On the Motion & Immobility of Douve: Du mouvement et de l'immobilite de Douve
Yves Bonnefoy (1923-2016) was a central figure in post-war French culture, with a lifelong fascination with the problems of translation. Language, for him, was a visceral, intensely material element in our existence, and yet the abstract quality of words distorts the immediate, material quality of our contact with the world. This concern with what separates words from an essential truth hidden in objects involved him in wide-ranging philosophical and theological investigations of the spiritual and the sacred. But for all his intellectual drive and rigour, Bonnefoy's poetry is essentially of the concrete and the tangible, and addresses itself to our most familiar and intimate experiences of objects and of each other.
In his first book of poetry, published in France in 1953, Bonnefoy reflects on the value and mechanism of language in a series of short variations on the life and death of a much loved woman, Douve. Douve, though, is the French word for a moat, that uncrossable body which separates us from safety and from danger. With this undercurrent at work we read the poems as if they are about the divide between us and death as much as they are about the divide between us and the untouchable reality of text. This is dangerous writing, fulfilling Derrida's "fatal necessity" by making us substitute the textual sign for reality.In his introduction, Timothy Mathews shows how Bonnefoy's poetics are enmeshed with his philosophical, religious and critical thought.
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