Philippe Beck

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Philippe Beck
Born (1963-04-21)April 21, 1963
Strasbourg, France
Occupation Poet, writer and university professor
Nationality French
Genre poetry

Philippe Beck, born in Strasbourg on April 21, 1963, is a French poet, writer and professor for Philosophy at University of Nantes, in France and European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.[1]


After taking a master in literature and an H. dip in philosophy, Philippe Beck defended a doctoral thesis in philosophy (Histoire et imagination / History and imagination) under the supervision of Jacques Derrida. A lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Nantes[2] since 1995, his seminars mainly treat matters in the field of aesthetic, for instance the specification of the distinction between literature and philosophy. Since 2006 Philippe Beck is a professor of poetry at European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland.[1]

In 1990, he was a founding member of Alter, a journal of phenomenology (Ecole Normale Supérieure of Saint-Cloud). Founder and editor in chief of the poetry magazine Quaderno (Ed. MeMo, Nantes, from 1998 to 2000), he wrote various articles on poetics and criticism. He is also a member of the editorial board of Cités (Cities) and Droits de cités (Laws of Cities) (PUF) and of the journal Agenda de la pensée contemporaine (Calendar of Contemporary Thought) (Flammarion).

Regularly invited throughout France and abroad for lectures and conferences, in 2008 he was Writer in Residence at Château de Blandy-les-Tours and, in 2009, Mission Stendhal Laureate in China. As a poet, he is featured in various magazines and anthologies. Some of his books and poems have been translated into English, Dutch, Korean and German.

Through his poetic work (to quote Jean-Luc Nancy : "tenir la langue et tenir à la tenue de la langue" or : "upholding the language and fond of form and substance of the language"), Philippe Beck has been in touch with contemporary musicians and composers and has collaborated with them on numerous occasions. He is one of the co-writers of Gérard Pesson's opera libretto Pastorale. Pesson also wrote the music for a number of Beck's poems from Chants populaires (Popular Songs for the vocal ensemble Accentus. The premiere of Oeuvre acousmatique (Acousmatic work by Philippe Mion was held in 2009, a piece based up Beck's Lyre dure.


Nostalgiqueur est l'indépendant périlleux ; Naïveur est dépendant résolu, chargé de la matière / Nostalgicist is the perilous independent ; Naïvist is resolute dependent, charged with the matter

In the essay on La Fontaine's "fables fabric", Patrick Dandrey describes "the ambivalence of the absolute and the relative" as being one of the "keys of classicism". He explains : "As subject matter, the description of morals and hearts, the ample depiction of human nature (...). Its goals, to teach and to please, and even to please with the sole goal of teaching, from a resolutely moral viewpoint, ih there were such !" Philippe Beck could subscribe to those words.

If the Beckian poem does not use a metaphorical allegorical writing that tries to reconcile "ancient art poetry" and "modern dew", what comprises what we might provisionally call this "classicist stance" or classicist gesture, in other words, Beck's idea of the classic ? And in what way does it overturn, metheorically, the poetry of its time ?

"Classicist stance" would be the term we would use to describe the obstinacy of a stubborn person ("classical labour"), a term which in no way means classical posturing nor would imply a kind of neoclassicism or any return to it, nor any form of absolute avantgardistic rupture. This gesture which wishes to provide an answer to "the great need / of a continuous newness" is essentially modern, if modernity stands for an effort or for a "power to move forward". Regarding a "promise past", the aim of this effort is to verify a possible "contiguous continuity" between the classic and the modern.

This gesture or stance needs to be clarified. Certainly one has to distinguish between classicism as a moment in the history of literature (and even in French poetry) and a form of classicism as a moment in the history of art or of aesthetics. This leads to the existence of two parallel libraries whereupon Beck's work is based (there is no book of Beck's that does not contain a library) : on the one hand, there are amongst others La Fontaine, Saint-Amant, Théophile de Viau, Mlle de Scudéry, Honoré d'Urfé, Cyrano and the libertine writers ; on the other hand, we have Platon and Aristote, Winckelmann, Hegel and Nietzsche, the unknown soldier Karl Philipp Moritz, but also Weimar classicism, in other words Schiller (and Schiller versus Goethe), then the reading of this classicism (Goethe versus Schiller) by the first romantics, by Novalis and the Schlegel brothers. It goes without saying and it would be better to say that these classicist examples reply in Beck's work on their reference to a modernity of modern life (in the Baudelairean sense) that the poem is supposed to capture. We need to consider Beck's work in poems as a critical gesture (in the Benjaminian sense) both towards classicism and towards modernity. ("The idea of reconsidering the quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns is not new, it is modern. (...) The ancient given inherits the present, by capitation.") Which re-classicism today, now ?, even though modernity has been (is) a period of an eclipse of classicism ; if not, those remarkable exceptions, Francis Ponge's (Pour un Malherbe) and Jean Tortel's (Un certain XVIIe siècle), two books red with a magnifying glass by Philippe Beck.

If Beck's classicist preoccupations certainly fit into the scheme of these libraries, the classicist gesture (or stance), strongly present in the poems, continuously goes beyond this framework through its resimplification : "to refigure the language, is to modify slightly but essentially its regimes (...) by a new resimplification". (Contre un Boileau). Beck's classicist gesture and stance aim at the essential : the intervention of the Ancients in their time, through work on language - of which maternity always count, even if a court no longer exists. To return to a precise remark by Yves di Manno, one could say that in Beck, work on the language creates a "tension between Baroque and Classicism (...), working on the substance of language itself (and its prosodic memory), (...) assuming the poetic inheritance whereupon it is based and that he revisits." This tension is illustrated by the opposition to the Boileau principle : "Whatever we conceive well we express clearly". Beck resolutely positions himself along with Kleist : the progressive elaboration of thought is developed during speech. "The head writes, si it has a heart. Poetry is more than reason and clarity." In "relative clarity", "Baroque luminaries pointed out the necessary", if there is a constitutive impossibility in direct expression (according to Tortel). Oblique expression is the "baroque gift".

The intervention in question is defined by work on language : "Poetry declares the materiality of language." Poetry wants to say something, it wants that because it has to, as long as its principle consists in aspiring toward the best, and this by means of critical thought that resists the tides of the anti-intellectual. To say that the poem makes itself in the saying, and that it makes just what it says, requires a harmony, or a rhythm, or a beat, the beat of sense and truth, which could be described as mimetic in nature, as supposing a unity, a coherence perhaps, or a cohesion between form and content. In this way, the stake of a classicist stance is vital, and critical ? And would classicism be the conscience of the sentimentality naïve, which the poet claims to work at his own division, within a division of the language ? Philippe Beck reminds us : "We no longer can play the naïve card. But when exactly did we do so ? Sometimes I claim that we are sentimentally naïve. We are animals, donkeys or oxes with a will. This also applies to the Greek ot the 5th century."

To aspire to the best through the intempestive force of a classicist stance and through the re-reading of a certain idea of the classical ? Let's enumerate some creative methods :

The writing of a handbook on good behaviour, thanks to an analytic reading of the unconscious classicism of Mister Everybody. The "ancient Ancients" are "snoring Sleepers", according to the poem "Sentimental naïve" from Didactic Poems - this book dreamt of, or awaited for, by the historians of the Weimarer Klassik, who mastered at will the capacity to read while desiring to stay as long as possible in one or another room without moving in. Classicism of division, one of its most striking characteristics being the simultaneity of total belonging (based upon the familiarity with and the dominance of a matter) and of an irreduceible distance built on renewals ? Classicism of an insistent reading of the classics as classicism of an age ? ("In a period of art without transcendency, of reflected art, the idea of classical is put as a test."), by means of the "now of recognizability" ("Jetzt der Erkennbarkeit", Walter Benjamin) of a historical moment when the Ancienty reveals a Hantiquity, neology in which the fund of a universal matter is treated in a personal way ? But can we speak of the "mannerism" of a manner ? Or about a re-preciousness, with its pearls : neologisms, circumlocutions, abstractions, adjectives or nominalized adverbs..., in the light of a critical reading of Curtius ?

Memorial classicism ? The poem as "capitation engine" is a warlike power which is linked in language to memory in order to orientate itself during its conquest. The classicist stance aims at the truth through recapture, through the memory and memorial functions, because the truth does not reveal itself, but one still needs to see the whole picture in order to be able to distinguish. "If all the words were living units of ancienty and modernity, we would live the present rigorously. If memory diminishes, the narcotic of words is too strong, and we live as if we were sleeping." The classicist stance is one of useful erudition, that knows how to avoid slavery in reading (being the slave of the ancients) and the useless reproduction of self, in order to reach a "singular impersonality, reaching so far as to forget death in war."

Harmonious and measured classicism ? First the works, then mankind, or it is not friendship that commands the reference, or rather the opposite. A refusal of the Doppelleben that finds its dynamic in interiority - self-confinement, Goethe's genius (a confinement that does not necessarily imply spiritual interiority, what is proven again by Goethe and his fetish for the sensibility of the sensible), and the requirement to write "books of poetry in order to be those books, as if a book is a special way of living." The need for the exterior monologue tied to the need for harmony = mobile generality. Harmony depending on the fusion of a theoretical practice with a practical theory. Every book of Beck bears witness to this through an art poétique. The forward is inside.

Classicism of verse ? Testing the idea of the classical is also an opportunity to relaunch the question of verse. "Or a so-called ancient object : verse". The verse is a "classical future", if it is the "horizon of poetry" and if modernity is (has been) the time of prose poetry or of prose prose ? Would Beck's verse in that case insist on the link between the useful and the agreeable, "the basis of classical poetics" (foreword to the Aristotle's Poetics)?

Classicism of the insufficiency of literature, and at the same time of the verse ? And the paradoxical extension of literature by quotations of other classicisms or classics, that the poem's voice acquires in its own way ? What about Classicism in the other arts ? In movies, from Ozu to Straub, from Bergman to Chaplin through Renoir and Harpo ; in music from Haydn and Mozart to Bartok and Schoenberg ; in painting, from Rembrandt to Klee ?

Classicism of objective poetry ? The revendication of objectivity, of an "objective lyric poetry" raises the question of the mimetic gesture based upon the prose of the world. An important support can be identified in Beckett's (classicist and Mallarmean author) question : How to fond a form to express waste ? Philippe Beck answers from the classicist point of view : "The harshness contains marvelous elements ; there must be harshness in order not to ruin the shape itself of waste." Therefore, harshness has be questioned sharply by the critical reactivation of elements of a classical aesthetic : the eloquence (the poet as "ex-orator" oh the "quasi-sermon"), theatre (the poem as a drama of words), moralism (moraline-free) of the "de-moralizing" poet who cultivates "contrariness", a concern for form (without formalism), revisited genres (elegy, story, satire, idyll...), for "the link between presentation and content", between what is said and the act of saying ("modern art verifies (...) the contact between thought and the material") - in brief, of an aesthetic that is inseparable from an ethic.

Everybody's Classicism ? The classicist gesture can be compared with the gesture of emerging of oneself, by a selflessness defining "the condition of all possible later interests" and by the general interest that compels somebody to think and write, in so far as it is about "something in the air". Would this impersonal attitude be a critical variation upon the ancient organicity of the beautiful ? An attitude that would have integrated multiplicity ("Mannichfaltigkeit") and accord ("Uebereinstimmung"), extending the paradoxical popularity of an art that takes hold of the matter thereby imposing its necessity, and so becoming useful to life and refusing all references to a truth outside itself ? Would the idea of the classic be characterized by an esoterism implying an esoterism ? Would it be the resolute confirmation that poetry owes it to itself to be popular ? Popular poetry countered by popular poetry ? A Popular Song as an "After Song", a song that "throws itself in front of the reopened past" ?



  • Garde-manche hypocrite, Fourbis, 1996.
  • Chambre à roman fusible, Al Dante, 1997.
  • Verre de l'époque Sur-Eddy, Al Dante, 1998.
  • Rude merveilleux, Al Dante, 1998.
  • Le Fermé de l'époque, Al Dante, 1999.
  • Dernière mode familiale, Flammarion, postface de Jean-Luc Nancy, 2000.
  • Inciseiv, MeMo, 2000.
  • Poésies didactiques, Théâtre typographique, 2001.
  • Aux recensions, Flammarion, 2002.
  • Dans de la nature, Flammarion, 2003.
  • Garde-manche Deux, Textuel, 2004.
  • Élégies Hé, Théâtre typographique, 2005.
  • Déductions, Al Dante, 2005.
  • Chants populaires, Flammarion, 2007.
  • De la Loire, Argol, 2008.
  • Lyre Dure, Nous, 2009.
  • Poésies premières (1997–2000), Flammarion, 2011.
  • Boustrophes, Texts & Crafts, 2011.


  • Contre un Boileau (esquisse), Horlieu, 1999.
  • Du principe de la division de soi in Le colloque de nuit, Le temps qu'il fait, 2000.
  • Beck, l'Impersonnage : rencontre avec Gérard Tessier, Argol, 2006.
  • Un Journal, Flammarion, 2008.


  • Walter Benjamin, "Expérience et pauvreté", translated by P. Beck, in Po&sie, n° 51, 1989.
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Définition de la poésie", translated by P. Beck et É. Dayre, in Po&sie, n° 51, 1989.
  • F. W. von Schelling, "Philosophie de l'art, § 39", translated by P. Beck, in Po&sie, n° 54, 1990.
  • Walter Benjamin, "Crise du roman", translated and introduced by P. Beck et B. Stiegler, in Po&sie, n° 58, 1991.
  • Walter Benjamin, "Théories du fascisme allemand", translated and introduced by P. Beck et B. Stiegler, in Lignes, n° 13, 1991.
  • Karl Philipp Moritz, Le concept d'achevé en soi et autres écrits (1785–1793), texts introduced and translated by P. Beck, PUF, 1995.
  • Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Les Sermons laïques (suivi de) L'Ami, translated and introduced by P. Beck et É. Dayre, Gallimard (Bibliothèque de Philosophie), 2002.

Essays and Articles[edit]

  • "Le Dit d'hypocrisie ensommeillé", in Po&sie, n° 66, 1993.
  • "Le Quasi-sermon", in Critique, n° 571, 1994.
  • "Minima Lyrica ou Lyrismes du rude boeuf", in Recueil, n° 30, 1994.
  • "Mort et naïveté (Régime transcendantal et régime sentimental)", in Alter, n° 1 et 2, 1994.
  • "La bête, question de projection animale", in Alter, n° 3, 1995.
  • "Quelques remarques à propos d'une époque dans l'espace", in Alter, n° 4, 1996.
  • "Logiques de l'impossibilité", préface à la Poétique d'Aristote, Gallimard (Tel), 1986.
  • "Quelques remarques sur la prose apophantique en régime inchoatif", in Le poète que je cherche à être. Cahier Michel Deguy, La Table ronde/Belin, 1996.
  • "Entretien" (à propos de Garde-manche hypocrite), in Biennale Internationale des poètes en Val-de-Marne, n° 19, 1997.
  • "D'un fumier sans pourquoi (Thèses concernant la poésie)", in Lettres sur tous les sujets, n° 13, 1997.
  • "Les turdidés, ou l'affaire du toucher à distance" (à propos de Dominique Fourcade), in Lettres sur tous les sujets, n° 13, 1997.
  • "Les espèces confuses, désassorties", in Paroles à la bouche du présent : le négationnisme, histoire ou politique ?, Natacha Michel (dir.), Al Dante, 1997.
  • "La vie saturée", in Analecta Husserliana, vol. L, 1997.
  • "Précisions sur quelques thèses.", in Action Poétique, n° 150, 1998.
  • "Quaderno : une idée de la poésie", in Art Press, n° 262, 2000.
  • "L'époque de la poésie", in Littérature, n° 120, 2000.
  • "Où va le vers", in Magazine littéraire, n° 396, 2001.
  • "Méduse automatique stoppée", in Fin, n° 13, 2002.
  • "Entretien" avec David Christoffel, on, 2003.
  • "Sexicité", on, 2003.
  • "La vie pensée", on, 2004.
  • "Si le corps est le lieu des pensées...", in Écrire, pourquoi ?, Argol, 2005.
  • "Entretien" avec Emmanuel Laugier, in Le Matricule des anges, n° 81, 2007.
  • "Modalisations", in Cahier Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe. L'Animal, n° 19-20, 2008.
  • "La trompette modeste" (sur Sens de Walden de Stanley Cavell), in Agenda de la pensée contemporaine, n° 10, 2008.
  • "La relation des jours" (sur le Journal de Jean-Patrick Manchette), in Agenda de la pensée contemporaine, n° 12, 2008–2009.
  • "Entrer en poésie" (entretien), in Fragil La Gazette, n° 4, 2009. (éro/1057)
  • "D'un espace espéré ou : la danse pré-pensive de Keith Waldrop", in Agenda de la pensée contemporaine, n° 13, 2009.
  • "Dimensions ou : Optique, geste et comportement", in La vue et la voix, Pierre Ouellet (dir.), vlb éd., Montréal, 2009.
  • "La poésie du geste" (Anthropologie poétique, poétique de l'anthropologie : Marcel Jousse), in Agenda de la pensée contemporaine, n° 15, 2009.
  • "Entretien" (à propos de Lyre Dure) avec Martin Rueff et Tiphaine Samoyaut, on, 2010.
  • "La suite (voix)", entretien avec Benoît Casas, in Grumeaux, n° 2, NOUS, 2010.
  • "Hugo Friedrich : réalité, monologue et subjectivité dans la poésie du XXe siècle", in Po&sie, n° 136, Belin, 2e trim. 2011.
  • "Le poétisme aveugle, ou la bataille du critère voilé", in CCP, n° 22, 2011.
  • "Musique et poésie", in Fusées, n° 20, 2011.
  • "Poétique et critique, ou : l'ascendant romantique de Genette", in "Les facultés de juger : critique et vérité", Textuel, n° 64, Paris 7-Denis Diderot, 2011.
  • "L'ironie de la basseur : note sur la hauteur expressive et les intensités sémantiques", in Lignes, n° 38, mai 2012.

Notes and references[edit]


  • "Maintenant Philippe Beck", in La Polygraphe, n° 13-14, 2000.
  • "Philippe Beck, une poésie recommence", in il particolare, n° 7-8, 2002.
  • "Philippe Beck", in Amastra-N-Gallar (Gallicean magazine), n° 14, 2007.
  • "Cahier : Philippe Beck", in il particolare, n° 24, 2011.

External links[edit]