[from Francis Ponge's Soap, tr. Lane Dunlop, Stanford University, 1998]
Coligny, August 8th, 1946
It was also because we were, then, cruelly, unthinkably, absurdly deprived of soap (as we were, at the same time, of several essential things: bread, coal, potatoes), that I loved it, appreciated it, savoured it as though posthumously in my memory, and hoped to recreate it in poetry . . .
A la recherche du Savon Perdu . . .
Also, I often said to myself: Think now! In the Other World (if there is one), when we shall have sufficiently enjoyed the angels' music, what are the objects of the earth that we will remember with joy and tenderness, what are those that it would please us to evoke for our best friends among the angels, so as to make them understand their beauty, their virtues? . . . As being representative of our world, our world below, and of ourselves, as being impregnated by us, our material and, perhaps, our familiar portrait? . . .
Well, certainly soap is one of them!
. . .
Paris, January 3rd, 1965
Why then is rubbing one's hands, in our regions, an accepted sign of inner satisfaction, and even exultation?
Be sure, we will be able to formulate some more or less plausible explanations of this.
Already, in regard to plausible, how can one fail to connect the act of rubbing hands with that of applause, in which two hands, one against the other, are also employed: clapping rather than rubbing, it's true -- and consequently producing a supplementary acoustic phenomenon: a noise. Here the satisfaction expressed is no longer meant for oneself, but for some other person, whom one wishes to hear it clearly and publicly.
But let's get back to rubbing hands. Couldn't it be taken as the sign in petto of a sort of "linking up", satisfying in itself, of corporal identify, comparable to that attempted by the dog when it tries to bite its tail; be noted then, correlatively to this hypothesis, that among the many double symmetrical organs in the human body (and in most other physical bodies, whatever they may be), hands are among the rare ones which are easily able to come together? Very natural, therefore, that they should not abstain from doing so -- and congratulating each other . . .
As for the rubbing, would not this be, then a redoubling, a multiplication of simple seizing, just as a caress, for example, must be repeated, be made insistent for it to produce its full effect, ending finally in some nervous modification, I mean to say some spasm or orgasm.
The production of its own sign thus becoming the condition of accomplishment of whatever it may be . . . Yes! Yes! It is in exactly this way that writing must be thought of: not as the transcription, according to conventional rules, of some idea (exterior or anterior) but, in reality, as an orgasm: as the orgasm of a being or structure, let's say, conventional to begin with, of course -- yet which must fulfil itself, give itself, exultantly, as such: in a word, to signify itself.
Let us now return to Soap, that is to rubbing our hands with something and, so to speak, by means of a means.
This is done, no longer (as in applause or the rubbing of hands) as a consequence or sign of an achieved result, but for a result to be obtained: a washing or whitening, as it happens.
To give this means its full importance, so as to make it yield its maximum output, to obtain from it its utmost favours (a continual gift of saliva, for example): this truly is the game, the verbal exercise par excellence: this is "poetry"; this is very "morality".
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