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the Complete Review
the complete review - non/fiction



Mute Objects of Expression

by
Francis Ponge


general information | our review | links | about the author

To purchase Mute Objects of Expression



Title: Mute Objects of Expression
Author: Francis Ponge
Genre: Non/fiction
Written: (1952) (Eng. 2008)
Length: 165 pages
Original in: French
Availability: Mute Objects of Expression - US
Mute Objects of Expression - UK
Mute Objects of Expression - Canada
La rage de l'expression - Canada
La rage de l'expression - France
Das Notizbuch vom Kiefernwald und La Mounine - Deutschland
  • French title: La rage de l'expression
  • Written between 1938 and 1944
  • Translated by Lee Fahnestock

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Our Assessment:

A- : fascinating record of a writer at work

See our review for fuller assessment.




The complete review's Review:

       Mute Objects of Expression collects writings by Ponge from 1938 to 1944. Despite the circumstances -- Europe at war, the invasion and occupation of France -- there's little sense of what is going on in the world at large here; the closest it ever seems to intrude is when Ponge complains of being: "Deprived of all reading material for several weeks and months", and the fact that his entire stock of paper is his little pocket notebook.
       Ponge's focus in these pieces is very narrow, but also only partially introspective: what he is concerned with is capturing -- by comprehending and, in writing, conveying -- the object. In the short opening piece, 'Banks of the Loire', -- which should be required reading in poetry classes -- he explains what he's after, and what he hopes to avoid. Poetry seduces. Language and word play seduce -- and if one gives in too easily they keep one away from what is more important: the object, and its essence.
       He begins:

     From now on, may nothing ever cause me to go back on my resolve: never sacrifice the object of my study in order to enhance some verbal turn discovered on the subject, nor piece together any such discoveries in a poem.
       He needs to remind himself because he does seem to get easily carried away, and much of Mute Objects of Expression has him tempted by the poetic, only to return to the very basics, to the object itself. So he finds:
     I thought myself able to write a thousand pages on any object at all, but here I am breathless at less than five, and turning towards compilation ! No, I feel that on my own (and from the bird) I can naively draw out more than that. But basically isn't the important point to grasp the crux of the thing ? By the time I have written several pages, upon rereading them I'll see theplace where that crux resides, the essential, the qualities of the bird. I really believe I've already found it.
       In his eagerness for precision he's constantly off seeking out etymologies, trying to find and employ the proper words. He doesn't say as much, but it's part of the exercise: a moving away from the object, no longer having at it hand but rather finding the proper abstraction for it. So, over and over he leaves nature and:
     Having reached this point, I went to the library to consult the Littré, the Encyclopedia, the Larousse
       He is very much a word-person, and he can only imagine reducing the object to words. But he's also concerned about how he goes about it:
What matters to me is the serious application with which I approach the object, and on the other hand the extreme precision of language. But I must rid myself of a tendency to say things that are flat and conventional. it's really not worthwhile writing if it comes to that.
       So ordinary expression is not sufficient; 'conventional' will not do. And throughout there are examples of his creative approaches to fixing the object in language, fascinating examples of the possibilities he explores.
       He sets out his ambition clearly:
     Accept the challenge things offer to language. These carnations, for instance, defy language. I won't rest till I have drawn together a few words that will compel anyone reading or hearing them to say: this has to do with something like a carnation.
     Is that poetry ? I have no idea, and it scarcely matters. For me it is a need, a commitment, a rage, a matter of self-respect, and that's all there is to it.
       (And, indeed, the French title -- La rage de l'expression -- echoes that better.)
       Ponge is not always entirely successful, but Mute Objects of Expression is so powerful because it is both an account of the writer's struggle, wrestling with the subject matter and the words, as well as a case-book of examples.
       Well worthwhile, especially for would-be poets.

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Links:

Mute Objects of Expression: Reviews: Francis Ponge: Other books by Francis Ponge under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Francis Ponge lived 1899 to 1988.

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© 2008 the complete review

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