Pierre Joris '69


Justifying the Margins by Pierre Joris (Salt Publishing, 2009) 

Short description/annotation: A fascinating literary “travelogue,” and a truly valuable read, Justifying the Margins is highly recommended to both the specialist and general reader interested in experimental art, thought, poetry and poetics.

Main description: In this collection of essays, poet, translator, anthologist and critic Pierre Joris extends his “nomad poetics” to a remarkable zigzagging on the margins of twentieth and twenty-first century poetry and poetics. For Justifying the Margins refuses, precisely, to fill out spaces neatly to yield (to) straightened out, pre-set margins, be they cultural, literary, linguistic or political; Joris rather wanders through those spaces, and thereby “justifies” the margins properly speaking.

His travel/travails set off with absorbing explorations of writing as such – traversing languages and crossing genres –, and seem to turn this collection into a marvelous group improvisation of texts, which range from journal entries, over lectures, essayistic writing, (auto)biographical notes, translation, obits and interview, to Joris’s outstanding and characteristically intense readings. The author, moreover, brilliantly moves across – and vindicates – multiple fringes. Joris’s observation with respect to French literature, for instance, namely that “the most interesting and explorative literary writing in French of the last fifty years has not come from Paris, but from the periphery of the old colonial empire,” not only leads him to continually resurfacing meditations on North African and Arabic literature, or the rerouted Surrealism of Unica Zürn’s anagrams, it also allows him to investigate the margins of English and American poetry, in Douglas Oliver and Ronald Johnson, or even to deftly (re)consider core figures such as Antonin Artaud, Charles Olson and Paul Celan – with, in turn, new offshoots in Jacques Derrida’s pipe or Irving Petlin’s paintings.

A fascinating “travelogue,” and a truly valuable read, Justifying the Margins is highly recommended to both the specialist and general reader interested in experimental art, thought, poetry and poetics!

Unpublished endorsement: Poet, translator, traveler, and above all friend of the world. This is the sense (and more, the savor) of the deeply felt distillations Pierre Joris has steeped in this brew-pot book. It’s a work that vindicates and animates everything honorable about so-called occasional writing : living up to the occasion is the perennial challenge. He’s been there, he’s going there, so welcome the companionship, with its impeccable lesson of life as “perpetual translation.”
--Jed Rasula, author of Syncopations and This Compost: Ecological Imperatives in American Poetry

4X1: Works by Tristan Tzara, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jean-Pierre Duprey, and Habib Tengour. Edited and translated by Pierre Joris '69 (Inconundrum Press, 2003)

4 X 1 is as puzzling as it is compelling. Noted editor and translator Pierre Joris brings together four seemingly disparate authors, Rainer Maria Rilke, Tristan Tzara, Jean-Pierre Duprey and Habib Tengour, forming a book of poems, prose-poems, semi-autobiographical prose, and poetic narratives. It is not an anthology, it is not a collected translations, it has roots in no particular literary movement or idea. The only obvious binding factor is presented in the title: that these four works share a single translator.

The out-of-the-ordinary seems to be the overriding theme. Even readers familiar with the two well-known authors, Rilke and Tzara, will not find what they expect. Rilke, perhaps Europe’s most famous modernist poet, noted for his Elegies and his posthumously published Letters to a Young Poet, is here represented by a long prose work, "Testament." Tzara, one of the core founders of Dadaism, who wrote the first Dada texts along with the famed Seven Dada Manifestos, is shown through the lens of his complete ethnopoetic work, poems that resonate with the sounds of Africa, Australia and the Pacific.

Duprey and Tengour are virtual unknowns to readers in English. Duprey, a late French Surrealist, gained repute early in his short life for his dark, foreboding imagery and recognition by such luminaries as André Breton, who wrote, "You certainly are a great poet, doubled by someone who intrigues me. Your light is extraordinary." Duprey’s prose-poems in 4 X 1 are dreamscapes of intricate language, filled with fantastic creatures of shadowy nightmares. Tengour, the only of the four still alive, has emerged over the years as one of Algeria’s most forceful and visionary francophone poetic voices of the post-colonial era. The selection here is a re-imagination "through contemporary Maghrebian characters in their Occidental exile in Paris the story of that most famous Arab triumvirate of Omar Khayyam, Hassan as-Sabbah and Nizam al-Mulk."

However, as the book proceeds from Tzara to Rilke to Duprey to Tengour, the works cast a strange light on the authors' respective literary movements. These works, which have never before been translated into English, subtly alter our understanding of Dadaism, Modernism, Surrealism and Postmodernism. And even more strangely, when the book is taken as a whole, common themes emerge and demand to be recognized.

Each work is full of estrangement, dehiscence, mental and physical expulsion; each breaks with psychic and national boundaries, exploding and spilling into the others. Rilke becomes Dadaist, Tzara almost Postmodern, and Duprey’s surrealism slides into Tengour’s Arabian consciousness. Through mutual exile and displacement, the book takes us on a geographic and spiritual excursion through the extraordinary. As Joris remarks in his introduction, fitting the four authors together "was like tracing a weirdly exemplary, if abbreviated, poetic map of the 20th century. . . a psycho-topography that leads from matters involving late 19th century colonialism all the way through the long and torturous 20th century to leave us exactly there where we have to imagine a new cultural constellation."

4 X 1 invites the reader to discover a different sort of book, a collection of different writings in known and unknown spaces, that cannot help but move the reader toward an image of the twentieth century organized without boundaries.

...[a] hieroglyph of 20th-century modernism, a signal of dynamic forces drawing from diverse threads of tradition and cultural interrogation.
--Rain Taxi Review of Books - Summer 2003

...show[s] not only historical contexts for these translations, but maps to a spiritual geography of the imagination...
--Skanky Possum - May 2003

Meditations on the Stations of Mansour Al-Hallaj by Pierre Joris (Anchorite Press, 2007)