quarta-feira, 9 de maio de 2012

Signs in Rotation by Octavio Paz

The history of modern poetry is the history of an immoderation. After tracing a brief and enigmatic sign, all its great protagonists have crashed against the rock. Lautreamont's black star rules the destiny of our most eminent poets. But this century and a half has been as rich in disasters as in works: the failure of the poetic adventure is the opaque side of the sphere; the other is formed of the modern poems' light.
Thus, to examine poetry's possibilities of being incarnated is not to ask questions about the poem but about history: is it idle fancy to think of a society that will reconcile the poem and the act, that will be living word and lived word, creation of the community and creative community? This book did not propose to answer that question: its theme was a reflection on the poem. Nevertheless, the compelling naturalness with which it appears at the beginning and end of the meditation—is this not an indication of its central character? That question is the question. Since the dawn of modern times, the poet has never ceased to ask it—and therefore he has written. And History, also unceasingly, has rejected it—has answered with something else. I shall not try to answer it.

I should not be able to. But still I cannot remain silent either. I shall hazard something that is more than an opinion and less than a certainty: a belief. It is a belief nourished by uncertainty and grounded upon nothing but its negation. In reality I seek that point of insertion of poetry that is also a point of intersection, fixed and vibrant center where contradictions are constantly annulled and reborn. Wellspring-heart.

The question embraces two antagonistic and complementary terms: there is no poetry without society, but poetry has a contradictory way of being social: it simultaneously affirms and denies speech, which is social word; there is no society without poetry, but society can never be realized as poetry, it is never poetic.
Sometimes the two terms aspire to break apart. They cannot. A society without poetry would lack a language: everyone would say the same thing or no one would speak, transhuman society in which all would be one or each person would be a self-sufficient unit. A poetry without a society would be a poem without an author, without a reader and, in fact, without words. Condemned to a perpetual association that is resolved to instant discord, the two terms seek a mutual conversion: to poetize social life, to socialize the poetic word. Transformation of society into creative community, into living poem; and of the poem into social life, image incarnate.

A creative community would be that universal society in which the relations between men, far from being an imposition of external necessity, would be like a living fabric, made of each one's fatality in being bound up with the freedom of all. That society would be free because, as its own master, society alone would be able to determine itself; and it would be unified because human activity would not consist, as it does today, in some men's domination over others (or in the revolt against that domination), but would seek the recognition of each person by his equals or, rather, his fellows.
The cardinal idea of the modern revolutionary movement is the creation of a universal society that, in abolishing oppression, will simultaneously unfold the original identity or similarity of every man and each man's radical difference or singularity. Poetic thought has not been alien to the vicissitudes and conflicts of this literally superhuman endeavor. Since German romanticism, the history of Western poetry has been that of its breaks and its reconciliations with the revolutionary movement. At one time or another, all our great poets have believed that in a revolutionary, communist, or libertarian society the poem would cease to be that nucleus of contradictions that simultaneously affirms and denies history. In the new society, poetry would at last be practical.


The conversion of society into a community and the poem into practical poetry are not within view. It is just the opposite: each day they seem more remote. The predictions of revolutionary thought have not come true or have been realized in a way that is an affront to the supposed laws of history. It has become a commonplace to insist on the palpable discord between theory and reality. I can only repeat, with no joy whatever, for the sake of the argument, some facts known by all: the absence of revolutions in the countries that Marx called civilized and that today are called industrial or developed; the existence of revolutionary regimes that have abolished private ownership of the means of production without also abolishing the exploitation of man or the differences of class, rank, or function; the almost complete replacement of the classic antagonism between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, capital and labor, by a dual and ferocious contradiction: the opposition between rich and poor countries and the quarrels between states and groups of states that join together or separate, form alliances or fight one another, stirred by the needs of the moment, by geography and the national interest, independently of their social systems and the philosophies they claim to profess.

A description of the surface of contemporary society would have to include other no less disturbing traits: the aggressive rebirth of racial, religious, and linguistic particularisms along with the docile adoption of forms of thought and conduct elevated to a universal canon by commercial and political propaganda; the raising of the standard of living and the degrading of the standard of life; the sovereignty of the object and the dehumanization of those who produce and use it; the predominance of collectivism and the evaporation of the notion of one's fellow man. The means have become ends: economic policy instead of political economy; sex education and not an understanding of eroticism; the perfection of the communications system and the nullification of those who communicate with one another; the triumph of the sign over the image in the arts and, now, of the thing over the sign. ...

A circular process: plurality is resolved to uniformity without suppressing the discord between nations or the split in consciousnesses; the personal life, exalted by advertising, melts into a life of anonymity; the novelty of each day ends by being repetition and agitation issues in immobility. We go from no place to nowhere. Like the movement in a circle, said Raimundo Lulio, so is the punishment in hell.

Perhaps Rimbaud was the first poet who saw, in the sense of perception and clairvoyance, the present reality as the infernal or circular form of movement. His work is a condemnation of modern society, but his final word, Une Saison en Enfer, is also a condemnation of poetry. (1) For Rimbaud, the new poet would create a universal language, from the soul for the soul, that would announce the action instead of rhythming it.
The poet would not merely express the march toward Progress, but would be vraiment un multiplicateur de progrès. The novelty of poetry, Rimbaud says, is not in the ideas or the forms, but in its capacity to define the quantité d'inconnu s'éveillant en son temps dans l'âme universelle. The poet does not limit himself to discovering the present: he awakens the future, brings the present to the encounter of that which is coming: cet avenir sera matérialiste. The poetic word is no less "materialistic" than the future it announces: it is movement that engenders movement, action that transmutes the material world. Animated by the same energy that moves history, it is prophecy and the actual consummation, in real life, of that prophecy. The word is incarnated, it is practical poetry.

Une Saison en Enfer condemns all this. The alchemy of the word is a delirium: vieillerie poétique, hallucination, sophisme de la folie. The poet renounces the word. He does not return to his former belief, Christianity, or to his own people; but before abandoning everything, he proclaims a singular Noël sur la terre: le travail nouveau, la sagesse nouvelle, la fuite des tyrans et des démons, la fin de la superstition. It is the farewell to the old world and the hope of changing it by poetry: Je dois enterrer mon imagination. The chronicle of hell closes with an enigmatic declaration: Il faut être absolument moderne. Whatever may be the interpretation given to this phrase, and there are many, it is evident that here modernity stands in opposition to alchemy of the word.

Rimbaud no longer exalts the word, but the action: point de cantiques. After Une Saison en Enfer one cannot write a poem without overcoming a feeling of shame: is it not a ridiculous act or, what is worse, a kind of deceit? Two paths are still open, the paths tried by Rimbaud: action (industry or revolution) or the writing of that final poem that will also be the end of poetry, its negation and its culmination.

Revolutionary action and the practice of poetry have never seemed so incompatible as in the last thirty years. Nevertheless, something unites them. Born at almost the same time, modern poetic thought and the revolutionary movement meet, after a century and a half of quarrels and ephemeral alliances, before the same landscape:

a space fully packed with objects, but devoid of future. The condemnation of poetry's intent to be incarnated in history also touches he principal protagonist of the modern era: the revolutionary movement. They are the two sides of the same phenomenon. This condemnation, moreover, is an exaltation: it condemns us to ourselves, not to revolution or to poetry. It is very easy now to criticize revolutionary thought, especially its Marxist branch. Its insufficiencies and limitations are obvious. Has anyone observed that they are also our own insufficiencies and limitations? Its errors are those of the boldest and most generous segment of the modern spirit, in its dual direction: as criticism of the social reality and as universal plan for a just society.

Not even the crimes of the Stalinist period or the progressive degeneration of the official Marxism, transformed into bureaucratic Manichaeism, are alien to us: they are an integral part of the same history. A history that encompasses us all and that we have all made together. Although the society envisaged by Marx is far from being a reality of history, Marxism has permeated history so deeply that we all, in one way or another, sometimes without knowing it, are Marxists. Our moral categories and judgments, our idea of the future, our opinions of the present or of justice, peace or war, everything, not excluding our negations of Marxism, is impregnated with Marxism. Marxist thought is now part of our intellectual blood and our moral sensibility.

The contemporary situation has a certain similarity with that of the medieval philosophers who had no tool with which to define the Judeo-Christian God, a creative and personal God, except Aristotle's metaphysical notions about entity and being. (If God, the idea of God, is dead, it died of a philosophical death : Greek philosophy. )

Criticism of Marxism is indispensable, but it is inseparable from that of modern man and must be made with the critical ideas of Marxism itself. To learn what is alive and what is dead in the revolutionary tradition, contemporary society must examine itself. Marx had already said that the only way for Christianity "to make the earlier mythologies understood objectively was by criticizing itself," and that "bourgeois economy did not understand the feudal, ancient, and oriental societies until bourgeois society began to criticize itself." (2) Within the Marxist system, moreover, are the germs of the creative destruction: dialectic and, above all, the force of abstraction,

as Marx called social analysis, today applied to a real and historically determinate subject: twentieth-century society. The notion of the proletariat as a universal agent of history, that of the state as a simple expression of the class in power, that of culture as a "reflection" of the social reality, all this, and many other things besides, will disappear. Not the vision of a communist society. The idea of a universal community in which, by the abolition of classes and of the state, the domination of some by others will cease and the morality of power and punishment will be replaced by that of freedom and personal responsibility—a society in which, with the disappearance of private property, each man will be the proprietor of himself and that "individual property" will be literally common, shared by all thanks to collective production; the idea of a society in which the distinction between work and art is obliterated—that idea is unrenounceable.

It is not only the heritage of Western moral and political thought since the epoch of Greek philosophy, but it is part of our historical nature. To renounce it is to renounce being what modern man has wished to be, to renounce being. Not just a morality or a political philosophy is involved here. Marxism is Western thought's last attempt to reconcile reason and history. The vision of a universal communist society is linked to another: history is the place where reason is incarnated; or more accurately: the movement of history, as it unfolds, is revealed as universal reason. The reality of history often belies this idea; again and again we seek a meaning for the bloody agitation.

We are condemned to seek the reason for the unreason. Indeed, if a new revolutionary thought is to emerge, it will have to absorb two traditions scorned by Marx and his heirs: the libertarian and the poetic traditions, the latter being understood as the experience of otherness; and it is no less certain that this thought, as Marxism was, will be critical and creative; knowledge that embraces society in its concrete reality and in its general movement—and changes it. Active reason.

Doubtless the new poetry will not repeat the experiences of the last fifty years. They are unrepeatable. And still submerged are the poetic worlds waiting to be discovered by an adolescent whose face we shall surely never see. But from the outside it may perhaps not be too reckless to describe some of the circumstances that the new poets face. One is the loss of the world image; another, the appearance of a universal vocabulary composed of active signs: technology; still another, the crisis of meanings.

In antiquity the universe had one form and one center; its movement was governed by a cyclical rhythm and that rhythmical figure was for centuries the archetype of the city, the laws, and the works. The political order and the order of the poem, public festivals and private rites—and even discord and the transgressions of the universal rule— were manifestations of the cosmic rhythm. Later, the figure of the world widened:
space became infinite or transfinite; the Platonic year turned into a linear, unending succession; and stars ceased to be the image of cosmic harmony. The center of the world was displaced and God, ideas, and essences disappeared. We were alone. The figure of the universe changed and man's idea of himself changed; nevertheless, the worlds did not cease to be the world nor man men. Everything was a whole. Now space expands and breaks apart; time becomes discontinuous; and the world, the whole, explodes into splinters. Dispersion of man, wandering in a space that is also dispersed, wandering in his own dispersion.
In a universe that breaks up and separates from itself, a whole that has ceased to be thinkable except as absence or a collection of heterogeneous fragments, the self also breaks apart. Not that it has lost reality or that we regard it as an illusion. On the contrary, its very dispersion multiplies and strengthens it. It has lost cohesion and has ceased to have a center, but each particle is conceived as a unique self, more closed and clinging to itself than the former self. Dispersion is not plurality, but repetition: always the same self that blindly combats another blind self. Propagation, pullulation of the identical.


The growth of the self threatens language in its twofold function: as dialogue and as monologue. The former is grounded on plurality; the latter, on identity. The contradiction of dialogue consists in the fact that each one speaks with himself as he speaks with others; the contradiction of monologue is that it is never I, but another, who listens to what I say to myself. Poetry has always been an attempt to resolve this discord by a conversion of the terms: the I of the dialogue into the you of the monologue.
Poetry does not say: I am you; it says: you are my self. The poetic image is otherness. The modern phenomenon of incommunication depends less on the plurality of subjects than on the disappearance of the you as a constitutive element of each consciousness. We do not speak with others because we cannot speak with ourselves. Yet the cancerous multiplication of the self is not the cause, but rather the result of the loss of the world image. Feeling himself alone in the world, ancient man discovered his own self and, thus, that of the others.
Today we are not alone in the world: there is no world. Each place is the same place and nowhere is everywhere. The conversion of the I into you—image that comprises every poetic image —cannot be realized if the world does not first reappear. The poetic imagination is not an invention but a discovery of the presence. To discover the image of the world in that which emerges as fragment and dispersion, to perceive in the one the other, will be to restore to language its metaphorical virtue: to give it presence for the others. Poetry: search for the others, discovery of otherness.


If the world, as image, disappears, a new reality covers the whole earth. Technology is a reality so powerfully real—visible, palpable, audible, ubiquitous—that the real reality has ceased to be natural or supernatural: industry is our landscape, our heaven and our hell. A Mayan temple, a medieval cathedral, or a baroque palace were something more than monuments: sensible points of space and time, privileged observatories from which man could contemplate the world and the transworld as a totality.
Their orientation corresponded to a symbolic vision of the universe; the form and arrangement of their parts opened a plural perspective, a veritable crossing of visual paths: upward and downward, toward the four points of the compass. Total view of the totality. Those works were not only a vision of the world, but they were made in its image: they were a representation of the shape of the universe, its copy or its symbol. Technology comes between us and the world, it closes every prospect from view: beyond its geometries of iron, glass, or aluminum there is exactly nothing, except the unknown, the region of the formless that is not yet transformed by man.

Technology is neither an image nor a vision of the world: it is not an image because its aim is not to represent or reproduce reality; it is not a vision because it does not conceive the world as shape but as something more or less malleable to the human will. For technology, the world presents itself as resistance, not as archetype:
it has reality, not shape. That reality cannot be reduced to any image and is, literally, unimaginable. The ultimate purpose of ancient knowledge was the contemplation of reality, either sensible presence or ideal form; technological knowledge aspires to substitute a universe of machinery for the real reality. The artifacts and utensils of the past existed in space, which is radically altered by modern machinery.

Space is not only populated by machines that tend toward automatism or are already automatons, but it is a field of forces, a knot of energies and relations— something very different from that more or less stable expanse or area of the former cosmologies and philosophies. The time of technology is, on the one hand, a break in the cosmic rhythms of the old civilizations; on the other, the acceleration and, in the end, the cancellation of modern clock time. From both standpoints it is a discontinuous and vertiginous time that eludes representation, if not measurement.
In short, technology is grounded upon a negation of the world as image. And one would have to add: because of that negation, technology exists. It is not technology that denies the image of the world; it is the disappearance of the image that makes technology possible.

The works of the past were replicas* of the cosmic archetype in the dual sense of the word: copies of the universal model and human response to the world, rhymes or stanzas of the poem that the cosmos says to itself.
Symbols of the world and dialogue with the world: the former, because they were a reproduction of the image of the universe; the latter, because they were the point of intersection between man and external reality. Those works used to be a language: a vision of the world and a bridge between man and the whole that surrounded and sustained him. The constructions of technology—factories, airports, power plants, and other grandiose establishments—are absolutely real but they are not presences;
they do not represent: they are signs of action and not images of the world. Between them and the natural landscape that contains them there is no dialogue or correspondence. They are not works but tools; their duration depends on their performance and their form has no significance other than their efficiency. A mosque or a Roman triumphal arch are works impregnated with significance:
they endure because they were built upon lasting meanings, not only because of the greater or lesser resistance of their materials. Even the caves of the Paleolithic period seem to us like a text that is perhaps indecipherable but not devoid of meaning. The trappings and mechanisms of technology become meaningless as soon as they cease to function: they say nothing, except that they have ceased to be of service. Thus, technology is not properly a language, a system of permanent meanings grounded on a vision of the world. It is a repertoire of signs that possess temporal and variable meanings: a universal vocabulary of activity, applied to the transformation of reality, which is organized in this or that way vis-a-vis this or that resistance.
The poet of the past was nourished from the language and mythology that his society and his time offered him. That language and those myths were inseparable from the world image of each civilization. The universality of technology is unlike that of the old religions and philosophies : it does not offer us a world image but a blank space, the same for all men. Its signs are not a language: they are the marks that designate the boundaries, always shifting, between man and the unexplored reality. Technology liberates the imagination from all mythology and pits it against the unknown. It pits it against itself and, in the absence of a world image, causes it to be configured. That configuration is the poem. Erected on the formless like the signs of technology and, like them, in search of a ceaselessly elusive meaning, the poem is an empty space but one charged with imminence. It is not yet presence: it is a swarm of signs that seek their meaning and whose only meaning is that they are a search.

The consciousness of history seemed to be modern man's great attainment. That consciousness has been transformed into a question about the meaning of history, a question without an answer. Technology is not an answer. If it were, it would be a negative one: the invention of weapons for total annihilation interdicts every hypothesis or theory about the meaning of history and the supposed reason inherent in the movements and struggles of nations and classes. But let us suppose that those weapons had not been invented or that the powers possessing them decided to destroy them:
technical thought, lone survivor of the philosophies of the past, would not be able to tell us anything about the future either. Technology can foresee these or those changes and, up to a certain point, construct future realities. In this sense technology can produce the future. None of these marvels will answer the only question that man asks himself as historical being and, I must add, as man: the why and wherefore of changes.
This question already contains, in the germ, an idea of man and an image of the world. It is a question about the meaning of individual and collective human existence; to ask it is to affirm that the answer, or lack of it, belongs to different spheres of technology. And thus, although technology invents something new every day, it can tell us nothing about the future. In some manner, its action consists in being an incessant destruction of the future. Indeed, in proportion as the future it builds is less and less imaginable and appears devoid of meaning, it ceases to be future: it is the unknown that intrudes on us. We have ceased to recognize ourselves in the future.


The loss of the image of the future, Ortega y Gasset said, implies a mutilation of the past. So it is: everything that once seemed loaded with meaning now appears before our eyes as a series of efforts and creations that are a non-sense. The loss of meaning affects the two halves of the sphere, death and life: death has the sense that our living gives it; and the ultimate meaning of our living is being life in relation to death.
Technology can tell us nothing about all this. Its philosophical virtue consists, so to speak, in its absence of philosophy. Perhaps this is not a misfortune: thanks to technology man finds himself, after thousands of years of philosophies and religions, on his own. The consciousness of history has been revealed as tragic consciousness; the now is no longer projected into a future: it is an instantaneous always.
I say tragic consciousness not because I think of a return to Greek tragedy, but to designate the temper of a new poetry. History and tragedy are incompatible terms: for history, nothing is definitive except change; for tragedy all change is definitive. Therefore the genres, today mortally wounded, that are characteristic of the historical sensibility are the novel, the drama, the elegy, the comedy. The modern poet lived in a time that was distinguished from other times because it was the epoch of the historical consciousness; that consciousness now perceives that history has no meaning or, if it has one, that meaning is inaccessible to it.
Our time is that of the end of history as imaginable or foreseeable future. Reduced to a present that grows more and more narrow, we ask ourselves: where are we going? What we should really ask ourselves is: what times are we living in? I don't believe anyone can answer that question with certainty. The acceleration of the historical happening, especially after World War I, and the universality of technology, which has made of the earth a homogeneous space, are revealed at last as a kind of frenzied immobility in one place that is every place. Poetry: search for a now and a here.


The foregoing description is incomplete and inadequate. But perhaps not so incomplete and inadequate that it will prevent our discerning the possible direction of the coming poetry. First: the dispersion of the world image into disconnected fragments is resolved to uniformity and, thus, to loss of otherness. Technology, for its part, has not given us a new world image and has made it impossible to return to the old mythologies. As long as this time that is our time lasts, there is no past or future, no golden age prior to history or social utopia to come. The poet's time: living for each day; and living it, simultaneously, in two contradictory ways: as if it were endless and as if it would end right now. Thus, the imagination can only endeavor to recuperate and exalt—to discover and project—the concrete life of today. Discovery designates the poetic experience; projection relates to the poem properly so called and will be dealt with later.

As to the discovery, I shall begin by saying that the concrete life is the real life, as against the uniform living that contemporary society tries to impose on us. Breton has said: la veritable existence est ailleurs. That elsewhere is here, always here and in this moment. Real life opposes neither the quotidian nor the heroic life; it is the perception of the spark of otherness in each one of our acts, not excluding the most trivial. These states are often massed together under a name I consider inexact: the spiritual experience. Nothing permits us to affirm that this concerns something predominantly spiritual; moreover, nothing causes us to think that the spirit is really different from the corporeal life and from what, also inaccurately, we call matter.
Those experiences are and are not exceptional. No external or internal method— meditation, drugs, eroticism, ascetic practices, or any other physical or mental means— can of itself bring on the apparition of otherness. It is an unforeseen gift, a sign that life makes to life, and one's receiving it does not involve any merit or difference whatever, either moral or spiritual. Of course, there are propitious situations and more receptive temperaments, but even in such cases there is no fixed rule.
An experience made of the fabric of our daily acts, otherness is above all the simultaneous perception that we are others without ceasing to be what we are and that, without ceasing to be where we are, our true being is in another place. We are another place. In another place means: here, right now while I am doing this or that. And also: I am alone and I am with you, in a who-knows-where that is always here. With you and here: who are you, who am I, where are we when we are here?


Irreducible, elusive, indefinable, unforeseeable, and constantly present in our lives, otherness is confused with religion, poetry, love, and other similar experiences. It makes its appearance with man himself, and therefore it can be said that if man became man by means of work, he had consciousness of himself because of the perception of his radical otherness: being and not being the same as the other animals. From the Lower Paleolithic period to our days that revelation has nourished magic, religion, poetry, art, and also the daily imagining and living of men and women.
Civilizations of the past integrated the images and perceptions of otherness into their vision of the world; contemporary society condemns these images and perceptions in the name of reason, science, morality, and health.
The prohibitions of our time alter and deform them, give them greater virulence, do not suppress them. I would call otherness a basic experience, if it were not for the fact that it consists precisely in the opposite: it suspends man in a kind of motionless flight, as if the foundations of the world and those of his own being had disappeared.

Although this is an experience more vast than the religious experience and is prior to it, as I said in another part of this book, rationalist thought condemns it as vigorously as it condemns religion. It may not be useless to repeat that modern religious criticism reduces the divine to the Judeo-Christian notion of one personal and creative God.
It thus forgets that there are other conceptions of the godhead, from primitive animism to the atheism of certain oriental sects and religions. Western atheism is polemical and antireligious; the atheism of the East, unacquainted with the notion of a creative god, is a contemplation of the totality in which the extremes between god and creature vanish. Moreover, despite its antitheism, our atheism is no less "religious" than our theism; a great French poet, known for the violence of his antireligious convictions, once said to me: Atheism is an act of faith. In that phrase, not devoid of grandeur, there is a kind of echo of Tertullian and even of Saint Augustine.
In short, the very idea of religion is a Western notion abusively applied to the beliefs of other civilizations. The Sanâtana-dharma—which embraces a number of "religions," some atheistic like the Sankhya system—or Taoism could scarcely be called religions, in the sense that this word is given in the West: they postulate neither an orthodoxy nor an otherworldly life. .. . The experience of the divine is more ancient, immediate, and original than any religious conception. It is not limited to the idea of one personal God or even of many: every deity comes from the divine and returns to it.


Finally, I shall recall something that has been said many times: in extirpating the notion of divinity, rationalism diminishes man. It frees us from God but encloses us in an even more rigorous system. The humbled imagination avenges itself, and atrocious fetishes sprout from God's corpse: in Russia and other countries, the divinization of the leader, the cult of the letter of writings, the deification of the party; among us, the idolatry of the self. To be one's self is to condemn oneself to mutilation because man is perpetual longing to be another. The idolatry of the self leads to the idolatry of property; the real God of Western Christian society is named domination over others. It conceives the world and men as my properties, my things.
The arid world of today, the circular hell, is the mirror of man severed from his poetizing faculty. There is no longer any contact with those vast territories of reality that reject measure and quantity, with everything that is pure quality, irreducible to genus and species: the very substance of life.

The revolt of the romantic poets and their modern heirs was not so much a protest against the exile from God as a search for the lost half, a descent into the region that puts us in communication with the other. Therefore they did not find a place in any orthodoxy, and their conversion to this or that faith was never total. Behind Christ or Orpheus, Lucifer or Mary they were seeking that reality of realities we call the divine or the other.
The situation of the contemporary poets is radically different. Heidegger has expressed it admirably: We were too late for the gods and too early for being; and he adds: whose poem, already begun, is being. Man is that which is incomplete, although he may be complete in his very incompletion; and therefore he makes poems, images in which he realizes and completes himself without ever completing himself completely.
He himself is a poem: he is being always in a perpetual possibility of being completely and thus fulfilling himself in his non-completion. But our historical situation is characterized by the too late and the too early.
Too late: in the tremulous light, the gods, already disappeared, their radiant bodies submerged below the horizon that devours all the mythologies of the past; too early: being, the central experience coming out of our selves to the encounter of its true presence. We are lost among things, our thoughts are circular and we perceive but dimly something, as yet unnamed, that is emerging.

The experience of otherness embraces the two extreme notes of a rhythm of separation and union, present in every manifestation of being, from the physical to the biological.
In man that rhythm is expressed as a fall, a sensation of being alone in a strange world, and as reunion, harmony with the whole. All of us without exception have known, for an instant, the experience of separation and union. The day on which we truly fell in love and knew that that instant was forever; when we sank into the infinity of our selves and time opened its entrails and we saw ourselves as a face that disappears and a word that is annulled; the afternoon on which we saw that tree in the middle of the field and divined, although we have forgotten now, what the leaves, the vibration of the sky, the reverberation of the white wall struck by the last light, were saying; one morning, lying on the grass, listening to the secret life of the plants; or at night, watching the water surge between the rocks. Alone or accompanied we have seen Being and Being has seen us.
Is it the other life? It is real life, the life of every day. As to that other life promised us by religions, we cannot say for certain. It seems like too much vanity, too much fascination with our own self to believe in its survival; and to reduce all existence to the human and earthly model reveals a certain lack of imagination concerning the possibilities of being. There must be other forms of being, and perhaps dying is only a transition. I doubt that this transition may be a synonym for personal salvation or perdition. In any case, I aspire to being, to the being that changes, not to the salvation of the self. I am not concerned about the other life elsewhere but here. The experience of otherness is, here and now, the other life. Poetry does not seek to console man for death but to make him see that life and death are inseparable: they are the totality. To recuperate the concrete life means to unite the pair life-death, to reconquer the one in the other, the you in the I, and thus to discover the shape of the world in the dispersion: of its fragments.


In the dispersion of its fragments. . . The poem—is it not that vibrant space on which a few signs are projected like an ideogram that might be a purveyor of meanings? Space, projection, ideogram: these three words allude to an operation that consists in unfolding a place, a here, that will receive and support a writing: fragments that regroup and seek to form a figure, a nucleus of meanings.
When I imagine the poem as a configuration of signs on an animated space I do not think of the page in the book: I think of the Azores Islands seen as an archipelago of flames one night in 1938, of the black tents of the nomads in the valleys of Afghanistan, of the mushrooms of the parachutes suspended over a sleeping city, of a diminutive crater of red ants on an urban patio, of the moon that is multiplied and extinguished and disappears and reappears over India's dripping breast after the monsoon.
Constellations: ideograms. I think of a music never heard, music for the eyes, a music never seen. I think of Un Coup de dés.

Modern poetry, as prosody and writing, begins with free verse and the prose poem. Un Coup de dès closes that period and opens another, which we are only just beginning to explore. Its significance is twofold. On the one hand, it is the condemnation of "idealistic" poetry, as Une Saison en Enfer had been of "materialistic" poetry; if Rimbaud's poem declares that the attempt of the word to be materialized in history is madness and sophistry, Mallarmé's proclaims that the intent to make of the poem the ideal double of the universe is absurd and vacuous.
On the other hand, Un Coup de dés does not imply a renunciation of poetry; on the contrary, Mallarmé offers his poem as the model of a new genre. A pretension at first glance extraordinary, if one thinks that it is the poem of the nullity of the act of writing, but which is entirely justified when one considers that it inaugurates a new poetic manner. In this text, poetic writing achieves its maximum condensation and its utmost dispersion. At the same time it is the apogee of the page, as literary space, and the beginning of another space.
The poem ceases to be a linear succession and thus escapes from the typographical tyranny that imposes on us a longitudinal vision of the world, as if images and things presented themselves one after another and not, as actually happens, at simultaneous moments and in different areas of the same space or in different spaces. Although Un Coup de dés is read from left to right and from the top downward, the phrases tend to be configured in more or less independent centers,
like solar systems within a universe; each cluster of phrases, without losing its relation to the whole, creates its own domain on this or that part of the page; and those different spaces are sometimes fused in a single area on which two or three words shine. The typographical arrangement, a veritable portent of the space created by modern technology, is a form that corresponds to a different poetic inspiration. In that inspiration lies the real originality of the poem.
Mallarmé explained it several times in Divagations and other writings: the novelty of Un Coup de dés consists in the fact that it is a critical poem.


A critical poem: if I am not mistaken, the union of these two contradictory words means: that poem that contains its own negation and that makes of that negation the point of departure for the song, equally distant from affirmation and negation. Poetry, conceived by Mallarmé as language's only possibility of identification with the absolute, of being the absolute, denies itself each time it is realized in a poem (no act, including a pure and hypothetical act: without an author, time or place, will abolish chance)—unless the poem is simultaneously a criticism of that attempt.
The negation of the negation annuls the absurdity and dissolves chance. The poem, the act of throwing the dice or uttering the number that will suppress chance (because its digits will coincide with the totality), is and is not absurd: devant son existence, one of the rough drafts of Igitur reads, la négation et l'affirmation viennent échouer. Il contient l'Absurde—l'implique, mais a l'état latent et l'empêche d'exister: ce qui permet à l'Infini d'être.  (3) Mallarmé's poem is not the work that caused him such prolonged attention and that he never wrote, that hymn that would express, or rather, consummate, the intimate correlation between poetry and the universe, but in a certain sense, Un Coup de dés contains it.

Mallarmé opposes two possibilities that seem mutually exclusive (the act and its omission, chance and the absolute) and, without suppressing them, resolves them to a conditional affirmation—an affirmation that is ceaselessly denied and thus is affirmed because it is nourished by its own negation.
The impossibility of writing an absolute poem under conditions that are also absolute, the theme of Igitur and of the first part of Un Coup de dés, is changed, thanks to criticism, to negation, into the possibility, here and now, of writing a poem open to infinity. That poem is the only possible, fleeting and yet adequate, view of the absolute. The poem does not deny chance but neutralizes or dissolves it:
il réduit le hasard à l'Infini. The negation of poetry is also a joyous exaltation of the poetic act, a veritable shot at infinity: Toute pensée émet un coup de dés. Those dice thrown by the poet, an ideogram of chance, are a constellation that rolls over space and that in each of its momentary combinations says, without ever saying it completely, the absolute number: compte total en formation. Its stellar course does not end until it touches quelque point dernier qui le sacre. Mallarmé does not say what that point is. It is not far fetched to assume that it is an absolute and relative, ultimate and transitory point: that of each reader or, more exactly, each' reading: compte total en formation.

In an essay that is one of the densest and most luminous that has been written about this capital text for the poetry of the future, Maurice Blanchot points out that Un Coup de dés contains its own reading. (4) Indeed, the notion of critical poem is bound up with that of a reading, and Mallarmé referred more than once to an ideal writing in which the phrases and words would reflect each other and, in some manner, contemplate or read one another. The reading to which Blanchot alludes is not that of just any reader, or even that of that privileged reader who is the author.
Although Mallarmé, unlike most authors, does not impose his interpretation on us, neither does he leave it up to the whim of the reader. The reading, or readings, depends on the correlation and intersection of the different parts at each moment of the mental or sonorous recitation. The blanks, the parentheses, the appositions, the syntactical construction as well as the typographical arrangement, and, above all, the verbal time on which the poem leans, that If..., a conditional conjunction that keeps discourse in suspense, are the manners of creating between the phrases the necessary distance for the words to reflect each other.
In its very movement, in its dual rhythm of contraction and expansion, of negation that is annulled and transformed into an affirmation that doubts itself, the poem engenders its successive interpretations. It is not subjectivity but rather, as Ortega y Gasset would say, the intersection of the different points of view that gives us the possibility of an interpretation. None of them is definitive, not even the last (Toute pensée émet un coup de dés), a phrase that absorbs chance as it shoots its perhaps toward infinity; and all of them, from their particular perspective, are definitive:
total account in perpetual formation. There is no final interpretation for Un Coup de dés because its last word is not a final word. Destruction was my Beatrice, Mallarmé says in a letter to a friend; at the end of the journey the poet does not contemplate the Idea, symbol or archetype of the universe, but a space in which a constellation appears: his poem. It is not an image or an essence; it is an account being calculated, a handful of signs that are drawn, effaced, and drawn again.
Thus, this poem that denies the possibility of saying something absolute, consecration of the word's impotence, is at the same time the archetype of the future poem and the plenary affirmation of the sovereignty of the word. It says nothing and it is language in its totality. Author and reader of itself, negation of the act of writing, and writing that is continually reborn from its own nullification.

It is an empty space, that horizon below the errant constellation formed of the last verses of Un Coup de dés.
And even the constellation itself has no certain existence: it is not a shape but the possibility of becoming one. Mallarmé does not show us anything except a null place and a time without substance: an infinite transparency. If one compares this vision of the world with that of the great poets of the past—it is not necessary to think of Dante or Shakespeare: it is enough to remember Hölderlin or Baudelaire—one can perceive the change. The world, as image, has evaporated. The whole poetic endeavor is reduced to the clenching of one's fist to keep those dice, the ambiguous sign of the word perhaps, from escaping. Or to the opening of one's fist, to show that they too have disappeared. Both gestures have the same meaning. Throughout his whole life, Mallarmé spoke of a book that would be the double of the cosmos. It still amazes me that he used so many pages to tell us what that book would be like, and so few to show us his vision of the world. The universe, he confides to his friends and correspondents, seems to him like a system of relations and correspondences, an idea that is not different from that of Baudelaire and the romantics; and yet he never explained how he really saw it or what it was that he saw. The truth is that he did not see it: the world had ceased to have shape. The contrast with Blake and his universes crammed with symbols, monsters, and fabulous beings will seem even more remarkable if one remembers that both poets speak in the name of imagination and that both regard it as a sovereign power. The difference depends not only on the diversity of temperaments and sensibilities but on the hundred years that separate The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790) from Un Coup de dés (1897). The change of the poetic imagination depends on the change of the world image.


Blake sees, the invisible because for him everything conceals a shape. The universe in its essence is a longing for manifestation, desire that is projected: the imagination has no mission other than to give symbolic and sensible form to energy. Mallarmé nullifies the visible by a procedure that he calls transposition, which consists in making every real object imaginary: the imagination reduces reality to idea.
The world is no longer energy or desire. Indeed, nothing would exist without poetry, which gives it the possibility of being incarnated in the verbal analogy. For Blake the primordial reality is the world, which contains all the symbols and archetypes; for Mallarmé, the word. The whole universe becomes the imminence of a hymn; if the world is idea, its own mode of existing cannot be anything other than that of the absolute language: a poem that will be the Book of books.
In a second moment of his adventure, Mallarmé understands that neither the idea nor the word is absolutely real: the only true word is perhaps and the only reality in the world is called infinite probability. Language becomes transparent like the world itself and transposition, which annuls the real in favor of language, now also annuls the word. The marriage of the word and the universe is consummated in an unusual way, which is neither word nor silence but a sign that seeks its meaning.


Although the horizon of Un Coup de dês is not that of technology —its vocabulary is still the vocabulary of symbolism, grounded on the anima mundi and on the universal correspondence—the space it opens is the same as that faced by technology: world without image, reality without world and infinitely real.
Marx is frequently accused, not always with reason, of aesthetic blindness; but this does not prevent one of his observations from being an extraordinarily accurate forecast of the contemporary poet's situation: the modern world is "a society that develops by excluding any mythological relation with nature, relation that is expressed by means of myths, and then presupposes in the artist an imagination independent of mythology. ..." The imagination free of any world image—a mythology is nothing else—turns back on itself and sets up its abode out in the cold, as it were: a now and a here without anyone. Unlike the poets of the past, Mallarmé does not offer us a vision of the world; nor does he say one word to us about what it means or does not mean to be a man.
The legacy to which Un Coup de dés expressly refers—without an express legatee: à quelqu'un ambigu —is a form; and more than that, it is the form of possibility itself : a poem dosed to the world but open to the space without a name. A now in perpetual rotation, a nocturnal noon—and a deserted here. To populate it: the future poet's temptation. Our legacy is not Mallarmé's word but the space opened by his word.

The disappearance of the world image enlarged the poet's image: the real reality was not without but within, in his head or in his heart. The death of the myths engendered his own myth: his figure grew so much that his works themselves had an accessory and derivative value, proofs of his genius more than of the existence of the universe.
Mallarmé's method, creative destruction or transposition, but above all surrealism, destroyed forever the idea of the poet as an exceptional being. Surrealism did not deny inspiration, an exceptional state: it affirmed that it was common property. Poetry requires no special talent but rather a kind of spiritual daring, an unbinding that is also an unwinding. Breton has frequently affirmed his faith in the creative power of language, which is superior to that of any personal skill, no matter how eminent.
Moreover, the general movement of contemporary literature, from Joyce and Cummings to the experiments of Queneau and the combinations of electronics, tends to reestablish the sovereignty of the language over the author. The figure of the poet suffers the same fate as the world image: it is a notion that slowly evaporates. His image, not his reality. The utilization of machines, the use of drugs to achieve certain exceptional states (Michaux calls them miserable miracle and paix dans les brisements), the intervention of mathematical chance and other combinatorial methods, are not, in the end, any different from what automatic writing
set out to do: to displace the center of creation and give language back its own. Once again: men are served by words; the poet is their servant. Ours is the century of the return, by unsuspected paths, of a power denied or at least disdained since the Renaissance: the old inspiration. Language creates the poet, and only in proportion as words are born, die, and are reborn within him is he in turn a creator. The vastest and most powerful poetic work in modern literature is perhaps that of Joyce;


its theme is immense and exiguous: the story of the fall, wake, and resurrection of Tim Finnegan, who is nobody else but the English language. Adam (every man), English (every language), and the book itself and its author are a single voice that flows in a circular discourse: the word, end and beginning of all history. The poem devours the poet.


Many of these procedures express the critical tendency adopted in our time by all creative activity. Their interest is twofold: one, of a scientific nature, is that of investigating the essence of the creative process, how and in what way the phrases, rhythms, and images of the poem are formed; the other, poetic, has to do with enlarging the sphere of creation, until recently regarded by our society as an individual domain.
In this latter sense, which is the properly creative one, those procedures reveal the old nostalgia for a poetry created by all and for all. But it is necessary to distinguish between the attempt to make of the poem a creation in common and the aspiration to eliminate the creator, either personal or collective. The latter betrays a contemporary obsession: a fear and a resignation. A renunciation. Man is language because he is always men, the one who speaks and the one who listens. To suppress the subject who speaks would be to complete once and for all the process of man's spiritual subjugation.
Human relations, today vitiated by differences of rank between the speakers, changed markedly when the book replaced the living voice, imposed on the listener a solitary reading, and took away his right to reply or ask questions. If the book reduced the listener to the passivity of the reader, these new techniques tend to annul man as the emitter of the word. With the disappearance of the one who speaks and the one who answers, language is annulled. A circular nihilism that ends by destroying itself: the sovereignty of noise. And as to the idea of a poetry created by all, the reservation formulated by Benjamin Peret some fifteen years ago still seems valid to me: the practice of collective poetry is conceivable only in a world free from any oppression, in which poetic thought again becomes as natural for man as xvater and sleep. I shall add that in such a world the practice of poetry would perhaps be superfluous: poetry itself would be, at last, practical. In short, the notion of a creator, personal or collective—which is not exactly the same as the contemporary author—is inseparable from the poetic work. In reality, every poem is collective. Intervening in its creation, as much or more than the active or passive will of the poet, is the language of his time, not as word already consummated but in formation: as a wanting to say of language itself. Later, whether the poet may wish it or not, the proof of his poem's existence is the reader or the listener, the real repository of the work, who re-creates it and gives it its final meaning as he reads.

Poetry, music, and the dance were originally a whole. The division of the arts did not prevent verse from continuing to be for many centuries, with or without musical accompaniment, song. In Provence, poets composed the music for their poems. It was the last time that Western poetry could be music without ceasing to be word. Since then, whenever one has tried to unite these two arts, the poetry is lost as word, dissolved in the sound. The invention of printing did not cause the separation but accentuated it so that poetry, instead of being something that is said and listened to, was changed into something that is written and read. Clearly, the reading of the poem is a private activity: we hear mentally what we see.

It makes no difference: poetry enters us through our eyes, not through our ears. What is more: we read for ourselves, in silence. Transition from the public act to the private one: the experience becomes solitary. Moreover, printing made the art of calligraphy and that of illustrating and illuminating manuscripts superfluous. Although typography has resources that are not inferior to those of the pen or the pencil, rarely has there been a real fusion between what the poem says and its typographical arrangement on the page. It is true that illustrated editions are abundant; the illustrations almost always overshadow the text, or vice versa. The idea of representing with letters what those same letters mean has frequently tempted poets; the result has been to denaturalize both the design and the writing.

I do not know if lines can speak (sometimes, as I look at certain drawings, I believe they can ) ; on the other hand, I am sure that type cannot draw. Perhaps my opinion would be different if Apollinaire, to cite the last one who tried to draw with letters, had invented real poetic ideograms instead of calligrammes. But the ideogram is not a drawing or a painting: it is a sign and it belongs to a system of signs. Likewise, to call the strokes of some contemporary painters calligraphy is an abusive metaphor of criticism and a confusion. If there is a préfiguration of writing in those paintings it is because all our arts suffer a nostalgia for meaning—although the real language of painting and its meaning may be different. None of these efforts has endangered the realm of the black and white.


By the elimination of music, calligraphy, and illumination, poetry was reduced until it became almost exclusively an art of the intellect. Written word and internal rhythm: mental art. Thus, to the silence and seclusion required for the reading of the poem must be added concentration. The reader strives to understand the meaning of the text, and his attention is more intense than that of the listener or that of the medieval reader, for whom the reading of the manuscript was also contemplation of a symbolic landscape.
At the same time, the modern reader's participation is passive. The changes in this sphere also correspond to the changes in the world image, from its appearance in prehistory to its eclipse in our own time. Spoken word, word written by hand, printed word: each requires a different space in order to manifest itself and implies a different society and a different mythology. The ideogram and painted calligraphy are real, sensible representations of the world image; type corresponds to the triumph of the principle of causality and to a linear conception of history. It is an abstraction and reflects the gradual decline of the world as image. Man does not see the world: he thinks it.
Today the situation has changed again: we hear the world again, although we still cannot see it. Thanks to new methods of reproducing the sound of the word, the voice and the ear recover their former position. Some say that the era of printing is at an end. I do not believe this. But the letter will cease to occupy a central place in men's lives. The space that supported it is no longer that flat and homogeneous surface of classic physics on which all things, from stars to words, were placed or deposited.
Space has lost, as it were, its passivity: it is not that which contains things but rather, in perpetual movement, it alters their course and intervenes actively in their transformations. It is the agent of mutations, it is energy. In the past, it was the natural support of verbal rhythm and of music; its visual representation was the page, or any other flat surface, over which the dual structure of melody and harmony would slide, horizontally and vertically.
Today space moves, sits up, and becomes rhythmic. Thus, the reappearance of the spoken word does not imply a return to the past: the space is different, more vast and, above all, in dispersion. To space in movement, word in rotation; to plural space, a new phrase that will be like a verbal delta, like a world that explodes in mid sky. Word on its own, through inner and outer spaces: nebula contained in a pulsation, blinking of a sun.


The change affects the page and the structure. Journalism, advertising, the cinema, and other means of visual reproduction have transformed writing, which had been almost totally stereotyped by typography. As Mallarmé had foreseen, and above all because of Apollinaire, who understood admirably—even in his aberrations—the direction of the epoch, modern poetry has adopted many of these procedures. The page, which is nothing but the representation of the real space on which the word unfolds, is changed into an animated area, in perpetual communication with the rhythm of the poem. More than containing the writing, one would say that it tends itself to be writing. In turn, the typography aspires to a kind of musical order, not in the sense of written music but of visual correspondence with the movement of the poem and the unions and separations of the image. At the same time, the page evokes the canvas of the painting or the leaf of the sketchbook; and the writing presents itself as a figure that alludes to the rhythm of the poem and that in some manner calls up the object designated by the text.
In utilizing these resources, poetry recovers something that it had lost, and it puts them again at the service of the word. But poetry is not music or painting. The music of poetry is the music of language; its images are the visions that the word stirs in us, not the line or the color. Between the page and the writing is established a relation, new in the West and traditional in Far Eastern and Arabic poetry, which consists in their mutual interpretation. Space becomes writing: the blank spaces (which represent silence, and perhaps for that very reason) say something that signs do not say. The writing projects a totality but leans on a lack: it is not music nor is it silence, and it is nourished by both. Ambivalence of poetry: it partakes of all the arts and lives only if it is liberated from any company.


All writing summons a reader. The writing of the future poem evokes the image of a ceremony: game, recitation, passion (never spectacle). The poem will be re-created collectively. In certain times and places, poetry can be lived by all: the art of the festival awaits its resurrection.
The ancient festival was grounded upon the concentration or incarnation of mythical time in a closed space, suddenly turned into the center of the universe by the descent of the divinity. A modern festival would obey an opposite principle: the dispersion of the word in different spaces, and its coming and going from one to another, its perpetual metamorphosis, its bifurcations and multiplications, its final union in a single space and a single phrase. Rhythm formed of a dual movement of separation and union. Plurality and simultaneity; convocation and gravitation of the word in a magnetic here.
And so, read in silence by one who is alone or heard and perhaps said by a group, the poem conjures up the notion of a play. The word, the rhythmic unit: the image, is the only character in that play; the stage is a page, a square, or a vacant lot; the action, the continuous union and separation of the poem, a solitary and plural hero in perpetual dialogue with himself:
a pronoun that is dispersed in every pronoun and is reabsorbed in a single, immense one that will never be the I of modern literature. That pronoun is language in its contradictory unity: the I am not you and the you are my I.


Poetry is born in silence and mumbling, in not being able to say, but it aspires irresistibly to recuperate language as a total reality. The poet makes word of everything he touches, not excluding silence and the blanks in the text. The recent attempts to substitute mere sounds— letters and other noises—for the word are even more unfortunate and less ingenious than calligrams: the poetry is lost without a gain in the music. The poetry of music and the music of poetry are different things. The poem welcomes the cry, the shred of vocable, the gangrened word, murmur, noise, and absurdity: not insignificance. The destruction of meaning was meaningful at the time of the Dadaist rebellion, and it could even be meaningful now if it involved a risk and if it were not just one more concession to the anonymity of commercial advertising. At a time when the sense of words has disappeared, these activities are not unlike those of an army that machine-guns corpses. Today poetry cannot be destruction of meaning but rather search for it. We know nothing of that meaning because the significance is not in what is said now but beyond, on a horizon that is scarcely perceptible. A faceless reality that is there, before us, not like a wall: like an empty space. Who knows what that which is coming will really be like and what image is being formed in a world that, for the first time, has consciousness of being an unstable equilibrium floating in the middle of infinity, an accident among the innumerable possibilities of energy? Writing in a changing space, word in the air or on the page, ceremony: the poem is a cluster of signs that seek a meaning, an ideogram that revolves on itself and around a sun as yet unborn. Significance has ceased to illuminate the world; that is why today we have reality and not image. We revolve around an absence, and all our meanings are nullified in the presence of that absence. In its rotation the poem emits lights that successively gleam and darken. The meaning of that blinking is not the ultimate significance but it is the instantaneous union of the I and the you. Poem: search for the you.

The poets of the last century and the first half of this one consecrated the word with the word. They exalted it even as they denied it. Those poems in which the word turns in on itself are unrepeatable. What or who can name the word today? Recuperation of otherness, projection of language in a space depopulated of any mythology, the poem assumes the form of an interrogation. It is not man who questions: language interrogates us. That question encompasses us all. For more than 150 years, the poet felt cut off, at odds with society. Each reconciliation, with churches or parties, ended in a new break or in the poet's nullification. We love Gaudel or Mayakovski not because of but in spite of their orthodoxies, for what their word has of irreducible aloneness. The new poet's aloneness is different: he is not alone before his contemporaries but before the future. And he shares this feeling of uncertainty with every man. His exile is every man's exile. The ties that bound us to the past and the future have been cut with one slash. We live a present that is fixed and interminable and yet is constantly moving. A floating present.
It does not matter that the remnants of every civilization are stored up in our museums; or that each day human sciences teach us something new about man's past. Those remote pasts are not ours: if we wish to recognize ourselves in them it is because we have ceased to recognize ourselves in the past that belonged to us. Likewise, the future that is in preparation does not resemble the one that our civilization planned and wanted. We cannot even affirm that it has any similarity whatever: we not only have no inkling of its shape but we do not know that its essence consists in not having one.
Unique situation: for the first time the future lacks form. Before the birth of the historical consciousness, the form of the future was not earthly or temporal: it was mythical and it occurred in a time outside time. Modern man caused the future to descend, rooted it in the earth and dated it: changed it into history. Now, in losing its meaning, history has lost its control over the future and also over the present. With the disfigurement of the future, history ceases to justify our present. The question that the poem asks itself—who is he who says this that I say and to whom is it said?—embraces the poet and the reader.

The poet's separation has ended: his word springs from a situation common to all. It is not the word of a community but of a dispersion; and it does not found or establish anything, except its interrogation. Yesterday, perhaps, his mission was to give a purer sense to the words of the tribe; today it is a question about that sense. That question is not a doubt but a quest. And more: it is an act of faith. Not a form but some signs that are projected on an animated space and that possess multiple possible meanings. The final meaning of those signs is not yet known to the poet:
it is in time, the time we all make together and that unmakes us all. Meanwhile, the poet listens. In the past he was the man of vision. Today he strains his ear and perceives that the very silence is voice, murmur that seeks the word for its incarnation. The poet listens to what time says, even if it says : nothing. On the page a few words are scattered or joined together. That configuration is a préfiguration: imminence of presence.


An image by Heraclitus was the starting point of this book. As it draws to a close, the image appears before me: the lyre, which consecrates man and thus gives him a place in the cosmos; the bow, which shoots him beyond himself. All poetic creation is historical; every poem is a longing to deny succession and to establish an enduring realm. If man is transcendence, a going beyond himself, the poem is the purest sign of that continuous transcending himself, of that permanent imagining himself. Man is an image because he transcends himself. Perhaps the historical consciousness and the need to transcend history are nothing but the names we now give to this ancient and perpetual split of being, always separated from oneself, always in search of oneself. Man wants to be one with his creations, to unite with himself and with his fellows : to be the world without ceasing to be himself. Our poetry is consciousness of the separation and attempt to unite that which was separated. In the poem, being and desire for being come to terms for an instant, like the fruit and the lips. Poetry, momentary reconciliation: yesterday, today, tomorrow; here and there; you, I, he, we. All is present: will be presence.

Notes
1. In my opinion, the theme of the chronology of Rimbaud's writings has been stated unilaterally. The dates on which the poems were written are one thing, and their place in the work is another. No psychological problem is involved here: there is no doubt that when Rimbaud wrote Une Saison en Enfer, he believed it was his last word, a farewell; but even if it had not been, that text is actually an examination and a final judgment of the poetic experience, as conceived by the so-called Lettre du Voyant and Les Illuminations. If one regards Rimbaud's poems as one work, if they are a whole and not a collection of separate texts, then Une Saison en Enfer follows Les Illuminations, even though some of the latter were written later.
2. General Introduction to a Critique of Political Economy.
* TRANSLATOR'S NOTE: The Spanish word is replicas, which means both replicas and replies.
3. 1 am following in part the interpretation of Mr. Garner Davies (Vers une explication rationelle du "Coup de dès" [Paris, 1953]), who was one of the first to perceive the sense of affirmation of the poem.
4. Le Livre à Venir (Paris, 1959).

In: The Bow and the Lyre. Translated by Ruth L.C.Simms. Austin 2000, University of Texas Press, 1987, pp. 233-62.

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