Charles Reznikoff: Inscriptions (1894-1976)

Université Paris Nanterre, France
June 1st-3rd, 2023

Max Weber Building Amphitheater

Keynote speakers `// Conférences plénières
Norman Finkelstein, Michael Heller, Jena Osman

Call for papers (now closed) // Appel à communications (terminé)
Draft program // Programme provisoire
Abstracts // Résumés
Campus map // Plan du campus

Organizing committee // Comité d’organisation 
Xavier Kalck (Université de Lille), Fiona McMahon (Université Paul Valéry Montpellier 3), Naomi Toth (Université Paris Nanterre).

Free attendance  // Accès gratuit

Contact and registration

Call for papers

The career of the poet Charles Reznikoff (1894-1976) may be viewed as a lifetime spent recording the present and the past that frames the world of this first generation American, whose parents fled the pogroms in Russia at the end of the nineteenth century. In many ways a poet of New York, Reznikoff was also the keeper of a poetic heritage tied to a long history. Readers of Reznikoff will for instance be familiar with the fabled sacrifice of his Russian grandfather’s Hebrew verse, hastily thrown in the fire and the layered response Reznikoff’s writing, often quizzical if not experimental, offers to the theme of destruction and loss. The poet’s dedication to his own vocation as a writer is equaled by a resolve to retrieve the voice of those whose experience is yet to be heard, yet to be inscribed.

The overarching theme of “inscriptions” thus provides an entry into the relationship Reznikoff never ceased to explore between the landscapes he observed walking the streets of Manhattan and his native Brooklyn but also those he witnessed thanks to his experience as a lawyer and through the memory of Jewish culture, recounted from the vantage point of the Bible in his 1959 collection of poems, Inscriptions: 1944-1956.

The publication history of his work bears witness to the determination to leave a mark. His first book of poems, Rhythms was privately printed in 1918 in a basement in Brooklyn, New York, followed by Rhythms II in 1919. Reznikoff’s independence from commercial publishing was only briefly interrupted when New Directions put out two volumes in the 1960s (By the Waters of Manhattan; Testimony). Over the course of his lifetime, Reznikoff’s resolve to establish a print legacy never subsided, using his own press, teaching himself to typeset for instance his 1927 collection, Five Groups of Verse. Reznikoff’s writing has never ceased to inflect the course of American poetry and after his death, avant-garde publishers resumed the work of durably inscribing his poetics (Black Sparrow Press; Black Sparrow Books).

Reznikoff’s work remains nonetheless somewhat enigmatic, for he is a poet of many roots and as many facets. Precision and spareness, the humble qualities for which his work is most often recognized, have nonetheless secured his reputation as a rare craftsman, while the range of his writing as a poet, translator, playwright, one-time screenwriter, and novelist, combined with the acutely ethical nature of his concerns, have far extended his readership  If his sense of poetic exactness has been seen as an echo of his initial legal training, so could the sense of advocacy often implicit in his work be said to stem from this same background. Yet Reznikoff’s connection with the law must also be balanced with his preoccupation for the Law from a religious perspective. As for the role played by Judaism as a source in Reznikoff’s poetry, it is no longer understated, though the specific scope of that resonance within his work is still being investigated. On a similar note, visions from a past tradition combine effortlessly in Reznikoff with a sense of sight and observation in an urban context that, much like his “objectivist” fellow-poets Louis Zukofsky, George Oppen and Carl Rakosi, celebrates the ordinary, the simple and the plain, yet immediately question it from a social, political, and cultural standpoint, revealing the world of the poor, the downtrodden and disenfranchised. 

It is no doubt this constant to-and-fro, this richly polychromatic witnessing that testifies to Reznikoff’s enduring relevance on so many delicately interwoven levels of interpretation. For at least the last three decades, his work has been discovered and rediscovered, translated and re-translated, across the Atlantic and in the Southern Americas in particular. Increasingly cited by French poets as a model for the invention of new formal approaches to poetic practice, his singular contribution to reflections on the document, the archive, the law, and the writing of history has garnered renewed critical recognition, and it has found new audiences and resonances in adaptations to the stage.

This international conference, the first entirely dedicated to Charles Reznikoff in France, explores the many facets of his legacy.

Program // Programme

All panels are in English, unless otherwise indicated // Toutes les séances sont en anglais, sauf indication contraire

Thursday, June 1st

8:30-9:30 am - Registration. Coffee and pastries

9:30 am - Welcome address by Françoise Král, director of the Centre for Anglophone Studies (CREA), Université Paris Nanterre

9:45-10:45 am - Documenting the Law. Chair: Florence Bellivier Coffee break

11:00-12:00 pm - Keynote. Jena Osman: Subjects of the Law. Chair: Fiona McMahon

Lunch break

1:30-2:30 pm - Witnessing and Testifying. Chair: Benoît Tadié Coffee break

2:45-4:15 pm - Vernacular Poetics. Chair: Charlotte Estrade Coffee break

4:30-5:30 pm - Round Table: Adapting Reznikoff on Stage (French/en français). Chair: Fiona McMahon
Henri-Jules Julien, Sonia Chiambretto, Romain Jarry

Friday, June 2nd

9-9:30 am - Coffee and pastries

9:30-10:30 am - Judaism, Jewishness and Yiddishkeit. Chair: Antonia Rigaud Coffee break

11:00-12 pm - Keynote: Norman Finkelstein. Reznikoff and the Rabbis. Chair: Xavier Kalck

Lunch break

1:30-2:30 pm - Translation and Poetic Traditions. Chair: Olivier Brossard Coffee break

2:45-3:45 pm - Round Table: Reznikoff in Translation (French/en français). Chair: Abigail Lang 
with Eva Antonnikov, Thierry Gillyboeuf, Piotr Sommer, Carlos Soto Román.

7:00 pm - Poetry reading at the Maison de la Poésie (reservation recommended directly with the Maison de la Poésie)
Dara Barnat, Sonia Chiambretto, Norman Finkelstein, Stephen Fredman, Micheal Heller, Andrea Inglese, Jena Osman, Ariel Resnikoff, Mark Scroggins, Frank Smith 

Saturday June 3rd

8:30-9:00 am - Coffee and pastries

9:00-11:00 am - Objectivist Practice. Chair: Xavier Kalck Coffee break

11:15-12:15 pm - Keynote: Michael Heller (title to be announced). Chair: Hélène Aji

Lunch break

1:30-3:30 pm - Reception and Legacy. Chair: Olivier Hercend Coffee break

3:45-4:45 pm - Closing Remarks: Stephen Fredman. The Method of Irreducible Detail: Charles Reznikoff the Historian. Chair: Naomi Toth

Abstracts // Résumés

Almas Kahn: African American Experiences and the Poetic Formation of Charles Reznikoff 
Shortly before his death in 1976, Charles Reznikoff reflected on his life and aesthetics, describing how his Jewish immigrant family background and his professional training in law had influenced his poetics. Intriguingly, he also narrated how African American experiences had shaped his career. While Reznikoff’s oeuvre has been acclaimed in general for its representations of historically marginalized populations, scholars of African American literature have criticized Testimony and other texts for arguably reproducing the racism that the works sought to extirpate. These critiques have renewed force with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, requiring Reznikoff scholars to reassess the lawyer-author’s engagement with Blackness. 
    Drawing on archival research, my presentation will analyze how African American experiences influenced Reznikoff’s personal and literary development, while addressing criticisms of infirmities in Reznikoff’s vision. Reznikoff’s work often suggests parallels between anti-Semitism and Jim Crow racism, including when describing his early years in New York City. Moreover, Reznikoff’s first published article as a journalism student was about how working-class African Americans memorialized deceased loved ones. Testimony, meanwhile, reworks several judicial opinions about cases involving African Americans in the Jim Crow era. Finally, at the time of his death, Reznikoff was creating a documentary poem out of Solomon Northup’s memoir Twelve Years a Slave (1853), which was adapted into a 2013 film. Contemporary Black poets like M. NourbeSe Philip in Zong! (2008) can be seen as Reznikoff’s methodological heirs in translating judicial opinions into poems that critique structural racism. 
    Reznikoff can thus be viewed as a prescient writer on racial justice issues, even as his Objectivist poetics – in “let[ting] reality speak for itself,” to quote David Lehman – may seem unequal to the task of dismantling white supremacy. Through reposing ultimate faith in readers, Reznikoff forged a poetics of democratic empowerment that resonates in the Third Reconstruction. 

Natina Gilbert: “That it might be put down in capitals”: Evaluating the Function of the“Objective Correlative” in Charles Reznikoff's Testimony (1934) 

In her recent book, Modernism and the Meaning of Corporate Persons, Lisa Siraganian argues that formal aesthetic experiments in the twentieth century anticipated the flaws of corporate jurisprudence that affect us today. Here, Charles Reznikoff is a prominent figure, particularly on the question of corporate liability and the ease with which they can dodge their responsibilities. She connects his poetic practice to T. S. Eliot’s “objective correlative,” in the sense that Reznikoff’s collected “testimonies” all point to a correlating structural issue that is obscured by those who overemphasize the role of individuals acting in bad faith. 
     Interestingly, interpretations of Reznikoff’s of Testimony (1934) don’t often consider this aspect of the text. In “Hamlet and His Problems,” Eliot’s appraisal of the play’s “problems” is that the action evokes emotion which is in “excess of the facts as they appear.” Siriganian argues that Reznikoff effectively chooses poetic testimony that correlates to unremitting suffering caused by limited liability. Reznikoff’s earlier version of Testimony does not point to a similarly concrete structural flaw, and the images presented seem in excess of the crimes committed. This “excess,” however, is compelling precisely because it highlights the limits of prior narrative structures that cannot account for the kinds of evidence Reznikoff places in front of us. Furthermore, reframing Reznikoff’s “recitative” form as a kind of “data collection” highlights what Elizabeth Rodrigues has recently argued is an important method modernist writers use to resist the foreclosure of meaning that narrative traditionally requires. The “successful” and “unsuccessful” objective correlatives in this version of Testimony lay the foundation for Reznikoff’s ongoing artistic concerns. Testimony, like data, is frequently framed as supporting or contradicting a prior narrative, and writers like Reznikoff explore what it would mean if testimony were the beginning, rather than the result of, how we tell stories about the world. 

Richard Hyland: Almost: On Testimony
Reznikoff hints at his method in the note he prefaced to the first edition of Testimony. I glanced through several hundred volumes of old cases . . . and found almost all that follows. 
The method seems to have two aspects. Many of the book’s poems are quotations, taken sometimes verbatim (in later editions, versified) from witness testimony in cases decided at the turn of the 20th century. Reznikoff then added detail that arose in his imagination but not contained in the source. Justin Parks suggested that the detail was added for dramatic effect. In this reading of Reznikoff’s note, the added detail is the spice needed to render otherwise uninteresting legal texts palatable.
    Testimony is instead a primer about how to read and write poetry. Reznikoff chose to start from a kind of text that is often considered the antithesis of poetry. By adding a few words, he transforms the text so that it offers the kind of transcendence we sometimes identify with verse. Where is the line between poetry and that other writing? What is it that poetry does those other texts do not? Reznikoff explores these questions by adding words one by one to a judicial text until, in his view, the text has become a poem. What do Reznikoff’s additions (and deletions) teach us about the mystery of poetry? 
    My initial attempt to examine this question appeared in an essay I published online in 2014. There I explored how the effects of Reznikoff’s addition of two words—gently and blonde—to a description of an industrial accident. The essay begins by investigating the judicial decision’s historical context and then, once the nature of the legal dispute has become clear, discusses how the judge and poet refine different metals from the same ore.
    I propose to continue that work with poems in Testimony.

Rosina Martucci: Comparative Literature Paintings: Holocaust by Charles Reznikoff and The Lost Bread by Edith Bruck
Charles Reznikoff (1894-1976) and Edith Bruck (1931-/) are both Jewish authors who, in their literary production, have treated and deal (Edith Bruck) with the theme of Holocaust. Charles Rednikoff was an American poet grown up in a Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Russian immigrants who fled the Russian Empire and its pogroms.  Holocaust, his last work based on court testimony about Nazi death camps during World War II, was written and published in 1975, a few months before the author’s death. It is a very important text about Shoah (according to the words of Andrea Raos), its Italian translator. The American Jewish poet confronts the tragedy of history with a writing that refuses, apparently to mediate the terrifying experience of these events with any generic literary matrix. Let the atrocities and horrors of the death camps be starkly placed in front of the reader through the words of the survivors. Edith Bruck, pseudonym of Edith Steinschreiber is a writer, poet, translator, director and witness of the Hungarian Shoah naturalized Italian. Her last book about Shoah is “The Lost Bread” published in 2021. It is the story of her childhood during the World War II, of the death of her loved ones in the gas chambers and of her deportation to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Differences and similarities unite the two authors, their lives and their works but it is above all the duty of the testimony of the Shoah, of the sufferings and death of millions of Jews who feed their poetry and narrative, and overall they are aware to be witnesses, through their works. for the new generations.

Andrea Inglese: Testimony: ce qui est mémorable
Ma lecture voudrait situer la poésie « documentaire » de Reznikoff (surtout Testimony, mais aussi Holocaust) à la lisière d’une double lecture, celle issue de la redécouverte de la ligne objectiviste aux Etats-Unis par des auteurs tels que Rachel Blau DuPlessis, et celle issue de la ligne littéraliste française, incarné par des auteurs tel que Emmanuel Hocquard. Mon propos n’est nullement celui de réaliser une histoire de la réception (découverte ou redécouverte) de Reznikoff aux Etats-Unis ou en France. Mon intérêt est plutôt théorique : comment on peut tenir ensemble le realist claim, dont parle Blau DuPlessis, et la notion de récit, que Hocquard expose dans Une grammaire de Tanger ? Cette double approche nous permettra de revenir au dispositif textuel de Testimony, qui par ailleurs ne présente pas les procédés les plus typiques des avant-gardes littéraires (pastiche, cut-up, found poem, etc.). En même temps, ce dispositif se situe en dehors du paradigme lyrique, mais aussi en dehors d’une narration testimoniale à la première personne. Pour le comprendre, il nous sera utile le détour par une œuvre insolite et fascinante des années 30, les Formes simples d’André Jolles. Au de là des présupposés épistémologiques controversés de ce travail, le chapitre dédié au mémorable nous fournit des éléments très utiles pour la compréhension du texte de Reznikoff. Elle nous permet d’abord d’identifier la stratégie de Testimony, qui interroge la mémoire collective, avec son histoire national et ses monuments. Il s’agit évidemment de comprendre comment fonctionne un contre-monument, qui n’est jamais une simple négation d’un monument existant. Testimony veut imposer l’interruption de la narration historique, qui repose sur des entités collectives (« classes populaires », « travailleurs », « marginaux », etc.) et sur des lois qui expliquent leur conduites. Ce type de narration finit pour rendre invisibles la particularité, l’épaisseur, le caractère énigmatique des destins individuels. Le travail de Reznikoff, réalisé grâce à une particulière réorganisation des matériaux documentaires, a alors comme objectif de redonner visibilité, évidence et étrangeté, à cette population perdue, qui a subit toute la violence de la modernité américaine.

Lisa Siraganian: Reznikoff's The Manner Music: A Poetics of Unintended Consequences
A fascinating poetic literary practice, emerging in the 1930s and continuing sporadically for decades thereafter, attempted to see and know broad economic structures of market institutions, along with the intrinsic, unforeseen problems arising from them. Texts by American authors more typically and variously known as Modernist, progressively socialist, or Objectivist, represented particulars while also diagnosing the recurring structural failures of markets to resolve poverty. Charles Reznikoff, more than many poets of the period, directs his attention to institutional failures to address poverty. His magnus opus, Testimony: The United States (1885-1915): Recitative, articulates the grim melody of so-called “unintended consequences.” Cumulatively, these poems make one point insistently: the combination of bad luck, extreme frustration, and basic need inevitably leads to devastating consequences. The aggregate effect of random happenstance reveals the pattern of poverty and cruelty producing infuriated defeat. Testimony amasses its examples over five-hundred pages; that voluminousness can make it difficult to see the larger pattern at work. Yet these same ideas—pinpointing an unforeseen pattern in divergent community experiences—are expressed more succinctly in The Manner Music (1977, but written in the late 1940s or early 1950s), a loosely veiled autobiographical novel set in the 1930s, in which Reznikoff explores the desperate sounds poverty makes. This talk focuses particularly on that little-known but fascinating novel, The Manner Music, to show how it begins to envision a diagnosis of society without reducing individuals to either hapless pawns of a bureaucratic system, or interchangeable utility maximizers within it.

Miriam Ould Aroussi: 'To be read just as common speech / But for stopping at the end of each line': Charles Reznikoff's Poetics of Ordinary Language 
Charles Reznikoff, in the interviews he gave to L. S. Dembo (1969) and Reinhold Schiffer (1974), repeatedly insisted on the importance of two principles of selection and arrangement he used in creating Testimony: The United States (1885–1915), Recitative: the elements he selected moved him, and they struck him as displaying some kind of rhythm. To L. S. Dembo, furthermore, Reznikoff said that “if your conclusion [when reading] is that what I saw and heard makes you feel the way I did, then the poem is successful” (emphasis mine). Yet, while Testimony, because of its social content and the documentary procedure, has often been studied from an ethical perspective on literature, analyses focusing on the importance of rhythm in this work remain rare. The notion nevertheless pervades Reznikoff’s approach of writing—from the title of his first, self-edited poetry collection, Rhythms, to that of his autobiographical novel The Manner “Music”, and to his insistence that “stopping at the end of each line,” in his verse, is “like a rest in music or a turn in the dance.” 
     What, however, is rhythm in Charles Reznikoff’s Testimony? The work has sometimes struck readers as displaying no sense of rhythm at all; Hayden Carruth, for instance, in reviewing Testimony in 1966, went as far as stating that “the language of this book is not poetry at all, but prose printed in regular lines, and rather lifeless prose at that.” This statement, along with the relative scarcity of studies devoted to rhythm in Testimony, betray, in my opinion, that a crucial aspect of Reznikoff’s documentary poetics remains unacknowledged or, at least, largely understudied. 
     Drawing on Reznikoff’s own statements in his interviews and on my experience of reading Testimony: The United States (1885–1915), Recitative, I would like to argue that the rhythm and structure of the poems in this work are best considered and made significant when viewed as promotions of the potential of ordinary, vernacular language. In my view, the poet’s reluctance to use what he deems “pretentious” vocabulary and his careful craft of selection and arrangement in Testimony go hand in hand: by focusing on rarely studied parts of Testimony and on Reznikoff’s readings of his own poetry, I intend to demonstrate that the arrangement of his verse makes visible the stimulating potential and emotional force the poet sees in everyday speech. If Testimony is a “recitative,” it is not because the testimonies Reznikoff quotes are put into music by him; on the contrary, Testimony is subtitled “Recitative” because it materializes Reznikoff’s perception that everyday speech need not be distorted, however artfully, for it to be poetically significant and rhythmically effective. 

William Dow: Reznikoff's Poetic Journalism: A Material Culture of Poetry and Knowing
Testimony (1965) is Charles Reznikoff’s declaration that national history, rather than being written from “the standpoint of an individual…could be written from every standpoint—as many standpoints as were provided by the witnesses themselves.” This paper will explore how Reznikoff was part of a documentary culture that wished to repurpose traditional journalism and “objective” discourse into an alternative materialist history based on what can be termed journalistic and sociological findings, but ultimately resembling a kind of poetic journalism. Reznikoff relies on an objecitification that does not disclaim empathy but rather provides historical surfaces that can capture reader identification. To this end, his multiple-perspective history is not  meant to be absolutist or comprehensive but rather evocative and suggestive. 
    Testimony’s cumulative impact is thus much more than an objectified materialist history. The referenced actions spreading across a range of social spheres and institutions—and with the social actors mostly stripped of psychological gloss—suggest how the collection is an indictment of industrial destructiveness, purposefully set in a period (1885-1915) in which America was changing from an agrarian republic to an industrial superpower. But while writing a poetry that refuses the spirit of transcendence so as to focus on the brutality of the commonplace and everyday, Reznikoff allows the residual outlines of the original plaintive appeals to appear in their ahistorical significance—albeit with a renewed social purpose. He follows the textual traces without trying to eliminate their archival aura, thus creating a cumulative history of diverse profiles based on daily-occurring criminal aberrations and transgressions. 

Ranen Omer-Sherman - The Origins and Intimations of Reznikoff’s Lyrical Rebuke of Zionism
 Who (or even what) is not ultimately diasporic in Reznikoff’s emotively restrained but deeply compassionate rendering of the micro and macro dimensions of the universe?  From diaspeirein, the Greek (mis)translation of the galut of Hebrew Scripture, are constituted “seed,” “sperm,” “dispersal,” “spore”—all these evocative cognates and even more inventive variations are expressed in Reznikoff’s secular and humanistic poetics of twentieth-century struggle, history, and time. In the stern threat that “the Lord will scatter you among all the peoples from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone, whom neither you nor your ancestors have experienced” (Deuteronomy 28:64) there seems little consolation. For many Jews only the reversal of this condition in a national home constitutes redemption. Yet in Reznikoff’s poetics the debilitating connotations of galut or exile (abject dispossession, insatiable yearning for territorial restoration, subjugation under hostile alien cultures) undergo a substantially denationalized transvaluation, are in fact supplanted by immigrant struggle, the ingenuity of adaptability and renewed life in ways that more than ever illuminate the global trauma, precarity, and resilience of our moment in which humanity is being challenged to at long last accept the stark fact of our interdependence. His “Diaspora” appears in multifarious, endless variations; nuanced, sometimes oblique, forms that account for the neglected histories of other urban subjects, particularly in his caustic responses to the forces of industrialization, poverty, and violence. Reznikoff’s antipathy toward nationalist mythologies of every variety was steadfast, present in the increasingly appreciated in his magnum opus of American history, Testimony, a work that has come to seem to critics such as Michael Davidson and Monique Vescia as nothing less than a radical political act, a critical reappraisal of nationhood itself. Yet it seems worth gaining a deeper appreciation of how much earlier, toward the very beginning of his career, Reznikoff’s orientation toward the cultural politics of Jewish identity was boldly set forth in ways that were entirely congruent with his
Later, more famous critiques of the persecutions, oppressions and disenfranchisements of American nationalism. In a 1922 letter to a friend, Reznikoff weighed the prospects for publishing his verse-drama “The Black Death,” a short work that examines the contingency of Jewish life as it confronted medieval anti-Semitism during the time of the bubonic plague, in a Jewish venue.  An editor has “read it, and accepted it, but then hesitated because some of it seems anti-zionistic and the special issue is to be very Zionistic.” This charged observation, as terse as any of Reznikoff’s epigraphic verses, is one of the exceedingly rare moments in which we can glimpse him remarking on the distance between his own conception of Jewish history and that of contemporary Jewish politics. That would later appear several years later in his Nine Plays (1927), the early German-Expressionist styled poetic/political dramas that were perhaps the rarest of his self-published works, constitute the foundational texts of his efforts to codify a linkage between ethics and the experience of dispossession. This paper addresses Reznikoff’s lyrical argument with Zionism, and by extension other nationalisms, in this and other works of the 1920s, a poetics that urgently speaks to our own future of an increasingly migratory global culture and radical interdependence. 

Abstracts // Résumés (cont')

Dara Barnat: The Jewish Objectivist Poet and the Jewish Beat Poet: Intersections Between Charles Reznikoff, Allen Ginsberg, and Walt Whitman
Allen Ginsberg makes no secret of his affiliation to Walt Whitman, the 19th-century poet-prophet of America: “dear father, graybeard, lonely old courage teacher” (“A Supermarket in
California,” 1955). Aside from Ginsberg, Whitman’s significance for other Jewish American poets is often less recognized. This talk illuminates a lesser-known intertextual case study of how a poet preceding Ginsberg – Charles Reznikoff – receives Whitman, and how the adoption of Whitman by Reznikoff is in fact instrumental for understanding Ginsberg’s later engagement with Whitman. Reznikoff was a member of the Jewish Objectivist group in the High Modernist period, and closely associated with figures like Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. In keeping with a milieu that was rather skeptical of Whitman, Reznikoff’s pared-down Objectivist poems do not seem to reflect blatantly Whitmanian features. Ginsberg, in contrast, as father of the 1950s Beat movement, embraced Whitman as a gay forefather, and aligned himself with Whitman’s poetic legacy. What I will suggest is twofold: first, that Reznikoff does subtly, but
consistently, incorporate Whitman, in spite of being close to Modernists like Pound; and second, that Ginsberg’s alignment to Whitman can be better understood in light of his appreciation of
Reznikoff’s Jewish Objectivist poetics. Both poets can also be seen as aligning with Whitman in response to a fraught political atmosphere, in which exclusionary, anti-Jewish sentiments were being promoted by Pound, T. S. Eliot, and others. Thus, one finds a shared strategy of appropriating the poetics of Whitman (a non-Jewish poet), in terms of writing as Jewish poets in America.
Ciro Lubliner: Poésie et traduction comme recomposition des corps et des voix : une étude à partir de Testimony
Cette communication traite d'un premier mouvement de recherche vers la réalisation d'une traduction du livre Testimony (Témoignage), de Charles Reznikoff, en portugais brésilien. Donc, nous suivons une investigation qui portera sur la notion de témoignage telle que posée par Jacques Derrida à propos de Maurice Blanchot; et sur le concept de « recomposition », dans ce cas, les apports de Franck Leibovici dans ce qu'il a défini comme des « documents poétiques » seront également importants. Plus précisément, à travers le champ des Études de la Traduction, nous proposons d'aborder l'œuvre de l'auteur américain comme une poésie engendrée et née par la voix, et qui implique nécessairement la ré-existence des corps, ainsi que la modulation d'une certaine différence toujours en vue à la restitution de l'autre. Trois concepts fondamentaux de la philosophie de la traduction entrent en vigueur ici, celui de « transcréation » - comme le dit Haroldo de Campos, et ceux de « transduction » et « équivocation contrôlée », comme développé par l'anthropologue Eduardo Viveiros de Castro. Nous essayons de réfléchir à la façon comme Testimony produit des sens et des sensations à travers le matériau qu'il s'est approprié en comparaison avec le livre Sessão (Séance) du poète brésilien contemporain Roy David Frankel, dans lequel il a versifié les notes sténographiques de la séance parlementaire qui a destitué la présidente Dilma Rousseff. Finalement, nous essayons de donner des indices sur les questions qui entourent cette communication : que se passe-t-il dans le transfert de documents et de voix, de domaines étranges ou supposés lointains de l'art, à la poésie ? Comment se produit ce gain en sensibilité de matériaux non pensés esthétiquement ? Comment la traduction peut-elle exprimer et valoriser la recomposition opérée dans une langue source ?

Sarug Sarano: Reznikoff in Spanish: The Difficulties of Translating Simplicity in Testimony
Reznikoff’s reception and translation in Latin America have been, until recently, reduced to small samples of his poetry, often appearing scattered in journals and websites. The only full-length translations of Reznikoff’s work into Spanish so far have been, By the Waters of Manhattan, translated by Eugenia Vázquez Nacarino (Siruela, 2018), and Holocaust, translated by the Chilean poet Carlos Soto Román (Das Kapital Ediciones, 2019). However, Testimony—arguably his major work - resonates with the sensibilities and concerns of certain currents of Latin American poetry, especially the so-called poesía comprometida or poesía social and, more recently, poesía documental —had remained untranslated. I undertook such a project in 2018 and, after four years, have translated Testimony into Spanish. In this paper, I will describe the translation process and the difficulties of style and lexicon I encountered, which included the extensive research into: Mexican early-20th century diligencias and novelas; terminological differences between common law and civil law; Latin American documentary poetry; Spanish biblical translations; and contemporary legal and notarial style. Additionally, I will document the critical reception of my translation in the Spanish-speaking world and its relation to the ongoing project of translating the “Objectivists” in Mexico, especially regarding Hugo García Manríquez’s translations of George Oppen’s Of Being Numerous (Matadero, 2017) and William Carlos Williams’ Paterson (Aldus, 2009).

Jeffrey Twitchell-Waas: Reznikoff as Zukofsky's Model "Objectivist"                                  
Although Zukofsky's "Sincerity and Objectification" has commonly been taken to be a manifesto on "Objectivist" poetics generally, the essay was not originally written for this purpose but is a truncated version of a comprehensive introduction of Reznikoff's work intended to draw attention to  this neglected and unself-promoting poet. Nevertheless, Zukofsky's incorporation of the well-known discussion of poetics into this piece indicates his perception of Reznikoff as representing key characteristics indicating the way forward in American poetry. This talk will examine the circumstances and grounds for this assumption as to why Reznikoff was for Zukofsky something more than a mere crystallizer of Imagist poetics but represented an "objectivist" stance that promised to open up far larger prospects for poetry moving forward. Thinking about Zukofsky's statements on "Objectivist" poetics as determined by a specific understanding of Reznikoff as an exemplary poet is more useful than attempting to extract a coherent abstract poetics from Zukofsky's typically oblique remarks. This is all the more striking given that, at least superficially, Reznikoff hardly appears to be model for Zukofsky's own writing (similarly Oppen persistently advocated Reznikoff as a poetic ideal yet eschews his directness in his own work). Consideration will be given to Zukofsky's specific selections from Reznikoff's work in the "Objectivists" Poetry issue and particularly An "Objectivists" Anthology, which includes the play Rashi and selections from the early prose poem, "My Country, 'Tis of Thee." Zukofsky was particularly interested in Reznikoff's poetic handling of historical materials, which he saw as both an extension, as well as partial critique of Pound's practice in the Cantos.

Mark Scroggins: Reznikoff Among the Objectivists
Despite numerous critical studies of the poets classified as “Objectivists,” there has yet to be a full length historical study of the Objectivist phenomenon—a lacuna I hope to fill with The Objectivist Poets, a group biography and literary history of the four “central” figures (Reznikoff, Rakosi, Zukofsky, and Oppen), as well as Niedecker and Bunting. One is particularly struck by the anomolous position of Reznikoff in this “group”: approximately ten years older than Rakosi, Zukofsky, and Oppen, and therefore midway between their generation and that of the high modernists Williams, Pound, Moore, and Eliot. The defining moment of the Objectivist nexus, the 1931 Zukofsky-edited issue of Poetry magazine, finds its thematic manifesto in an examination of Reznikoff: Zukofsky’s essay “Sincerity and Objectification” had been written months earlier as a full-scale survey of Reznikoff’s work. None of the original Objectivists had any notion of participating in a “movement” before the Poetry issue, and their 1968 Comtemporary Literature interviews demonstrate that Rakosi, Oppen, and Reznikoff had widely differing interpretations of what Zukofsky meant by his theoretical terms—Reznikoff’s indeed perhaps the furthest from Zukofsky’s intentions. Reznikoff had largely formed his own poetics before he came into contact with the other Objectivists, and one does not see his work developing in a back-and-forth dialogue with his peers (as with Oppen and Zukofsky, Zukofsky and Bunting, Niedecker and Zukofsky). But Reznikoff was perhaps the most enthusiastic of the original Objectivists about the potential for disseminating and promoting his work under the Objectivist name: he published four books between 1934 and 1936 with “The Objectivist Press,” and welcomed the Objectivist association when his work was published by New Directions in the 1960s. More crucially, Reznikoff’s early writing, especially some of his lyrical, imagistic poems, were absolute touchstones for his younger peers, pieces against which they measured their own productions—even as Reznikoff himself continued writing, seemingly oblivious to their experiments. Reznikoff, paradoxically perhaps, is both of and outside the “group”: the paradigmatic Objectivist, yet not an Objectivist at all.

Jacek Partyka: Animals in Charles Reznikoff’s Poetry
Charles Reznikoff starts his epic Testimony. The United States (1885–1915): Recitative with a scene of animal slaughter. That done, his poem-vehicle finds its stylistic groove and takes the reader on a journey whose apparent predictability is in direct proportion to its length. Eliot Weinberger tellingly called Testimony “the most elusive book-length poem of modernism,” and the use of this epithet is still justified in one respect—namely, in view of the relative scarcity of critical analysis that has the book as its subject matter. Arguably, if the scenes and vignettes featuring animals are important structural elements of the book’s two installments (covering the periods 1885-1890 and 1891-1900), they have rarely been subject to analytical scrutiny that would probe into their impact on the meaning of the text as a whole. (Bruce Holsapple’s 1994 seminal essay points to the opening scene as a pattern that foreshadows Testimony’s “design.”) Animal imagery also permeates a number of short verses in Reznikoff’s self-published volumes: Rhythms II (flies, mice, sparrows, horses), A Fourth Group of Verse (rats, dogs), Jerusalem the Golden (cats, butterflies, beetles, flies), as well as posthumously published poems (hyena, rooster), to give but a few examples.
In my conference presentation, I will submit that the presence of animals, marginal yet consistently sustained, suggests that the writing of Reznikoff (the result of his walking, witnessing, and archive mining) is that type of discourse whereby human beings can “simultaneously declare their difference [separation] from animals, and take the measure of their suggestive similarities” (Mario Ortiz Robles). My talk will draw on recent developments in animal studies (as a perspective on the literary analysis) and will be contextualized historically, referring to American Humane, the first US national humane organization, as well as to the development of the Anti-Cruelty laws during the 1800s.

Etienne Garnier: Reznikoff’s Simple Bodies
First considered as a minor poet, Reznikoff went through a short recognition as a major inspiration for the “Objectivist” movement. Under the impulse of Louis Zukofsky, he was raised to a significant importance. But this recognition was short-lived and it was only toward the end of his career that he was seen as a seminal figure for a whole generation of poets. Then, his voice finally came to be heard, singled out from the noise of the city he walked tirelessly in. A superficial reading of his career leads to a division of Reznikoff’s work into two main poles: an early imagist poetry teeming with details taken from his urban surroundings and a later poetry making an increasingly extensive use of textual sources. These two poles could appear contradictory, were it not for some underlying thematic and formal particularities. Indeed, in both poles, short forms play an important role and this notion seems a convenient tool to resolve these apparent contradictions. Studying Reznikoff’s poetry underlines the need to invest old words with new meanings, in line with Zukofsky’s redefinition of the word “objective”. Then, the word “simplicity” could be transformed to define an essential quality of Reznikoff’s work. The many fragments (dandelion seeds, bits of papers caught in the trees’ branches, or sparks raised by a horse’s hooves) interspersed in his poetry highlight the importance given to the simple bodies by the poet. Fragmentation, which would correspond to the expression of a historical anguish, becomes a means to apprehend and grasp the world, trying to overcome an outsider position. Outside of the world, Reznikoff writes a poetry full of founding contrasts (exterior/interior, light/darkness, memory/time), which would be the reflection of his way of creating complex bodies out of the multiplication of simple bodies. In Reznikoff’s poetry, simplicity, mirrored through the use of short forms, is significant: a means to surround the world and invest it with a new meaning.

Joanna Orska: Postsocialist Objectivism? Charles Reznikoff’s Going To and Fro and Walking Up and Down  in the Former Soviet-Bloc Countries after 1989
In my presentation, I will discuss the conditions of reception of Charles Reznikoff’s original poetic project in selected countries of the former Soviet bloc after 1989. Following the fall of the Berlin Wall and the disappearance of the Iron Curtain, the transfer of American literature, broadly defined, became a matter of course for this region of Europe, and the influx of translations significantly changed the literary field of post-socialist countries. The reshaping of the rules of the literary market in the liberal democratic system, and with it the expectations of the public, was accompanied by a transformation of the whole sphere of beliefs related to 20th-century poetry, with a tendency to try out new genres and experiment. At the same time, in Poland there was increasing interest in translations from the British and American avant-garde and neo-avant-garde. On the tide of these phenomena, commonly associated with the Americanization of post-Soviet culture, the works of Charles Reznikoff also met with considerable interest, mainly thanks to the brilliant translations of Piotr Sommer, a major poet-translator of the 1990s. I will focus primarily on this already significant presence of Reznikoff in Poland and compare the Polish reception of his works to that of other countries of the Eastern bloc. In doing so, I will try to identify the reasons for the interest in objectivism itself as a formula of an avant-garde programme whose late post-socialist version took root in Poland. It does not seem that the Americanization of culture in Central and Eastern Europe is the only and convincing explanation for this phenomenon, so significant from the perspective of contemporary Polish poetry scene.

François Hugonnier: Paul Auster’s Reznikoffs
During a recent interview, Paul Auster told me that “of course”, he “was thinking of Charles”. The main character of Paul Auster’s gigantic novel 4321 (2017), Archie (“archive”) Ferguson is the grandson of one Isaac Reznikoff, an immigrant from Minsk who arrives at Ellis Island on January 1st, 1900, and changes his name to Ichabod Ferguson, from the Yiddish “Ikh hob fargessen (I’ve forgotten)!” This character, who captures the in-betweenness of Jewish-American culture and epitomizes the failed turn-of-the-century American myth of the self-made man through the lens of the fabular is a late instance of Reznikoff’s legacy. 
Yet Paul Auster’s admiration for Charles Reznikoff actually dates back to his first essays on the underrated Objectivist scene, published in the early 1970s, and to his own poetry collection Unearth, heavily annotated by Reznikoff. Auster has repeatedly referred to Reznikoff as a master of the everyday, considering him “a poet of the eye”. Beyond the admiration for his mentor, whom he calls “the first man”, “the poet”, or even “Adam”, capable of putting himself between world and words, Auster gives nuanced insight into the work of his predecessor, underlining the strengths and limitations of his unique poetics in Testimony and Holocaust. Therefore, this paper will trace Auster’s affection and indebtedness to Charles Reznikoff, as expressed in various interviews, panels, essays, poems and even character construction in the fiction, offering not only an outgrowth of Reznikoff’s vision, but also a profound meditation on poetry, language and identity. 

Seth Murray: The Relational Poetics of Charles Reznikoff
Much of the “mystery” surrounding Charles Reznikoff involves this tension: for all the nonfictional, almost journalistic qualities of a work like Testimony, readers glean almost nothing about the poet himself. Paul Auster argues that rather than a contradiction, this paradox actually provides a key to Reznikoff’s poetics. Auster claims that Reznikoff’s mission is to reconstruct the world through careful observation, and for readers to see how it hangs together without the poet disrupting their seeing. It is an effort, Auster maintains, to create “presence” without “possession.” For the speaker to enter strongly into Testimony would be for him to possess the observations. Auster defines this is as a poetics of relations. 
Fascinatingly, two other scholars have recently identified relationality as keys to understanding thinkers with whom Reznikoff had some overlap: religious studies scholar Jeremy Carrette on William James, and Hungarian philosopher Laszlo Foldenyi on Elias Canetti. Foldenyi is deeply concerned with relationality in the sense of loneliness in secular modernity, and Canetti’s Crowds and Power, and his notion of “discharge” (Entladung) as a way in which we attempt to locate presence in a lost cosmic order by disappearing into crowds. Carrette takes to task the longstanding charge against James that his various usages of the term “religious” over the course of his career reflect sloppy thinking. Carrette argues that rather than contradictions, these should be understood as relational usages that belie a coherent hidden religion, and that this relational usage is itself indicative of a poetics of thought. My paper puts Reznikoff, and Auster’s claims for him, in conversation with the thinkers listed above. In doing so, we better understand him as a poet, and we see him as a thinker engaged in some of the most pressing questions of twentieth century intellectual life. 

Ariel Resnikoff: Remembering Rezzy: Midrashic Meditations on an "Expanded-Yiddish" Ancestor
This talk will gather together numerous tales of Charles Reznikoff—as contemporary midrashic poet’s lore—which various writers have imparted to me over the years in an effort to pass down to me a feeling for who Rezzy was as a person and poet. Although I never met Charles Reznikoff, who died before I was born, he was my grandfather, Marshall Reznikoff’s first cousin, and is an ever important figure in my personal, poetic, and familial history. For many years now, whenever I meet a writer or artist who had known him, I learn a new tale, anecdote, midrash: usually banal if also deeply beautiful, a sort of oral Torah and inheritance that has profoundly informed my sense for kin- and kithship within a nexus of global contemporary innovative writing. Drifting between poetry and lore, I will account especially for Reznikoff’s spectral Yiddish poetics as a crucial facet of his thinking & writing not often brought to the fore of the Objectivist discourse, mostly due to the overwhelming chasm between English (or French) and Yiddish literary studies. I have written extensively elsewhere on Louis Zukofksy’s and Mina Loy’s prosthetic engagements with Yiddish, and through lyric meditation—collective memory & midrash—I will respond in this talk to Charles Reznikoff as “expanded-Yiddish" precedent, permission and ancestor.

Campus Map

The conference will be held in the Max Weber building amphitheater // La conférence aura lieu dans l'amphithéâtre du bâtiment Max Weber 


Mis à jour le 15 mai 2023