Francis Ponge: The Table

Francis Ponge: The Table


Francis Ponge (1899-1988) is best known as the author of a collection of prose poems published in 1942 as Le parti pris des choses (Eng. The Nature of Things, 1995). A pun on the polysemic French expression parti pris, the title–which could be translated equally well as “On the Side of Things” or “The Bias of Things”–announced his intention to describe things “from their own point of view” and to settle on humble objects of everyday life as subjects for his poems. La Table, published posthumously in 1991, illustrates Ponge’s steadfast preoccupation with the material world throughout his career and his relentless commitment to expressing the object in new and distinctive forms. Starting in 1952 with La rage de l’expression (The rage for/of expression), Ponge’s vision of poetry as necessarily imperfect and always unfinished became central to his work. A volume of texts presented in diary form including programmatic notes, free-word associations, quotations, dictionary definitions, repetitions, and rewritings, La rage de l’expression incited the reader to witness the poem in the making, as Ponge stressed the importance of what he called in an essay on Georges Braque his “struggle with the angel.” In the 1960s Ponge further radicalized his method and began referring to his publications as ateliers textuels, textual studios or workshops as well as spaces where the artist can be seen at work. A notebook toward a never-to-be completed poem, La Table exemplifies the atelier textuel. The excerpts translated here offer but a modest glimpse into Ponge’s undertaking in La Table; they have simply been selected in order to show the author’s progress into his subject from 1967 to 1973.

The Table

Les Vergers

21-23 NOV. 1967

I shall remember * you, my table, table that once was my table, table never mind which table, whatsoever table that might be.

To me, the table is where I find support to write or rather perhaps while waiting to have to write, but to be honest not something I sit down at, not something I tuck legs and feet under, nor on top of which I spread hands and arms, my writing tablet laid cat out, my head and torso inclined just a bit, my gaze upon it.


If I sit at a table, then I do so next to it, on a seat that can preferably be tilted back so that I can stretch, left elbow sometimes resting on the table and {calves and feet {thighs

up, writing tablet on my lap.

Table (of contents)



Bed, table

Horror of the restaurant table: quite dreadful

Altar table

must be dragged or carried: it won’t move all by itself

(which is the nice thing about it)

Faithful but one must make the first move

The table is a faithful friend but one must make the first move

It won’t move all by itself.

Les Vergers

13 August ’68

I reflect today that, generally speaking, I write only for my own consolation (if I’m not commissioned to write) and that the greater the hopelessness, the more intense (necessarily so) the fixation upon the object (in linguistics the referent); the more violent the love (regard, consideration) that I bring to bear on it; the more important, more urgent, do I consider it; as if my destiny depended on it (which is truly what happens, what now takes place); as if the law that governs it, that it embodies, had to be not so much spelled out as expressed urgently; as if everything depended on it (everything, that is to say even my life, hence everything else: the total [natural] world).

Les Vergers

Night of the 15th to 16 Sept. ’68

This Table is feminine just as reason is feminine, just as, to my mind, Reason herself is, truly. I am thinking at this point of the tabula rasa (of Descartes), naturally, but what remains on or even of this tabula rasa?

(badly expressed)

Here’s a better way:

Once made (or mentioned), what is left of this tabula rasa?

Well, begging pardon of Descartes, what remains is neither the “I neither think” nor “I neither am,” nor “I think” nor “therefore I neither am,” what (no longer) remains but (still) remains: indubitably, the table.

Rasa or non-rasa, as you please, the table remains

THE TABLE remains (for which, moreover, capitals are hardly suited, since we are {not speaking of gods [n]or {neither


This is a table.

So, la table consists of seven letters, among which one anagram pairing la and a(b)l, one vowel a (occurring twice), and, most important, the letter T

which seems to me to figure (or signify) the table “pictographically’: followed by a plosive b attenuated by its position after the t, attenuated still further by the labial I and final, silent e.

Les Vergers

Night of the 17th

to 18 Oct. ’68

Horizontal table of polished or varnished wood made of one or several planks well planed and smooth, at least one inch thick,

It is ground for the pen’s flight


15 February 2970

It won’t be on metaphysics that we’ll rest our ethos,

but only on physics” (if we feel the need).

Cf. Epicurus and Lucretius.

5 October ’73

Table, you who were (and still are) operating table, dissecting table (cf. The Anatomy Lesson), or a wheel upon which I break (if you like) the bones of words, how am I to break you down in turn? (I cannot break you down without at the same time calling on your support.)

Ut Deus in mente, pictor in tabula (Leibniz)

Table, you who always waited for me, where everything is (has always been) laid out for me to write, table laid out for me, faithful consoler,

wall on which to project myself,

wall for transforming into window

O table, my console and my consoler, table at which I self-console, where my self consolidates {is consolidated

you shall become soundboard, vibrating to the unison of strings.

First publication

Translation from the French

By Violaine Huisman

Editorial note: From pages 9-10, 25, 37-38, 42, 47, and 74-75 of La Table, copyright 1991, 2002 by Editions Gallimard. The source of the phrase by Leibniz in the excerpt from October 5, 1973, comes from the conclusion of a quotation sent to Ponge with a note from his friend, writer and critic Philippe Sollers, in November 1969: “Itaque plurium Mentium creatione Deus efficere voluit, de universo, quod pictor aliquis de magna urbe, qui varias ejus species sive projectiones delineatas exhibere vellet, pictor in tabula, ut Deux in mente. (Leibniz) (en pensant a la table), PhS.” The variation on “Deus in mente: mens in anima” (As God is in the mind, mind is in the soul) might be rendered “As God is in the mind, the painter is in the painting.” For more of Ponge’s poetry in English, see The Power of Language: Texts and Translations (1979), tr. Serge Gavronsky; Selected Poems (1994), tr. C. K. Williams, John Montague, and Margaret Guiton; The Nature of Things (1995), tr. Lee Fahnestock; and Soap (1998), tr. Lane Dunlop.

* To be explained thus: I’ll make sure that we remember you (or more precisely that you remember yourself in the reader’s I, that you rise up in his memory).

Such is, out of love for you, the desire, the drive that today leads me to write.

And why did I use this form, “I shall remember you”? Because I imagine myself dead in the world (to the world) and yet my memory (my mind) for me living on and remembering, in eternity, my self cut off from the world and recollecting it, recollecting with tender longing the world’s (nature’s) random chances, the contingencies of mortal life.

** (Atomism: a physics of signs, of spaced-out [discontinuous] signs, of Letters)

VIOLAINE HUISMAN is a literary agent at the Charlotte Sheedy Agency in New York. She is currently advising Lee Fahnestock on a new translation of La rage de l’expression (tentatively titled Mute Objects of Expression), forthcoming from Archipelago Books.

COPYRIGHT 2006 University of Oklahoma

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