Tarnac, a preparatory act

BY Jean-Marie Gleize

Tarnac, a preparatory act Download Sample PDF

ISBN: 9780984647538 (2014)

Edited and translated by Joshua Clover, with Abigail Lang and Bonnie Roy.

Jean-Marie Gleize was born in Paris in 1946. He was thus of an age to be a Maoist and militant in 1968, identifications he retains to this day. He published his first book (on Francis Ponge) in 1981, and became a professor at l’Université d’Aix-en-Provence as well as at the prestigious l’École normale supérieure de Lyon where he would direct the Centre d’études poétiques from 1999-2009. In addition to his scholarly work on modern and contemporary French, Arabic, and American poetry, he would enter the first rank of French poets (or “post-poets,” as is sometimes said), aesthetically affiliated with peers such as Emmanuel Hocquard, Anne-Marie Albiach, and Claude Royet-Journoud. Gleize has published over twenty books in France.

Published in 2011 by Editions du Seuil, Tarnac, un acte préparatoire interrogates in poetic form the fallout from and precedent for the notorious cause célèbre of the “Tarnac Nine”—associated with the Invisible Committee, pseudonymous authors of The Coming Insurrection. It is his Anglo-American debut full-length, though as editor of the journal Nioques, he is well-known to American readers for, among other things, importing to France the work of some more daring poets from the U.S. In translation, Tarnac, a preparatory act not only lends insight into radical aesthetic politics that characterize ongoing transatlantic—indeed global—intellectual affinities, but it introduces to American readers an inestimably important figure of French letters. A book such as this is long overdue and perfectly timely at once.

Gleize’s formulations of nudité and littéralité give some sense of his poetics, antithetical to the verse of flourish and ornament, but also to the performance of allusive depth and immanent ambiguity. Directness, detail, and documentation are keywords. The book’s breadth, intensities, and ambition are also signaled by the team of translators assembled for the task. Bonnie Roy is a young scholar and poet specializing in contemporary work; Abigail Lang teaches at the Université Paris-Diderot where she is a scholar of modernist poetry, and a noted translator of English-language poetry into French; and Joshua Clover edited and co-translated the book. Clover has published two volumes of poetry, Madonna anno domini and The Totality for Kids. His poems have also appeared three times in Best American Poetry, and he has written two books of film and cultural criticism: The Matrix and 1989: Bob Dylan Didn’t Have This to Sing About. He teaches at the University of California, Davis.

Charles Bernstein:

Can we situate an act of political autonomy in/as the provisional autonomy (surfaces) of a poem? // Tarnac, a Preparatory Act riffs on/around a 2008 case against Julien Coupat, alleged leader of the Tarnac Nine, a putative “anarchist” cell, who was accused of “criminal conspiracy to commit a terrorist act.” // Jean-Marie Gleize considers the implication of an arrest for something “preparatory,” that is, something like speech. // Can a poem (a preliminary act) be insurrectionary? // Poem as “black positive” as in a photograph of a dark surface. //  Flashback: 17-year-old martyr of Paris ’68, Gilles Tautin, running from the police, drowning in the Seine, his comrade grabbing his clothes but “the fabric tears … he is carried off.” //  “Meanwhile the image covers the image until it becomes a deviated dialect writing.” //  Flashback: Mallarmé at the tomb of Anatole. // Scraps of documentary, overlaid surfaces, sewn fragments, torn again.  //  “The noise of [walking on] water.” // Out of night terrors, day terrorizes.  // “The question of revolution is from now on a musical question.”  // A poem as real as the ache of St. Francis. //  The fabric tears.

Tyrone Williams:

On November 11, 2008, a hundred and sixty French policemen descended into the village of Tarnac and arrested nine individuals who were eventually charged with conspiracy to commit a terrorist act, the act in question being sabotage of the rail system. Tarnac, the first major work by Jean-Marie Gleize to be translated into English (another volume is due to appear in 2015), confronts this case through the question of discourse, a “problem” at the heart of  Gleize’s  “post-poetry,” developed from his initial concepts of littéralité and nudité, and later folded into the singular dispositif.Readers familiar with modern French poetry will hear echoes of Francis Ponge, among others. But Gleize’s poetics also return poetry to the scene of its banishment in Plato’s Republic. Tarnac is thus as much a defense of poetry as it is of Tarnac, an attempt to link both “cases” insofar as both remain “suspect” under the separate but interrelated jurisdictions of cultural and political states. . Insofar as Gleize attests to Plato’s suspicions that poetry threatens social, and thus political, order, Tarnac is a series of discrete commentaries and meditations on modern French culture, evoking, among other things, Christian socialism and the 1968 student riots in the context of Gleize’s own life. However, Tarnac is not autobiography. Gleize blurs genres, as autobiography slips into biography, biography merges with poetry, and poetry settles into meditation. Thus the key to Gleize’s post-poetry turns out to be neither “post” nor “poetry.” Instead, the hyphen, bridge and gap, functions as a simulacrum of both poesis and, in every sense, the prosaic. For example, “dust” appears in almost all the seventeen sections that comprise the work. As such, “dust” functions as a leitmotif, and at the same time it mimics a conceit. Neither the prevalence nor the persistence of dust (“The rain will continue for several hours, several days and several nights. It continues for a while, a long while. It cannot erase the dust.”) is a metaphor, much less an extended metaphor, despite the Adamic aura (all the figures here—poet, penitent, political activist, etc.—that die, that are killed, that are martyred, are men). At the same time, Gleize is not interested in mere reportage. Four photographs of landscapes, found on a street, comprise the section “Static Shots.” In a subsequent section titled “TRNC,” the photographs are “read”: “He now believes that the four photographs correspond to the four letters of the name found to be TRNC, to the four letters of the village’s name traced in chalk on the slate grey of the slate, and the name is friable.”  The allusion to the Latin abbreviation Pontius Pilate had scrawled atop the cross of Jesus (INRI) is rather obvious. Perhaps the most politically charged sections in the book are “F Documents” and “Insurrection.” In the former Gleize cites the anti-money, anti-private property, values that “prepare” the ground for the “argument” of the latter: “A revolutionary movement does not spread by/ contamination        But by resonance…”  Flipping Olson’s trope of space as the “essential condition” of the American, Gleize disables the Cold War rhetoric (always a question of distance and containment) that has been appropriated for anti-terrorist strategies: “An insurrection is not like the/ propagation of the plague or a forest fire…It becomes embodied in a/ MUSICAL way…” Were there more space here I could show how Gleize’s trope of the “musical,” as opposed to the literary, is inseparable from the possibility of the “Euro” as capital readjusts to a hypostatized economic “commons” that absorbs all expression. But not, importantly, impression. Suffice it to say Tarnac is required reading for those interested in new possibilities in poetics and politics.