Michel Deguy

Anthologies with texts by Michel Deguy have already appeared in the USA, Italy, Poland and Hungary but, so far, not in Germany.  Here, for some unknown reason, only fragments of his work, now covering a period of over fourty years, can be found scattered in several anthologies on French contemporary poetry or in magazines such as ‘Lettre International’, ‘Wespennest’ or ‘PARK’. And yet the writer, born in Paris in 1930, has, for a long time, belonged to the outstanding representatives of a skill in using words which doesn’t concern itself with traditional generic descriptions and where free verse stands alongside reflection in prose form. In France his poetry has already reached its publishing peak: in the prestigious series ‘Poésie/Gallimard’, already the third volume with his collected works, in chronological order, appeared in 1999 (‘Ou?dire. Poèmes I, 1960-1970’, ‘Poèmes II, 1970-1980’, ‘Gisants. Poèmes III, 1980-1995’; here his work is amongst that of Paul Eluard and Francis Ponge, Ren?Char and Apollinaire.

Deguy never saw himself as poet, he describes himself in respectful distance as “the poet which I try to be.”  He is also translator and has, amongst others, translated works by Heidegger and Paul Celan into French.  As an academic, originally a philosopher, he lectured French literature at university in Paris until 1999, and from 1989 to 1992, he was also president of the ‘Collège International de Philosophie’ founded by him and Jacques Derrida, amongst others.  He was also an influential ‘literary distributor’ until 1986 he was editor at Gallimard, and is today managing editor of the magazine ‘Po&Sie’. The experiences in the inside life of the literary business he collected there are literarily and critically re-worked in ‘Le comité.  Confessions d’un lecteur de grande maison’ (1987).

In his creative work, Deguy always shows himself concerned with linking poetological reflections and poetic practice.  Poetry is for him a ‘Being’, as the word ‘comme’ is for him the decisive conjunction, and the purpose of the poet is, with the medium of language, to create an analogy to reality: “poetry can only be spoken (thought) in comparison with what it names.  It is, as the things that it is concerning which it happens to speak, for it seeks in those things its form”.  In this way, on the one hand a theoretical challenging understanding of poetic language is found in his work and on the other hand, Deguy often attacks, critically, the offshoots of a culture which for him is hardly recognized as culture at all.

During the last few years, thoughts on death have taken a large part in his work. In 1991 he received a prize for his essay on a film by the French director Claude Lanzmann on the extermination of the Jews (‘Au sujet de Shoah.  Le film de Claude Lanzman’ 1990). In 1995 he wrote a lament for his deceased wife (‘A ce qui n’en finit pas: thrène’.  The poems in this were not in his third volume of ‘Poèmes’.  Deguy didn’t want this most intimate of his texts to be alongside texts of others.

Dirk Naguschewski

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