Terrible Flowers: Jean Paulhan and the Irony of Rhetoric

Kevin Newmark

in Irony on Occasion

Published by Fordham University Press

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780823240128
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780823240166 | DOI:
Terrible Flowers: Jean Paulhan and the Irony of Rhetoric

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Where in the 20th century might one locate the survival of ironic thinking, reading, and writing as initiated by Schlegel and carried forward by Kierkegaard and Nietzsche? This chapter suggests that two of the most likely candidates would be French: Maurice Blanchot and Jean Paulhan, shadowy figures of ironic theory and its shadowy practice. Paulhan's 1941 text, The Flowers of Tarbes, responds to the unavoidable but perplexing question: what is literature? Far from offering an innocent description of the founding distinction between figural and literal language, Paulhan's text, as read by Blanchot, testifies to a mysterious and dangerous experience of terror constantly repeated in writing. The terror at issue is at once literary, philosophical, social, and political. The experience of this terror found in letters, which includes the paradoxical potential to enable thought as well as to erase it in mindlessly mechanical clichés, is named by both Blanchot and Paulhan: irony.

Keywords: Blanchot; Paulhan; The Flowers of Tarbes; Innocence; Figural language; Literal language; Mystery; Terror; Clichés; Irony

Chapter.  8015 words. 

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies

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