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Friday, October 24, 2008


Odaurades. Souillarde. Pagure. Tampon-buvard.

There’s nothing like the whiff of a new book by Francis Pong (as a student of mine pronounced him once) to get the lexicographical juices flowing. CB Editions (website here) have published the alliterative Beverley Bie Brahic’s renderings of Unfinished Ode to Mud, roughly one quarter Le parti pris des choses and three quarters the less familiar (to an Anglophone audience) Pièces.

Ponge describes his creative method in 1947:

No doubt I am not very intelligent: in any case ideas are not my strong point. I’ve always been disappointed by them. The most well-founded opinions, the most harmonious philosophical systems (the best constituted) have always seemed to me utterly fragile, caused a certain revulsion, a sense of the emptiness at the heart of things, a painful feeling of inconsistency.


A materialist mystic, or a mystic materialist, Sartre said of Mallarmé. But is there even any mystique in Ponge? The mystery is that these shells, door handles, horse shit and grapes should be there at all, but Ponge is hardly one to dwell on that. No. Merely bow in wonder. The marvellous ars poetica of the end of ‘Notes pour un coquillage’:

From this point of view I particularly admire certain well-tempered writers or musicians, Bach, Rameau, Malherbe, Horace, Mallarmé – the writers above all because their monument is composed of the true common secretion of the mollusc man, of what is best-proportioned and adapted to his body, and furthermore as distinct from his form as one can imagine: I mean, SPEECH.


The section from Pièces contains two small masterpieces in particular that deserve to be as well known as ‘Notes pour un coquillage’: ‘La lessiveuse’ and ‘La chèvre’:

These long-eyed beauties, hairy as beasts, beautiful and stubborn – bellezebubbish – when they baa, what are they complaining about? What troubles, what cares?

Like ageing bachelors they love newsprint, tobacco.

And how speak of goats without speaking of rope, and even – such pushing and pulling! such gently obstinate jerks! – of rope frazzled, and perhaps of the tip of the whip.

That goatee, that gravelly accent.

They obsess the rocks.


A steal at £7.50.

Doriferous bream. Scullery. Hermit crab. Blotting paper, by the way, in case your French is as rusty as mine.


charles said...

Friday and yesterday I stood, sat and knelt behind the CB editions table at the Small Publishers Fair in London watching the nice and the nutters pass by, and the quick and the shy, and sold more Ponge than any other book on the table. A readership! Deserved. Of rainwater gathering density on the underside of a gutter before it falls: ‘it hangs in convex lozenges, like hard candy’, translates C K Williams in the selection published by Wake Forest and then by Faber over here (but now unavailable); ‘plump as a humbug,’ says BBB.

Bellezebubbish, by the way, as in the lines you quote but not the post heading: beauty and the beast in one.

puthwuth said...


One reason (among many) for seeking out the Wake Forest/Faber Ponge is the very fine Dubuffet that adorns its cover.

The translators' names, however, do not adorn the cover, as John Montague pointed out to me once, with some indignation.