Plain Burned Things: A Poetics of the Unsayable



“Leah Souffrant, with laudably quiet gestures, reaches lyrically into literature’s silent places to delineate the thermodynamics of the lacuna. Working the pauses, she does a Duras: nimble, stunned, alert. Hats off to Souffrant for the elliptical beauty she unearths and—with interpretive deftness—performs!”
— Wayne Koestenbaum

How might the unsayable become known to us? In the arts, silence and blank space often attempt to convey what cannot be said, making one revelation even as another is withheld. In this meditative study, Leah Souffrant explores how creative forms of reticence can communicate knowledge and create experience. Attending to word and image and what hovers between, Souffrant describes an aesthetics of attention to absence and presents a poetics of the unsayable.
Through the work of Anne Carson, Marguerite Duras, Sylvia Plath, Jean Rhys, Rainer Maria Rilke, Lorna Simpson, Rachel Zucker, and others, Souffrant investigates creative gestures and critical assertions at the intersection of phenomenology, feminism, and form. She invites readers to dwell in the spaces created by works that withhold explication, remain silent or blank, and discover the understanding made available to us in such spaces when we give them our attention. While acknowledging that language inevitably is inadequate, Souffrant examines the ways in which creative works nevertheless translate experience into form, and can — echoing Maurice Merleau-Ponty —“make us advance toward” richer understanding of what is often most difficult to grasp.

Leah SOUFFRANT, PhD, MFA, is a poet and critic. She holds degrees in English; Creative Writing-Poetry; and Russian. Souffrant teaches at New York University.

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