Saturday 13 June 2020

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The Table by Francis Ponge   {Reviewed by THOMAS}
“The table is a faithful friend, but you have to go to it,” writes Francis Ponge, pre-eminent poet of ‘things’, in this extraordinarily subtle little book, written sporadically between 1967 and 1973, on his relationship with the table that lay beneath his elbow whenever he was writing. “The table serves as a support of the body of the writer that I sometimes {try to be | am} so that I don’t collapse (which is what I am doing at this moment) (not for fun) (not for pleasure) (but as a consolation) (so as not to collapse).” A thought may come, or not, and be expressed, or not, perhaps in some relationship with text, a problematic relationship at best, when you think of it, and go, and be perhaps forgotten, more and more commonly forgotten, or the text unread, for even the most-read text lies mostly unread, but the table continues, whatever it is, object or concept, and whatever the relationship between the table and the idea of the table that presses upon, or from, the word Table. The table lies under the work of the writer (the working of the writer), whatever that work might be, the labour of writing is supported by the table, under all writing lies the table. “The table has something of the mother carrying (on four legs) the body of the writer.” Once all the unnecessities have been removed from the act of writing, once the content and the intent have been removed, Ponge finds his table. Because the table is always beneath the writing, all writing is ultimately never on anything other than the table. “As I remember the table (the notion of the table), some table comes under my elbow. As I am wanting to write the table, it comes to my elbow and the same time the notion comes to mind.” If language could mediate the space between the object pressing at his elbow and the concept of the table, if language could allow this object to exist other than merely as the index of the idea that is imposed upon it, Ponge’s patient, precise, careful, playful rigour will approach it certainly closely enough to both deepen and dissolve the concept, to begin to replace ideas with thought. “It takes many words to destroy a concept (or rather to make of this word no longer a concept but a conceptacle).” Ponge’s operations are forensic, and his “table was (and remains) the operating table, the dissecting table.” As a support for the writer, the (t)able represents that which is able to be, and remains uncertain, and not that which must be. “One could say that this Table is nothing other than the substantification of a qualifying suffix, indicating only pure possibility.” All new thought comes from objects, from objects pushing back against the concepts imposed upon them, pushing through the layers of memory and habituation that separate us from them. If the aesthetic is not the opposite of an anaesthetic it is in fact the anaesthetic. Only objects can rescue us from the idea we have of them, but they are hard for us to reach. “The greater my despair, the more intense (necessarily intense) my fixation on the object.” Objects may be reached through the patient, precise, careful, playful abrasion of the language used to describe them, a process known as poetry, an operation Ponge performs upon a table. That which is horizontal is in a state of flux but that which is vertical has been hoisted to the plane of aspiration and display. Viewing the vertical we see that walls are built from bottom to top whereas text is built from top to bottom, but viewing on the horizontal we see that the labour of laying brick by brick and the labour of laying word by word are the same labour, or at least analogous labours. On the horizontal table the relationship between objects and language is co-operative, each operating on the other, each opening and redefining the other on the delimited space of the table. “I will remember you my table, table that was my table, any table, any old table,” writes Ponge of the object whose presence has written this book, but which still remains a presence beyond the language he uses to reach towards it (and he reaches closer to an object than language ordinarily can reach). “I let you survive in the paradise of the unsaid,” he says. Language can be stretched but not escaped. “We are enclosed within our language … but what a marvellous prison,” writes Ponge.

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