Lingua Barbara or the Mystery of the Other: Otherness and Exteriority in Modern European Poetry (European Connections)
Johanna Marie Buisson
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This book explores the multifaceted concepts of otherness, barbarism and exteriority. Is encountering the ‘Other’ still possible in a world in which we all have become rootless, disconnected and strangers, alienated from the outside world and from ourselves? Does the question of ‘Otherness’ still bear a meaning after the deconstruction of the self and the crumbling of the very concept of identity? The author examines some major twentieth-century poetic responses to the violent denial of otherness and difference in modern Europe. The myth of Medea is brought in to reflect upon the tragic history of the encounter with the Other in European thought, epitomising the way rationalist Positivism suppressed the Other, through either assimilation or exclusion.
The volume goes on to explore the concept of barbarism in language, revealing how some modern or post-modern European poets confronted their respective languages with the barbaric - otherness, the outside, the ‘uncivilised’. The author focuses on three twentieth-century poets who experienced barbarism in some way and whose work constitutes a poetic counter-attack and an attempt at regeneration: Henri Michaux, Paul Celan and Ted Hughes. These poets wrote within post-modernity in a state of endless displacement and their anguished alienation echoes the plight of Medea - the barbarian amongst the ‘civilised’ Greeks. Their new lingua barbara became a language of otherness, of inter-space and displacement.
barbarian-making, and any human attempt to discover or forge a universal tongue would be a sin. Hughes and the Word of the Universe At the end of the 1960s, Hughes became more and more interested in contemporary international poetry and began to believe that a certain sort of poetry could transcend national boundaries by employing a new universal language. He became associated with the magazine Modern Poetry in Translation, which he co-edited for five years. His notes to the international
on est tout enraciné quand il s’agit de tenir117 Intoxicated with a sense of freedom, Michaux’s language manages to run like a rolling stone into a world of moving signs and spots. This raw dynamism is wonderfully exemplified by ‘Mouvements’. Its blend of verse and drawings is representative of Michaux’s search for a barbaric means of expression, for a language in ebullition – a language unheard of, unhoped for. By giving a rough handling to language, Michaux revives it afresh. He makes it his
the Centre of the World; and it is this symbolism which, […], explains religious behaviour in respect to the space in which one lives.1 The centre has a highly sacral value in traditional societies and in mythology. It is the fundamental base and support of a sacred universe, for the whole of the habitable world extends and is ordered around it. Mircea Eliade isolates four major cosmological principles that define the ‘system of the world’ in traditional societies: a) a sacred place
Juana! Si je me souviens … Tu sais quand tu disais, tu sais, tu le sais pour nous deux, Juana! Oh! Ce départ! Mais pourquoi? Pourquoi? Vide? Vide, vide, angoisse; angoisse, comme un seul grand mât sur la mer. […] Hier, tu n’avais qu’à étendre un doigt, Juana; pour nous deux, pour tous deux, tu n’avais qu’à étendre un doigt.46 Michaux felt so close to this seemingly inaccessible central soul that naming it became necessary. This is a way to retain it within a familiar zone; still not inside him
says that the word lies in constant threat of being wrapped in snow-silence. In addition, the word, through the medium of the ‘key’, is connected with the pouring of blood: Je nach dem Blut, das dir quillt aus Aug oder Mund oder Ohr, wechselt dein Schlüssel. (lines 4–6)139 Hermann Burger interpretes these few lines: In der zweiten Hälfte der ersten Strophe fragt das Gedicht weiter nach den existentiellen Bedingungen, unter denen diese ständig wechselnde, sich nie schematisch vollziehende