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Soap [Paperback]

Francis Ponge , Lane Dunlop
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

July 1 1998 0804729557 978-0804729550 1
". . . And now, dear reader, for your intellectual toilet, here is a little piece of soap. Well handled, we guarantee it will be enough. Let us hold this magic stone."

The poet Francis Ponge (1899-1988) occupied a significant and unchallenged place in French letters for over fifty years, attracting the attention and admiration of generations of leading intellectuals, writers, and painters, a notable feat in France, where reputations are periodically reassessed and undone with the arrival of new literary and philosophical schools.

Soap occupies a crucial, pivotal position in Ponge's work. Begun during the German occupation when he was in the Resistance, though completed two decades later, it determined, according to Ponge, the form of almost all his postwar writing. With this work, he began to turn away from the small, perfect poem toward a much more open form, a kind of prose poem which incorporates a laboratory or workshop, recounting its own process of coming into being along with the final result. The outcome is a new form of writing, which one could call "processual poetry." Ponge's later work, from Soap on, is a very important tool in the questioning and rethinking of literary genres, of poetry and prose, of what is literature.

There is a blurring of boundaries between Soap and soap (which was hard to come by during the Resistance and is also, of course, metaphorical for a larger social restitution). Soap contains the sum of Ponge's aesthetics and materialist ethics and his belief in the supremacy of language as it becomes the object of the text. In the words of Serge Gavronsky, "this work, perhaps one of the longest running metaphors in literature, slowly unwinds, bubbles in verbal inventions, and finally evaporates, leaving the water slightly troubled, slightly darker, but the hands clean, really clean. . . . Out of murky literary habits, Ponge has devised a way of cleaning his text, and through it, man himself, his vocabulary, and as a consequence, his way of being in the world."


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Review

“This text manages to be whimsical, political and philosophical all at once by behaving like its subject—soap—and slipping between modes.”—Matthea Harvey, Boston Review

From the Inside Flap

“. . . And now, dear reader, for your intellectual toilet, here is a little piece of soap. Well handled, we guarantee it will be enough. Let us hold this magic stone.”
The poet Francis Ponge (1899-1988) occupied a significant and unchallenged place in French letters for over fifty years, attracting the attention and admiration of generations of leading intellectuals, writers, and painters, a notable feat in France, where reputations are periodically reassessed and undone with the arrival of new literary and philosophical schools.
Soap occupies a crucial, pivotal position in Ponge’s work. Begun during the German occupation when he was in the Resistance, though completed two decades later, it determined, according to Ponge, the form of almost all his postwar writing. With this work, he began to turn away from the small, perfect poem toward a much more open form, a kind of prose poem which incorporates a laboratory or workshop, recounting its own process of coming into being along with the final result. The outcome is a new form of writing, which one could call “processual poetry.” Ponge’s later work, from Soap on, is a very important tool in the questioning and rethinking of literary genres, of poetry and prose, of what is literature.
There is a blurring of boundaries between Soap and soap (which was hard to come by during the Resistance and is also, of course, metaphorical for a larger social restitution). Soap contains the sum of Ponge’s aesthetics and materialist ethics and his belief in the supremacy of language as it becomes the object of the text. In the words of Serge Gavronsky, “this work, perhaps one of the longest running metaphors in literature, slowly unwinds, bubbles in verbal inventions, and finally evaporates, leaving the water slightly troubled, slightly darker, but the hands clean, really clean. . . . Out of murky literary habits, Ponge has devised a way of cleaning his text, and through it, man himself, his vocabulary, and as a consequence, his way of being in the world.”

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ponge's signature Oct. 21 2002
Format:Paperback
Soap is different from Ponge's other work. He is best known as the author of many brief, well-crafted prose poems which take the form of minute observations on natural and manmade objects. This book, as the title implies, is also an observation on a common household object.
This work is not merely a prose poem, although it contains elements of prose poetry. It is comprised of (fictional?) radio addresses, a short dramatic piece, correspondence, notebook extracts and other narrative forms culled from twenty years of occasional writing on one topic: the nature of soap.
The whole work is a metaphor on the relationship between soap and language. There are affinities between language and soap, their artificiality, their cleansing power, their slipperiness, etc. But these metaphorical connections are not explicitly expressed by Ponge - they are everywhere implied. The fragments of writing here are like bubbles, containing the same substance but constantly changing form ever so slightly. The form relates quite well to the content.
What Ponge has found here is a subject whose nature corresponds almost exactly to his writing style and his narrative method - perhaps this is what motivated him to linger over this particular piece for twenty years and to elaborate and refine it to an extent unfamiliar in his other works. This work, more than any other, displays the virtues and the virtuosity of Ponge.
I give the book four stars mostly because of the presentation. It's a handsome edition and the translation is quite good. But it is a slim volume (about 75 pages of text) and it would have been extremely worthwhile for the publisher to have included the French text on facing pages.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Ponge's signature Oct. 21 2002
By Engrooviast - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Soap is different from Ponge's other work. He is best known as the author of many brief, well-crafted prose poems which take the form of minute observations on natural and manmade objects. This book, as the title implies, is also an observation on a common household object.
This work is not merely a prose poem, although it contains elements of prose poetry. It is comprised of (fictional?) radio addresses, a short dramatic piece, correspondence, notebook extracts and other narrative forms culled from twenty years of occasional writing on one topic: the nature of soap.
The whole work is a metaphor on the relationship between soap and language. There are affinities between language and soap, their artificiality, their cleansing power, their slipperiness, etc. But these metaphorical connections are not explicitly expressed by Ponge - they are everywhere implied. The fragments of writing here are like bubbles, containing the same substance but constantly changing form ever so slightly. The form relates quite well to the content.
What Ponge has found here is a subject whose nature corresponds almost exactly to his writing style and his narrative method - perhaps this is what motivated him to linger over this particular piece for twenty years and to elaborate and refine it to an extent unfamiliar in his other works. This work, more than any other, displays the virtues and the virtuosity of Ponge.
I give the book four stars mostly because of the presentation. It's a handsome edition and the translation is quite good. But it is a slim volume (about 75 pages of text) and it would have been extremely worthwhile for the publisher to have included the French text on facing pages. Most prospective purchasers of this volume have probably more than a nodding acquaintance with French, since Ponge is known to American readers largely through the influence he has had on other writers and thinkers like Robbe-Grillet or Derrida. Because Ponge relies so much on wordplay and etymological affinities, the French text would have been useful.
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