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L’Empreinte des choses

André Topia
Marie-Christine Lemardeley


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Isabelle Alfandary. L’insoutenable légèreté des objets dans l’œuvre de Jeff Koons

1The present article seeks to analyze the meaning and the implications of Jeff Koons’s use of objects (encased vacuum cleaners, floating basketballs, gilded celebrities, stainless-steel and porcelain toys) in his conceptual sculpture and his statuary. His treatment of the art object as raw material, his decision to no longer maintain the “objects’ integrity” and take his work into “the realm of the objective” will be questioned. Koons’s poetic gesture consists in taking his hand away from the artistic process.

Pascale Antolin. Le cours des choses, les discours de l’objet dans McTeague de Frank Norris

2This paper seeks to demonstrate the major part played by things in Frank Norris’s McTeague (1899)—the starting point being the distinction established between things and objects by Claude Duchet in an article about objects in Madame Bovary. At the beginning of McTeague, things reign supreme in the heroes’ apartment, as if to establish the referential background of the novel—even though their role is not just referential but also symbolic. They create a sense of imprisonment and suggest McTeague’s and Trina’s identities, be they social, sexual or cultural. When poverty threatens the couple, all these things are sold to the highest bidder but for a few items, which McTeague clings to at any cost. They appear to be love objects for him, whereas for Trina no thing is more valuable than her gold coins. The disappearance of things, that is consumer goods, signals both the beginning of the naturalistic process of deterioration and the shift from a mostly realistic approach to a more romantic one. Gradually things turn into highly symbolic, even polysemic objects. This evolution from things to objects points to Norris’s conception of naturalism, a combination of realism and romanticism.

Kevin Barry. How can things be beautiful: signs, patches, and assignats

3This essay is an enquiry into the neglect of beauty in recent considerations of the aesthetic, and the presence of things as markers of beauty in works that are marked by the imminence or immediacy of death. The late writings of Derek Jarman, his cinematic and painterly experimentation with luxury and then with mere colour, his garden and his diary of a garden, are analysed in the light of his certainty that he is now dying. The analysis is extended out to consider other moments of the imprint of things on the aesthetic of death, and particularly in the internal dynamics of David’s Marat assassiné.

Michael Bell. Doing Things in the Kitchen: chez soi with Joyce and Lawrence

4In literature, a thing is in the first instance a word. The word “thing” need not denote a concrete material object, but an activity or value. Heidegger, in his essay on “The Thing”, seeks to recover the original Germanic meaning of “thing” as a matter of concern in order to focus the lost relation to Being that characterises Cartesian modernity, the world of external “objects”. The history of the English novel, through the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, shows a shifting ontological presentation of the world focused in the relation to specifie things. In Dickens and George Eliot the world is commonly replete with human meaning of a poetic and mythic kind. As modernists, Joyce and Lawrence, like Heidegger, sought to recover a primordial relation. In Joyce it is through a comédic exposure of language as the medium in which the thing is experienced. Lawrence is closer to Heidegger in dramatising the human relation to the thing overlooked in the most common daily contact and activity, such as washing dishes.

Myriam Bellehigue. « In the Village » et « Sestina » d’Elizabeth Bishop: objets et apparitions

5The purpose of this paper is to study the ambiguous roles played by objects and things in Elizabeth Bishop’s autobiographical prose piece “In the Village” and the rewriting of this text in poetic form entitled “Sestina”. The short story relates Bishop’s early years marked by her mother’s breakdowns, her frequent hospitalizations and her final confinement. On the one hand, objects and things seem to function as metonymic extensions of what the child perceives as her mother’s threatening instability. Through their evanescence and inscrutability, they become haunted by the mother’s anguished and infamous behavior, which they keep perpetuating after her disappearance. And yet, outside the family house, the child also encounters objects and things whose materiality and presence she views as reassuring anchors that enable her to go through a healing mourning process. Spectral contamination and constant reenactment of grief give way to sorrow’s fragmentation and transformation through other metonymic displacements, both thematic and formal.

Carle Bonafous-murat. De l’espèce à la marque : l’art beckettien de mal penser les choses

6Cultural historians or cultural materialists have often argued that things can be distinguished from objects in as much as they have been deprived of any use value, thus positing the thing as the before or the after of the object. While many poems written by contemporary Irish poets seem to support that contention, this essay wishes to argue that some of Beckett’s first novels, including Murphy or Molloy, evince an altogether different conceptual framework, one in which the thing and the object exist simultaneously instead of successively. In Beckett’s oeuvre, the objects lose their functionality because they are never properly actualized in the minds of the characters, and retain an ideal use value in the discourse of the narrator only. The trademark thus crystallizes the difference in status between the object and the thing.

Catherine Lanone. « What [things] record in colour and cast »: l’empreinte de l’affect et la trace poétique chez Thomas Hardy

7Thomas Hardy’s poetry is haunted by the past. Objects become the uncanny trace of the spectral, like the tombstone which the mournful rain defaces, the hollowed “footworn” floor, the furniture polished by invisible hands receding in a mirror, or the photograph which burns and destroys a woman’s long-lost body. Places enshrine loss, tracing and mapping absence, shadowing the contours of a vanished presence, which vivid, plastic memory may suddenly resurrect, in a flitting glimpse or piercing sensation which instantly dissolves. Ultimately, the poem itself becomes the shrine of the past, haunted by the anxiety of influence. Stylistic devices like repetitions and echoes, dashes, alliterations or broken rhythm, inscribe within the poem this play on presence and absence, distance and proximity. The poem becomes a liminal space, hovering on the threshold of modem poetry, eluding the stable identity and location of Victorian poetry yet shying from deconstruction, moving between past and present, inside and outside, anguish and relative resignation, endowing words and things with a spectral life of their own.

Marie-christine Lemardeley. Robert Lowell : les choses retrouvées

8Through the study of 91 Revere Street, the only prose piece of Life Studies (1959), this article evokes autobiographical confession not as a simple recording of life but as a process of reconstruction. Remembered things appear as more powerful and more present than actual objects. The selective inventory of his mother’s and his father’s interior decoration enables Robert Lowell to delineate the social and emotional gaps separating his parents, in the context of a tradition gone sour. By conjuring up the familiar objects of his childhood Robert Lowell rebuilds his genealogy and retraces the birth of his artistic concern for the recovery of sounds and sensations.

Marc Porée. Du parti pris des chaises en poésie

9The paper begins by offering a close reading of three poems on chairs, by Tony Harrison, Philip Larkin and William Wordsworth. Things are dumb, in all senses of the word, and their muteness is foreign to human language—and yet they are to be named, so as to become literary objects. Borrowing its title from that of a famous collection of poems by Francis Ponge, who claims to be favourably prejudiced about things, the essay purports to examine the various ways in which poets attempt to mould the shape of their poems around that of objects, and vice versa. It follows three main outlines: “In the aspect of things” covers what Bonnefoy sees as a characteristically English fondness for the empirical aspect of things, as opposed to the more abstract bias of French poets; “In the truth of things” (with poems by Craig Raine, Douglas Dunn, Derek Mahon and Philip Larkin) discusses various strategies by which things are either made glorious or trivial; “Dependent on things” (featuring poems by William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens, Tony Harrison) plumbs the depths of what is first and foremost for poets a linguistic bias.

Benoît Tadié. L’univers matériel du polar

10Whereas “cozy” mystery fiction (in the tradition of Conan Doyle) was based on the readability of things and on their potential transformation into tell-tale dues under the eye of the master-detective, in hardboiled crime fiction (as initiated by Dashiell Hammett and the Black Mask school) this readability is compromised by nightmarish narrative patterns and, when the stories do retain a detective as protagonist, by the latter’s loss of intellectual authority. This suggests a deep loss of bearings in front of the material world, contrasting with the ideological and epistemological certainties underlying XIXth century (mystery) fiction. From this general premise, hardboiled narratives develop into two opposite directions: whereas the more incisive ones link the unreadability of the world to its metaphysical fall into crime, the more superficial ones instrumentalize the material world in order to satisfy their readership’s “craving for thrills”. In these latter versions, the hardboiled genre tends to lose its connection with the real and to function at the level of stereotype, its critical force evaporating into low-energy clichés.

André Topia. La trace et l’embrayage : de Dickens à Joyce

11This essay examines the various modes of interaction between things and human subjects successively in Dickens, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Hardy, and Joyce. In Dickens, space is saturated with traces and the frontiers between human bodies and inanimate things are constantly blurred. The Victorian detective novel finds its source in the infinite possibilities of traces in inhabited space. In Hardy, traces can either point to an absence due to erosion by time or to a supplement of inscription similar to geological strata. In Joyce, the very writing technique is mimetically contaminated by the mechanical interlocking (embrayage) of self and space. The object presupposes a linguistic predetermination, whereas the thing resists any pre-established adequation with the available repertory of words and subverts the Joycean principle that the real exists only because there are words to define it.

© Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2007

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