Friday, 4 June 2010


There’s something in this. Patrick McGuinness:
French poets can sound hollow to British ears—their idioms too abstract or grandiloquent, their poems hermetic dramas of unsayability, full of words like ‘vide’ ‘plénitude’, ‘présence’. As Valéry wrote about Hugo: ‘he took huge words but handled them without effort, so lightly they sounded empty ... and they were empty; “Farouche”—“Infini”—“Immensité...”’
This isn’t a bad thing, though. It’s this lightness that corresponds to a British notion of freedom, sunshine, the ‘Midi’ in poetic-imagistic form. Conversely, McGuinness suggests, ‘for the French reader, British poets are caught in a descriptive-realist dead end, whilst their propensity for irony and self-distancing makes them write as if they believed more in language itself than in any thing they specifically had to say in it.’ Which I think is fair enough (I mean: the attitude of French readers described here is fair enough), although as a writer (and as, you know, a human being) pretty thoroughly committed to ‘irony and self-distancing’ I might say: but this is to fall into the trap of thinking that having something specifically to say is reducible to the semantic content of one’s writing. Which is to say, irony and self-distance is ‘something to say’, and something big and important too.


mahendra singh said...

Not just poetry but French prose also, a penchant for expansive, almost theatrical writing. Capote's dictum about it all being just typing has a bit of the truth in it.

The mouth-feel of French lends itself to expansive sentiments, the liasons & enchainements are a natural spur to a baroque sensibility.

When a language sounds so good spoken aloud, the speaker is sorely tempted to blather on for a bit too long.

Interesting post! I better go back into hiding before the L’Office québécois de la langue française sends out its sbires to find me

HaroldM22 said...

Well done!............................................................