Excerpt of L'homme rapaillé by Gaston Miron

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Excerpt of L'homme rapaillé

This is an original and non-official translation of L'homme rapaillé by poet Gaston Miron. Read the original French excerpt here. An English-French bilingual edition of the book was published in 1993 by Guernica Editions under the name of Counterpanes (ISBN 0-920717-60-8)

Delirious Alienation - Didactic Recourse


Gaston Miron, poet

Notes on the non-poem and the poem - excerpts

I speak only for myself and a few others since a great number of those who have la parole declare themselves satisfied.

I am talking about THIS.

THIS, my state of collective inferiority. THIS, which aggresses my being and my quality as a man - species and specific. On the outside as much as from the inside. I speak of what separates. THIS, the conditions which were given and that I ended up bearing as my nature1. THIS, which separates the inside from the outside making universes opaque to one another.

yes, to Jacques Berque

THIS is agonizing
THIS from father to son down to me

The non-poem
is my ontological
the suffering of being someone else

The non-poem
These are the conditions undergone without hope
of daily otherness

The non-poem
is my historicity
lived by substitution

The non-poem
is my language I no longer distinguish
from the foggy swamps of my mind
from the alienated signs of my reality

The non-poem
is my maintained depoliticization
of my permanence

Now the poem can only be done
against the non-poem
can only be done outside the non-poem
because the poem is emergence
because the poem is transcendence
which frees in the homogeneity of a people
its inert duration kept immured

Whereas the poem stands up
in the matrix of national culture
it belongs
with one or ten thousand readers
otherwise it is but an uninterrupted complaint
of its own powerlessness to be
otherwise it lags in the agony of all

(And so I become
unreadable to the conditions of otherness
- What do you want? do they say -
and so I become
concrete to a people)

Poem, I salute you
in the rebuilt unity of the outside and the inside
O brand new contemporaneity
I salute you, poem, species and present of the future

The poem, here, has started
to actualize
the poem, here, has started
to be sovereign

I scream myself in my harness. I know what I know, THIS, my polluted culture, my linguistic dualism, THIS, the non-poem, which destroyed inside me down to the root the instinct of the French word. I know, like a beast in its instinct of conservation, that I am the object of an assimilation process, as a collective man, by the legalist way (the structural status quo) and the democratic way (the roller-compactor of the majority). I am talking about what concerns me, language, my social function as a poet, exercised from the code common to a people. I say that language is the very foundation of the existence of a people, because it reflects the totality of its signs culture, in content (signifié), in significance. I say that I am hit in my soul, my being, I say that otherness weighs on us like a glacier melting on us, destructuring us, liming us, diluting us. I say that this attack is the last phase of a dispossession of ourselves as being, which supposes it was preceded by the alienation of the political and the economic. To accept THIS is to render myself accomplice of the alienation of my soul as a people, of its disappearance in the Other. I say that the death of a people is a crime against humanity, because it is to deprive it from a differentiated manifestation of herself. I say no one has the right to hinder the liberation of a people who has become conscious of itself and its historicity.

In THIS the poem degrades itself. In THIS the poem takes the mask of an absentee, mine-our absence. BUT contesting THIS, absolutely, the poem tries itself, and falls back in the enclosure of its underneath. O poem trying itself, whose language has no primum vivere, poem in leash, for the last time I move to pity for you, with our two centuries of weeping willow in the voice.

My poem
like the breath of a world collapsed against its very
which does not come
which does not pass
which does not set free

Like a series of moribund words in heritage
Like little flakes of moanings near
the lips
Like the diffuse extents of my body
my poem
between breath and syncopes
this weak breath phoenix of a man cornered
by the unreal
in the voice extinction of a granular people
in their dereliction the like of returning
a vapour mist unseeable in the mirror of the
my poem
that poem
peace to your ashes

the amnesia by birth

Where am I at in THIS? What is going on in THIS? For example, I am at the crossroad of Sainte-Catherine and Papineau, the calendar marks 1964, it is a spring of May. THIS, frozen, with a murmur of nostalgia, is going on as well in 1930 as in 1956. I am young and I am old all at the same time. Wherever I may be, wherever I stroll about, I feel dizzy like a plumb-bob. I do not look strange, I am a stranger. From the lowest palpitation of my life, I feel the floral and solar tides of spring inside me, this one or another, since all is lost in loss of meaning and consciousness. Everything is without contours, I become short-sighted of myself, I become my anterior life exclusively. I have the lowly and secular knowledge of belonging to nothing. I am suspended in permanent thunderbolt of a stop of my historical time, that is a time made and lived among men which slips me by; I no longer feel but a biological time, in my thought and in my veins. The others, I perceive them as an aggregate. And it is like that since generations that I disintegrate myself in umbels blown up in the vacuity of my mind, while the sun white as snow comes to swirl in my eyes of white sleepless night. It is precisely and singularly here that the uneasiness comes to life, that crops up the feeling of memory loss. Cottony universe. The words, unrecognizable, that drift away. Suddenly I want to scream. Sometimes I want to choke the first person who come by to have him confess who I am. Deliver me from the twilight of my head. The black light, the vacuum light. Of the impenetrable world. I am sick of a hereditary nightmare. I do not know the recent past. My name is "Amnesic Miron".

The world is black and then the world is white
the world is white and then the world is black
between two chairs two doors
or dog and wolf
a diffuse stone ache roaming in the carcass
the world is cold and then the world is hot
the world is hot and then the world is cold
memory without the silvering of the mirror

years alone in one's head
blurred man, upset heat, moving reason

How to make it so that next to me a man
carries in his glance the physical happiness of his
and in his memory the firmament of his signs

Many have not known how, and are dead of vacuity
but those who saw I saw through their eyes

the denunciation

I know that in THIS my poetry is occulted
in me and in my own
I suffer in my function, poetry
I suffer in my raw material, poetry
THIS is a process of de-creation
THIS is a process od de-realisation

I was that for THIS it is not possible that I be every one guilty. There are some unavowed complicities. It is not possible for every one to be right at the same time. There are precise guilties. We are not all guilty of some much deaf and mineral suffering in all the busied eyes, the same, gregarious. We are not all guilty of such a general deafness behind our eardrums, the same, gregarious. Of a shame and a contempt so generally interiorised in the conditioning, the same, gregarious. There are guilty ones. Known and unknown. Outside and inside.

For a long time have I known my name, and who I was, only from the outside. My name is "Pea Soup". My name is "Pepsi". My name is "Marmelade" My name is "Frog". My name is "Damn Canuck". My name is "speak white". My name is "dish washer". My name is "floor sweeper". My name is "Bastard". My name is "cheap". My name is "sheep". My name... My name...

In THIS the poem is not normal
the humiliation of my poetry is here
an ethnic humiliation
so that all can see me
in my most historical transparency
I assume, against contempt,
the why of my poem
where it opposes THIS, the non-poem

The current mutilation of my poetry, is my current reduction to explanation. In THIS, I am a prevented poet, my poetry is latent, for living THIS I escape the historical process of poetry. Say that in prose, please! - You bet!2

But this dusk of thought
even when I think
it is like this
by contiguity, by conglomerate
by packs of words
emerging from the people
because I am in them and with them
only them in their recovery
can render my speech
and legitimate

I write these things with tiredness, like the one who said he was « las de ce monde ancien »3. In these regions of my mind like wood cracking under the cold. Bloodless regions. In the incoherence which bathes me from end to end, struggling in the confusion of my most familiar terms, the prey of semantic perversion at the scale of an entire language. In the constant repression of my irrationality in which THIS throws me at all instant. In the common misfortune when misfortune does not yet know it is misfortune. I write it to attest that THIS, the non-poem, has existed and still exists; that THIS, the non-poem, is denied by whom we know, and by history which will know. To say and give voice to the mute.

How to tell what cannot be confided in? I have but my existential cry to assume my solidarity of the experience of a collective inferiority. How to tell the alienation, this incommunicable situation? How to be myself if I have the feeling to be a stranger in my objectivity, if this objectivity appears to me opaque and hostile, and if I only exist in subjectivity? It belongs to the poem to become conscious of this alienation, to recognize the man short of this situation. Only that one who seems himself as such, as this man, can tell the situation. The work of the poem, in this moment of conscious reappropriation, is to affirm itself solidary in identity. The self-assertion, in the struggle of the poem, is the answer to the situation which dissociates, which separates the outside and the inside. The poem redoes man.

And THIS, which is my parentheses, is ante-historical to the poem.
THIS, today, because the poem started to be sovereign, becomes postcolonial little by little.

In consequence of which, I will go all the way in the monstrous and insane demonstration. I stage the alienation, I stage myself. Today I accomplish A work, by substitution, but today I will do MY work, which is to write poems. Today I take on the fight against the last survivances of my unreality. The poem is irreversible. I go all the way in the resigning to what the authors of THIS (from inside as well as from outside) have wanted me to be and that I ended up, mystified, to want to be myself. I unbolt the mystification. I do not betray poetry, I show its hindrance, its encirclement. In this I truly serve it, in this I situate it in its process. The pharisees will not forgive my poetry to have been ashamed THIS everybody, in spirit and in truth, instead of being ashamed OF everybody. To have been ashamed of the concrete man - its condition of life, everyday life, the course of his humiliations - and not in the abstract, eternal man.

I lay down the act of my pre-poetic art. I make myself immediately comestible, immediately perishable.

In the practise of my everyday life
I make myself didactic on every street corner
I make myself political in my
totalizing claim
in the practise of my art
I make myself utopian crawling fast toward my
new reality
below agonizing hope
beyond agonizing despair
I make myself ideological (I do not avow, I refuse
that THIS be normal, be the natural social
I make myself ethical (I consent in no way to
the oppression that is done to me, I live myself as a radical)
I make myself dialectic (nevertheless I assume
this condition to destroy it and postulate
what I want to be)
the reactionaries could scream all they want
for a counter-revolution
for their own scandal
so, therefore, as consequence, by all the joints
of reason I have left
I make myself slogan
I make myself publicist and propagandist
but I aim for
I spot 4

The poem can only be made against the non-poem
The poem can only be made from outside the non-poem

Translator's Notes

1. Allusion to a passage of Étienne de La Boétie's Discourse on Voluntary Servitude: "It is true that in the beginning men submit under constraint and by force; but those who come after them obey without regret and perform willingly what their predecessors had done because they had to. This is why men born under the yoke and then nourished and reared in slavery are content, without further effort, to live in their native circumstance, unaware of any other state or right, and considering as quite natural the condition into which they were born." (ils prennent pour leur état de nature l’état de leur naissance.)

2. "You bet" is in English in the original.

3. las de ce monde ancien, meaning "tired of this ancient world", in Zone by Guillaume Apollinaire

4. "spot" in English in the original.

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