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Paul Valéry and the Poetics of Attention

  • Hoffmann, Daniel
Publication Date
Jan 01, 2016
eScholarship - University of California
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This dissertation is about how we pay attention to poetry. Paul Valéry’s work inparticular is famous for asking us as readers to attend to a kind of language that isn’talways resolvable into any one idea, any one meaning. His poems speak, though thatspeaking doesn’t always give way to a something-said. In this project, I ask— if poetryfalls shy of what it stands to say, what does it mean to hear it? What is this listeningthat falls so beautifully shy of what we stand to hear, and meaningfully so?Over four chapters, I explore what it looks like to attend to what we cannotresolve: be it the purely possible, the liminal, or the ever-emergent. Attention, I argue,takes many shapes: waiting, listening, weariness, even sleep. I show that these forms ofattention constitute the experiential flipside of Valéry’s purely formal poetic language.Indeed by entering his poetics from the standpoint of embodied experience, we realizethat the unresolvedness of his work is not synonymous with the difficulty of its less-than-representational language. As a whole, then, this project countervails thewidespread tendency to see Valéry’s work as a mere harbinger of the 20th-century’spreoccupation with the procedures of language, an approach that so often elides thespecificity of the poet’s relationship to the sensual world of lived experience.

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