Mer, ouverture du monde d’interdits, sur l’autre face de nos songes, ah ! comme l’outrepas du songe, et le songe même qu’on n’osa.

"..Ah! Nous avions des mots pour toi et nous n’avions assez de mots,
"Et voici que l’amour nous confond à l’objet même de ces mots,
"Et mots pour nous ils ne sont plus, n’étant plus signes ni parures,
"Mais la chose même qu’ils figurent et la chose même qu’ils paraient;
"Mieux, te récitant toi-même, le récit, voici que nous te devenons toi-même, le récit,
"Et toi-même sommes-nous, qui nous était l’Inconciliable: le texte même et sa substance et son mouvement de mer,
"Et la grande robe prosodique dont nous nous revêtons."
Saint-John Perse, Amers.

Rituel et poésie: Une lecture de Saint-John Perse

This book is based on my dissertation on the French poet and diplomat Saint-John Perse (1887-1976; Nobel prize for literature, 1960). It is strongly indebted to the Geneva school of criticism (Georges Poulet, Jean-Pierre Richard, Albert Béguin, Jean Starobinski and Jean Rousset), which represents to me the golden age of thematic criticism, perhaps even of criticism tout court. (I had the privilege of studying under Starobinski and Rousset in Geneva, and I owe to Rousset my enduring interest in narrative theory.) As far as I am concerned, nobody has rivaled these masters in unlocking the code of the imagination, mapping the territory of a writer’s private worlds, and eliciting a genuine plaisir du texte--theirs as well as the work of the author. Much of the more recent criticism (including I suspect some of my own) seems by comparison only interested in literary texts as a way to support a theoretical agenda ! Another influence on the book is archetypal criticism and the myth-and-ritual school of anthropology. The book is less concerned with ritual as an image or as a theme than with ritual as symbolic structure . Some of Saint-John Perse's poems merely speak of rituals; some show the performance of ritual acts; some finally can be said to constitute a ritual, figuratively speaking. In this last case, the language of the poem not only evokes a symbolic action leading to an événement (that which is accomplished by the performance of the ritual), it is also the agent that brings about the événement . This ritualization of the poem, which becomes fully realized only in Amers (1957), implies a reflection of language upon itself. The study of ritual in the work of Saint-John Perse thus provides a key to the poet’s vision of the meaning and role of poetic language. The climax of the ceremony enacted by Amers, namely the transsubtantiation of the text into the element it celebrates [cf. the above quote], expresses the dream of a poetic word capable of reconciling two antagonistic conceptions of literary language: the traditional mimetic view, according to which the function of literature is to offer an imitation of reality, and the newer, structuralist [we would say now postmodern] view, which conceives l’écriture as creating its own world without reference to anything outside itself.