction, Norma Cole
“Par ces rappels, je n’entends rien prouver, mais seulement orienter l’attention.”
–Maurice Blanchot, L’entretien infini
There are conversations embedded in these pages, a kind of cross-talk through time and space. Texts, interviews, critical pieces, journal entries, letters, worknotes and at least one simple list make visible and audible an openwork of embodied voices in conversation, in the deliberate breaking open of intentionalities, isolating single elements at one extremity, multiple folds, complex rhythmic architechtonics in the process of being constructed and deconstructed at the other. Most of these pieces have been published in France in literary journals, as books or as parts of books, although at least one has been circulated privately as a “report.” One text, a guest becoming ghost, was revoked when the author, although pleased with the translation, decided his own text needed to be completely rewritten. Some of the writing here will extend the available work of writers previously translated and now familiar to North American readers, while a number of texts will introduce new work and new names.
Dialogic threads echo and reverberate through considerations of body and book, silence as both restraint and production of meaning, the neuter or neutral as the unassigned in relation to sociopolitical complexities of address, the sentence of syntax and precedent. Sets of references indicate points of orientation and question assumptions of assignment. Their generosity and hospitality are striking as is their rigor of investigation. Writing is action, the phenomenological self entering language, already a specific set of conditions within conditions. Writing and its silences are made up of specific concrete decisions. Circumstances and events (such as two world wars and the Algerian struggle for independence), from detail to detail, date to date, are not backdrop but determining facts appearing at different focal lengths, from naming to silence, testing the orders of apprehension as well as of writing.
Here is a range of writing at varying stages of coming into being, self-aware, proposing a stance very different from the taxonomy of “text/paratext.” In Beginnings, Edward Said asserts, “One of the critical distinctions of modern literature is the importance given by the writer to his own paratexts — writings that explore his working problems in making a text.” The opposite impulse is at work here, for what is of interest is how the texts read together intentionally or inadvertently, addressing each other and writing beyond the limits of this or any single volume.
Norma Cole lives in San Francisco. her books of poems include Mars, Moira, Contrafact, Desire and its Double, & The Vulgar Tongue. Her translations of French poets have appeared in many publications.