Anne Übersfeld: "Thematic Introduction to the Issue"


The Structures of the Poetic

We have been examining poetic moments: while the poetic is dispersed through the entire length of the text, there are, again, privileged instants, moments where organised "images" are constructed, where scenarios tell a story or paint a picture (hypotyposis).
Micro-scenarios are a kind of image that the spectator is called upon to construct without the aid of visual stimuli. This includes everything the language of the character brings to life: meditations on the past, anticipation of the future, references to an epic fable and so on. This image constructed without physical data has in fact got the entire theatre for its support, and is nourished by all the stage's cumulative ephemeral signs: thus it is at its strongest at the ends of plays. That is what accounts for the exponential growth of this poetic energy; and so it is with the tales of murder or violent death at the conclusion of classical and neo-classical tragedies. The conjuring up of the spectator's memory actually plays the decisive and fateful role. Which explains the possibility of cataphoric and anaphoric projections which enrich the audience's perceptions. These projections allow the member of the public to remain free from the closed system of immediate perception in the present, and in so doing to join the visual and imaginary universes.
Such micro-scenarios can be seen for example in Fin de Partie, the epic tale, the "Roman de Hamm ou le voyage de noces des parents en Italie," the best example, the wonderfully ambiguous story of the blind painter; and in Genet's Les Bonnes, it is seen in the maids' writing of the anonymous letter.
Hypotyposis is also removed a certain distance from the immediacy of the action and plot. According to Quintilian, it may de defined as a "figure of style consisting of a description of a scene which is so lively and energetic and so clearly seen that it springs to life in the eyes with the colours, relief and presence of reality." This "image" created by the very words of the characters constitutes a window opening onto an "elsewhere" belonging to history or to the natural world. Every hypotyposis acts in two dimensions: firstly it presents the spectator with a riddle - the question not only of its meaning, but of its reason for existence; and secondly it demands to be perceived in its own right, like a diminishing of the text itself into disappearance; it asks to be apprehended in its full poetic and musical dimensions - it goes without saying that it demands the full participation of the actor. Paul Claudel is the hypotyposis-writer par excellence; in his works it plays the decisive role, both poetically and metaphysically: to present the world in the enormous and objective dimensions of its divine creation.
The world in which the hypotyposis is enunciated is peculiar: it appears to cause the characters' "I" language to illustrate a certain world view. But at the same time it acts as the "I" expression of the writer (because it displaces interpersonal enunciation). It is not difficult to see Claudel's religious philosophy in his hypotyposiss, and in Hugo, the author's semi-autobiographical story. Hypotyposis goes beyond the boundaries of contradiction: at once presence and absence, real and imaginary, so-and-so's personal expression and at the same time that of someone else - in essence a mediating phenomenon.
To conclude this examination of the poetic, we will say that it is necessary to treat the poetic dimensions of discourse as an autonomous whole, which can appear as an opposition to - or a variation of, or a complement to - the explicit senses which they clearly enrich to an extraordinary degree. Ultimately, in the greatest dramatic writers the poetic dimension constitutes a signal and an index of emotion. A final example is the famous verse uttered by Antiochus in Racine's Bérénice: "Dans l'Orient désert, quel devint mon ennui." Here Antiochus has just delivered news of the death of the last bastion of defenders at Jerusalem: if the Orient is deserted, everyone is dead. But the poetic dimension of the verse (which incudes the phonic) also speaks of the isolation of Antiochus in light of the absence of Bérénice, who abandoned him, and the two solitudes come to symbolise one another: the desert of death, and that of love.

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In conclusion: these pages are no more than a modest prelude to applied work in theatre; the rich and fruitful task of the review Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquee is to give this work body and substance.

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AS/SA Nº 3, EDITORIAL : Page 5 / 5

© 1997, AS/SA

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