French Poet Michel Deguy and English Poésie:
The (In)Compatibility of Poetry and Philosophy

Michel Deguy
(Rome, June 2009)
PHOTO COURTESY OF MICHEL DEGUY

Gisants

Gisants: Poèmes III
BY Michel Deguy
(Gallimard, 1985)

What interests me today is not strictly called either
“literature” or “philosophy.”
— Jacques Derrida
Philosophy’s shadow: poetry. Poetry’s
shadow: philosophy.
— Jeffrey Yang

Plato’s expulsion of the poet from his perfected philosophic kingdom indicates an assumption of dysfunction between two modes of apprehension. Post-Platonic modernist theoreticians, however, are inclined to seize upon this separation as a source of illumination, rather than a hindrance to the pursuit of philosophic truth. Jacques Derrida’s argument in “Plato’s Pharmacy,” that the “discourse of truth is, of necessity, rooted in the structure of difference (différance) — the opening of a time line through a dynamic interspacing-and-temporalization wherein visible and sayable intersect,” is a brief for a poetics that permits or supports philosophical inquiry, an approach exemplified by the French poet Michel Deguy, Derrida’s contemporary (both born in 1930), who was among the first to recognize Derrida’s accomplishments in an article for Critique in 1963.

…poems that juxtapose eros and thanatos in a unique fusion of lyric vibrancy and philosphic gravity in an attempt to reach a reconciliation of disparate modes.

Deguy is described by his primary translator to English, Wilson Baldridge, as working “precisely in dialogue with this (that is, Derrida’s) tradition of thought,” which “examines the medium of difference itself, the element of this ‘grammar’ which is that of the written language, the form of speech in which Plato, Rousseau, et. al, root their thinking as philosophers.” In a detailed foreword, he explains the close correlation between Derrida’s thought and Deguy’s writing, citing Derrida’s assertion that “the thing itself” — the essence of philosophical discourse — is produced by “the grammar, the structure, of the language in which the philosophies are couched.” This is the fundamental impetus for his translation of Deguy’s Recumbents, described by Pierre Joris as “possibly the single most outstanding volume by Deguy to date,” and a work exemplary of the union or fusion of poetic perception and philosophic speculation.


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