Jacques Roubaud, p.4


“You were saying just now (on the page just before this one) that poetry says nothing. I still can’t understand what you mean.”
“Let me put it another way:
axiom: Poetry says nothing. Poetry says.
“That’s not much clearer.
And I’m dubious about your use of the word axiom. Do you mean an ‘undemonstratable truth obvious to those who understand its meaning (first principle)’? or ‘a proposition accepted by everyone without discussion (including the postulate)’? or ‘a proposition considered necessary, not open to discussion’? or else and ‘element of axiomatics’?
“Nothing as imposing or severe as that. Let’s call it a pseudo-axiom if you prefer.”
“I do. But that doesn’t make it any clearer.”
“Poetry doesn’t say ‘something.’ Saying ‘something’ presupposes being able to say what one says, to say what the ‘something’ is that one says.”
“OK. And to repeat it.”
“Exactly. Saying something means being able to repeat what the ‘something’ is that one says.
And that’s not all: to say what one says cannot be done by saying, ‘you didn’t understand; let me repeat...’.”
“It can’t be said like that.”
“Right. To say or have said anything, one must be able to repeat what one said differently than what one had previously said.”
“In a word, one must paraphrase.”
“In order to say, one must be able to paraphrase what one said.”

“In parentheses (I’ll make a little digression here), will you not have to paraphrase the paraphrase? Aren’t you opening yourself to infinite regression?”
“No. To be able to say what one says in other terms does not imply an infinite regression but a compulsory circularity, according to the belief in the universality of language as a medium, of our language and of the world (“the limits of my language are the limits of my world,” Wittgenstein said), circularity which is not only inevitable, but which actually creates all meaning.
“How knowlegeable you are! Commerce: traffic, negociation; negociation: traffic, commerce; traffic: commerce, negociation. Right?”

Let us come back to the matter at hand. To say something, I’ll grant you, is to say something that has a meaning, and to communicate that meaning to others one must be able to paraphrase what one says. Meaning is public. Let’s just say. So?”
“So? Poetry is not paraphrasable.
What poetry says cannot be said otherwise.”
“There’s a new ‘axiom,’ as you say. Let’s just say.
But, you say, poetry says. So?”
“So what poetry says cannot be extracted from what it says, it cannot be something that can be said otherwise. If I claim that poetry says nothing, it’s that it doesn’t say that type of thing that can be repeated, explained, demonstrated, shown, insinuated, discussed, understood, learned, unlearned, affirmed,
Poetry says what it says by saying it.