Philippe Jaccottet: Le souffle et le chant de l'absence

Translated title of the contribution: Philippe Jaccottet: The breath (le souffle) and the chant of absence

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This article proposes to explore the important problem of absence and its representation in the works of Swiss poet Philippe Jaccottet from a viewpoint inspired by philosophical and psychoanalytic approaches, focusing first on the theme of breath, frequently used by the poet in the 1960's, especially in some poems, notes and prose works. The life-giving role of breath emphasized by the mystic, religious and philosophical tradition has another meaning for the contemporary poets like Jaccottet (or Du Bouchet, Celan, etc.): unnoticed support of voice and writing, somehow modeling emptiness and silence. Imperceptible and invisible, this motif represents the negative of the subject I withdraw from the enunciative scene, or even that of the deity absent from the world, destining poets to idleness. The breath haunts his Landscapes with absent figures like a ghost of the God of religion or metaphysics. In the prose works of Jaccottet, breath assures an intimate exchange between the inside body and the surrounding air, I and not-I, even the past and the present, leading the poet to a sort of cosmic unconsciousness or a desired fusion with the external world - an experience analogous to that of Hölderlins Empedocles or Das Offne (aperture) of Rilke. That is also a moment of ek-stacy Jaccottet once called "the poetic experience", and one of its relics is contact with the power of the singing voice, which inspires the soul and rejoins the fragmented body, thereby changing the invisible into the visible, and giving form to rhythm. The close relationship of poetry to music is reconsidered at their very origin: the call of an absentee with breath passing through an amplifier whose sound traverses space and attains the other. Thus the poetry-song tries to convert the mourning of gods and of mysteries into the beginning of the concert of syllables and of cadence, as this poet's process of writing attests.

Translated title of the contributionPhilippe Jaccottet: The breath (le souffle) and the chant of absence
Original languageFrench
Pages (from-to)91-109+139-140
JournalEtudes Francaises
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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