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Of rhythm : voice and relation

(ci-dessous ma communication au symposium Meschonnic à Londres le 22 septembre 2017. Un grand merci à R. Costa Mendes pour sa traduction vers l’anglais. S.M.)

Translated by Rafael Costa Mendes


Seul le poème peut nous mettre en voix, nous faire

passer de voix en voix, faire de nous une écoute.

Henri Meschonnic[1]




Laurent Jenny, reviewing Philippe Jousset’s book Anthropologie du style[2], adds a re-reading of Critique du rythme to his critical commentary, linking both books as “the call for an anthropology of style always has the meaning of a fight against the rhetoricalization of style “[3]. Jenny adds that this anthropoligization “by literary scholars […] constitutes an auto-injunction for the restitution to literary style of a value that is not only semiotic but also creative and pragmatic”. Nevertheless, the Genevan stylistics scholar reproaches each of them, Jousset and Meschonnic, thus, for not “going beyond a purely programmatic stage” and he therefore concludes that they “no doubt find themselves in the same type of dead-end”. It is interesting to observe closely what Jenny re-reads in Meschonnic “beyond more than a quarter of a century of history” and in “a different theoretical time”. Three reproaches follow each other: first the “lack of argumentative progression” which stems from an inability to take the program that was initially planned through to the end, aiming to give a method for theory; then, inscribed in a thinking about continuity and nourished by “monistic presuppositions,” Meschonnic’s theory has allegedly solved the dualisms “through a systematic use of a hyphen […], showing more an incantation of continuity than a conceptual articulation”; and finally the mistake of “making” significance and meaning “connect” since signification would have been divided “into two areas” which stand in contradiction to the hypothesis of continuity and of monism and prevent any comprehensible method, at the very risk of promoting senselessness. Jenny doesn’t lack any coherence, all the more so as he aims at “a phenomenological stylistic” that would go with “the development of his method”. Without prejudging the clichés that nourish each of these arguments (method as application-result of a theory; confusions between continuum and continuity and between representation and activity in and through language), it seems to me that Jenny doesn’t read Critique du rythme closely enough or maybe that he’s taking a critical approach that is strongly questionable in unmaking Meschonnic’s “argumentative progression”. In fact, the two quotations that he presents (p. 98 and p. 102) to prove the construction of a “sub-symbolic” or “a sort of pre-meaning that is destitute of meaning, a ‘significance’ suspending all signified, a subject after the subject” in Meschonnic are clearly out of their own context. They show that Jenny refuses to consider the problems that Meschonnic cares about regarding hermeneutics, which Jenny claims he adheres to, and regarding phenomenology, which Jenny claims as an epistemology of literary critique. All the same, he remarks that the thinking of language in Merleau-Ponty, which he claims he adheres to, “is still unfinished” all the more so as, according to him, his “philosophy of style is not a stylistics” in the sense of a “methodology of style”. Jenny indeed wants “description” and “formalization” to serve to elaborate a method, and thereby presents himself as an indispensable successor to the great phenomenologist.

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