René Char’s refusal. by Gerardo Muñoz

René Char’s notebook of fragments written during the years of the occupation of France, and finally published as Feuillets d’Hypnos in 1946 left a profound mark in a generation of poets and thinkers that also wanted to experiment with other possibilities of resistance (a resistance not necessarily full fledged political although underneath, in a lapidary prose and style, it was it was more transformative for politics). Hypnos is a fascinating document of the time, and not only because of the poetic force in “pursuit of truth”; but also, more specifically, because the “position of refusal” makes an entry into the notebook at very precise moments. Overall the affirmation of the ‘refusal’ appears twice in the book, and both times it attempts to bring to a halt the political closure of temporality, or the force that politics was exerting on life and imagination during the occupation. Char’s refusal will contest this principle of reality by the interference of the defiant poetic event of the voice.

The first mention to refusal appears in fragment 81: “Acquiescence lights up the face. Refusal gives it beauty” [1]. For Char coming to presence in a world dominated by evil was not enough, it amounted to being a “sleepwalker, as man advances towards the murderous minefields, led on by the song of the inventors…”. He writes in fragment 137. Refusal, on the other hand, was the possibility of existence in the void, on the other side of the radiation of technicity into a new “clarity of vision” close to the “wound of the sun”. To refuse, retract, and step back was already the praxis of a new vision in the face of terror. The refusal reinstates itself in fragment 171: “The ashes of winder are in the fire that sings of refusal”. Here, it becomes clear that refusing is not an action or will as an effect of a subject, but rather an attunement that, in its pursue of justice, discloses the legitimacy of the current darkness. In refusing a new sense of freedom is gathered in place; a freedom without contract or pact, beyond and outside war, and against the revolutionary-counterrevolutionary dialectic of the time that Char also laments in fragment 37.

So a new sense of time opens that Char captures in fragment 162: “the time when the poet feels rising in him the noontide powers of ascension”. But is this power of ascension redemptive, and oriented towards the salvation of the few as guardians of the word? Not necessarily. In Hypnos we are not offered sufficient reasons to think that is the case; on the contrary, ascension here is the very procedure of communication (fragment 185) that is proper to anyone attuned to the supreme song of refusal that takes pleasure in a destitute time of an “annihilating the present and all of its jurisdictions” (fragment 145).

This is Char’s definition of happiness: “happiness is nothing, but anxiety deferred”. This shows that the so-called ascension of the noontide is nothing other than the movement of happiness of against the current state of the present jurisdictions. In other words, to be happy means, if anything, to implement a teaching of the irreducible, given that it is the police and the army whose job is to reduce everything and situate all things in the world, as Dionys Mascolo would write a few years later to George Bataille [2]. Char thought something similar in regard to politics, without recoiling to any sort of romantic anti-politics. But, as he writes in fragment 216: “The shepherd cannot possible be a guide any longer. So political man, the new farmer general, has decided”. In the face of a world governed by a decision that ceases to decide, Char’s refusal clears a “time of raging mountains and fantastic friendship”. True destiny could only be accessed outside the domain of these new shepherds.

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Notes 

1. René Char. Hypnos (Seagull Books, 2021).

2. Dionys Mascolo’s letter to George Bataille is featured in George Bataille: Choix de Lettres (1917-1962), 481. I thank Philippe Theophanidis for providing me this important source.

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