Version classiqueVersion mobile

L'Allusion et l'Accès

Peter Vernon
Claudine Raynaud

Introduction. L’allusion et l’accès

Peter Vernon

Texte intégral

1L’Allusion et L’Accès follows on from work previously published in GRAAT, in particular Usure et Rupture – Breaking Points (GRAAT 13) and Fonctions du Cliché – Du Banal à la Violence (GRAAT 16). The present conference aimed to articulate the strategies that the literary text deploys to access the unsayable, whilst, simultaneously, keeping in mind the notion of play contained in the etymology of allusion: alludere.

2Allusion and Access, then, are two vast subjects put into juxtaposition and perspective. Allusion sets up various mechanisms of expression by Indirection while Access gives some sort of Direction although one might not know to where the direction is leading.

  • 1 Arnoldo Pizzorusso « Considérations sur la notion d’allusion », L’allusion dans la littérature, éd (...)

3To Allude means to say something by other means. What is that otherness which one chooses to name by substitution? What is the fundamental otherness to which access leads us, when one is dealing with meaning and is left with language as the only tool? Allusion will be understood as metaphoric play. The receiver is expected to know what the game is all about. As Pizzorusso has well said: «La notion d’allusion demande, ou demanderait, une vaste enquête : le mot, l’idée, la pratique de l’allusion.»1 Access meanwhile means “to reach” in terms of a path, a progress, implying a hermeneutic search.

4These were some of the questions that we posed in the Call for Papers. The allusion certainly reaches out to the reader, but also reflects on the user of the allusion. Antoine Compagnon demands, pertinently, what happens when a reader thinks that there is allusion, but is blocked from access to it (Compagnon, in L‘allusion, 237).

5With these questions in mind, we might now consider how Allusion and Access work in terms of a concrete example. A little prose-poem by Francis Ponge “Les Plaisirs de la Porte” contains playfully erotic allusions, which then give access to something else. Here is the poem:

Les rois ne touchent pas aux portes.

Ils ne connaissent pas ce bonheur : pousser devant
soi avec douceur ou rudesse l’un de ces grands panneaux
familiers, se retourner vers lui pour le remettre en place,
– tenir dans ses bras une porte.

... Le bonheur d’empoigner au ventre par son nœud
de porcelaine l’un de ces hauts obstacles d’une pièce ;
ce corps à corps rapide par lequel un instant la marche
retenue, l’œil s’ouvre et le corps tout entier s’accommode
à son nouvel appartement.

  • 2 Francis Ponge, « Les Plaisirs de la Porte », Le Parti Pris des Choses, 1942, OC, t. 1, 21.

D’une main amicale il la retient encore, avant de la
repousser décidément et s’enclore, – ce dont le déclic
du ressort puissant mais bien huilé agréablement l’assure.2

6The title of the poem as well as the isotopy formed by “touchent”, “tenir dans ses bras”, “ventre”, “corps à corps rapide” unmistakably moves the alert reader towards an erotic interpretation of the poem. The interpretation, though, lies in the bizarre association of “noeud” and “porcelaine” that questions the safe referentiality of this kind of china door-knob that everyone has once held in his hand. Following the erotic thread the reader will easily recognise in this “noeud” the slang equivalent of the male sex (of course the same is true of English “knob”), which threatens the virginal porcelaine. Perversely guided by Ponge, the reader will reactivate the “porc” that slumbers within the preciosity of the word and will find his fantasy unexpectedly confirmed by the dictionary: the buried etymology of the word “porcelain” is the vulva of the sow, which, by analogy, gives its name to the sea shell. Littré is explicit “vulve de truie", whereas OED hides the erotic and decorously gives us “Venus shell” from whose dense polished substance, by a further analogy, we arrive at the name given to fine china. The poem enables us to have access to a tiny, perfect deconstruction in the text and thence to a reconstruction by the reader of the allusions buried in the ordinary, china door-handle.

7We may argue, therefore, that in this poem a masked allusion has given access to the hidden etymology of the word “porcelain” giving the reader the hermeneutic pleasure opening onto unexpected perspectives. In order to reach this pleasure the faithful reader will have had to reconstruct what Ponge has wittily deconstructed in an exemplary dialectic of allusion and access.

8However, the reader is not always guided in such a heuristic and playful manner. Allusion may be received as a shock before we are able to identify the poet’s voice. The example of Celan’s poetry, with its peculiar disturbing lyricism, requires immediate empathy. In “Todesfuge”, for example, the obsessional allusion to the horrors of the camp, is evident enough. What is at stake, therefore, is not access to the all too well-known content, but to the almost sensual violence of the lyric voice that gives access to the unutterable experience through agonising identification.

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at nightfall
we drink it at noon in the morning we drink it at night
drink it and drink it.

  • 3 Paul Celan, “Fugue of Death” trans. Christopher Middleton, Paul Celan: Selected Poems, trans. Mich (...)

We are digging a grave in the sky it is ample to lie there
A man in the house he plays with the serpents he writes
he writes when the night falls to Germany your golden
hair Margarete3

9The poetic denotative shock of “black” and “milk”, the incompatibility of “dig” and “sky” directly plunge the reader into a world where all references are lost and the letter written by a damned German to a lost romantic Germany “your golden hair Margarete” prepares the unbearable access to “your ashen hair Shulamith” through the disturbing order of a simple métonymic variation. This would seem here to operate through the internal assonance of “g” in “golden” and “Margarete” and even more powerfully in the repeated “sh” in “ashen” and “Shulamith” The poem gives us, certainly, access to the camps; but, I would maintain, only if one had suffered the camps, could one really comprehend. Even though I have seen these piles of hair (and mountains of children’s shoes and spectacles), I cannot heave any words onto the page to gloss Celan’s words. He alludes, he gives us each our own access.

10The tragic play on negation in “Psalm” requires a more troubled involvement without the access to any safe meaning :

A nothing
we were, are, shall
remain, flowering;
the nothing –, the
no one’s rose. (70)

11The negations (“Negation” being the subject of the GRAAT Conference in 2004), the ellipses, the indeterminacy of pronouns, present an extreme difficulty of access. But, and this is the point, not an impossibility of access, in so far as one recognises the accents and the call of a voice. The poems are, as Celan said, “messages in a bottle”, their aim is to communicate; but, as Hamburger has written, “Celan’s poetry [is] always close to the unutterable because it has passed through it and come out on the other side” (19). Celan’s allusiveness and difficulty of access is nowhere more apparent than in “Etched Away From”

Etched away from
the ray-shot wind of your language
the garish talk of rubbed-
off experience – the hundred-
tongued pseudo-
poem, the noem. (84)

12It is evident that Celan is wrestling here with the impossibility of the task he has set himself: to write of the camps in verse; and worse to write in German, the language of the oppressor. Whereas, as we saw in “Les Plaisir de la Porte”, Ponge deconstructs in order to enable us to reconstruct; Celan, in contrast, constructs in order that we may have the possibility of deconstruction, and thus be given access to the impossible, inexpressible experience.

13No messages left in a bottle by Ezra Pound. His early poems and translations give way to later work which is exceptionally allusive, but, to this reader at least, denies access; because, in contrast to Celan, the aim seems not to communicate, or rather to communicate only to the cognoscenti. In this sense it seems to me perfectly hermetic. However, one could equally well argue that in writing “it seems to me perfectly hermetic” I am also acknowledging my own limits as a reader of Pound’s poetry, a better reader could go further. Here, as an example, is the beginning of Canto XXXIV from Eleven New Cantos:

  • 4 Ezra Pound, Eleven New Cantos, New York, Farrar and Rinehart, 1934, Canto XXXIV, 15.

Oils, beasts, grasses, petrifications, birds, incrustations,
Dr Mitchell’s conversation was various
And a black manservant, to embark on a voyage to Russia...
Consistent with their peace and their separation from Europe....
English pretentions, exclusive, auf dem Wasser (ad. 1809)
En fait de commerce ce (Bonaparte) est un étourdi, said Romanzoff...4

14This, of course, is nothing to the later Cantos, stuffed with Chinese ideograms; one can clearly see that we are getting some kind of history lesson, but it seems the access one would receive, given the investment of time needed to work through the allusions, would be limited to a schematic, taxonomic view of the world. In contrast to Celan, Pound’s Cantos seem to me notes towards a poem that has, conspicuously, not gone through the experience and come out the other side. It seems that here there is no call of a voice, rather one finds an ironic palimpsest of voices.

  • 5 François Jullien, Le Détour et L’Accès, Paris, Gasquet & Fasquelle, 1995, 7-8.
  • 6 Martin Heidegger, On the Way to Language [1959], trans. Peter D. Hertz, New York : Harper and Row, (...)
  • 7 See George Steiner, Lessons of the Masters, Harvard UP, 2003 and his magisterial review article of (...)

15François Jullien has addressed our very problem by asking what is gained by indirection in considering what is at stake in explaining Chinese discourse to a non-sinologist.5 More profoundly, Heidegger addresses the problem of comprehending the Japanese concept of Iki, [very roughly, “grace”; “the breath of the stillness of luminous delight”] since the dialogue of discussion on this concept was European, not Eastasian, there was thus a grave danger of appropriating Japanese Art into Western Metaphysics.6 In searching to understand what the Japanese mean by language, Heidegger realises that his access is thwarted because the very concept of language is so different in Japanese. His Japanese interlocutor gives Koto ba as the Japanese for language : ba being “leaves” or more particularly “petals”; whereas Koto operates to name “that which in the event gives delight”. As Heidegger glosses it: “‘Saying’. It means: saying and what is said in it and what is to be said” (47). At its very crudest, then, this would seem to suggest that though Japanese is extraordinarily allusive, it refuses metaphor and metaphysics – it is what Conrad always attempted to write in the “language of facts". One finds here the limits of the Western reader hoping to solve the mystery. The occidental reader has a “Thirst for knowledge and greed for explanations” (Heidegger, 13), and perhaps the whole problem of the Western reader attempting to access oriental allusion can be expressed as follows. The syntax of Western languages, preconstructs the sense, which the reader hermeneutically discovers; whereas in Eastasian languages the sense appears. “We say Iro, that is color, and say Ku, that is emptiness, the open, the sky. We say: without Iro, no Ku” (Heidegger, 14). We have made repeated reference here to Celan and Heidegger and perhaps, to conclude our argument, we may recall the extraordinary meeting between the two at Heidegger’s “hut” at Todtnauberg on 25 July 1967, and which gave rise to Celan’s poem “Todtnauberg”, to which Heidegger wrote a “preface”. Following the meeting (there were to be two others in the following years) Heidegger wrote to Celan: “since then there is much we have said silently to each other, said in mutual silence.”7

16Given the subject of our conference it is not surprising that most papers concentrate on the work of the Modernist writers as well as the Elizabethans. The papers are printed here in the order in which they were presented at the conference.

17Daniel Ferrer and Cornelius Crowley analyse the work of James Joyce. Ferrer considers the absence of access in Finnegans Wake as being a third kind of “blockage” (beyond deliberate, but provisional refusal of access in the first case; to accidental non-access in the second case) where the reader may be totally refused access unless he has access to the author’s MSS. Crowley, meanwhile, approaches Ulysses from Ryle’s philosophical standpoint, in that thinking depends on something to think about: Ulysses gives us Leopold Bloom’s unconscious allusions to beings who are inaccessible.

18Taking as her point of departure François Jullien’s question about what is to be gained by speaking of things indirectly, Pascale Poulain analyses the construction of epiphany in the works of Annie Dillard. Poulain quotes from the end of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: “I look to water to see sky” and argues cogently that this technique, by playing with two aspects of perception, gives action by indirection, to the real. Anne Besnault-Levita continues the notion of epiphany in her paper on metaphoric epiphanies in Virgina Woolf s Short Fictions. Besnault-Levita argues that Woolf s poetic programme is to break down the normal oppositions between the known and the unknown; that which may be expressed and that which is inexpressible. The “true reality” to which Woolf’s writing gives access is neither unknowable nor inexpressible; rather it is in the process of being known, and still to be expressed. Liliane Louvel also takes her point of departure from Jullien and plays with pictorial allusion and the interactive allusions between Vermeer and three contemporary novels inspired by Dutch painting. Louvel shows that the specificity of pictorial allusion is to introduce a “tiers pictural” into the text, which thus acquires a greater aesthetic purport. Louvel concludes with the notion that even if the image alluded to is not recuperated by the reader, what really matters is the endless interplay between words, and their openness to the readers’ interpretation. Eric Dechassey moves us from Painting to Photography in his examination of the photography of Paul Strand, one of the pioneers of American Modernist photography, who attempted to give direct access to the world through a filterless lense. Strand, as Dechassey shows, aimed at “objective” photography whose geometric, mechanical form, while related to painting, nevertheless eschews all ambition to copy painting.

19Derval Tubridy examines the ontological questions posed by Beckett’s Rockaby in which there can be no self identity, thus no access to self. There is a rupture between the voice which speaks referring to a self which is distanced, both physically and linguistically, from itself. The protagonist W becomes her own other. In “James Kelman, L’Ecriture face à la Perte”, Françoise Palleau also finds alienation and loss of identity in her analysis of the linguistic experimentation found in Translated Accounts. Kelman attempts through words to express the inexpressible suffering of humanity in his use of narrative voices under an unnamed totalitarian regime. Palleau concludes that the access to sense is a matter of judgement. By fracturing and deforming language, Kelman empowers the reader to decode and therefore to make judgement. In her paper on Donald Barthelme’s Sadness, Sandrine Dechaume suggests that the problem of recuperating allusions in Barthelme’s work is problematic, not because of the allusions that one finds, but, rather, the allusions one thinks one ought to find. In the quotidian, post-modem world anything could be allusive. Anne-Laure Tissut in “Beaucoup de bruit pour rien dans The Names de Don DeLillo” discovers the way in which DeLillo’s allusive games promote an awareness of limits, and also give access to the unlimited power of mind and language; an experience of the sublime, beyond finitude, depends on an awareness of those limits. In “Second Skin de John Hawkes: La Chair de L’Anagramme”, Arnaud Regnauld analyses the paradoxical, iconoclastic world of Skipper, the narrator/demi-god of Hawkes’s novel, who wishes to find redemption in the Word. The multiple allusions – to Greek Tragedy, The Bible, Shakespeare – in Hawkes’s world give access to suffering, but suffering without redemption. The Verbum (and the Virgin) are both de-sacralised: the multiple ironic allusions give access to a grotesque aesthetic where horror combines with laughter. Ben Winsworth in “The Dynamics of Negation in Flaubert’s Parrot” shows us that Barnes’s narrator, Geoffrey Braithwaite, by constant allusion to Flaubert’s life, gives himself access to his own “story” – though the words are never the right ones for the task.

20In “Sir Philip Sidney: Art de l’Allusion et jeux de courtisans sur la scene Elizabéthaine” Astrid Friestedt-D’Halluin points out that religious and political allusions at Elizabeth’s court was a game that could have serious consequences. Such was the case of Sidney who played too directly on the political stage, and was thus disgraced. Meanwhile Claire Poutiers examines the essential allusiveness in Welles’s adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays. Welles, in contrast to Olivier, uses Black and White film, not simply for reasons of budget, but because the aesthetic of shadow and illusion gives another access to the world enabling Welles’s adaptations to be more open to the viewer’s interpretation.

21We conclude with three papers on Modem British Literature. Sebastien Salbayre analyses the homosexual allusions buried within a supposed dialogue on morality in Orton’s Entertaining Mr Sloane. Elise Brault, in her analysis of D.H. Lawrence’s Last Poems, considers that Lawrence’s allusions are not to what one might expect, or to what is or can be known, but rather are to what is unknown; the reader is thus given access to something beyond the text, even if that something can never be expressed. Nathalie Vincent suggests that in “The Sound of the River” by Jean Rhys, there are no words to describe the fear; the reader has access only to babbles or silence.

22I am grateful to the team of friends and colleagues who helped make “L’Allusion et L’Accès” a success. Many thanks to the organising and reading committee: Sebastien Salbayre and Anne-Laure Tissut, and, above all to Claudine Raynaud who helped me organise the conference.

23Finally, my greatest debt is to Pierre Gault, the founder of GRAAT. His friendship and inspiration in a weekly dialogue on literature, language and philosophy, over many years, are exemplary of what a university is really about.


1 Arnoldo Pizzorusso « Considérations sur la notion d’allusion », L’allusion dans la littérature, éd., Michel Murat, PU Paris-Sorbonne, 2000,13.

2 Francis Ponge, « Les Plaisirs de la Porte », Le Parti Pris des Choses, 1942, OC, t. 1, 21.

3 Paul Celan, “Fugue of Death” trans. Christopher Middleton, Paul Celan: Selected Poems, trans. Michael Hamburger and Christopher Middleton, Harmondsworth, Mddx., Penguin, 1972, 33.

4 Ezra Pound, Eleven New Cantos, New York, Farrar and Rinehart, 1934, Canto XXXIV, 15.

5 François Jullien, Le Détour et L’Accès, Paris, Gasquet & Fasquelle, 1995, 7-8.

6 Martin Heidegger, On the Way to Language [1959], trans. Peter D. Hertz, New York : Harper and Row, 1982, 43-44.

7 See George Steiner, Lessons of the Masters, Harvard UP, 2003 and his magisterial review article of Hadrien France-Lanord, Paul Celan et Martin Heidegger, TLS N° 5296, 1 October 2004, 4-6.

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2005

Conditions d’utilisation :

Cette publication numérique est issue d’un traitement automatique par reconnaissance optique de caractères.
Rechercher dans OpenEdition Search

Vous allez être redirigé vers OpenEdition Search