A Saussurean Solution: Embodying 'Presence' in Yves Bonnefoy's Poetics

Layla Roesler
2015 unpublished
Contemporary French poet Yves Bonnefoy has, over the course of his long career, acquired the often repeated epithet, 'poète de la présence'. This lapidary formulation is especially apt, for it summarises quite effectively his vision of poetry as the only vector for a genuine interaction with the world through a form of communion that he characterises as 'présence'. The word itself is not insignificant. Beyond the generalities of common parlance, the term has a long and rich history that hovers
more » ... etween theology and philosophy. His insistence, therefore, on the use of such a connoted word calls for examination, particularly in light of the reticence he expresses regarding philosophy. Indeed, despite a rhetoric that minimises, and even repudiates philosophy in favour of poetry, Bonnefoy's work demonstrates such an intense interconnection between the two that they can easily be imagined as leaf of paper whose two inseparable sides comprise the whole. As this paper contends, Bonnefoy's co-opting of the term 'presence' is predicated on a philosophical necessity that is linked first to his vision of poetry and its role in transmitting presence, and then to his desire to defend the very possibility of presence against, in particular, the deconstructionist challenge to it. And as this paper further argues, the originality of his approach lies in the fact that beyond redefining a poetics of presence, he resolves, at least partially, the problem of integrating presence into a literary text by his rather unusual use of some of the building blocks of structuralism. In a large sense, his choice of the word 'presence' to encapsulate his poetics forces him to contend with the unavoidably philosophical aspect of a term that is heavily marked by its theo-ontological origins. At the same time, his various attempts at definition demonstrate-and this in spite of his reticence-that what he proposes in the shorthand term présence can perhaps only be described as a philosophical endeavour inasmuch as it clearly aims to provide meaning not only for the intellectual, but also for the moral and ethical aspects of life and experience. In addition, Bonnefoy's strong impetus to integrate and even produce présence in poetry can be seen as the epitome of the difficulty of making literature, and more particularly a literary form as constraining as poetry, take on a function that seems at least partially to eschew aesthetic ambitions in favour of something that resembles much more a philosophical project. This article thus discusses Bonnefoy's notion of présence along two axes, identifying first that which he retains for his own purposes from the more traditional definitions of presence, and addressing then the issue of how he uses the tools of structuralism to counter the philosophical impossibility of presence proposed by the deconstructionist theories of the second half of the twentieth century.