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Interlingual Encounter in Pierre Garnier and Niikuni Seiichi’s French-Japanese Concrete Poetry

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In the latter half of the 1960s, without meeting each other and without knowing each other’s language, French poet Pierre Garnier and Japanese poet Niikuni Seiichi 新国誠一 collaborated to create French-Japanese concrete poems. This essay examines the interlingual encounters in the two poets’ bilingual poems that facilitate exchange beyond linguistic boundaries. It argues that Garnier and Niikuni’s bilingual concrete poems are grounded not so much in metaphorical significance as in interlingual contiguity, with reference to Jakobson’s view of the poetic function. Since the creation of a syntagmatic dimension between the two languages is a basic step in the making of the French-Japanese poems, the prevalence of contiguity affects both combination and selection of poetic materials. In light of Garnier and Niikuni’s collaboration, the essay proposes the beginning of an interlingual poetics that, in contrast to the primacy of equivalence in Jakobsonian poetics, foregrounds the role of contiguity in bridging the languages involved and staging an interlingual encounter. The instigation of an interlingual poetics also involves the creation of interlingual contiguity through spatial syntagms, an approach that Garnier and Niikuni’s collaboration demonstrates as viable. By opening up the text to invite contingencies and accidents in the combination of words, spatial syntagms contribute to a reevaluation of the relationship between metaphor and metonymy in the operation of language.

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