UPDATE: Call for special issue The readerly/Le Lisible

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Formes Poétiques Contemporaines
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Formes Poétiques Contemporaines

FPC 12 THE READERLY

Recently we have talked a great deal of unreadability, it seemed time to revisit the optimistic side of the question…

- Here we approach, I tell my teacher, a considerable objection that I want to put to you…Obscurity!

- It is, indeed, equally dangerous, he answers me, whether obscurity derives from the deficiencies of the reader, or those of the poet… but to elude the task altogether would be cheating.

--Stéphane Mallarmé, "An Interview with Jules Huret," 1891

It was, no doubt, Roland Barthes who initiated the term "readerly"—as adjective and noun—into our critical vocabulary. In that theoretical context, however, when compared to its twin, the "writerly," the term "readerly" has accrued certain negative connotations. The "readerly": that which unfolds in the expectations of banal doxa; that which conforms to the worn paths of our dominant forms of contemporary expression; the mediocre ease of déjà-vu, of the déjà-written. A "readerly" discourse addresses itself to a sedated reader for whom the furthest reach of expectation is a clichéd universe, the product of limp, stable, and comfortable writing. To believe this fundamental definition from the 70s is to trust that a text that disturbs, intrigues, and brings into the ambit of discussion the "new" cannot be "readerly".
This archaeological definition of the term has, in the context of the study of discourse, since undergone a multitude of inflections, additions, and expansions. Most notably (but not exclusively) these include Jean-Francois Lyotard's Discours, Figure, Michel Foucault's L'ordre du Discours, and even more recently, Le Destin des images by Jacques Rancière. In the last of these works, interpretive optimism is celebrated and there exists no situation of "artistic impotence". These works resituate the question of the readerly in the more philosophical context of inquiries about representation and interpretative will. It is within this context in recent years that "unreadability" or the "unreaderly" have come to be installed in opposition to the "readerly", the former being understood as a capacity to (want to or know how to) interpret at text. This de-centering of the "readerly" revisits the age-old question of the "mystery" and "obscurity" of art, but with the advantage of the critical arsenal developed since the end of last century.
Bénédicte Gorrillot, an editor of FPC, recently published L'Illisibilité en questions with Alain Lescart. Jan Baeten, another of our editors, followed suit with an article denouncing the conformity of contemporary poetic thought that acts "as if the poetics of the readerly were so ridiculous and compromised that they were not worth revisiting." According to Baeten, a considerable portion of contemporary poetry seems to privilege the obscure, the opaque, and resist the real such that it has become altogether caught up in obscurity. Certain texts place themselves within the poetic trajectory set out by by Mallarmé, others align themselves alongside Ponge's notorious wish to "ne rien arranger" such as to facilitate access to that which has been represented, which, if it so chooses, may stop us short at its outer layers of significance.
Following the commentary that has taken place online and the animated discussion provoked this summer by the problem of the readerly and the unreaderly at a variety of colloquiums at Cerisy-la-Salle, Formes Poétiques Contemporaines will return to this debate in its next issue and proposes the "readerly" as a subject for thought and creation. As this topic might seem vast, however, it will be convenient to situate it more particularly within the driving parameters of this issue.
The return at the start of this call for papers to Barthes' version of the "readerly" is not accidental. His idea targeted an aspect of the episteme of "rupture" that dominated the theoretical period of the second half of the 20th century: the establishment of the "new" in writing. If the new is a striking apparition in a worn-out field, it takes shape against doxa, and it cannot take shape within the "readerly"; the valorized concept of the "writerly" requires the co-presence of a para-discourse (often self-referential) in order to be rendered interpretable. The philosophical theories of interpretability produced since have been confronted and adapted to the poetic and, in Baetens' formulation, do not entail this total obstruction: Baetens wishes to denounce a poetics of unavoidable semantic and literal obfuscation that installs "a movement that gives way to the maneuvers of sense itself". Above all, this issue seeks contributions that interrogate, in theory and in practice, the means engaged by innovative texts (content, form, medium) in order to render themselves "readable" to a new category of readers when habits of intelligibility founded on prolonged interpretation of pre-existing models do not yet exist.
Contributions, which by preference should bear on French/francophone or Anglo-Saxon areas of study (Robert Creeley's poetry, for instance, contains both minimalism and an interrogation of the readerly), should be sent with the subject heading "FPC 12" to claireel@buffalo.edu. Submission must not exceed 6000 words (in French) or 9000 words (in English). They must contain a postal address, be accompanied by a brief abstract (in French or in English), and conform to FPC's style guide (available at http://www.ieeff.org/fpcstylesheetnew.html). All contributions must be submitted by 20 June 2016. Submissions that are not accepted will not be returned.
Formes Poétiques Contemporaines is an independent journal published by les Presses Universitaires du Nouveau Monde with assistance from the Melodia E. Jones Chair (SUNY-USA) and the UB Foundation. The journal, in its mandate to explore literary extremity, hopes to be a reflection on contemporary poetic creation. Its outlook is international and plurilingual (for articles, the working languages are French and English; for creative works, other languages are also possible). The latest issue of the journal (FCP 11 – 2014) is dedicated to Ecopoetics and explores the international significance of Aimé Césaire.