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Also available from Continuum: After Finitude, Quentin Meillassoux Art and Fear, Paul Virilio Being and Event, Alain Badiou Chronicles of Consensual Times, Jacques Rancière Conditions, Alain Badiou Dissensus, Jacques Rancière Infinite Thought, Alain Badiou Logics of Worlds, Alain Badiou Negative Horizon, Paul Virilio Politics of Aesthetics, Jacques Rancière Seeing the Invisible, Michel Henry The Five Senses, Michel Serres Theoretical Writings, Alain Badiou Theory of the Subject, Alain Badiou Time for Revolution, Antonio Negri Forthcoming: Althusser’s Lesson, Jacques Rancière
The Politics of the Siren
Jacques Rancière Translated by Steven Corcoran
Continuum International Publishing Group The Tower Building 80 Maiden Lane 11 York Road Suite 704 London SE1 7NX New York, NY 10038 Originally published in French as Mallarmé: La politique de la sirène © Hachette Littératures, 1996 This English translation © Continuum, 2011 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage or retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publishers. British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library. ISBN: 978-1-4411-4182-8 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Rancière, Jacques. [Mallarmé. English] Mallarmé : the politics of the siren / Jacques Rancière ; translated by Steven Corcoran. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references. ISBN 978-0-8264-3840-9 1. Mallarmé, Stéphane, 1842–1898--Criticism and interpretation. I. Corcoran, Steven. II. Title. PQ2344.Z5R3413 2011 841’.8--dc22 2011002463 Typeset by Fakenham Prepress Solutions, Fakenham, Norfolk NR21 8NN
Table of contents
Notes on the translation Foreword The foam of the poem The white concern The poetics of mystery The terms of mystery Scene of the dream From nothingness to the nothing The method of fiction The fan of the poem The hymn of spiritual hearts The religion of the century Two theses on divinity The poet and the worker Musical religion The god Wagner: poem, music and politics The duty of the book The poem as thought: a secular history Music, dance, poem: the circle of ‘mimesis’ The authentic page
ix xiii 1 4 9 10 13 16 21 23 27 27 29 31 35 38 43 45 48 54
Appendix: selected texts Notes Index
61 87 93
This book is supported by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as part of the Burgess programme run by the Cultural Department of the French Embassy in London.
Notes on the translation
Mallarmé’s poetic enterprise, Rancière claims, must be understood as something that stands or falls insofar as ‘its light as well as its night comes from itself’. This singularity, then, if it stands, cannot reside in the particular philosophical notions it might seek to convey, as if, at bottom, his poetry was no more than an aestheticized philosophy. And yet, it does, to be sure, entertain a singular relationship to philosophy (which is, as Mallarmé says, ‘included and latent’ in it). This relationship, which implies a certain discussion between philosophy and poetry, is then redoubled in a specific way by Rancière’s treatment of the Mallarméan oeuvre. Taking poetry as a form of thought on a par with philosophy, Rancière brings a set of operations to bear on Mallarmé’s texts so as to enact a leveling out of philosophy and poetry. In this way philosophy could be described as the creation of a language that works to translate between forms of discourse without seeking to institute a hierarchy of one over the other; it would form an interval between philosophy (traditionally understood) and poetry. In so doing, Rancière seeks to uncover a Mallarmé that is delivered of the metaphysical mystifications and banalizing psychologizations, to say nothing of the uncomprehending condemnations that plague interpretations of his work, to give us a more straightforward reading of his specific difficulty. But he makes sure not to adopt any of the various positions of philosophical mastery that would subjugate the text to a ‘meaning’; and while setting Mallarmé’s work in its socio-political context, and showing us the specific links that the Mallarméan poetic undertaking forged between poetry, thought and the politico-historical moment, care is taken
to avoid falling into the trap of historicism. Instead, Rancière shows, in a way that is fully consistent with Mallarméan aesthetics, that an encounter between poetry and philosophy can emerge only through a fictional reconstruction, one in which discourses and genres are set free from the hierarchical moorings which overdetermine their conclusions. Uniquely situated as an interval between discourses, this book provides a scholarly reactivation of the historical sediments of the times, but insists on the irreducibility of the poetic dispositif. It constitutes a philosophical intervention into the discourse on Mallarmé in particular, and poetry in general, but one that deconstructs the pretences of philosophy and the figures of the poet it must necessarily construct for itself. It sheds light on Mallarmé’s ‘specific difficulty’, but also furthers Rancière’s own ideas about the ‘politics of the poem’ or the ‘politics of aesthetics’. This poetico-philosophical work, in its fictional revelation of the light and the night of Mallarméan aesthetics and poetry, thus presents singular challenges for the translator to find a similar light and night in English. Indeed, even on its own, Mallarmé’s poetic ambitions, exacting syntax and novel linguistic relationships beset any translation of this work with myriad intricacies which push beyond the resources of the English language. There exists no adequately resonant English language into which to translate this discursive hybrid of the nineteenth-century poet and the twentieth-century philosopher. Concerning Mallarmé in English, I have learnt much from the many admirable translations of his work, and have tried to use their multiplicity as productively as possible, notably insofar as they variously draw out the key linguistic relationships and syntax that are central to Rancière’s argument. And of course I have not omitted to include the original French for readers who wish to explore a little further. (As an aside, one could think that it would be exceptionally fruitful one day to have a comprehensive retranslation of these texts, done in the wake of Rancière’s work—as the changing views of Mallarmé scholarship must necessarily have an influence upon our translations). For the English translations of Mallarmé’s poems, I have mostly had recourse to two books: Stéphane Mallarmé: Collected Poems and other verse, translated by E.H. and A.M. Blackmore, and with an introduction by Elizabeth McCombie, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006; and Stéphane Mallarmé: Collected Poems, translated and with a commentary by Henry Weinfield, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. The English translation of his prose is taken from Stéphane Mallarmé: Divagations,
Notes oN the traNslatioN
translated by Barbara Johnson, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007; and his correspondence from: Selected Letters of Stéphane Mallarmé, edited and translated by Rosemary Lloyd, Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1988. Finally, for Mallarmé’s writings in La Dernière Mode, guidance was taken from Mallarmé on Fashion, translated with a commentary by P.N. Furbank and A.M. Cain, Oxford: Berg, 2004. My own efforts at understanding Mallarmé’s texts would have been considerably less precise (and certainly much less enjoyable) without having had the privilege of Aurélie Maurin’s literary verve and abiding friendship. Lastly, my warm thanks go to Jacques Rancière for his friendly support and encouragement.
Some names project a shadow that devours them. This is true of the name ‘poet’, buried under clouds of reverie, feathers of celestial birds and storms of passion. And some poets’ names seem to thicken this darkness even further. The name Mallarmé is obstinately associated with a twofold image: that of a poetry that is carried to the quintessence of something akin to the silence of infinite spaces; and that of an obscurity close to the impenetrable night. Mallarmé symbolizes the poet of obscurity par excellence. His poems, and even his prose pieces, have a tight-knit network whose mesh counters the eye habituated to reading a line ahead trying to grasp the meaning of the following sentence. Matching the obscurity of the text is the figure of poet, insomniac and sterile, grappling with the virgin sheet of paper and the nothingness encountered in hollowing out verse. From the letters that Mallarmé wrote as a young man, in which he confessed his mad ambition and radical deadlock, to his last will as a poet, in which he recommended burning the vain pile of notes destined for the grand oeuvre of the Book, it is easy to trace a line straight to some confrontation with the night of the absolute, of which his posthumously published booklet of obscure poems is said to reveal the debris. The following pages would like to help shed light on this night, to extricate both the poet’s words from the shadow cast, and Mallarmé’s specific difficulty from obscurity. In order to grasp this difficulty, it has to be separated from notions that travesty it, and, first of all, from that of secret. The idea of secret presupposes that the truth is hidden somewhere beneath the surface apprehended by the eye and the mind. The revelation of that truth is then performed according to two inverse and complementary logics: discovering
the extraordinary beneath the ordinary or the ordinary beneath the extraordinary, which is to say, the spiritual message dissembled by the visible intention of images or, conversely, the intimate secret of a sexed body hidden beneath the pomp of thoughts and words. By these means, a double ‘key’ to Mallarmé is yielded. The first key attributes his oeuvre’s difficulty to the hermetic intention to say and hide simultaneously the secrets of some gnosis or Cabbala, in keeping with the spirit of times that were avid for great initiatory secrets. The advantage of the hermetic explanation is to evade all proof. Gnosis, by definition, conceals from the curious the paths by which it wends its way. So, if a body of doctrine is nowhere to be found, interpreters will still always find it possible to invoke the testimony bequeathed from his father of the story of long and mysterious nocturnal conversations with the poet of the night.1 The converse explanation has the symmetrical advantage or drawback: it is not wanting in material. And Étienne Mallarmé, referred to as Stéphane, was indeed a rather anxious man, an insomniac who was born into a complicated family situation and had his ‘problems’ with women. He also liked to be facetious and certainly took delight in the ambiguity of those of his poems in which the reader, as he pleases, can read either a metaphysical allegory or the story of an extra-conjugal escapade.2 Still, millions of people have had such problems and not left behind any verse, or not the same as Mallarmé’s. What remains, above all, is the fundamental rule of Mallarméan poetry: that the poem is only of worth on condition that its light as well as its night comes from itself. Doubtless it was not by chance that Mallarmé set out this rule just above two deliberately ambiguous poems. Une dentelle s’abolit Dans le doute du Jeu suprême À n’entrouvrir comme un blasphème Qu’absence éternelle de lit. Lace sweeps itself aside In the doubt of the ultimate Game Only to expose profanely Eternal absence of bed. 3
The poetic game or ‘blasphemy’, the way in which the verse’s lace manifests and subtracts its object, denies all secrets, sublime or naughty. We are told this in the poem’s continuation: from the belly of the mandolin alone ‘might one filial have been born’. The poem and its ‘difficulty’ emerge from the poetic arrangement and from it alone. Setting within the same lines the virtuality of several more or less trivial or allegorical readings is the act of a poetics that the point is to understand. Mallarmé is not a hermetic author; he is a difficult author. A difficult author is one the
wording of whose thought is done such that it breaks with the ordinary circle of the banal and the hidden, a circle that constitutes what Mallarmé calls ‘universal reporting’. In this sense, all interesting authors are difficult, in accordance with different modalities. Accessing Mallarmé’s difficulty presupposes that you traverse yet another way of thinking through his night. Beyond the banality of the secret, this other way is identified with a radical experience of language and thought. It was Maurice Blanchot who ennobled this interpretation, wherein the writer becomes the hero of a spiritual adventure.4 In the night of writing, the intention of the work reaches the point at which it is experienced as identical to its contrary, the pure passivity of language. Did Mallarmé not record, in his tale of Igitur, the equivalence of the two experiences of writing and of suicide? The paradox of suicide is to want one death and to meet with another: the indefinite anonymous death, without relation to anyone, which abolishes all power and all will, and, for starters, even that of ‘being done with’. The authenticity of writing is thus to take account of the parallel experience of an activity of language which is only possible from the very point where it encounters pure passivity, of a language which no longer says anything but is content to be. Mallarmé is held to be a privileged witness of this experience of writing, to this meaningless game which aims to turn impotence into a power, the essential passivity which dissolves every power in advance. Privileged and deceptive simultaneously, he seeks to exit from the night to turn his tale of suicide and night into the homeopathic remedy to cure the impotence to write. However, conceiving the poem’s night in this way is in fact to imply, in Mallarmé, the existence of a singular dilemma between the testimony of veridical impotence and the deceptiveness of writing that is unfaithful to its nocturnal source. This, again, turns the writer into a witness and reduces the difficulty of his writing to the authenticity of an experience of impotence and shadows. Mallarmé, for his part, made a clear separation between writing and testimony. He wrote the tale of Igitur precisely in order to ‘cure’ himself and to be able to become a ‘pure and simple writer of literature’ again.5 Perhaps saying that he wrote it goes too far, since it was left unfinished and none of it was ever proposed for publication. It is time to stop reading Mallarmé through the testimonies of his dreams and failures over the course of twenty-five years, or through the shattered project of the Book. The time has come to free him from that from which he strove to free himself. Mallarmé is not the silent and nocturnal thinker of the poem that is too pure ever to be written. He is
not the artist living in the aesthete’s ivory tower, short of rare essences and of unheard-of words. His friend Huysmans can himself take pleasure in the poor trinketry with which he decorates the interior of his hero, Des Esseintes. His pages as an esthete are rather drab by comparison with the dazzling pages that Mallarmé devoted to describing objects of furniture, dresses or frivolous festivals for the female readers of La Dernière Mode. To the transcription of the great drama of the absolute, Mallarmé visibly preferred the attentive gaze grasping the splendour of a decorative object, of a rustling robe or a fairground attraction. He enjoyed the ‘dietary’ task of reporting on World Expositions as he also did the spectacle of pantomimes and fireworks, or the dream of revamping popular melodrama. He was a reader of Zola, in turn dazzled by the power of the novelist – a resolute opponent of naturalist poetry – and admiring of his civic courage in defending Dreyfus. He was the contemporary of a Republic which was celebrating its centenary and seeking forms of civic worship to replace the pomp of religions and kings. He heard and sought to understand the noise of anarchist bombs. He was an enthusiastic listener of the Lamoreux and Colonne concerts, designed, among other things, to broaden the education of the masses and to promote musicality among the people; and he was an attentive witness of the Wagnerian revolution and the way that it linked an idea of community to an idea of music and theatre. Concerning the sense of ‘earthly association’, and of the relations forged in his time between politics, the economy, art and religion, Mallarmé was thus a witness and analyst whose lucidity found scarcely an equal among the professionals of thought. If Mallarmé’s writing is difficult, it is because it obeys a demanding poetics, one which responds to an acute awareness of the complexity of a historical moment and the way in which, in this moment, the ‘crisis of verse’ was linked to a crisis of the ideal and of the social. By no means did he write absent-mindedly the following: namely, that ‘the social relationship and its momentary measure, tightened or lengthened, in view of governing’, was ‘a fiction, belonging to the domain of Letters’.6 If he condensed a proposition into a word or, conversely, multiplied the clauses attaching its connections to an idea and its diverse analogies to an image, it is because the poem, too, had to tighten up or lengthen in order to play, in the complexity of the time, the role that fell to it. On this basis, it is possible to understand the displacements, abbreviations and detours that Mallarmé believed were necessary to work into the common use of language – possible, in short, to enter into the simple difficulty of his oeuvre.
The foam of the poem
In what do the alleged unintelligibility and the effective intelligence of the Mallarméan poem consist? Let’s start with a poem specifically accused of obscurity. In 1897, Tolstoy, in What is Art?, cites the following sonnet as an example of incomprehensible, decadent poetry: A la nue accablante tu Basse de basalte et de laves A même les échos esclaves Par une trompe sans vertu Quel sépulcral naufrage (tu Le sait, écume, mais y baves) Suprême une entre les épaves Abolit le mât dévêtu Ou cela que furibond faute De quelque perdition haute Tout l’abîme vain éployé Hushed to the crushing cloud Basalt and lava its form Even to echoes subdued By an ineffectual horn What shipwreck sepulchral has bowed (You know this, foam, but slobber on) The mast supreme in a crowd Of flotsam and jetsam though torn Or will that which in fury defaulted From some perdition exalted The vain abyss outspread
Dans le si blanc cheveu qui traîne Have stingily drowned in the swirl Avarement aura noyé Of a white hair’s trailing thread Le flanc enfant d’une sirène. The flank of a young siren girl.7 What are we to make of these fourteen octosyllables, which unfold in a single phrase devoid of any punctuation apart from that which, in the parenthesis, singles out a sole word: ‘écume’ (foam)? From which angle are
we to take this fugitive object, not to mention the siren that brings it off and seems to initial it? Against an immediate understanding of the lines spread out before the gaze, Mallarmé in fact placed a singular rampart: not the great wall of hermetic words, but, on the contrary, the supple line of the phrase which slips from grasp. Music and Letters states the law of this mobile line, which links together the figures appearing, suddenly, at the intersections of the poem: ‘The total arabesque, which ties them together, has dizzying leaps into known fears’.8 The arabesque works to dispel the illusion that the poem is about describing – to enable the recognition of – a person or a story, an object or a feeling. It distinguishes the arrangement of its lines from that characterizing the newspaper: the open page receiving a cast of ink, meant to be a strict reporting of facts such as they can be observed by all and communicated to others in the way that a coin with constant value could be passed into their hands. The arabesque subtracts the poem from this circulation, but on a strict condition. The ‘mystery’ that it sets up is not some vagueness into which all meaning would dissolve. The Mallarméan line is not vague; the poem is neither the translation of an indefinable state of mind nor a polysemic game with language. The arabesque has its own number and logic. Hypothesis is the name of that which replaces narrative in Mallarmé. He provided the following indication to the reader of A Dice Throw, of which our sonnet is like a summary and to which the indication thus applies a fortiori: ‘Everything happens, by shortcut, through hypothesis’.9 Reading the poem reconstitutes not history, but the virtuality of history, or the choice between the hypotheses it proposes to us. What is this play of hypotheses? The rarefaction of poetic language, reduced to its ‘essential rhythm’, gives us not the keys to the enigma, but the syntactical articulations of the problem. The poem’s single phrase turns, in effect, on a double syntactical pivot: the unique commas that isolate the word écume (foam) and the ‘or else’, which weighs the two terms of an alternative against one another. A pivot of the preserved intelligibility of the poem, the foam alone knows what it conceals. First hypothesis: it is the witness of a major drama, the trace of a ‘sepulchral shipwreck’ which swallowed up a ship to its last – its ‘supreme one’ – bit of wreckage, the mast. Or else – second hypothesis – its agitation attests only to the frolics of a fictional sea being, a siren. But this opposition between great drama and lightweight pantomime is doubled by another alternative as to the relationship between the event and its effect in its site. First hypothesis: the great drama went unnoticed; it remained silent (‘tu’), its
the Foam oF the poem
call – its trumpet – lacked the virtue to disturb the indifference of the site in which it occurred: a site of dark clouds like basalt and enslaved echoes, an environment naturally improper to the visibility and the hearing of the drama. Second hypothesis: the great spectacular drama (the high perdition) is, on the contrary, that which the surrounding world (vain chasm of billows) awaited but was denied. As in many tales, the mythical being – here, the siren – leaves behind, for the amateur of adventures, only an ironic trace of its ephemeral and deceptive appearing: a white piece of fairy hair, which we can therefore identify with the white line of the foam. The alternative can be clarified in this manner. But what light does this shed? Manifestly, the poem does not describe the uncertain impressions of some observer, his telescope aimed at the tumult of waves. Mallarmé took no particular interest in scenes and stories of the sea. Naturally, he grew up in admiration of the Victor Hugo of Oceano Nox and the Vigny of The Bottle at Sea, and if this is forgotten, Hushed to the crushing cloud, and less still A Dice Throw, can scarcely be understood. He was most assuredly also a fervent disciple of Baudelaire, the poet of Voyage and The Beacons. And he was the contemporary of Hérédia, that champion of gold seekers, bent over the front of white caravels. The constellation that the dice throw caused to sparkle on the ‘vacant and superior’ surface is also reminiscent of the ‘new stars’ that these navigators would see rise from the Oceans depths. Mallarmé did what poets usually do – at least those who know what to do with the old moons of ‘inspiration’: he reworked the poems of his elders in his own way. However, the very opposition between the games of the siren and the sepulchral shipwreck tells us that he was of another era, and his art another cosmology, than theirs. He was no longer contemporary with painters of battles and shipwrecks. He was a contemporary of Monet and Renoir, their very ‘subject’: a boater for whom the beating of the paddle on the river surface and the light flickering in the trace of the oar replaces the ‘glory of the sun on the violet sea’ and the great dramas of confrontation between intrepid man and raging nature. He said as much in an illustrious text: ‘Nature has taken place, it can’t be added to.’10 And to the – far too few – subscribers of La Dernière Mode, he gave the proof: the ‘modern image of nature’s insufficiency’ for us is attested by the very way in which vacationers cross it, ‘full steam ahead’, to go, at the end of the line, and simply sit down in front of the ocean ‘and look what there is beyond our abode, that is to say, the infinite and nothing’.11 The time of nature and its poets is finished. And the dandies
who, from the master Baudelaire to the friend Huysmans, cultivate in its place the flowers of anti-nature, remain halfway. Beyond nature there are railways. At the end of railways is that which succeeds nature as object of thought and writing, the line by which the sea ‘becomes disjoint, properly speaking, from nature’12: a simple line of horizon, which is the infinite and nothing, the infinite or nothing. The foam of the poem speaks to us of this very same: the thin line of junction and disjunction between the infinite and nothing. The white concern So that we can hear this, Mallarmé gave us another clue. The book of verse, as he understood it, has to eliminate chance and ‘omit the author’. It is not an album gathering the secrets and impressions of the poet. Instead, it has an architecture in which the motifs, equilibrated at a distance, must balance each other out, and combine to bring about the total rhythm: ‘Any subject is fated to imply, among the fragments brought together, a strange certainty about its appropriate place in the volume.’13 Accordingly, in the meticulously prepared edition of his Poésies, Mallarmé placed our poem second last, just before that which declares the book closed again, at the price of a pun (‘My old tomes closed again upon the name Paphos’). There is thus every chance that our poem is an initial curtain call which finds its match in the initial curtain raiser: a similarly octosyllabic sonnet, much more immediately intelligible, which tells of another story of foam, navigation and sirens, and bears the title ‘Salut’ (Toast):
Rien, cette écume, vierge vers A ne désigner que la coupe Telle loin se noie une troupe De sirènes mainte à l’envers. Nous naviguons, ô mes divers Amis, moi déjà sur la poupe Vous l’avant fastueux qui coupe Le flot de foudres et d’hivers ; Une ivresse belle m’engage Sans craindre même son tangage De porter debout ce salut
Nothing, this foam, virgin verse Only to designate the cup : Thus, far off, drowns a siren troop Many, upended, are immersed. We navigate, O my diverse Friends, myself already on the poop, You the sumptuous prow to cut Through winter wave and lightning burst; A lovely drunkenness enlists Me to raise, though the vessel lists This toast on high and without fear
the Foam oF the poem
Solitude, récif, étoile A n’importe ce qui valut Le blanc souci de notre toile.
Solitude, rocky shoal, bright star To whatsoever may be worth Our sheet’s white care in setting forth.14
Nothing here leads to puzzlement. The poem, initially called ‘Toast’, was first composed for a banquet of the Revue indépendante. As such, there is a tendency to classify it as one of the ‘Occasional verses’ and carefully separate it from the grand oeuvre. But Mallarmé considered that he should place it first in his Poésies, thus unafraid of exposing, on the work’s frontispiece, the indiscreet padding of those ‘diverse’ friends [divers amis] who rhyme, for whatever it’s worth, with ‘winter wave and lightning burst’ [d’hivers]. Without fuss, the poet raises his glass to the adventure of the journal gathering together symbolist and decadent poets. To the point, he compares their enterprise to the course of a ship leading new Argonauts to their treasure, the Golden Fleece or hair of a siren. In the metaphor of a single ‘white sail’, he condenses three things: the page of writing, the surface of a tableau and a boat’s sail. And, with this amicable toast of circumstance, he supplies the opening of the book which gathers together poems written over a thirty-year period, raising the same toast ‘to whatsoever may be worth’: an apparently nonchalant ‘whatsoever’, but one that is actually perfectly determined, since it sums up the solitary crossing which turns from the ordinary commerce of words, the shipwrecking reef, and the star that the shipwreck survivor manages to inscribe on the ‘vacant and superior’ surface. In a sense, then, this ‘Toast’ makes explicit the stake of the obscure affair of clouds, sepulchral shipwreck and child’s flank that we are concerned with. At the end of the book, the final question responds to the initial affirmation. The ship that has perhaps been engulfed is the one whose ‘sumptuous prow’ was launched across ‘winter wave and lightning burst’. The siren that has perhaps disappeared, alone in the ‘vain chasm’, is sister with the ‘siren troop’ that was toasted at the beginning. At stake, here as there, is the poetic act. That is, the poetic act and its chances of accomplishment in the present environment, comprising winter wave and lightning burst, low cloud of basalt and lava, enslaved echoes, vain chasm. All these metaphors crop up often in Mallarmé and designate the space and time in which the ‘restricted action’ of the poem is carried out: the winter or ‘tunnel’ of an era of transition, or interregnum, when the poet is unable to make himself heard to a crowd still to come; the low cloud or ‘basaltic veil of the banal’15 by which the commonplace of the
newspaper, or the spectacle, is filled with ‘mediocre elements’, drawn from an economic notion of the public; and the ‘vain chasm’ or ‘abyss of vain hunger’ which hollows out this same public, a public that is obscurely aware of the latent and avid greatness of whatever can nurture, be it with substitutes, ‘the opening of the maw of a Chimera that is misrecognized and carefully frustrated by the current social system.’16 We can therefore reformulate the initial hypotheses in terms of the book’s balance sheet. First hypothesis: perhaps the overproud poetic ship in pursuit of golden sound, or of its chimerical star, foundered on the reef of its own ambition, on the sea of indifference of the times, with its public, a great shipwreck that the servile echoes of the gazettes ignored. Second hypothesis: perhaps the part played out differently. The vain chasm of the times and the public was by no means indifferent to the greatness of ‘high perditions’. Frustrated by the mediocrities of the social arrangement, it yearned for these perditions of the golden chimera – the chimera of a reign still to come that would take over from the simple monetary reign of gold used for the exchanging of commodities. It devoured these perditions wherever it found them: refined individuals in attendance at the spectacle of the ‘twilight of the gods’ as played in the Wagnerian temple; the bourgeois, at Ponsard’s ancient-style tragedies; and the plebs attending the commonness of the melodrama. The fury for greatness of the ‘jealous hurricane’17 or ‘famished riot’18 can only work to bury the frail siren of the new poem inside its voracious stomach. But there are two opposite ways to understand this burying. It can consist in the monster’s assimilating and travestying the new poem, for it is out to adorn itself even with that which refuses it. Conversely, it can consist in the evasion by which the siren of the new poem dissimulates itself in the very stomach of the monster. The Mallarméan poem is like the Platonic living logos. It matters to it to choose those to whom it should or should not speak. It – and by no means the ocean – is avaricious, out to reserve a future wealth for all. There are two reasons why the siren was not drowned in the abyss, each of which is sufficient: first, because sirens, in contrast to boats, do not drown in water. On the contrary, they dive down in its depths to escape danger. Second, and more radically, because sirens do not exist, except in the writings of poets. In Homer, they were fictional beings, deceptive powers whose songs would draw navigators into the abyss if they did not avail themselves of means to avoid hearing them. Mallarmé transforms them into the emblems of the poem as such, powers of a song which can simultaneously make itself heard and transform itself into silence. The siren is no longer
the Foam oF the poem
a deceptive being of fiction; it is the act, the suspension itself of fiction. It is the transformation of the narrative into a vanishing hypothesis. And it is this transformation which scans the poem. The play of hypotheses is also an operation of substitution. The ‘mast stripped’ bare is at once that to which Ulysses had himself tied in order to resist the siren song and that to which he clung in the storm to reach the shore of the Phaeacians. The poem escapes from the abyss awaiting it because it has modified the mode of fiction itself, has substituted for the great Odyssean epic the song of a vanishing siren. So what the siren metaphorizes, what the poem carries out, is very specifically the event and calculated risk of the poem in times and a ‘mental milieu’ which are not yet ready to welcome it. The argument of this poem is very strictly prescribed by the question concluding ‘Restricted Action’. To the friend who wants to ‘act’, the poet asks whether it would not be better, rather than ‘betting on, at the very least, an incomplete context around you, to risk certain conclusions of extreme art [. . .] to play them, even through a triumphal reversal, with the tacit injunction that nothing, palpitating in the unconscious flank of the hour, shown clear and evident to the pages, will find the hour ready’.19 The movement of our sonnet thus sums up the adventure of the new poem, its internal transformation, but also its play in the site in which it is produced. In short, our sonnet is something like a fable with a moral, one which transposes the old fable of the overproud, stormvanquished willow and the frail reed with the art to escape the storm’s fury.
The poetics of mystery
Shall we say, then, that the crushing cloud of the involuted arabesque succeeds the rather dull light of the ordinary metaphor, turning the poem into a skiff floating on the vast sea of ages, or a siren apt to reveal to the senses, and dissemble from the intelligence, the turns of its seduction? The Mallarméan poem undoubtedly exploits a finite bundle of poetic images and metaphors, more than one of which has been lost to the night of time: the risk and solitude of the work launched among the fortune of billows, celestial choirs and swans with captive wings, rose and setting dawns congealed in crimson and blood, nights hesitating between the cold of empty rooms, the paleness of a lamp and the uncertain shine of stars. The material is old, by and large, as is the way in which it serves as a symbol. It remains only to know what is meant by ‘material’ and in what exactly the act of symbolizing consists. We marked out a translation of the poem’s initial hypotheses. But what exactly did we do? Say what the poem ‘means’? However, the singularity of the enterprise which has associated the generic name of ‘symbolism’ with the proper name Mallarmé plays out in the very idea of what it is ‘to mean’. No more than in describing them, Mallarmé had no interest in using marine impressions to communicate general thoughts about human destiny. So what is poetry for him? In response to a pressing questioner, ‘bruised’, he once ‘stammered’ the following definition: ‘Poetry is the expression through human language restored to its essential rhythm of the mysterious meaning of the aspects of existence’.20 The definition, here again, does not lead to puzzlement. Only to misinterpretation. Nothing is vaguer, at first glance, than this ‘mysterious meaning of the aspects of existence’ – in short, the foam – to whose expression the rhythm of the Mallarméan poem is dedicated. Conversely,
the whole problem in Mallarmé lies in seeing that all these notions are perfectly articulated. The terms of mystery What is this mystery then? First let’s define its place, which is very precisely that which takes place ‘beyond’ nature. Beyond nature – Mallarmé’s century cried it out repeatedly – there is the mind, or spirit. The trouble with that response is that it is tautological; ‘spirit’ has no other content than the ‘beyond’ of nature where each individual lodges his god in the way he pleases. So, in order to determine it an idea of nature is also necessary. What exactly is nature? Behind its usual ‘common definition of foliage’, which renders its idea tangible, nature can be summed up by the ‘absolute expression’ according to which ‘only what is, is’.21 What ‘takes place’, then, beyond the necessity of that which is? Logically, it is that which can not be. Only this takes two figures: it can be the illusion or the misfortune of that which has no reason to be; or, conversely, it can be the glory of that which turns this contingency into an unheard-of power of affirmation. Anticipating some philosophers of the century to follow, Mallarmé summed up that beyond of being in two words: existence and abode. As such, the definition of poetry is extended into a task: ‘it confers, in this way, our abode with authenticity and constitutes the only spiritual task there is.’22 We shall call spirit, in the first analysis, that which consecrates the site of existence, in its immanence, as world or abode of man. We shall call mystery the system of relations between the aspects of existence proper to that consecration. The poetic task is the highest spiritual task because it fixes the system of aspects which consecrate an abode. What, now, is an aspect? Let’s start by saying what it is not, namely a model. In the times of nature and its representation, models were imitated in order to provide the spectator or reader with the pleasure of recognition. But there are two sorts of models: there are characters that we recognize similar to the experience we have of who we are and of those who are close to us; and there are archetypes, the essential forms, which are not at all such and such a courageous warrior, man of duty or beautiful woman, but the type that sums up each of these virtues or excellences. These models, in turn, have a single venerable model: the idea or form, the Platonic eidos, that which provided every human reality – justice of the city or carpenter’s bed, beauty or a louse – with the divine model that it
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tried imperfectly to imitate. Above these Ideas stands, according to Plato, the Idea of the Good, the light that illuminates the intelligible world in the way that the sun lights up the sensible world. This is what has disappeared. The anecdotic crisis of the venerable Alexandrine refers back to the more serious blackout of the sky of Ideas. There is no longer ‘some supreme mould for something that doesn’t exist’, no more ‘divine denominator of our apotheosis’. The poet no longer has a model, celestial or human, to imitate. Henceforth, it is by the ‘mere dialectic of verse’ that he will be able to revivify the seal of the idea, by forging together, according to an essential rhythm, ‘many scattered veins of ore, unknown and floating’.23 Instead of the pulverized idea, there is, precisely, its dust: hair of foam, clown sequins, golden fringe of light on a stage curtain, and woman’s hair as flight of flame. In the place of models to copy, there are, scattered in this dust, aspects to grasp; that is, not the forms of things, but events, the snapshot of world events, which are present in every ordinary spectacle on the condition of noticing them. Mallarmé was a contemporary not only of Monet, but also of Etienne Marey and his chronophotographical gun, a device which made it possible to see the invisible moments of the successive times into which a bird’s flight or horse’s gallop breaks down. Mallarmé expressed this in his own way: once Nature ‘takes place’, ‘the one available act, forever and alone, is to understand the relations, in the meantime, few or many’.24 But his problem was obviously not to break natural phenomena down in order to understand or depict them better. It was to raise them to the power of the artifice. Aspects are not to be compiled to form the recomposed unity of a known scene. They are reordered – differently configured and set in rhythm – in the mystery of the Idea. There is nothing mysterious about this mystery. It lies precisely in this act of reordering. The idea assembles scattered aspects to turn them into viewpoints onto another world – present-absent in the ordinary spectacle – a world of virtualities of correspondence between human acts and the forms of their abode. We will call the products of this work types. The Mallarméan type differs from what is usually understood by this name. It is neither a model nor a character but an ‘essential aspect’: not the copy of an essence but, on the contrary, the exemplary tracing of an ideality without model. It is an essential aspect, or rather synthesis of aspects, that assembles separate elements into figures, or cuts out a completely new figure from a sensory datum. To understand this, there is no need to get lost in metaphysical depths. The new idea is a wholly superficial thing.
Above all, it is momentary. It consists entirely in the vanishing tracing of a precarious ideality. We encounter it with the most self-evidence in the most ephemeral – indeed, most working-class – forms of art; we encounter it, that is, on the condition of being placed at the ‘philosophical point’ where the mystery of its appearing takes shape in the exact interval between a human movement and a suggested figure. Accordingly, the dancer does not present a woman dancing any more than the story written on the booklet. The dancer is not a woman, either recognized as such, or one through whom we recognize something, but a ‘metaphor summing up one of the elementary aspects of our form: knife, goblet, flower, etc.’25 This is what is ‘absent from all bouquets’: not the ideal flower or the idea of the flower, but the tracing of that entrechat, floating between the woman and the flower, to outline the form, immediately dissipated, of a calyx-chalice26: schema or matrix of all flowers, but also of all unions between the opening of a flower and the gesture of a hand that lifts the cup of friendship and celebration. The metaphor and the symbol are not first of all concrete images representing abstract ideas or ways of associating them together. The metaphor is above all displacement; ‘symbol’ means, etymologically, accord or sign of alliance. The symbolist metaphor is the gesture of a displacement that puts together, in the form of a virtual flower, a way of combining steps and a schema of the world. The metaphor, or symbol, pertaining to the era of representation owed its virtue to its fixity: sun and glory, lion and courage, eagle and majesty, serpent and ruse. . . In his The Poetic Art, Horace fixed, once and for all, the absolute evil: it was the incoherent metaphor, the beautiful body of a woman that ends in the tail of a fish. Desinit in piscem. What the end of our poem translates, in its own way, is this Latin of the Petit Larousse’s pink pages: [. . .] Avariciously will have drowned The child’s flank of a siren. The siren is the emblem of the new beauty, the beautiful power of artifice that stands in contrast to the ‘beautiful boy’ whose model the Plato of the Phaedrus bequeathed to Aristotle, Aristotle to Horace, Horace to Boileau, and Boileau to everybody else. But the siren does not stand opposed to the classical canon as some monster, as some impossible alloy of incompatible bodies or properties. The siren is not the combination of
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woman and fish; it is the random and momentary alliance of a woman’s movement – the dancer’s entrechat but also furl of hair or unfolding fan – and a form of world. Between the biological individual and the physical world, the metaphor unfolds and refolds the accord between a vanishing tracing and any bit of golden dust, qua substitute for the vanished sun. It is the movement that unites – or symbolizes – two theatres in a single presentation. ‘Suggestion’ and ‘allusion’ – two Mallarméan master words – are to be understood in this sense. Allusion, according to its etymology, is play – both theatre performance and wager on a dice throw. Suggestion is the movement of this play which carries towards a spectator – perhaps absent from the encounter – the emblem traced by the dancer, an emblem of no virtue or property, but of accord in general, of the accord traced and immediately effaced by the steps moving between the theatre of our spirit and the theatre – or rather theatralization – of the world. This is the ‘mystery’. Its theatre does not lose itself in any vagueness. On the contrary, it involves real accuracy and instantaneity. Simply, this instantaneity, in order not to dissolve into nothingness, requires a spectator on the spot to discover in it and make explicit the other theatre that is present in the everyday. In Mallarméan terms: a man ‘used to dreaming’. Scene of the dream The word dream is used very precisely. Not by chance did Mallarmé talk of his ‘indubitable wing’,27 the inner fold of the vanished heaven of ideas, that which makes it possible to grasp its golden dust in ‘many scattered veins of ore’. ‘Dream’ designates not the cloud in which the sentimental soul looses himself but the capacity to ‘compare aspects and count their number as it touches our intelligence’;28 it is the gap remarked by the attentive spectator in ‘what is’, discerning in it the disappearing appearing of that which can or can not be. Hence, on an evening like any other, in a working-class theatre into which no aesthete ordinarily strays, a sequined clown led the exhibition of a tamed bear. But all of a sudden the spectacle spun out of control. After a skilful movement from the clown, the bear’s two front paws were made to settle on his shoulders. It was the sublime spectacle of the animal adopting a human posture to ask this maker of illusions the secret of his power. The bear trained into a question mark is here tantamount to his homonym, the celestial constellation of the Ursa Major, which appears at the end instead of A Dice Throw or the ‘Sonnet
in –yx’. In this ‘absolute place’ there lives ‘one of the dramas that astral history could elect to take place in this modest theatre’. The crowd here disappeared ‘in the emblem of its spiritual situation, and magnified the stage’.29 The dream consists in the power of catching this other performance with the gaze and marking with it speech, a performance that is ‘clear and larger than the stage’.30 This is the point of view which elects an ‘aspect’. Or rather, the aspect itself is a ‘point of view’: a point from which is defined, as is said in another poem, also reputed to be incomprehensible, a place charged with ‘sight’ instead of ‘visions’: Oui, dans une île que l’air charge De vue et non de visions Toute fleur s’étalait plus large Sans que nous en devisions. Telles, immenses, que chacune Ordinairement se para D’un lucide contour, lacune Qui des jardins la sépara.31 Yes, in an isle that the air had charged not with mere visions but with sight every flower spread out enlarged at no word that we could recite And so immense they were, that each was usually garlanded with a clear contour, and this breach parted it from the garden bed.
The ‘hermetic’ poem does not say any more than the narrative of this evening full of surprises. The ‘lucid contour’ that, like a golden halo, surrounds the flowers and separates them out from gardens is the essential aspect, the point of view which separates out this ‘clear spectacle’ from ordinary trestles. The trained bear, turned into the emblem of the crowd convoked to the spectacle of its greatness, is identical to the hundred irises summoned in the poem to ‘arise to this new duty’ of being, not only to productions of nature or ornamental flowers, but also to the new figure of the Idea – itself no longer the celestial form but the type, the sensory flower that is turned into the allegory of itself and the emblem of the ideality of the sensory: a calyx-chalice identical to the halo surrounding it, a flower akin to its name, iris, the limpid power of the gaze, just like Iris, a messenger of the gods and substitute of the flown gods. Of course, in the spectacle, another way of seeing was possible: that of the clown, of the director. These figures broke all the charm. Brusquely arose the interval of décor pertaining to another emblem, which is that of ‘reality’ par excellence: a piece of raw meat was offered to the bear as bait to get him to give up the living prey that he held between his
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paws. Indeed, the theatre staff only saw in this sublime scene something terrifying. Obedient to exhibition and common reward, the bear dropped back down onto all fours and ‘all of a sudden’ the curtain fell ‘with its advertised prices and banalities’. This is the natural way of seeing. Yet the dreamer’s way of seeing, of electing aspects – the bear’s acts – and ordering them in mystery is ‘superior, and maybe even the true one’.32 Poetry is the pursuit of this truth, of this exact interruption. The dream is this power of grasping the virtuality, present in every fairground stall, of a completely new sky, the power of equalling the type that takes shape, precariously, on a happenstance stage in the inner theatre; it is ‘a summary of types and accords’ that ‘anyone who has really looked at nature’ bears in himself.33 This is what the poem writes. Attesting this is the character that simultaneously symbolizes dream, theatre and the poem’s greatness: Hamlet. What exactly does this dreamer par excellence show? Hegel, and a few others, turned him into the prototypical Romantic character, he who cannot decide, or do anything, since he is the exemplary son of Christian times, the hero who, in a world deserted by the Resurrected, is no longer able to find any action worthy of himself. None of these exegetes apparently noticed the following strange fact: all the play’s characters die by the hand or the deed of this character who ‘does’ nothing. This is because Hamlet embodies the very trouble with appearing, the shadow faced with which all characters perish. There is nothing psychological or Christian in this. On the contrary, Hamlet thus announces the future of a type of poetry freed from the care of having to make characters recognized: he is ‘the latent lord who cannot become, the juvenile shadow of us all’.34 He is the power ‘to be or not to be’, the power to be without reason, to be by artifice. He is, in short, the symbol of the poetical symbolization which brings to be the ideality of types in place of the idealism of models or the realism of characters. Hamlet is the supreme type; he organizes the play of the other types in the manner of a Coryphaeus: leader of the Greek chorus. The doubt or the dream that he embodies is the power of the latent, of the virtual that returns all characters to the rank of extras or tapestry figures, that is to say, of ideal aspects. Hamlet is hardly yesterday’s shadow, but instead the shadow – tomorrow’s promise – of the new theatre of the Idea, come to dethrone the theatre of characters and the recognition of models. The Idea is the symbol, that is, the agreement, sealed in the sole momentary act of a performance, between aspects of types limited to their appearing alone. This, in a nutshell, is what is expressed by Hamlet’s monologue: ‘to be or
not to be’ – to be the shadow that projects a beyond onto being, a beyond which is the pure power not to be. With Mallarmé, therefore, the symbol is not an image, no more than the idea is a form of object or the metaphor a means of communicating feelings. Symbol and metaphor do not express the idea, they bring it to be. They are the act of its production, the institution of its ritual. Let’s look again at our ‘Toast’: it is not the case that, on the one hand, there is ‘the occasion’ of the poem – the common gesture of the raised glass at a banquet, which is maybe a banquet of poets but could also be one of industrialists – and, on the other, the ocean metaphor comprising the poem’s content. The ‘real’ gesture of the hand raising the cup and the ‘crossing’ of writing which carries the poetic troop are woven in the same cloth. They belong to the same ritual of consecration of the human abode. From one to the other, continuity is assured by the equivalence between the fictional siren and the cup of elevation: the goblet, ‘metaphor of our form’, and the flower’s calyx detached on the first day from ‘golden avalanches of the old azure’ and ‘the eternal snow of stars’;35 the white water lily of a purely ideal encounter between a Ulysses of calm river and a Nausicaa summed up in furtive steps;36 and finally the chalice of a new Eucharist, a purely human transformation of the human abode: Le pur vase d’aucun breuvage Que l’inexhaustible veuvage. Pure vase of no brew Save inexhaustible widowhood.37
From nothingness to the nothing ‘Best to say nothing’.38 He who wanted for the poem to vanquish chance, word by word, obviously did not by chance make this ‘nothing’ the first word of the book that would serve as his testament. But neither did he employ it randomly. The French word rien, like aucun, belongs to the singular family of those negative pronouns which employed by themselves can, at the liking of the speaker, conserve the shadow of the negative that ordinarily accompanies them or, conversely, take on their positive value: rien, rem, something, a thing held perpetually, like Hamlet, between being and non-being. Non-being, nothingness – we are rather all too aware today that this is one of the two abysses that the young poet encountered while ‘hollowing out verse’ back in the days of Herodias: days when he was
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seeking the pure work, produced by a pure consciousness, separated from every self by the ‘spidery ruff’ of Igitur, indeed by the knife that deposits the head of Saint John the Baptist on a silver plate. Commentators have unceasingly inquired into this point: was it thanks to Villiers de l’Isle Adam or Lefébure that he came across Hegel, the Absolute Subject and the original identity of void, being and indeterminate nothingness? Was it through the Revue des deux Mondes or some other journal that he discovered Schopenhauer? The important point lies elsewhere: it lies not in the way in which he encountered the absolute and nothingness – which were lingering just about everywhere in his time – but in the way that he regulated this encounter, and escaped from this ‘illness’. Ever since Kant, our escape from both dogmatic slumber and the insomnia of the absolute has taken place through critical thought: the type of thought able to discern the field of its exercise and the limits of its power. Mallarmé followed suit at the end of the great crises of the year 1865. He reorganized, on his own behalf, the system of the spirit. He converted, in a critical way, the Medusa’s head of the Spirit – the Absolute and Nothingness, the Absolute as Nothingness – into a new duality, one that is accessible to the gaze, controllable by the quill. This is very precisely the one that we have already encountered: l’infini et rien, the infinite immanent to the nothing, the vanishing difference of everything to itself, akin to the ‘thin and pale azure line’ that ‘the limpidsouled refined Chinese’ paints ‘on his cups made of moon-ravished snow’ as does whoever, in his image, has left behind the ‘voracious Art’ of the ‘Cruel country’ of the Absolute.39 The Poésies enable us to see this conversion. In this work, the poems are arranged by Mallarmé on the basis of a dramaturgy that is detached from their chronology. This dramaturgy sets out from the poems of the Ideal, those first sought in the heights of celestial azure. With Herodias, it closes its shutters on this beautiful azure and enters into the cold lunar night in which the poet, inheritor of the flown sun, must become impersonal in order to make gleam the pure beauty of the new poem of pure Ideas, dreaming like his heroine of the ‘bed of vellum sheets’, which are more cloistral still than the robes of monks or shroud of the dead. With ‘Faun’, its two vanished nymphs and its flute – ‘instrument of flights’ – it bids farewell to the ‘hoard of old night’ and to the cold lunar ‘scintillation’ of the pure Idea’s ‘pale clarity’. It contrasts them with the pure power of artifice of the ‘the great twin reed played under the azure’ and which knows
[. . .] faire aussi haut que l’amour se module Évanouir du songe ordinaire de dos Ou de flanc pur suivis avec mes regards clos, Une sonore, vaine et monotone ligne.
[. . .] and dreams of, high as love itself can modulate evacuating from the commonplace illusion of some pure loin or rear that my shut eyes create A sonorous, monotonous and empty line.40
Beyond this line of division, the distribution of ‘tombs’ and ‘fans’, of ‘airs’ and ‘sonnets’, institutes so many scenes wherein the drama of the flown sun and the descent into nothingness are transformed into the mystery of an evanescent presence: [. . .] [. . .] Une agitation solennelle par l’air a solemn stir of words stays alive in the air De paroles, pourpre ivre et a huge clear bloom, a purple ecstasy, grand calice clair Que, pluie et diamant, le regard which his diaphanous gaze diaphane remaining there, Reste là sur ces fleurs dont nulle rain and diamond, on these flowers ne se fane, that never fade away Isole parmi l’heure et le rayon isolates in the hour and radiance du jour ! of day! 41 However nothing better encapsulates the transformation from nothingness into nothing than these ‘Several sonnets’42, which Mallarmé set out into four seasons and four nights: an initial autumn night of a flown sun and a godless sky, and a funereal room which is also a hall of sacrament in which is lit the ‘festive star’ of poetic genius, put in charge of looking after the heritage of the Idea-sun; a winter night of the poet-swan, immobilized, with his inaccessible model, Herodias, in the ‘frigid dream of scorn’ of the pure Idea, as cloistral as the ‘space, unaltered’ [espace, à soi pareil]; a spring night in which the poet flees the ‘beautiful suicide’ of suns of yesteryear, summoned like the hundred irises to the new duty of figuring, ‘like some child-empress’s war-morion’, an aspect of the new Idea; and a summer night emptied of every funereal material as of every object, and reduced to the status of ‘abolished bauble of inane sonority’. Just like
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the ideal iris of every bouquet, the ptyx here, devoid of all furnishing, is properly the power of the almost-nothing that blocks the brutality of being and the anxiety of nothingness, the power by which, between the crossing and the mirror, the space of the poem substitutes its light – the septet of its scintillations – for the extinct fires of the sky. Hence, the ‘nothings’ or ‘almost-nothings’ traced by the poet’s brush are to nothingness what ‘aspects’ are to the ancient model, what the infinite is to the absolute. In other words, the substitutes for the Idea-sun are identical to the almost-nothings that conjure away nothingness. The golden dust of the pulverized Idea is equal to the foam of nothingness, banished, identical to the footlights which, for the duration of a spectacle, combine the ‘naïve fold’ of the curtain with the ‘gold of a fringe’.43 At this point, a distinction still has to be made if we want to separate Mallarmé’s brush from that of Francois Coppée, and his aesthetics from that of Des Esseintes. The connection between the infinite and nothing can be understood severally. In Hegel’s time, this connection generated the works of ‘bad infinity’, that is, those sentimental and humoristic novels of the style of Jean-Paul. In Mallarmé’s time, its most complete expression came about in the Flaubertian novel. The aesthetics of Flaubert’s novels are animated by one leading idea, namely that anything at all can be beautiful, on condition that it gives rise to the presence of the infinite, that is, of its own nothingness. In any nothing, in any null story – café conversations, discourses of agricultural associations or provincial adultery – at stake is to open the attic windows through which to see the black hole of the infinite: the indifferent flux swirling atoms about eternally, by chance reuniting, in this farm room, the awkward health officer smelling the iris and the young woman whose nails were at first all that the officer had noticed. Line upon line, Flaubert’s art consists in bursting open the pegs of conjunctions and explanations, by introducing into the description of all these random places with their meaningless scenes the void of the infinite, the void in which its infinite is encapsulated: that of the great sun above the desert of the Orient, and the characters who resemble it – the hollow-sounding heads of noble bearing and the ragged lice-eaten persons clothed only in jewels. Nothing is apparently closer to Madame Bovary than the aesthetic of ‘The Fairground Declaration’, in which, without any accessory story or ornament, the poet’s companion exhibits, in exchange for the single cent required from the visitors who have flocked there en masse, nothing except her own stature and her hair flight of a flame.
[. . .] Rien qu’à simplifier avec gloire la femme Accomplit par son chef fulgurants l’exploit De semer de rubis le doute qu’elle écorche Ainsi qu’une joyeuse et tutélaire torche
[. . .] Whose dazzling head is the only means By which woman simplified with glory conspires To sow with rubies the doubt she would scorch In the manner of a joyous and tutelary torch44
The expression ‘sow with rubies the doubt’ – that is the almost-nothing that separates any mediocrity whatever from itself – seems apt to sum up the Flaubertian enterprise. However, simplification, exploit and glory instil distance. This almost nothing, which deepens the void of the infinite in the void of stupidity, is too similar to that which it denies. The ‘style is extraordinarily beautiful’, noted Mallarmé à propos of Bouvard et Pécuchet, ‘but at times it is rendered null, by dint of the sumptuous bareness. The subject seems to imply an aberration, which is strange with such a powerful artist’.45 With the return of Bouvard and Pécuchet to their writing case, the great void of the infinite settles for the ordinary void of stupidity. The imperceptible difference of the infinite which ran right throughout the lines is cancelled out, and ultimately restored as nothing. The lesson to be drawn from this: the almost-nothing that infinitizes anything whatsoever cannot consist in that great void-making machine, referred to by Proust as the ‘trottoir roulant’ [rolling footpath] of style. The infinite must be numbered, its aspects selected, figured, ordered. The twofold task – ‘simplification’ and ‘glory’ – is something for which the novel, with the brutal constraint of its anecdotes about husbands and wives and the absence of constraint of its measureless time, will always be inappropriate. It can be achieved by the poem that fixes an exact time not to stories but to aspects: possibilities of history, or, as it were, of historicity, of essential types of the human abode as accord between the theatre of the spirit and that of the world. The res, the nothing, will not simply be anything at all; it has to be a ‘metaphor of our form’. Its ‘foam’ is perhaps unable to be separated from an ‘exploit’, or act of elevation.
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The method of fiction In short, in order to authenticate the relation between the infinite and nothing, the very status of fiction itself has to be changed. Returning to an earlier point in the poem, an agreement seems to emerge between Mallarmé and Flaubert: Une nudité de héros tendre diffame Celle qui ne mouvant astre ni feux au doigt Rien qu’à simplifier avec gloire la femme Accomplit par son chef fulgurante l’exploit The tender nudity of heroes demeans The one on whose fingers no stars wave or fires Whose dazzling head is the only means By which woman simplified with glory conspires
The ‘tender naked hero’ who is conjured up would defame both the head’s and the poem’s ‘nudity’. In that exhibition of the woman who, ‘at the extreme west of desires’, unfolds only the ‘hair’s flight of flame’ – which itself stands metonymically for the pulverized sun as well as the body’s subtraction from display – there is nothing indecent. The hero, who would be malapropos here, is the same one that in another sonnet ‘is introduced’ into the story of the woman-peacock, unfurling her locks of hair as an evening chariot of the sun. But the hero’s tender nudity is also that of Ulysses disembarking on the shores of Nausicaa; it is the nudity of the anecdote, of the story in general, which will be interposed between ‘the kindling of the fire ever within’ and its manifestation, the vivid golden cloud of the unfurled locks of hair. This head of hair is a diadem – the emblem of woman and coronation of the human abode in its virtual magnificence – insofar as no ‘story’ either ‘defames’ it, or compromises its ‘glory’ with sentimental anecdotes. Here is situated the division between two ideas of fiction. Ever since Aristotle, fiction had been defined as the ‘imitation of acting men’, as ‘a chain of actions’ bringing characters into play. But, in thus defining it, fiction was burdened with loads of flesh, precisely so that its scope could be more effectively reduced to banal operations of recognition. New fictions will no longer consist in the chains of actions used to establish characters. They will consist in tracings of schemas, or the virtuality of events and figures that define a play of correspondences. This is not,
however, a mere matter of abstracting from fiction. The point is to give fiction a much more radical meaning. Fiction may well be a game. But this game is higher in essence. It is the ‘very procedure of the human spirit’. Let us understand: of the human spirit insofar as it is human; that is, the human spirit insofar as no god guarantees it any truth – in short, the Cartesian method insofar as it does not encounter any veracious god. Sometimes referred to as hyperbolic doubt, it is this procedure of the first Meditations which has to be radicalized. Poetry is meditation, doubt transformed into hyperbole, and that which ‘projects, to a great forbidden and thunderous height, our conscious lack of what, up there, gleams’.46 One can say that this projection is a deception [superchérie] or forgery.47 But the forgery is also the work done by a goldsmith in ‘sowing doubt with rubies’. The ‘superior attraction like a void’ is that which we draw to detach, for ourselves, things from their ‘solidity’. The forgery endows them with ‘splendour, through vacant space, for as many solitary festivals as we wish’.48 Instead of some sky of Ideas, fiction institutes the conditions of human experience in general, of the consecration of the human abode. It institutes them in the incertitude of the game and the glory of elevation. The combined effect of the game of forgery and the work of the goldsmith is called ‘consecration’. But this consecration always plays out in the instantaneousness of a vanished tracing. Fiction can by no means simply con-sist. Of course, having been written, the poem is conserved for whoever wants to read it. But this letter is dead if it is missing the exact ritual by which the reader is instituted strictly as the new theatre where the poem replays its choreography. The game of fiction always boils down to the movement of the fan that ‘delicately pushes the horizon back’, that interposes the rustling of its feigned landscape between every spectator and every reality, of foliage or sea waters. The poem is the movement of the fan, which is the infinite unfolded and folded anew into a strict number of folds that reduce to a single one. Vertige ! Voici que frisonne Vertigo ! see how space L’espace comme un grand baiser Shimmers in one vast kiss Qui, fou de naître pour personne, That, born for no one, hence deranged, Ne peut jaillir ni s’apaiser. Cannot gush forth or be assuaged. Sens-tu le paradis farouche Ainsi qu’un rire enseveli
Do you sense how a primal Eden Like laughter barely hidden
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Se couler du coin de ta bouche Au fond de l’unanime pli ! Le sceptre des rivages roses Stagnants sur les soirs d’or, ce l’est, Ce blanc vol fermé que tu poses Contre le feu d’un bracelet.
From the corner of your mouth has flowed To the depths of the unanimous fold! The sceptre of rosy shores Stagnant on golden twilight hours Is this white closed-up wing you set Against the fire of a bracelet.49
The fan of the poem The fan is thus the elementary emblem of the work of fiction in general: it is the magnificence of the pure movement of appearing and disappearing, the golden foam of verse that pushes back every line of horizon, setting in its place the glorious name of the infinite and nothing. Appearing and disappearing: that is, to raise the fleetingness of appearing to the glory of the vanished sun, as reflected in the panes of a window; to reduce the drama of disappearance to the fineness of a white hair of foam; and to unfold and refold the movement of correspondences which render equivalent ‘the sceptre of rosy shores /Stagnant on the golden twilight’ with the ‘fire of a bracelet’ on the hand holding the fan, the smile of lips with the unanimous fold which re-bends space to turn it into a world. If the golden headdress is the exact metonymy of the vanished sun, the fan is the exact metaphor of the poem, the artifact that imitates, in the fluttering of its folds, this movement of appearing and disappearing, which is the initial fold or the lining of things that makes of them a world. Gardner Davies pursued what he saw as the traces of a single ‘solar drama’ in Mallarmé’s work.50 His undertaking is valid, on condition of specifying whether the issue is one of traces or of dust. The ‘solar drama’, according to the anthropologist George W. Cox and his translator, Mallarmé, is the key to ancient mythology; the great ‘tragedy of nature’, born again with each dawn from the darkness in which it dies each evening.51 As with nature, this tragedy has had its time, which is that of the first autumn. The poet who does not bear this in mind is like the swan, its captive wing stuck in the ice-sheets of winter. The old tragedy of nature is strictly replaced by the mystery of nature’s beyond. This ‘mystery’ is the organization of the ‘dream’ – its aspects noted down and rhymed – into a glorious artifact. It therefore has nothing more mysterious about it than a fan’s fluttering which, in its vivacity, unfolds
the folds of its emblem, giving rise to a question from the observer: is it the foam from a sunken ship or the hair of a siren? Let’s imagine now that the poem, like the fan, has two faces: on the side of the quatrains is the whirlpool of a shipwreck; on the side of the tercets the spray of a siren’s undulation. Here we return to our initial poem, and perhaps now we can understand why our question about its ‘meaning’ was out of place. The poem does not ‘mean’ anything; it says. It emblematizes the gesture of saying as the scansion of appearing and disappearing. It emblematizes the doubt itself about the nature of that scansion, from which the play of aspects take its power of ideality. What appears? What disappears? The movement of the fan does not say; it plays on it, it ‘suggests’. Let us not understand this to mean that the poem is ‘polysemous’, or that each person can understand it as he will. It means that in the flapping of the fan, the swan and the oar, several forms of appearing and disappearing can discover they are analogous. This is the mystery that succeeds tragedy: the great metaphor of the Idea-sun, buried in sea waters and darkness, is shattered into a multiplicity of schemas of disappearing that respond to, substitute or combine with one another. One disappearing contains many others within it. We are able, therefore, if we labour the point, to discern many meanings in the fable of the ship and the siren – the meanings of ‘mystery’, as so many splinters of the great pulverized sun. The first meaning: the poem, in general, is a process of disappearance and substitution. It transforms every ‘solid and preponderant’ reality (for example, a ship on sea waters in a tempest, a king’s daughter or a flower in a vase) into an inconsistent and glorious simulacrum (the siren, the white water lily or that which is absent from every bouquet). Second meaning: the new poem replaces the stories and dramas of yesteryear (adventures, shipwrecks, solitude, reefs, stars) with a play of vanishing aspects. Third meaning: the ship of the poem must forge its way through the hostile cloud of a world in which the poet has no place. But the poet is like the crafty siren. He thwarts the appetites of the public’s ‘vain outspread chasm’ and leaves the famished ogre only a trace, a siren’s white hair, of the trick that he played on it. None of these meanings are unjustified and, in combining them, we will have a pretty good idea of what Mallarmé might have thought.52 It remains that if there is a ‘thought of the poem’, it is in the fluttering which draws all these possibles into the same fold, that ‘fold of somber lace which retains the infinite’, which encapsulates them in one and the same act and turns this act of doubt and hyperbole into a ritual and the very emblem
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pertaining to the consecration of human play. The poem is the supreme consecration because it is the supreme artifice, replete with the ability to elevate the traces of writing on a white page ‘to the heights of the starry sky’, the fan which identifies the movement of its folds with this doubling of the sensory, this play of appearing and disappearing which turns silent eternity into the space of a world.
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In short, none of this has any more to do with art for art’s sake than it does with sinking into some night of language. Aestheticism is not the issue. At stake, instead, is an aesthetics, by no means in the sense of a ‘theory of art’, but as a thinking of the sensory configuration able to establish a community. The Mallarméan ‘grimoire’ is also a ‘book of the future’: Car j’installe, par la science, L’hymne des cœurs spirituels En l’oeuvre de ma patience Atlas, herbiers et rituels. For I inaugurate through science The hymn of all hearts spiritual In the labour of my patience, Atlas, herbariums and rituals.53
The successor of bygone antiphonies, the Mallarméan grimoire is not a simple game for ‘solitary celebrations’. It is the book which psalmodizes the greatness of a crowd to come. The movement of poetic ‘hyperbole’ is the very method of science, and it is inscribed in its books: ‘altas, herbariums and rituals’, that is the maps of skies of fans, books of emblems of flowers/chalices which profile the new figure of the Idea, and rituals of consecration of the common greatness. The religion of the century Mallarmé was a man of his century. A century, as a measure of time, has no more reality than the line of a horizon. A century is an idea of a century. And the nineteenth century consisted in the deployment of an idea that can be stated in two ways: the first is to be done with the
preceding century, that of the Enlightenment and the Revolution. ‘To be done with’ can mean very many things, all of which are situated between two opposing poles: for some, at issue is the liquidation of the century of unbelief and dereliction; for others, it is to bring to completion the work that could not be undertaken, the work of those who had time enough only to destroy the old order. All things considered, this contrast may come together in a common thought, which is encapsulated in the second way of thinking the century’s idea or task: that the bonds of the new community must be built out of the ruins of the old order. And for this to happen, the laws that fix inter-individual relations and the regulatory constitutions governing the game of representative institutions will never be enough. The representative regime misleads with promises of citizens’ emancipation like the reign of gold misleads with promises of the emancipation of man’s industrial powers. The two are joined in one and the same regime of egoism, in one and the same destruction of the community bond. The community lacks its idea. The idea of community is the idea of a bond. In the Latin of Romantic philosophy, bond is expressed as religio. To complete the revolution, the community needs a new religion. At the century’s dawn, Hegel, Hölderlin and Schelling committed this idea to paper in a rough draft. It was to be the ‘first systematic programme of German Idealism’: that is, the creation of a new religion and a new mythology for the people, on the very basis of that new philosophy which internalizes and radicalizes the political revolution. The idea was left abandoned in draft form but not forgotten within the very rigours of speculative philosophy. And, before Marx, Feuerbach drew its consequences: beyond the speculative lie, the task of a new religion of humanity was to be carried out, a religion that renders the bread and wine of everyday alienated existence of human powers into divine attributes. But already, as Hegel was dying from cholera, the Saint Simonians were raising differently sonorous trumpets to their lips, announcing the new century’s spirit and task: the ‘new Christianity’, the religion of rehabilitated matter, of the spirit made flesh, made flesh in the scientific precision of railway lines establishing communication between people better than any speech; in the spiritual community reuniting the army of work under the hierarchy of science and love; in the religious organization of industry replacing state hierarchies and revolutionary whirlwinds; and in the new temple of the theatre’s replacing the old church. Industry made religious; religion made industrial – in order to establish the new hymn and theatre and replace the representative political machine.
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Ever since the Saint Simonians, the century almost never ceased to oscillate between – sometimes opposing, sometimes combining – two ideas of the earthly future of religion. There were those who wanted man to adopt God’s attributes and make them the ‘bread and the wine’ of a new life delivered from super-terrestrial illusion. There were those who wanted new choirs to sing the worship of industry and progress, to accompany the new communications of electricity and rail. At the junction of both ideas, cities have dreamt of civic religions and erected great edifices of glass and steel hosting industrial Expos and promising the spectacle yet to come of a self-transparent humanity. It is impossible to understand Mallarméan aesthetics and its poem outside of this secular game. But we should also determine its precise part in it: that is, the motives and forms of its ‘dice throw’, of its wager on the ‘religious’ future of the community. Two theses on divinity Two essential theses sum up the Mallarméan idea of religion: one about mythology and another about Christianity. Linking both theses together a history of the spirit is formed whose third phase it is poetry’s task to write. Concerning mythology, Mallarmé took up, adapting it to his own views, the anthropology of religion expressed in the work whose French translation he carried out – a work of ‘dietary’ drudgery, so he claimed – namely, The Ancient Gods by George W. Cox. The thesis is simple and easily seems simplistic: the gods and myths of the Greek Pantheon are living personifications of natural phenomena. The proper names of the gods of Mount Olympus and the heroes of the founding myths both derive from the common names of even older languages, languages that had become unintelligible. With the aid of these ancient names, peoples of days gone by recounted merely what they saw, that is, the twists and turns of the ‘tragedy of nature’: the twin evolution, daily and yearly, of the sun, its death and its rebirth. The names of the gods bespoke the dawn and the dew, the power of the star of fire at its zenith, but above all its perpetual descent in the kingdom of darkness and the miracle of its perpetual resurrection. Is this not merely some newfangled anthropology of the time, where linguistics is brought to lend rash reinforcement to the rationalizations of the Enlightenment? Even so, two of its essential propositions may be retained. The first proposition: the gods do not emerge in the astonishment and fear generated by the dangers of natural phenomena; they emerge
through the language which recounts the latter. Hence, it happens that that the true ‘end’ of religion is the restitution to language of its powers. The second, correlative proposition is that the immediate object of religion is less terrifying thunder, distressing drought or the refreshing rain which makes life fertile than the very movement of appearing and disappearing of light. Man thereby directly names not beneficial or harmful powers to the daily bread, but the glorious powers of the human abode. In a nutshell, what mythology teaches us is that the ‘religious’ function is first that of the language which glorifies. But ancient divinity – like beauty – underwent a deepening in revolutionary form. The flight of the ancient gods is the radicalization of the ‘glory’ celebrated by language. Church pomp, the gold of ciboriums and monstrances, ‘push back’ the horizon of rising and setting suns. They lend themselves to the glory of its true content: absence. The greatness of the Christian religion was that it consecrated the ‘real presence’ of absence, the power of the chimera. The Christian ritual, by screening, with the shadows of its churches and the gold of its ciboria, the gold of the sun and the old tragedy of nature, revealed the specific nature of the human animal. The human animal is a chimerical animal. Our race ‘has the honour of lending guts to the fear of itself felt by the metaphysical and cloistral eternity’ and of ‘baying out the abyss throughout the ages’.54 The chimerical condition is this chanceridden fold of absence that without reason affects ‘cloistral eternity’, that ‘space, unaltered, if it grow or deny itself’. Christianity reveals, in its purity, this properly human task of glorification of absence, that task which institutes ‘our communion or sharing of one in all and all in one’. Or rather it would reveal it in its purity if it did not compromise it with the ‘barbaric feast’ of the body and blood of the Saviour, designated by the Eucharistic Sacrament.55 Mallarmé’s ‘humanizing’ of religion thus runs counter to the dominant tendency of the century. As encapsulated by Feuerbachian anthropology, this tendency demanded the restoration of honours to the daily bread and wine of the family and community that the illusory ceremony of elevation projected into the chimerical sky of religion. Quite to the contrary, Mallarmé aimed to restore to the human abode the sole act of elevating the chimera, the chalice emptied of blood, whether man’s or god’s; not at all the breadbody, but the only thing that ‘sheds light’ on life devoted to its acquisition, the ‘perfect opening salvo’ [gerbe just initiale’ de l’épi]: namely, the elevation of golden dust dedicated to the false.56 It is not the religion of the nourishing earth or of industrial groups that must succeed Christianity. Instead, it is the ‘religion’ of artifice: the institution of artifacts and rituals that transfer to the
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community, subjected to the gold of sheenless metal and the obscurity of the ballot box, the pulverized gold of setting suns and agonizing natures, purified by the religion that, through its golds, celebrates the real presence of absence, that is, the ‘mystery’. The crowd sees this religion of artifice prefigured in the fireworks whose ‘multiple and illuminating spray [gerbe]’ consecrates the annual cycle of its works in public festivities.57 But this religion also presides over ‘intimate celebrations’: the celebrations of the furnished abode of the ‘tangible chimera’ – bibelots, cloths, books or bouquets – which transpose the delicacies or violences of the solar cycle; and even more the intimate celebrations of the book, enclosing the play of the world in the fold of its leaves. The poet and the worker At this point enter Mallarmé’s politics, very close to and yet the exact converse of the great Saint-Simonian dream of industrial religion. One Sunday in June 1832, as the Republican riot was brewing in Paris, some ‘apostles’, gathered in their community at Ménilmontant, provided the workers who came to visit them on Sundays with the spectacle of a remarkable ceremony: the opening works on the Temple of the new religion. To the strains of the work-king’s new choirs, bourgeois apostles and workers of Paris, lined up in half-squadrons of diggers and wheelbarrowers, solemnly shifted the earth, making holes designed for the foundation of the Temple.58 It was a perfect illustration of the ‘new Book’ which is no longer written on paper in volatile words and empty declarations, but is inscribed in the very arrangement of bodies which transform thought into reality at ground level. It matters little whether Mallarmé knew the story of that utopian Sunday. The essential thing is that in two of his prose pieces he provided a precise retort to it. What ‘Conflict’59 and ‘Confrontation’60 stage is the same scene of relation between the man of the book and the man with the mattock: the same scene, except that this one shatters all the ceremonials of ‘new Christianity’, all the ceremonials of religious consecration of mattock work made spiritual by men of the book made wheelbarrowers. Ruthlessly, ‘one’s walking is blocked by work’: early morning discontent arises in the idle walker at his appearing on his hillock alongside the worker risen well before him and already, by means of his nearby mattock, buried in his hole; midday hostility wells up between the man of culture on holiday who has protected his retreat with a gate and the worker used to crossing this same man’s garden to go from the canteen to work; and evening malaise ensues as the dreamer’s
horizon, this Sunday evening, is barred by a ‘swath of workers bearing flails’ – that is, the sundowners slumped in the middle of the field, drowsy from the libations celebrating the end of work. There is no direct way out of this confrontation, above all not in the form of hymns to work, consecrations of bread or transformations of men of the book into manual workers or eulogists of glorious work. Work is not and never will be glorious. The hole into which the worker sinks is not and will never be but the vain work of taking earth from here to place it over there, even if it then means taking it back again: a worthless task whose only price is the universal equivalent, the everyday gold that is exchanged for bread. This is the ordinary cycle of daily descent into a tomb, from which, for simple survival, one is reborn each day. It is the cycle of production and reproduction, of births lapsing into anonymity, into a repetition aping a simple eternity, without fold [repli]; in short, everything that is encapsulated, in the very name proletarian, and that strikes with derision any rituals designed for the consecration of work. So, the consecration can only be added on the side [ne peut être qu’à côté]. It must be conceived from within the very difference of Sunday’s libations, the intoxications of which disturb the ordinary course of the working day and the restorative night. It’s on the basis of this other gap [trou], hollowed out in the commonness of a destiny [destin], that the consecration of human generations is possible. In contrast to the more fortunate – who possibly claim to be poets and fiddle joyfully about with their quills – the daily bread pulled from the pit is not enough for these workers. In these ‘little glasses’ of the day after payday ‘they honourably reserve [. . .] the dimension of the sacred in existence by a work stoppage, an awaiting, and the momentary suicide’. And no doubt they do so unaware of this ‘honour’, ‘without saying what it is or elucidating this ceremony’.61 They fail to see symbolized the chimera which supplements work, nourishment and reproduction, to see it ‘magnified’ close to them by the gold of the setting sun in a stand of tall trees. At the hour the constellations light up, above the sleeping gravediggers, the task of the poet-Hamlet thus becomes clear: it is to fix the ‘points of clarity’ which give to the slumped honour of the herd the chimerical glory it seeks instinctively. This programme contains no populism. Mallarmé could lend the support of his daughter and his verse to the makeshift theatre that his young cousins, Paul and Victor Margueritte, put on in a barn at Valvins, but he was unable to share in the unanimist illusions of the ‘theatre of the people’. And, in advance, he also poured scorn on what was to become
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the programme of the following century’s various futurisms and avantgardisms: lighten, through ‘dilution into the colour of electricity and of the people, the archaic elsewhere of skies’.62 So, there is here neither populist indulgence, nor futurist anticipation. Any relation to come between the poet and the people passes, presently, by a decision of separation which subtracts the task of the poet from the normal cycle of day and night, from the ordinary exchange of work and gold. Plato separated out the race of those on whom god had conferred the gold of thought from the men doomed to the work of iron. By giving the former the symbolic gold and the command of the city, he forbade them from taking in their hand the material gold of possessed goods and remunerated work. The separation of the man with the mattock from the poet effectuates the same type of division as that between real gold and symbolic gold. Mallarmé, however, marks an essential difference here. For him, nobody, in the composition of his soul, has been conferred gold or iron from the divinity. Revolutions were made for precisely this reason: so that whoever is ‘elected’ can simply be anyone at all, the first or the last to arrive and devote himself to working on that other gold, the symbolic gold, whose brilliance – equalling the fires of the vanished sun in the honour of the chimerical race – will illuminate the celebrations of the future. But this nondescript elected representative fixes a strict division of tasks and metals. In preparing the ‘hymn of spiritual hearts’, the poet must set his own task apart from that of making deals, whether this is for commercial profit or for social position. So it is not that, like the Platonic guardians or the ‘monks’ of the English universities, he ought to be remunerated by the work done by the men of iron. He must, like Mallarmé, earn his own salary, winning, through his daily job, the gold of everyday survival in order to devote his nights freely to his task of being a ‘servant, in advance, of rhythms’.63 The poet’s ‘solitude’ and the cloud with which he surrounds his verses must be understood on this basis. Their scope will be misread if they are likened to the nihilistic will to constitute the oeuvre in a ‘column of silence’, rejecting the democratic and public sphere.64 It would be much fairer to compare Mallarméan ‘restricted action’ with the Marxist notion of a necessary maturation of revolutionary conditions. The poet’s isolation is strictly linked to the ‘absence of present’. We ought to understand the politics of the dice throw – and the ultimate meaning of the fable of the boat and the siren – as follows: the conditions do not yet exist for the union of poet and crowd in ‘the hymn of spiritual hearts’. The ‘extraordinary hour’ has not arrived, nor has the ‘prodigious auditorium’, which
is identical to the stage. For the poem and community alike, it is madness to wager immediately on the replacement of the reign of material gold by that of symbolic gold: ‘now gold strikes the race directly’. The moment has not arrived to celebrate the splendour of its sunset, that sumptuousness like a sinking ship, which will not give up, and celebrates sea and sky as it burns’.65 By taking the crash of Panama or any old bank collapse as the revolutionary dawn, and making himself its hasty eulogist, the poet himself will be behaving like a risky financier, dragging the gold of the future into the mediocrity of ordinary bankruptcy. To celebrate the splendour of the great shipwreck in anticipation will mean that the ship of the Argonauts of the poem sinks into the abyss. So it is pointless to try to cut short the ‘tunnel of the times’ and alight, today already, at some ‘central station’, whose glass dome would become identified with the community palace in which the hymn of spiritual hearts would ring out. This is what the small marine fable tells us: the hour is hardly ripe for some great and glorious shipwreck. It is the hour of the discrete siren who refuses in advance to disseminate and cause to vanish truths that are still only in the state of ‘scales or chords played in prelude to a concert’.66 It is better to ‘try’ these scales and chords while the ‘other crisis’ is in gestation. So, it is necessary to understand properly the injunction to solitude pertaining to the artist and the work. It is precisely due to his solidarity with the worker, who daily sinks into and is reborn from the common pit of work, that the poet must isolate himself and ‘sculpt his own tomb’,67 deepening the ‘suicide’ parodied in Saturday night libations. The assertion according to which the ‘book does not demand a reader’, that ‘it takes place all by itself’, ought not to be understood in a contrary sense. It does not mean that the writer writes only for himself. It means that the book – in the sole material reality of the solitary volume whose leaves simultaneously conceal and offer their treasure – is already the institution of a place. It is not at all, then, to satisfy the elitism of an aesthete that the book argues ‘against the brutalities of space, a refolded infinite and intimate delicacy of being in itself’.68 This reserved ‘delicacy’ is the fold [repli] which turns the ‘cloistral eternity’ of space into a world inhabitable for the human community. And by no means is nihilistic ceremony the reason why ‘its buried meaning moves and arranges, into a chorus, the pages’.69 The tomb of the book, as sculpted by the ‘suicide’ of the poet, is what separates the human destiny of the common grave from the production and reproduction of life. Burial in the chorus book of the future puts an end to the Saint-Simonian illusion of the ‘new book’. The act of writing has as its place on the paper alone. But,
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moreover, the book preserves the rhythms of the hymn for celebrations of the future, the ‘innumerable Thousand and One Nights; at which a suddenly invented reading majority will marvel’.70 Musical religion For a redoubtable game is played around this hymn. The new religion already has its own temples, its theory and its divinity. The new religion that henceforth claims to assume the secession of Christianity bears a name which concentrates the Mallarméan problem in its entirety. It is music. Three texts ‘Sacred Pleasure’, ‘Catholicism’ and ‘The Same’, gathered by Mallarmé under the title ‘Services’71, have the same welldefined objective: namely, to understand how what seemed merely to be one art among others came to play a wholly other role, the role of being ‘the last plenary human religion’.72 The response can be deduced from two fundamental theses of the Mallarméan theory of religion: if the gods come from language and must return to it, then a purified language is best able to lay claim to being the last religion. Now, music presents itself as this language par excellence. And if the essential content of the Christian religion is the very gesture of elevation, which ranks presence alongside absence, the baton of the orchestra conductor represents the final purification of this ritual, which Christian sacrifice compromises with simulacra of the barbaric feast. Music presents the form of writing and ritual that is most abstracted from corporeality and figuration. Indeed, its abstraction is precisely what makes its language the most immediately accessible. Music explodes the screen of the image and representation. The abstract shivers that the writing of notes and intervals confides to the timbre of instruments can thus immediately be transformed into shivers of emotion. It is this abstraction that transforms ‘aesthetics’ into the last ‘religion’ and enables music to establish, by the most direct paths, the most perceptible communion between men, in recognition of their chimerical greatness. We can put this differently: music appears par excellence as that which, ‘beyond nature’, welcomes the sacredness lost by nature in the age of industry. Nature was the first form, the tangible form of the Idea, still primitive and caught in the solidity of matter; while music is the last ‘sacred state’, the spiritualized form of the Idea, pulverizing all matter and image, in a ‘volatile reduction [dépouillement] into corresponding features, now nearing thought’.73 ‘Now, the note that sounds the time to return to the capital is given
by the opening of a new season of concerts’.74 This apparently frivolous remark is, for Mallarmé, laden with meaning. First of all, the capital is the place par excellence of consecration of the human abode. Second, the return of autumn symbolizes the very transmission of the ‘glory’ of nature in celebrations of community. Last, the new sacredness of the concert signifies that glorious form par excellence, the theatre. And yet the theatrical place, par excellence, was the opening of the chimera’s golden maw, the temple of popular communion whose ‘little glasses’ of the evening after payday contained the derisory promise. The stage is the ‘obvious focus of pleasures taken in common’ and ‘the majestic opening to the mystery whose grandeur one is in the world to envisage’.75 The place of theatre is the human place par excellence, the night which invents its light and its luxury. But the theatre of the late nineteenth century proves unable to respond to the promise of magnificence of its golds, velvet and glassware. The promised glory of the chandelier’s brilliance and the curtain’s fringe of light is brutally belied by the stage, on which ordinary ladies and gentlemen see only other ordinary ladies and gentlemen. Those who ask of art to spellbind them are met by the theatre of representation with the degree zero of fiction, that is, with simple convention, which, by raising the curtains to sets depicting everyday banalities, straightaway proclaims: ‘Suppose that this is really taking place and that you are there!’76 The naturalist convention of modern theatre thus transforms the ‘magnificent hole’ of the golden chimera into the simple nothingness of banality looking at itself in the mirror. Whence emerges the conquering force of the symphonic deluge. The baton of the orchestra conductor empties the theatrical space of those tiresome individuals whose dull stature and coarse anecdotes had obstructed ideal space, that space of mystery where the greatness hidden in the ‘scient flank’ of the public is confronted with the greatness of the stage. Le miracle de la musique est cette pénétration, en réciprocité, du mythe et de la salle, par quoi se comble jusqu’à étinceler des arabesques et d’ors en traçant l’arrêt à la boîte sonore, l’espace vacant, face à la scène : absence d’aucun, où s’écarte l’assistance et que ne franchit le personnage. L’orchestre flotte, remplit et l’action, en cours, ne s’isole étrangère et nous de demeurons des témoins : mais, de chaque place, à travers les affres et l’éclat, tour à tour, sommes circulairement le héros [. . .]
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The miracle of music is this penetration, in reciprocity, of the myth and the house, topped by the sparkling of arabesques and golds, which trace the blockage of the pit, the vacant space, facing the stage, the absence of anyone, where the audience parts and which characters can’t cross. The orchestra floats and fills in, and the action in progress does not seem isolated or foreign to the spectator, who is no longer just a witness: but, from each seat, through tortures or gleams, one is each by turns, circularly, the hero [. . .]77 By destroying the games of representation and recognition, through its wordless and imageless language, musical action can be identified with the ritual of consecration of place. And this consecration of place is also tantamount to the public’s celebrating the cult whose hero it is. However, the celebration at issue can only be a distant one. ‘Mystery’ means distance, indeed a twofold distance: the people of the musical temple no longer look at themselves in the mirror of banality. But neither do they incorporate any formerly divine greatness. The conductor of the orchestra, like the priest, better than the priest, pushes back the common glory that he exhibits. The chimerical animal only ever appropriates its greatness through an empty space. It comes to it only via the arabesques which, for the time of a performance, link, across this vacant space, the orchestral shivers in the golds of the hall with the folds in the dresses of female spectators. The aesthetic distance of the mystery is also a political distance. Mallarmé’s difference stands out here from the poeticopolitical programme that continued from Romanticism via symbolism and futurism. In this programme, the poem has the forms of chant and myth as its essential content: that is, the narrative by which the community can recognize its principle and, in choirs, sing what it is that makes it a community. The poem, in short, is symbolic in essence. The Romantic age contrasted the cold classical allegory with the heat of the symbol that bears the seal – hidden inside itself but susceptible to becoming manifest again in its sensory truth – of community alliance. It takes up on its own behalf the Platonic dream of the choral city, enchanting itself incessantly by playing and singing in unison its proper law, itself internalized as the sensory rhythm of the life of each and all. Mallarmé also adopted the language of the symbol and the idea of a generalized music. But his symbol bears the property of the allegory. It remains at a distance. The cup is ‘empty of any brew’. Nobody consumes the divine bread and wine. And
the musical ceremony is not a choral ceremony. It is an orchestral performance in which the crowd participates only silently in the mystery of its own greatness. The orchestra conductor’s movement retains the mystery in its place and warns the crowd about adoring itself in the new temple. Or rather, it ought to do so. But the privilege accorded to musical silence has its downside. Music is unable to control its effects, is unable to be reduced to its own principle. Hegel, in his Aesthetics, already noted this downside of musical privilege. Music is the art of interiority par excellence, the one in which mathematical intervals and sonorities of wood, strings and brass have the power to create, directly, a milieu of ideality enveloping the listener. But this beautiful interiority is an empty one. ‘Pure’ musical language is doomed either to retain its instrumental purity, and therefore not to say anything bearing meaning; or else to borrow meanings from speech and drama to express, and thus to find itself, by the same token, the servant of another art. Mallarmé recognized this dilemma. Music is a language whose sublimity is somewhat suspect, a poem ‘all the more comprehensible for being stilled’, where the composer has the possibility of ‘suspending even the temptation to explain himself’.78 This language without words boasts of its having eliminated the banality of universal reportage. But this ascension of the silent multitude, crossing ‘literary distances’ in a single blow and finding itself directly ‘face to face with the Unutterable and the Pure, poetry without the words’, is perhaps merely ‘a case of enormous and superior reportage’.79 Musical language can be self-sufficient only at the price of substituting the banalities of theatrical recognition for the mystification of the Unutterable. The god Wagner: poem, music and politics Is this to say, following Hegel, that music is doomed to turn itself into the servant of poetry? This would mean forgetting the coup de force which, since Hegel, has occurred in the relations between music and the poem, the coup de force of a musician who read Hegel through two of his great critics, Feuerbach and Schopenhauer: namely, Richard Wagner. Wagner, in his own way, had already announced the decline of the old theatre of representation. To the anecdote of opera and its choirs, he contrasted the new poem specific to the times of peoples and revolutions, that is, the musical drama, the synthesis of both arts. He thus inverted the second term of the alternative. The opposite of ‘pure music’ is not music as servant of the poem, but as queenly and commanding, relegating the ‘poetic grimoire’ to the scrapheap:
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Notre si vieil ébat triomphal du grimoire Hiéroglyphes dont s’exalte le millier A propager de l’aile un frisson familier Enfouissez-le-moi plutôt dans une armoire. The old gay triumphs of our magic scrawl, Hieroglyphs by the thousand scurrying To spread familiar flutters with their wing! Bury them in a cupboard after all.80
Not only does Wagner’s enterprise not represent unfair competition, using the brilliancy of voices and instruments against the poem’s line of foam; it represents the very absorption of the poem and its ‘politics’ into music. Wagner unites the abstraction of musical language – its ‘volatile simplicity’ [dépouillement], proper to creating a site of communion – with its contrary: the theatre of representation, its fable and its substantial characters. In this resides the essence of the following famous leitmotiv: the identification of ‘colours and lines of a character with musical timbres and themes’.81 Wagner, in actual fact, presented this marriage as his revolution, in opposition to the conventions and vocalises of old opera. And he registered it within the perspective of a new thought of the poem, one that also comprises a specific idea about the poem’s function of community: the total work of art. Now Mallarmé sought precisely to denounce this fusion. Fraudulently, what Wagner effectuated was a marriage between two principles and two eras: nature and music, representation and mystery, the gods of myth and the god of absence, Greek theatre and the Christian mass. He is the artist who took fright at the novelty of his own art, who was unable to wait for the hour of the crowd and the celebrations of tomorrow. As such, he reconciled the tradition of theatre, itself on the verge of obsolescence, ‘with the virginal, occult energy surging up from his scores’. He brought about a synthesis between the legend of the flown gods and the power of the absent god: the ‘distant hero’, Siegfried, that man of myth and origins. This hero ‘walks on the mist as one walks on earth’. To the audience he simultaneously offers the ‘stupor’ of myths and the intimacy of a ‘familiar appearance by a human individual’, even injecting, as a surplus for the refined, some familiarity into these myths for the people with a few ‘chance symbols’. The upshot of thus leading symbolist mystery astray, in celebration of myth, is political as well as poetic: Avec une piété antérieure, un public pour la seconde fois depuis les temps, hellénique d’abord, maintenant germain, considère le secret, représenté, d’origines. Quelque singulier bonheur, neuf et barbare, l’asseoit : devant le voile mouvant la subtilité de l’orchestration, à une magnificence qui décore sa genèse.
The public, with a piety that belongs to former times, first Hellenic, now Germanic, considers the secret, represented, of origins. Some singular happiness – new and barbarous – seats it down: before the moving veil the subtlety of the orchestration, at a magnificence which decorates its genesis’.82 The fraudulent compromise between music and representation effects a redoubtable political confusion. It turns the abstract poetic type into a national hero; it transforms communion ‘through the vacant space’ into the people’s real presence to itself, invited to the celebration of community origin. From then on, the orchestra conductor’s baton no longer contains any mystery. Wagner, precisely, interred the orchestra, leaving the public alone with the hero in person, distant and hazy, but present, the hero in whom it must recognize the secret of its origin and its community power. Music, then, is consecrated as the religion of the people, the Eucharist of the real presence to self of a people defined as a community of origins, of a people called itself to become the total work of art. Here Mallarmé’s rupture with Wagnerian fascination asserts itself. As indignant as Mallarmé was towards those who, out of nationalism, wanted Lohengrin banned from playing in Paris, he all the same sought to oppose the Wagnerian project to a ‘French spirit’, stamped by a specific poetics and politics: that is, a Cartesian poetics of imaginative abstraction that refuses the enchantments of legend; and a revolutionary politics of justice that cuts into the course of history, decapitates kings and refuses, in their place, to have the people celebrate as a real body. The scenic act, like the modern political act, has a duty to be strictly allegorical, withdrawn from all embodiment of anonymous power. The century and country that dissolved the myths of both origin and sovereignty were unable to acquiesce to their restoration. Rather, to the myth that offers a community its own living image, it is necessary to oppose the type ‘without prior designation’, a pure combination of aspects and the power of acts able, by their abstraction, to encapsulate ‘our dreams of places or paradises’ without embodying them. The play of symbols needs only the imaginary space of origins. It needs only the ‘fictive focal point of the eyes of a crowd’. Moreover, opposed to the collective narrative amplified by the orchestral deluge stands the fable, virgin of anything: ‘place, time or known characters’, and alone apt to express the anonymous greatness of the crowd, ‘the sense which is latent in everyone’s striving’, and which allows for ‘Man and his authentic earthly abode to exchange a reciprocity of proofs’.83
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At stake, then, is something altogether different from some sort of unfair competition between the arts. At stake is the status of fiction, and the relation between the status of fiction and the community’s way of being. In view of the concordance between the occult power of the ‘abyss of musical execution’ and the vain hunger of that furious chasm – the crowd and its epoch carefully frustrated by the ‘social arrangement’ – the cause of the small poetic siren is also the cause of ‘justice’, whose ‘flap of wing’ has to ‘dust off’ the domes of glass designed for the celebrations of the future. We have already seen that fiction is much more than the arranging of fables or filling the imaginary with delights, that it is the very method of the human spirit, by which it separates itself from myth to project its own light. The way in which music, which ought to consecrate this separation, was, on the contrary, able to restore myth is exemplary. And it also reveals the political stakes of the purification of fiction, of its return to the purified power of the verb. The programme is thus clearly laid down. The fascinating and disastrous hymen of the musical storm and poetical ship must be contrasted with fiction’s return to the power of the verb purified by musical abstraction. The revolution that music operates, in relation to the newspaper and to the representative status of theatre, is too serious a thing to be left to the blind impatience of musicians. It is up to the language of words to retranslate the revolution that the language of ‘instrumental rendings’ introduces into both the poem and human ritual, [. . .] car, ce n’est pas de sonorités élémentaires par les cuivres les cordes, les bois, indéniablement, mais de l’intellectuelle parole à son apogée que doit avec plénitude et évidence résulter, en tant que l’ensemble des rapports existants dans tout, la Musique. [. . .] for it is not through the elementary sounds of brasses, strings or woods, but undeniably through the intellectual word at its height that there should result, with plenitude and obviousness, as the totality of relations existing in everything, the system otherwise known as Music.84 This is the fundamental stake of the ‘crisis of verse’, which Verlaine’s impair verse inaugurated, free verse pursued, and contemporary dreams of ‘verbal instrumentation’ wanted to settle. By ‘breaking up classical literary rhythms’ and ‘dispersing them into articulated shivers close to
instrumentation’, what is in gestation is the art of ‘achieving the transposition, into the Book, of the symphony’, the reconquest by poetry of its own good, which is also ‘the procedure itself of the human spirit’.
The duty of the book
Here is where Mallarmé’s difficulty begins, and it must be well defined. The difficulty lies not in understanding what Mallarmé says in his poems. The difficulty lies in the task that he set himself as a poet. This difficulty, in its turn, must be distinguished from general psychological considerations about anxiety, faced with the white page. Mallarmé’s specific problem is not that of the schoolchild or the obsessive individual wondering how he will blacken his page. Mallarmé’s problem is linked to the fact that the page is not only the material support of the poem, or the allegory of its obligation. It belongs to the very movement and texture of the poem. The surface of writing is the place of a taking-place. The poem’s concluding white marks the return of the poem to the silence whence it emerged, but no longer is it the same white or the same silence. It is a determinate silence where the happenstance of some leaf of paper has been vanquished. And this victory is not the simple exercise of a specific virtuosity. It belongs to the movement by which man appropriates a humanity that is a match for the game of the world. To the luminous splendour of the ‘alphabet of stars’ placed against a dark background, responds the movement of writing: ‘man pursues black on white’. Put another way, the problem stems not from the fact of writing, but from the mission attributed to the poem and the constraints that this imposes on its writing. Let us recapitulate: the poem is not only a ‘work of art’. Fiction is not simply the work of the imagination. It is properly speaking that which must take up the succession from religion qua elevation of the human to its greatness and the principle of a community keyed to that greatness. The task involved in succeeding from religion consists neither in some prosaic demystification of its celestial content, nor in the reappropriation of its
sacredness on behalf of humanity. Poetry, in short, must not constitute a new religion, not even that of humankind. It must, reaching further back than the religion of music, return us to the origin of all religion as such, to the ‘poems immanent to humanity in its original form’.85 But these, humanity’s original poems, are not myths buried in the collective unconscious; they are forms-of-world that are to be resuscitated by the ordering of words. The poem geared to serving this function is itself subject to a strict set of conditions. It can no longer recount stories in the old style or describe what nature suffices to produce, nor by any means replace the description of characters, feeling and objects with the enunciation of philosophical messages. The young Valéry summed this up as follows: the poem’s ‘high symphony’ liberates the poet ‘from the banal rescue of banal philosophies, false tenderness and lifeless descriptions’. But, by turning away from representation as from dissertation, the poem is unable to abdicate the privilege of speech and thought for the ‘ineffability’ of song. And if it has the instantaneousness of a vanishing act, it is nevertheless not to be identified with the pure happening of the living artwork, with the effusion of the community presenting itself to itself. ‘Poe’s opinion’ was the one Mallarmé ‘revered’: no vestige of any philosophy ought to appear in the work. He was quick to add, however, that philosophy must be ‘included and latent’. What is a ‘latent philosophy’? To be sure, not without ruining the stated postulates can it consist in a ‘philosophical meaning’ to be discovered in the fable of the poem. If philosophy is present, it must therefore be in the specific way in which thought ‘takes place’, in which the Idea is inscribed in the form of a poem, on this side of the ordinary forms of discursive thought. Mallarmé’s text gives a twofold figure to this first inscription: the burst of song, on this side of the concept, and the inscription of its power of thought, on this side of words, in the white which separates and surrounds the lines of the chant: Le chant jaillit de source innée : antérieure à un concept, si purement que refléter, au-dehors, mille rythmes d’images. [ ] L’armature intellectuelle du poème se dissimule et tient – a lieu – dans l’espace qui isole les strophes et parmi le blanc du papier. Song breaks forth from an innate source: prior to a concept, as purely as reflecting, outside, a thousand rhythms of images. [. . .] The intellectual armoury of the poem is dissimulated and holds – takes place – in the space which isolates the stanzas and among the white of the paper.86
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The poem as thought: a secular history How are we to understand the relation of this innate breaking forth and this invisible architecture as the latent and effective ‘philosophy’ of the poem? For this, we must reset the Mallarméan project within a discussion of the poem’s capacities of thought, a discussion that was also a century old. In the times when Hegel, Schelling and Hölderlin jotted down on a bit of paper their project for a poetry-religion for the people, the Schlegel brothers elaborated the idea of a poetry-thought, of a type of poetry in furtherance of thought and capable of reflecting, by itself, on the infinite. In this era, young German thinkers were proposing to prolong France’s ‘frozen’ Revolution by elaborating what it had lacked: a spiritual revolution. And, with this idea of spiritual revolution, all sorts of discoveries and rediscoveries came to swirl around together: the chemical decomposition of bodies, the Kantian chemistry of the faculties of mind, the dissolving powers of irony and the revolutionary dissolution of old orders; electric energy, Leibnizian dynamism and the transcendent fantasy of Don Quichotte retranslated; the Spinozist natura naturans, the rediscovered power of myth and of ancient epos and animal magnetism; the science of hieroglyphic decipherment, that which penetrates the living meaning of symbols and reads the age and the law of constitution of minerals; the power of nature manifested in its formations, the power of images and the educational novel of the artistic soul, who in Wilhelm Meister had found his bible. The ‘progressive universal poetry’ thus named by Friedrich Schlegel combined, within this whirlwind, two leading images. On the one hand, the theory of wit defined an electric form of poetry, constituting, between hackneyed words and significations, the differences of potential that generate the lightning flash to bring them to life and establish new and indefinitely renewable potentialities of meaning. On the other, the theory of the symbol registered that power of electrifying within a natural history of poeticity; the history of a poetic power of nature and of life, constantly creating new forms and being written – in more and more elaborate and significant figures – on these forms. The poetic games of Witz thus crowned this movement, marking a poeticity already inscribed within the structure of the collective poem formed by language itself, summoned to always higher forms of self-symbolization. The poem’s power of thought simultaneously consisted in the power of mind to deny finite determination and fossilized meaning, and the power of life that through its self-reflection never ceases to elevate itself to new forms.
In his Lessons on Aesthetics, an old Hegel set this extravagance of thought in order. He shattered the idea of the poem of the poem, of the poem as ‘self reflection’, in which the two brothers had generously identified the active power of thought, qua that which knows itself in the inert virtue of the image-returning mirror. To the power of the poem’s ‘self knowledge’ he contrasted the clear division of two modes of existence of thought. On the one hand, there was thought outside of itself, thought having become the spirit of the painting, the smile of the god of stone, the image and rhythm of the poem; a thought entirely bound up in the material it animates and raises to ideality: stone, wood, colour, sound or language. On the other, there was thought in its proper element, no longer having to concern itself with materials, other than a language of signs that is indifferent to what it signifies. This division fixed the powers of poetry and its limits. In poetry, as in all art, the mind manifested itself only as the power of organization and interiority of a sensory weave. And doubtless the art of poetry was that where the matter was finest. It had the most ideal of contents, namely the very representations of mind; and the most ideal of materials, namely language. Through poetry’s power to whip words into images, more than through any other art, prosaic consciousness would find it was clearer, and the mind would pave the way toward its own clarification. This is why it was the ‘general art’. But this power had its strict complement. In manifesting thought, other arts came up against the resistance of the stone, the wood or the colour applied to a surface. Poetry, though, concerned itself only with the purest form, that supreme form of opacity which resists the mind: that is, the mind’s opacity to itself and language’s resistance to becoming the simple instrument of thought. Poetry’s power of thought is that of a spirit which does not yet know itself except in the figure and rhythm of a language that itself is still caught in the figurativeness of images and the temporal thickness of its materiality. More than in any other art form, it was in poetry that the following general law would appear: art only arises wherever thought does not think itself, wherever thought is separated from itself. We can put this differently and say that the mind can express itself in three material aspects: first, there is plastic form, in which it expresses adequately what it knows about itself in a resistant material – and, by the same token, what it ignores about itself; second, there is the language of signs, the language which functions as a simple medium of communication, common to the modern prose of the world of interests and laws and to the expression of thought in itself; and then there is the third
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mode: that of the symbol. The romantic theory of the poem privileged this mode, wherein meaning was not enclosed within the solitude of words, but inscribed in the very texture of the sensory, a witness to the power of a mind that creates living forms, that already bears, even obscurely, significations to be deciphered by a superior form of poem. Here is the point on which Hegel’s surgical operation bears. This double nature of the symbol, for him, is a sign not of force but of weakness. The symbol is that bat-like creature that simultaneously takes after both form and sign. It is the form that tells us: do not be deceived, I am more than form, I am the writing of a thought. It delineates and has us recognize a lion, but simultaneously wants us to recognize in it a force, a majesty or a king. The symbol builds a pyramid of stone and wants us to read in it the mystery of death and the beyond. Conversely, however, it is the form of writing which pretends to be more than writing, and already to be presenting the sensible form of what it names. Wanting to cumulate the powers of form and thought, it lacks both of them. Thus form talks only when it is limited to its own power. In this way, the Greek statue, in its plastic perfection, expressed the idea – still very material but well determined – that the Greek people entertained of divinity. It passed on wholly to the stone a thought that it would fall to a subsequent discourse to translate into the language of words and into the history of the mind. The symbol, as for it, wants to pull ahead, to inscribe the meaning that it fails to master in the matter that it fails to give form to. It lets us see the work of an intention which strives, though without managing it, to place an idea in a material, which seeks to define the idea of courage and finds merely a lion, an outline deprived of the spiritual power of form, itself reduced to the role of substituting a thought. Symbolism, then, is not only the first age of art, but more generally thought’s failure to give itself body, the cloud that floats on the border between two modes of thought and that menaces the thinking that claims to unite them in one. This is precisely the menace that weighs on poetry’s pretension to be thought by itself, of itself. The supreme form of art, poetry purified simultaneously the representations of the mind and the material of language. It brought them to the point at which the mind, clear to itself, could be uttered in an exact language and be recognized in the forms in which it was externalized. This is as much to say that, in coming to know itself, the mind no longer needs poetry, but also that the very matter of poetry escapes it. For poetry thrived on a twofold opacity: the opacity of language, its resistance to the traversal of meaning; but also the spirit’s opacity to
itself, its distance to itself, which constrained it to go looking for itself in the materiality of the figure. Wherever this twofold opacity is missing, poetry loses its unconscious finality of form. It thus seeks to make up for what it loses in formal power by jumping across to the other side of the barrier, by attributing to itself the power of thought which knows itself. But it thereby ceases to be poetry, nevertheless without becoming philosophy. It loses itself in the fogs of humour and feeling, in the border cloud of the symbol enclosing those who aim to occupy both sides at once. Thought must be either on one side or the other, in the interiority of thought or in the exteriority of the sensory. The work claiming to unite these two modes of thought misses them both. The ‘poem of the poem’ is simply the poem that wants to turn the desertion of its form into the proof of its character of thought. Music, dance, poem: the circle of ‘mimesis’ Mallarmé seems to have known Hegelian thought only through intermediary persons. His notion of the poetic symbol is nevertheless defined by the frame of division traced by Hegel’s thought. This notion rises, in its own way, to the Hegelian challenge, or confronts its prohibition. Doubtless Mallarmé’s thinking was far removed from the Romantic theory of generalized symbolism. The ‘French’ theory of fiction rejects this presence of meaning at the power of formation of things. It strictly maintains the division between nature, which simply is, and its beyond. It lays claim, on the other hand, to the power that Hegel denied the poem: that of a thinking which is the immediate identity of thought and form, in the element of thought itself; and that of an abstract language which simultaneously writes, in the traces of signs, the power of thought which gave rise to it. The poem ‘nears the Idea’, says Mallarmé. But how are we to conceive this proximity? In its immediate context, the poem contrasts the signifying structure of the poetic verb with the claims of instrumental music and its language, conveniently exempt from explaining itself. However, if poetry nears the Idea, it is because it is ‘music par excellence’, the true music of which the other is only an imitation; in short, it is because the mode of supreme manifestation of the Idea is a pure music, of which strings and woodwind instruments give a mere imitation. However, here is woven a singularly complex relationship between model and copy. Poetry is more musical than music, for two reasons that are presented as equivalent: first, because it is the art of the verb, of thought expressed, which contrasts with the orchestra’s ‘mutism’; and second, because it is
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the art of silence, of the ‘tacit concert’ or of the ‘tacit flight of abstraction’, which contrasts with its clamour – it is ‘the same thing as the orchestra, except literarily or silently’.87 How are we to understand the relationship between this mutism and this silence? Music presented the paradigm of a language which, more radically than conceptual abstraction, dismissed the ‘brutality’ of designation; of a sensory language of the number, apt both to replace things with the relations connecting them and to have the harmony of these relations communicate directly, in a determinate time and place, with the ‘types’ and the ‘accords’ of our inner theatre as with the unconscious greatness of the gathered crowd. In musical presentation, it is no longer things that are mimed, but the idea itself. Musical fiction draws the idea in the form of a rhythm. It draws it in its new status: the unity in act of scattered fragments of beauty, awakening through the distribution of voices, motifs and differences of intensity, the slumbering poeticity at the core of any multiplicity whatever. Music purifies fiction, separates it from the figure in order to commit it to the intellectual power of the rhythm. It recovers, in short, its Greek meaning and its Platonic function: the transcription of mathematical harmony which creates a kosmos, the power to elicit in the soul of the individual and of the city the virtuality of a harmony that imitates the harmony of divine beings or, in Mallarméan terms, the play written in the folio of the sky. ‘Use Music in the Greek sense, meaning, basically, idea or the rhythm between connections’;88 this is the idea of music that the orchestra imitates and that it simultaneously betrays with the noisy and ‘industrial’ mutism of gut strings and pistons. The orchestra is thus like the silent and noisy letter that knows not whereof it speaks. But here the old Platonic theme takes on a paradoxical figure. This is because for Mallarmé, contrary to Plato, living discourse is called writing. It is the writing, or the word, of the spirit as opposed to the gossipy mutism of voices: that is, to the orchestra’s clamour but also to the discourse of the concept, which itself fails to go beyond the power of the ‘most beautiful speeches to come out of some mouth’. Thought’s mode of expression as rhythm is anterior to and higher than its discursive mode. It delineates not at all the result of a thought, but the movement itself of its flight. The dialectic of the verse: ressuscite au degré glorieux ce qui, tout sûr, philosophique, imaginatif et éclatant que ce fût, [ ] ne resterait, à son défaut que les plus beaux discours émanés de quelque bouche. A travers un nouvel état, sublime,
il y a recommencement des conditions ainsi que des matériaux de la pensée sis naturellement pour un devoir de prose: comme des vocables, eux-mêmes, après cette différence et l’essor au-delà, atteignant leur vertu. resuscitates, to the degree that it, glorious and philosophical and imaginative, revives a celestial vision of humanity ! without it there is just beautiful discourse out of some mouth. In this new sublime state, there is a fresh beginning of the conditions and materials of thought, laid down naturally for a prose study: the vocables, by themselves, after this difference and the experience of the beyond, find their virtue.89 The ‘dialectic of the verse’ is introduced at the price of a remarkable reversal. The music of the orchestra dismissed the coarseness of the imitative figure and the theatre of representation. The primary music of the poem purifies the coarseness of the orchestral tumult. But it is in a new theatre that thought lays its ‘wing’s blow’ – the figures of its movement – open to view, that the spirit shows itself as theatre. Only this theatralization renders to words their primary ‘virtue’ prior to discourse. What, in fact, is this original virtue of words? It can only be understood in two ways. First, there is the old and ineradicable idea scoffed at by Plato in the Cratylus: that the sounds of words are similar to what they say. Doubtless Mallarmé, in Les Mots anglais, makes more than one pledge toward a neo-Cratylism, when, in the chapter on sibilants, he becomes intoxicated with the rapidity and the exaggeration of sw, the stability and frankness of st, the good sentiments of sm and the rampant perversity of sn. But this science of sounds announces straightaway the colour of the chimera, and in ‘Crisis of verse’ its principle is fixed once and for all: it is because words do not resemble things that verse receives its function as higher currency and as a new word, closer to thought. If the flight of verse gives words their virtue, it is not by moving them closer to their origin; on the contrary, it is by the oblique movement which draws them outside of themselves and enables them to light up through ‘reciprocal reflections like a virtual swooping of fire across precious stones’.90 We find ourselves, then, before the Hegelian core of the problem: what are we to do so that this ‘silent’ pyrotechnics of words can become more than simply the most beautiful metaphor illustrating a purely empty intention? Where are we to find the paradigm enabling us to think the poem of the pure spirit, meaning by this not at all one which, as in Vigny, celebrates the purity of the spirit, but instead one which presents us its
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effective theatre? To this question, we can give a response that is at first glance surprising. The theatre of the pure spirit that the page of writing must institute has a privileged model: ballet, that minor art forgotten by Hegel. The silent music of the spirit, its bare writing, is illustrated nowhere better than in the figures traced by the illiterate ballerina with her steps, or even, like Loïe Fuller, with the movement of her skirt. Better than music, more precisely than it, dance institutes the pure place of an ideality. Never, by its lone act, will a step be able to represent or to suggest any object, story or feeling. But, clearly, an art’s pure capacity for fiction stands in inverse ratio to that offered by the ordinary games of recognition. Of the ‘scattered general beauty, flower, waves, cloud and jewel’, the dancer’s ‘flighted form’ will never give us the representation nor even the impression. What it draws is the pure trajectory between a virtual aspect and a mind able to ‘divine’ it and recognize it as analogue to the types and accords of its inner theatre. The dancer’s ‘flighted form’ thereby carries out the programme that is proposed for the new poem: ‘To institute an exact relation between images, and let detach there a third, blendable and clear aspect, presented for divination’.91 And it lends its exact model to the ‘elocutionary disappearance’ of the poet, by its vanishing as individuality in the pure writing of steps which cause any anecdote to disappear: The judgement or axiom to be affirmed in the case of ballet! Namely, that the dancer is not a woman dancing, for these juxtaposed reasons: that she is not a woman, but a metaphor summing up one of the elementary aspects of our form: knife, goblet, flower, etc., and that she is not dancing, but suggesting, through the miracle of bends and leaps, a kind of corporeal writing, what it would take pages of prose, dialogue and description to express, if it were transcribed: a poem independent of any scribal apparatus.92 Similarly, the appeal to the ‘fractioning’ of equal motifs and to the ‘reciprocity of fires’ between the words of the poem finds its strict model in the following choreographic law: ‘that the first subject, unclassifiable, of dance, in its ceaseless ubiquity, is a moving synthesis of the attitudes of each group; just as each group is only a fraction, detailing the whole, of the infinite’.93 It is this pure relationship of reciprocity between types and the synthesis of their attitudes that is lost in the ‘loquacious vacuity’ of the theatre, as illustrated on stage at the Théâtre Français, where the members who play Laertes or
Polonius want to impose their ‘character’, instead of being merely walk-ons, that is, tapestry motifs typified by their juvenile shadow, that ‘latent lord who cannot become’, Hamlet. The real writing of the mind can be seen in the pure plastic figure that is illustrated in the silent discourse of the dancer, in which is encapsulated the ‘few summary equations of all fantasy’.94 The poem of the pure spirit is, then, drawn into a singular spiral. The silent language of music freed it from the coarseness of figuration and representation. But it had to avow the emptiness of this wordless language, concealed by the clamour of bare sounds. It admitted to being a copy or caricature of the true, silent music of the poem. Of this silent music the ballerina, then, provided the model: the writing of truth, writing without words. The exteriority of the figure thus returns as the mode of the manifestation of the idea. However, it is still in the mode of a simulacrum that this ‘rather unconscious revealer’ proposes a realization of it, as she simulates with the movements of her dress ‘an impatience of plumes toward the idea’. Only the gaze of the poet ‘used to dreaming’ is able to recognize in it the choreography of the mind which is misrecognized by the choreographers of the stage. Ballet seemed to furnish the poem with its model. Yet it remains no more than its caricature. The silent writing of the dancer copies, vainly and unconsciously, the true choreography of the idea, which is that of the words of the poem. Always, the ‘book of verse’ springs forth as the true theatre of the mind, the theatre which imitates only the Idea and of which every other art is a simple imitation. But Mallarmé never managed to conceive this first model, except as the imitation of its imitations. In this infinite recourse, Jacques Derrida not long ago lauded Mallarmé’s subversion of the Platonic system of the ideamodel and the copy.95 But two things have to be distinguished. Mallarmé dismissed the art of representation of the idea-model, but maintained a mimetic status for the poem: the poem imitates no model, but traces perceptibly the movement of the Idea, the idea as the movement of its own breaking forth. That the idea is only fiction does not prevent there from being a first copy of its movement, one that is to be found, mimed in the writing of timbres and of steps and is to be repatriated to the book in its anteriority. The supreme artifice must be a veridical copy of the written piece ‘in the folio of the sky’. The first copy cannot show its model. It must no less be masterfully authenticated, in order to show, through the last full stop which consecrates it and the silence that closes it, that it really is the first copy. It must present the ‘nuptial proofs’ of the Idea, the ritual or the first sacrament of which the others repeat the symbol.
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The problems of the white of the page, and infinite dream and detachment [recul] of the book, have to be grasped in this logic. They do not pertain to an anxiety that the psychoanalyst would have to explain to us or to the reprisal of a millenary esoteric dream to which the Cabbalist specialists would alone have the key. The ‘orphic explanation of the earth’, whose intention Mallarmé follows, is not the business of the Cabbalists and the book’s detachment hardly the result of the heavy secrets that he would have to transmit to us of some long tradition. Orpheus’ task does not suppose long vigils over old grimoires, only a short to-and-fro to the land of the dead, to return the dead woman to the surface without turning back towards her, without constituting her as an object of the gaze. Likewise, to the ‘orphic’ poet it is enough, for every cosmogony, to inscribe the premier rite of the idea, projecting onto that which is only the light of what has disappeared, to show, in its authenticity, a leaf of a book authenticating our abode. It has only to be shown that this leaf is really and truly authentic, that it actually imitates the idea, that ‘music of relations between everything’, whose authentic imitation can only be perceived in the copies which falsify it. The circle of mimesis: the poet who ‘is satisfied by no fruits here’, and refuses to mime ‘banal philosophies, false tenderness and lifeless descriptions’, is no less strictly held to attest is that what he has placed in his poem really is the relish of their ‘learned lack’, the perfume of what is absent from all bouquets. Words only can attest to this, but they are also insufficient to do so, unless the arabesque linking them in a phrase happens to match some originary mould of syntax, and to show the adequation of its structure to the ‘primitive rumbles of logic’96; unless their disposition on the page of writing sets between them a distance equal to that which separates the flashes of the mind that the idea summons up. For want of such writing, ever since Plato another type of writing has always had to stand in for it; one that is both less than written, similar to the breath of the spirit, and more than written, either as it is averred in the body of one who fulfils speech, or etched into the very texture of things. The Mallarméan theory of fiction rejects the figures of carnal incorporation and immaterial breath. It is necessary, then, that these two figures of another type of writing merge in the sole materiality of the book. This materiality is more than written: it is the casting of the idea, the light of the spirit materially reproduced in the declivity of words on the page. And it is less than written: the power of the word must be held in the mere white which provides the poem with its invisible architecture. The true choreography of the idea is the paper which must attest it in the arrangement, on the white
of the open page, of unequal lines of characters borrowed from diverse fonts, apt to reproduce the topography of the theatre of the spirit, in the authenticity which rivals it with the folio of the sky. The authentic page Such, we know, is the arrangement of A Dice Throw. There is no great difficulty in understanding what this poem ‘means’ either. There is no need to discover in it, as this or that interpreter, the seven days of the creation of the world. It is hardly the Spirit of God that breathes on its waters. The setting it depicts is one with which we are already familiar: the course of the poetic ship on the seas of the times. In Vigny’s era, one threw bottles onto the seas, in alexandrines, bottles of poetic messages intended for posterity, charged with the task that is identical to all of posterity: hosting the heritage of the ideal that was misrecognized in its time. In Mallarmé’s epoch, one had ‘forgotten the manoeuvre’, lost with the ancient bar of the alexandrine, which had been sabotaged by the adept of uneven verse and then that of free verse, before being carried to its tomb by the Hugolian ogre. But this loss of traditional knowledge is linked to a more exact knowledge of the ocean of the times that must transmit the legacy of the present to the future. The Ocean no longer metaphorizes the passage from the tribulations of the times to the triumphs of the future. It is the chasm of vain hunger, the opening of the Chimera’s maw, apt to consume that future in advance, and to adapt its gaping depth to any ship’s hull. The ‘crisis of verse’ is itself part of the ‘crisis of the ideal’, itself the complement of the social crisis. The ‘crisis of the ideal’ is the absence of ideal gold proper to founding popular worship: the ‘thousand-fold joyous amplification of the sky-instinct in each of us’.97 Correlatively, the crisis is also the insatiable hunger of the chimera of the crowd frustrated by the social arrangement, the ‘surge of the crowd, jubilating so little that it notices the coarse imagery of its divinity’.98 This ‘conflagration of the unanimous horizon’ encourages the decisive movement, illuminating the gold of the vessel that sinks the celebrations of the future. But this casting can no longer be that of the message entrusted to time, enclosed in its bottle. What the ‘unanimous horizon’ contains of mixed promises and threats prohibits the ancient game of the bottle at sea, the game played ‘in the name of ocean waves’. The forgetting of the ancient manoeuvre and the change of accessories means the following: that the spirit is no longer that which one throws to sea, a message to enclose in a watertight container. It is the pure power to project
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oneself, to trace a drawing of oneself on a specific space. With his two die, the spirit must, upon the place which denies it, institute its place, create its theatre: great shipwreck or waveform of the siren? Is it a ‘mystery, hurled, howled’ or ‘a simple insinuation inrolled in silence with irony?’ The unique occasion is also an absolute risk. The number must be transmitted and not betrayed. It must be transmitted perfectly, proceeding victoriously, word by word, over chance in its threefold form: the author’s personality, the subject’s triviality, and language’s irreducibility. But this vanquished chance, accomplished rite of the Idea, will only ever be a throw of the dice – a hyperbolical affirmation of pure contingency. And this game of denying and reaffirming chance must itself be passed on, without becoming lost in it, to another chance, that of the outspread chasm ready to engulf it. That is why it is necessary to include in the game the hesitation to play it, to plot in the cast of the poem, in its ‘victory’ over its own chance, the risky game it plays with the chasm. It is necessary, for the celebrations of the future, to unfold that ‘recommencement of conditions as well as of materials of thought, and to hide it from the present pit of vain hunger. At this cost, the vanishing trace of the Idea is not a zero-sum game, a simple equality of hypotheses carried on, carried off by the writing of lines as by that of steps; rather, it operates that ‘triumphal reversal’ spoken of in ‘Restricted Action’, the projection of radical doubt into celestial hyperbole, and the fixation of swirling fiction in a fixed point where the constellation inscribed on ‘some vacant and superior surface’ avers the number of its stars as the exact rite of the Idea, and authentic fragment of the Book: ‘the successive shock/in the way of stars/of a total account in the making/keeping vigil/doubting/ rolling/shining and meditating/before coming to a halt/at some terminus that sanctifies it’.99 What, in a sense, the poem ‘says’, we know from the siren of ‘Hushed to the crushing cloud’, the septet of the ‘Sonnet in –yx’, the dilemma staged by the prose of ‘About the Book’ and the meditations accompanying the chronicles of ‘Scribbled at the Theatre’. But what the poem says about the poem is one thing and what the poem effectuates as poem is another. There is what the poem effectuates in its particularity as a singular elevation of the chalice-calyx, and there is the primary sacrament that this elevation repeats. The Dice Throw has been lost if all it announces is either the ideal or the metaphor of poetic work. It has to be the foremost sacrament by which every effectuation, and the siren in particular, are consecrated. What the Book must do – what it must spread across the double page and conceal in the fold [repli] of the volume – is to fix and authenticate the
first rite. Without this authentification, the singular poem proceeds in the manner of the dancer, ‘pricking’ an object and unrolling ‘our convictions in a writing of pirouettes extended towards another motif [. . .] without any moment’s having any reality, and what happens is, finally, nothing at all.’100 There is most certainly nothing pejorative in this ‘nothing’, which opposes, gloriously, pure fiction to the banalities of representation. Yet its linkage with the infinite – ‘as far as a place merges with the beyond’ – must still be assured.101 The Book, or its page witness, assures this linkage. But it assures it on condition of presenting the figure that resembles materially what it says and what the poem does in general. The game of the ship and the Ocean, of the hand which retains and casts, of the rolling dice and the sidereal count ending at the point of sacredness, must be proven for every poem to come, for every firework display illuminating the celebrations of the future. It is here that the anti-mimetic mimetism of the Idea reaches its point of paradox. Only typographical mimesis can attest that it really is the primary game of the spirit which is inscribed here. However, it is only able to attest to it at the price of simply miming, on the double page, the ship’s listing or the constellation’s tracing. We know the famous pages in which Paul Valéry summed up the felt effect of seeing the storm of thought thus projected black on white: ‘It seemed to me I had seen the figure of a thought for the first time placed in our space [. . .] Here, veritably, extension spoke, dreamt, gave birth to temporal forms. Expectation, doubt, concentration were visible things. My view was engaged with silences which would have taken shape [. . .] there, on the very paper, I know not what scintillation of last stars trembled infinitely pure in the same interconscious void where, like a matter of new species, distributed in clusters, in trails, in systems, co-existed Speech! He had tried, I thought, at last to raise a page to the power of the starry sky’.102 But the condition of this pure mimesis of pure thought is given by Mallarmé unequivocally. The poem that has refused to include on the subtle paper the palace stone and the forest wood must strictly imitate the ‘history’ which is its metaphor: La constellation y affectera d’après des lois exactes, et autant qu’il est permis à un texte imprimé, fatalement, une allure de constellation. Le vaisseau y donne de la bande, du haut d’une page à l’autre, etc. : car [. . .] le rythme d’une phrase au sujet d’un acte ou même d’un objet n’a de sens que s’il les imite et, figuré sur le papier, repris par les Lettres à l’estampe originelle, en doit rendre, malgré tout quelque chose [. . .]. La littérature fait ainsi sa preuve : pas d’autre raison d’écrire sur du papier.
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In this poem the constellation will, fatally, assume, according to precise laws and insofar as it is possible in a printed text, the form of a constellation. The ship will list from the top of one page to the bottom of the next, etc: for [. . .] the rhythm of a sentence about an act or even an object has meaning only if it imitates them and, enacted on paper, when the Letters have taken over from the original etching must convey something despite it all [. . ..]. Literature thus makes its proof: there is no other reason to write on paper’.103 Literature must prove itself. In the times of mimesis and Belles Lettres, of genres and the poetic arts, it was enough for each poem to present the fable and style appropriate to the rules and usages of the genre that it illustrated. To this formal proof was added – or substituted, depending on the case – the proof by effects: the pleasure or emotion felt by people of taste. In the last instance, the nature of what was represented prescribed the forms of its representation: tragedy for kings, comedy for the bourgeois, and pastoral for the shepherds, with the metres and the figures suitable to each. The word literature primarily means that what is represented prescribes neither genre nor style. No writing can designate the rule or the public that testifies for it. It must, each time, prove that it really is literature, a singular effectuation of that power without norm which is verified alone by its act. This obligation leads to a first paradox, which can be called the Flaubert paradox: the less that literature owes to what it represents, the more it proves that this power really is its own. It constitutes, line by line, the proof of its minute and decisive difference. This also means that it is, with each line, at the edge of cancellation, which, in any case, will triumph in the white following the last word. To refuse that headlong rush that takes the name of prose requires that literature inscribe in itself not only the rhythm separating the verse from the newspaper, but also the initial movement which consecrates it, the real presence of its idea. Literature, then, rediscovers the circle of the Christian proof of Scripture. The Book had to prove that it indeed was the voice of God; it proved this through the incarnation of the Word, the consecration of bread and wine, and the suffering body on the cross, dead and raised from the dead. It was further necessary to prove through the Book that the one who had transformed the Book in truth was indeed the same one that the Book itself had announced, that each episode of the Passion, whereby body was given to the speech of the prophets, was well proven by its conformity with what was said in figures in their writings. The Book and the Body have to confirm
each other indefinitely. And the inheritors of the Book were obliged to carry endlessly on with confirming it: by the infinite return of the Book on itself, by the sacrament which is overloaded with symbols in order to confirm the identity of the text and the body or, conversely, by the sacrifice which goes to the extreme of dispossession so as to expose a body to the verification of the letter. By abandoning the codes and hierarchies of representation, literature rediscovers the circle of the incarnation which avers the text and the text which avers the incarnation. This repeated dramaturgy then met up with the great dream of the century: that of the true community, embodying, beyond any disposition of rights and interests, the living spirit of the human collective, or the celebration wherein a people attests to its ‘transfiguration into Truth’.104 If the question of the book achieves its greatest radicality in Mallarmé, it is because, more than any other, he wanted to uphold a twofold requirement: to make the poem into the religion of the future, and simultaneously to refuse all incarnation for this religion or a body of any sort to guarantee the poem, whether that of the subject it represents or of the community that it animates. The poem must be the ‘hymn, harmony, joy, a pure cluster grouped together in some shining circumstance, tying together the relations among everything’. But ‘the man charged with seeing divinely, because of the willed limipidity of the links, has only, before his gaze, the parallelism of pages as model’.105 The ‘proof’ of literature thus achieves its radicality in the paradox of Mallarmé, which can be stated as follows: the poem must contain, uniquely in the materiality of its arrangement, the incorporation which guarantees it. Its form must simultaneously be the body and the idea of its idea. But this last point of the consecration returns it, perhaps, in accordance with Hegel’s prediction, to the deadlock of the symbol: the ship whose form vanishes to assure us that it is not that of a vulgar ship, but the pure trace of the idea; and the idea which, conversely, overwhelms the page with its arabesques to make itself into the sinking vessel of the times and the scintillation of the future that its sunset lights up. The shadow of the old Hegel convoked here can help us to understand the following: the specificity of Mallarmé’s enterprise, that which it accomplishes or misses under the name of literature, owes nothing to the decision of intransitivity; that is, the text that is closed in on itself, enclosing its meaning or its absence of meaning in the closure of its words, in opposition to the instrumental language of communication. The works’ modern status does not reside in ‘intransitivity’. Such, on the contrary, is its lost paradise, the Greek statue that enclosed, without remainder, the idea of its god within its form. ‘Literature’ begins when this unity of matter
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and of what it says is lost, when it must be recreated and submitted to the test. It begins, for example, with Flaubert’s paradoxical project: to remake intentionally the work of these poet-worlds who knew not what they were doing. The new work, ‘the book about nothing’, must be entirely calculated so as to be identified with the pure mirror in which is reflected the unconscious relation of the whole to itself. Literature’s specificity is the duty to say more about itself than it does say, more than any discourse ‘to issue from some mouth’ is able to say about it. Flaubert’s genius – or his forgery [supercherie] – is to identify this more with a less, to set on a par with the ‘elocutionary disappearance’ of the poet, and the supplement of writing, that passage of the void – the infinite – which separates, imperceptibly, the syntactical arrangement of the phrase from its usual powers of signification. By identifying the realization of the idea with this imperceptible vibration at the surface of signs, Flaubert could merge it with the realization of form. This poetic arrangement, moreover, is also the way in which the political relation is negotiated between the work’s and the writer’s aristocratic exceptionality and the triumphant democracy expressed by the equality of every subject with every other one and the scattering of novels to the four winds. Mallarmé refused both arrangements. He was thus obliged to inscribe in the text the supplement of writing correlative to the poet’s subtraction, to make it appear as the unity of conscious intention and unconscious matter, of vanquished chance and irreducible chance, which forms the proof of literature. But he also confronted the political paradox. The poem has to be aristocratic, not simply ‘in spite of the fact that’ its author is a good democrat, but because he works for the celebrations to come of a crowd that the present social arrangement holds, between the pit of work and the ballot box, far from its glory. This is why he had to identify his public function with a subtraction from every specific audience. Mixed with the ‘horror’ that is provoked by the sentiment of the book’s required ‘qualities’ for averring the chimera is another fear: not the banal fear of the artist afraid of being met with incomprehension and rejection but the inverse fear of being too well received by the open maw of the monster, too quickly understood in his role as bard of the hymn, as organizer of the new worship of a community celebrating ‘the divinity it knows how to be’. And in fact, regardless of the dull old refrain of the accursed poet, the century was to understand the promise of the new poem only too well; this century knew only too well how, before killing them, it could use poets to chant for the war of right or might, for New Man or the
people rendered to its identity, for the glory of the machine and that of the community: ‘dilution into the colour of electricity and of the people, the archaic elsewhere of skies’.106 Grey on grey, Hegel painted the spirit’s movement in achieving the reconciliation of its powers: self-consciousness recognizing its substantial will in the state, its ideal essentiality in religion, and its unity with both in science.107 Mallarmé, seeing that this beautiful reconciliation lay far from us, simultaneously painted and effaced, in the grey-blue-rose of the symbol, the gold of mornings to come. He knew that, to enable their dawn, the etching of the poem has to say simultaneously more than it says and less than it says. This twofold constraint is perhaps enough to render speech rare and the poem difficult.
appendix: selected texts
N.B. The page references refer to the edition of Oeuvres Complètes (O.C.) in the collection ‘Bibliothèque de la Pléiade’, Gallimard, 1992, (1st edition, 1945). Héritage I/Heritage I Tout Orgueil fume-t-il du soir, Torche dans un branle étouffée Sans que l’immortelle bouffée Ne puisse à l’abandon surseoir ! La chambre ancienne de l’hoir De maint riche mais chu trophée Ne serait pas même chauffée S’il survenait par le couloir. Does Pride at evening always fume, Torch snuffed out by a sudden stirring Without the immortal gust deferring The abandonment about to come The heir apparent’s ancient room, Rich though fallen trophies bearing, Would still be cold if he came faring Through passageways back through the gloom.
Affres du passé nécessaires Inevitable death throes of the past Agrippant comme avec des serres As with talons gripping fast Le sépulcre de désaveu, Disavowal’s sepulchre: Sous un marbre lourd qu’elle isole Ne s’allume pas d’autre feu Que la fulgurante console. (Poésies, O.C., p. 73.) Beneath the marble it isolates No other fire fulminates Than the console glittering there. (trans. Henry Weinfield, p. 78).
Au-delà de la Nature I/Beyond Nature I [. . .] Le double adjuvant aux Lettres, extériorité et moyen ont, envers un, dans l’ordre absolu, gradué leur influence. La Nature – La Musique – Termes en leur acception courante de feuillage et de sons. Repuiser, simplement, au destin. La première en date, la nature, Idée tangible pour intimer quelque réalité aux sens frustes et, par compensation, directe, communiquait à ma jeunesse une ferveur que je dis passion comme, son bûcher, les jours évaporés en majestueux suspens, elle l’allume avec le virginal espoir d’en défendre l’intérpretation au lecteur d’horizons. Toute clairvoyance, que, dans ce suicide, le secret ne reste pas incompatible avec l’homme, éloigne les vapeurs de la désuétude, l’existence, la rue. Aussi, quand mené par je comprends quel instinct, un soir d’âge, à la musique, irrésistiblement au foyer subtil, je reconnus, sans douter, l’arrière mais renaissante flamme, où se sacrifièrent les bosquets et les cieux ; là, en public, éventée par le manque du rêve qu’elle consume, pour en épandre les ténébres comme plafond de temple. Esthétiquement la succession de deux états sacrés, ainsi m’invitèrentils – primitif, l’un ou foncier, dense des matériaux encore (nul scandale que l’industrie l’en émonde ou le purifie) : l’autre, ardent, volatil dépouillement en traits qui se correspondent, maintenant proches la pensée, en plus que l’abolition de texte, lui soustrayant l’image. La merveille, selon une chronologie, d’avoir étagé la concordance ; et que, si c’est soi, un tel, poursuivi aux forêts, épars, jusqu’à une source, un concert aussi d’instrument n’exclue la notion : ce fantôme, tout de suite, avec répercussion de clartés, le même, au cours de la transformation naturelle en musicale identifié. (‘Bucolique’, O.C., p. 402–3.) [. . .] The double stimulant added to Letters, exteriority and means, has, in my case, in absolute order, graduated its influence. Nature – Music – Terms to be taken in their common definition of foliage and sounds. Let’s dig around again, simply, in destiny.
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The first in terms of date – nature, the Idea that is tangible, so as to intimate to the uncultivated senses some reality, and direct – imparted to my youth a fervour I call passion, while its funeral pyre transforms the days that have evaporated into majestic suspense; it was lighted with the virginal hope of being able to defend its interpretation to the reader of horizons. Any clairvoyance that, in this suicide, sees that its secret is not incompatible with man clears away the vapours of desuetude, existence, the street. Thus, while being led by a well-known instinct, one evening of agedness, towards music, irresistibly into the subtle origin of all, I recognized, without doubt, the backgrounded but reviving flame, where woods and skies are sacrificed in public; there, fanned by the lack of dream it consumes, it spreads shadows around like the roof of a temple. Aesthetically, the succession of two sacred states thus invited me – the one, primitive or fundamental, still with the density of materials (it’s no scandal that industry either shapes it or purifies it): the other, more volatile, a reduction into corresponding features, now nearing pure thought, along with a textual abolition if the image is forbidden. The marvel, chronologically, is to have layered their concordance; and that if it was oneself, So-and-so, pursued to the woods, scattered, all the way to a water source, another concert, this one instrumental, doesn’t exclude the notion: this phantom, right away, with echoing clarities, the same, in the course of his transformation from natural to musical, is identified. (‘Bucolic’, Divagations, pp. 267–8.) Au-delà de la Nature II/Beyond Nature II [. . .] Mille secrets (histoire volage d’une soirée) se détachant du brouhaha fashionable, trouveront ici, avant de se confondre dans l’éclat de l’orchestre, un écho ; listes de danseurs perdues avec les fleurs effeuillées, programme du concert ou carte des dineûrs, composent, certes, une littérature particulière, ayant en soi l’immortalité d’une semaine ou de deux. Rien n’est à négliger de l’existence d’une époque : tout y appartient à tous. Un sourire ! mais il circule déjà, à peine formé, dans les salles aux lourdes portières, attendu, détesté, béni, remercié, jalousé ; extasiant, crispant ou apaisant les âmes ; et c’est en vain que l’éventail, qui crut d’abord le cacher, éperdu maintenant, tente de le
ressaisir ou de dissiper son vol. Pardon ! cet épanouissement de vos deux lèvres, j’en noterai la grâce, à laquelle d’autres lèvres, suivant tout bas cette lecture, déjà s’essaient. Ainsi les choses, et justement : le monde n’a-t-il pas comme un droit de reprise sur la manifestation la plus profonde de nos instincts ? il la provoque, il l’affine. Tout s’apprend sur le vif, même la beauté, et le port de tête, on le tient de quelqu’un, c’est-à-dire de chacun, comme le port d’une robe. Fuir ce monde ? on en est ; pour la nature ? comme on la traverse à toute vapeur, dans sa réalité extérieure, avec ses paysages, ses lieues, pour arriver autre part : moderne image de son insuffisance pour nous ! Oui, si les plaisirs connus sous les lambris ayant cédé leur saison à des jeux du grand air : courses au bois et régates sur le fleuve, vous quittez encore le bois et le fleuve, avides de reposer tout à fait vos yeux dans l’oubli causé par un horizon vaste et nu ; n’est-ce pas, certes, pour trouver une nouveauté de regard habile à goûter le paradoxe de toilettes ingénues et savantes, que l’Océan, au bas, brode de son écume ? Sans le moindre de remords, apparu dans cette saison de vacance comme à son heure exacte d’apparaître, ce Journal s’interpose entre votre songerie et le double azur maritime et céleste : le temps de le feuilleter, et probablement de n’y point lire la Présentation de Votre Serviteur. (La Dernière Mode, O.C., p. 718–9.) [. . .] A thousand secrets (an evening’s banter) overheard amid the fashionable hubbub, will here find an echo, before drowning the next moment in the éclat of the orchestra: discarded lists of dancers with depetalled flowers, concert programmes or dinner menus certainly do make for a peculiar literature, in itself possessing the immortality of a week or two. Disregard nothing of the times: everything in it belongs to everyone. A smile! barely formed, already moves about, in auditoriums with their heavy portières: expected, loathed, blessed, received with thanks or with jealousy; sending souls into ecstasy, irritating or soothing them; and it is in vain for the fan, thought at first to have hidden it, now frantic, to hope to retrieve it or to dissipate its flight. Forgive me! That blooming of your two lips, I mean to catch its grace, which other lips, reading this deep down, will already be trying on. That is how the world works and properly so: has not this world a right to repossess the deepest manifestations of our instincts? It provokes and refines them. Everything, even beauty and the holding of one’s
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head, is learnt on the go, is borrowed from someone, from anyone, just like the wearing of a dress. Get out of this world? of which one is part; for nature? Full steam ahead, one crosses it, in its external reality, its leagues, to arrive elsewhere – such is the modern image of its insufficiency for us! Yes, though the season of pleasures taken beneath the stucco has yielded to open-air games – the woodland chase and the river regatta – you quit even the woodland and the river, seeking complete rest for your eyes in the oblivion brought about by a vast and bare horizon; is this not, indeed, to get a fresh outlook on things, one with a taste for the paradox of the toilettes, ingenuous yet subtle, that the Ocean embroiders with its foam? This Journal, choosing, without the least remorse, to appear in the holiday season, as the right and proper moment, intervenes between your dreaming and the double azure, maritime and celestial: long enough for you to leaf through it, and probably not to read in it the Presentation of your Servant.*
*Mallarmé on Fashion: A translation of the Fashion Magazine La Dernière Mode, translated by P.N. Furbank and Alex Cain, Oxford: Berg, 2004 (translation modified).
L’absente/The Absentee J’avais beaucoup ramé, d’un grand geste net assoupi, les yeux au-dedans fixés sur l’entier oubli d’aller, comme le rire de l’heure coulait alentour. Tant d’immobilité paressait que frôlé d’un bruit inerte où fila jusqu’à moitié la yole, je ne vérifiai l’arrêt qu’à l’étincellement stable d’initiales sur les avirons mis à nu, ce qui me rappela à mon identité mondaine. Qu’arrivait-il, où étais-je ? Il fallut, pour voir clair en l’aventure, me remémorer mon départ tôt, ce juillet de flamme, sur l’intervalle vif entre ses végétations dormantes d’un toujours étroit et distrait ruisseau, en quête des floraisons d’eau et avec un dessein de reconnaître l’emplacement occupé par la propriété de l’aime d’une amie, à qui je devais improviser un bonjour. Sans que le ruban d’aucune herbe me retînt devant un paysage plus que l’autre chassé avec son reflet en l’onde par le même impartial coup de rame, je venais échouer dans quelque touffe de roseaux, terme mystérieux de ma course, au milieu de la rivière : où tout de suite élargie en fluvial
bosquet, elle étale un nonchaloir d’étang plissé des hésitations à partir qu’a une source. L’inspection détaillée m’apprit que cet obstacle de verdure en pointe sur le courant, masquait l’arche unique d’un pont prolongé, à terre, d’ici et de là, par une haie clôturant des pelouses. Je me rendis compte. Simplement le parc de Madame , l’inconnue à saluer. [. . .] Courbé dans la sportive attitude où me maintenait de la curiosité, comme sous le silence spacieux de ce que s’annonçait l’étrangère, je souris au commencement d’esclavage dégagé par une possibilité féminine : que ne signifiaient pas mal les courroies attachant le soulier du rameur au bois de l’embarcation, comme on ne fait qu’un avec l’instrument de ses sortilèges. « – Aussi bien une quelconque » allais-je terminer. Quand un imperceptible bruit me fit douter si l’habitante du bord hantait mon loisir, ou inespérément le bassin. Le pas cessa, pourquoi ? [. . .] Connaît-elle un motif à sa station, elle-même la promeneuse : et n’est-ce, moi, tendre trop haut la tête, pour ces joncs à ne dépasser et toute la mentale somnolence où se voile ma lucidité, que d’interroger jusque-là le mystère. « – A quel types s’ajustent vos traits, je sens leur précision, Madame, interrompre chose installée ici par le bruissement d’une venue, oui ! ce charme instinctif d’en dessous que ne défend pas contre l’explorateur la plus authentiquement nouées, avec une boucle en diamant, des ceintures. Si vague concept se suffit : et ne transgressera le délice empreinte de généralité qui permet et ordonne d’exclure tous visages, au point que la révélation d’un (n’allez point le pencher, avéré, sur le furtif seuil où je règne) chasserait mon trouble, avec lequel il n’a que faire. » Ma présentation, en cette tenue de maraudeur aquatique, je la peux tenter, avec l’excuse du hasard. Séparés, on est ensemble : je m’immisce à de se confuse intimité, dans ce suspens sur l’eau où mon songe attarde l’indécise, mieux que visite, suivie d’autre, l’autorisera. Que de discours oiseux en comparaison de
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celui que je tins pour n’être pas entendu, faudra-t-il, avant de retrouver aussi intuitif accord que maintenant, l’ouïe au ras de l’acajou vers le sable entier qui s’est tu ! La pause se mesure au temps de ma détermination. Conseille, ô mon rêve, que faire ? Résumer d’un regard la vierge absence éparse en cette solitude et, comme on cueille, en mémoire d’un site, l’un de ces magiques nénuphars clos qui y surgissent tout à coup, enveloppant de leur creuse blancheur un rien, fait de songes intacts, du bonheur qui n’aura pas lieu et de mon souffle ici retenu dans la peur d’une apparition, partir avec : tacitement, en déramant peu à peu sans du heurt briser l’illusion ni que le clapotis de le bulle visible d’écume enroulée à ma fuite ne jette aux pieds survenus de personne la ressemblance transparents du rapt de mon idéale fleur. Si, attirée par un sentiment d’insolite, elle a paru, la Méditative ou la Hautiane, la Farouche, la Gaie, tant pis pour cette indicible mine que j’ignore à jamais ! car j’accomplis selon les règles la manœuvre : me dégageai, virai et je contournais déjà une ondulation du ruisseau, emportant comme un noble œuf de cygne, tel que n’en jaillira le vol, mon imaginaire trophée, qui ne se gonfle d’autre chose sinon de la vacance exquise de soi qu’aime, l’été, à poursuivre, dans les allées de son parc, toute dame, arrêtée parfois et longtemps, comme au bord d’une source à franchir ou de quelque pièce d’eau. (‘Le Nénuphar blanc’, O.C., p. 283–6.) I had rowed for a long time, with a clean, sweeping, drowsy motion, my eyes turned inward in utter forgetfulness of the passage, as the laughter of the hour flowed round about. So much motionless idled away the time that, brushed by a dull sound into which my boat half slid, I was only able to determine that it had come to a halt by the steady glittering of initials on the bared oars, which recalled me to my worldly identity. What was happening? Where was I? To see clearly into my adventure, I had to call to mind my early departure, on this flaming July day, through the lively opening, banked by dormant foliage, of an always narrow and meandering stream, in search of water flowers and with the intention of reconnoitring an estate belonging to the friend of a friend, to whom I might pay my respects on the spur of the moment. Without having
been detained by any strip of grass before one landscape more than another, each being borne away with its reflection in the water by the same impartial movement of the oars, I had just run aground in a clump of reeds, the mysterious end of my voyage, in the middle of the river where, suddenly widened to a fluvial grove, it displays the indifference of a pool rippling with the hesitations of a well spring about to depart. A detailed inspection revealed that this obstacle of tapering verdure in the current masked the single arch of a bridge that was extended on land, on both sides, by a hedge enclosing a series of lawns. Then I understood: this was simply the estate of Madame. . . the unknown lady I was to greet. [. . .] Leaning forward in the agile posture in which curiosity held me, as if beneath the spacious silence in which the stranger would announce herself, I smiled at this commencement of a bondage released by a feminine possibility: which the thongs attaching the rower’s shoes to the wood of the boat symbolized quite adequately, for we are always at one with the instruments of our magic spells. ‘ – Probably just anyone. . .’ I was about to conclude. When an imperceptible noise made me question whether the inhabitant of the shore was haunting my leisure, or, unexpectedly, the pond. The footsteps stopped: why? [. . .] Has she a motive, then, for standing still, she herself, the stroller: and I, am I not holding up my head too high if, to interrogate the mystery, I raise it up beyond those reeds and all the mental somnolence in which lucidity is veiled. ‘To whatever pattern your features correspond, I sense their precision, Madame, interrupting something established here by the rustling of
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an arrival, yes! this instinctive charm of something underneath, which the most authentically fastened sash, with a buckle of diamonds, does not defend against the explorer. So vague a concept suffices and will not transgress against the delight imprinted by a generality that permits and ordains the exclusion of all faces, to the point at which the revelation of one (oh, do not incline it, confirmed, on the secret threshold where I reign) would drive away my turmoil, with which it has nothing to do. I can try to present myself in this pirate’s outfit, with the excuse that I came here by chance. Separated, we are together: I inveigle myself in her obscure intimacy, in this moment suspended over the water in which my dream delays the undecided one, better than any visit, followed by others, will enable me to do. How many trifling conversations there would have to be, in comparison with this one which I held in order not to be heard, before we could recover as intuitive an understanding as we now have, my ear flat against the mahogany toward the sand which has now fallen entirely silent! The pause measures itself by the time of my decision. Counsel me, O my dream: what shall I do? Sum up with a glance this virginal absence dispersed in this solitude and, as one gathers, in memory of a site, one of those magical, closed water lilies which spring up suddenly, enveloping nothingness with their hollow whiteness, formed from untouched dreams, from a happiness that will never take place, and from the breath that I am now holding in fear of an apparition, depart with it: steal silently away, rowing little by little, so as not to break the illusion with a shock and so that the rippling of the visible bubble of foam unwinding from my flight does not throw at the feet of the lady who has arrived a transparent resemblance to my ravished ideal flower. If, drawn by an unprecedented feeling, she happened to appear – she, the Meditative or Haughty, the Cruel or Gay – so much the worse for that ineffable face which I shall never know! for I accomplished the
manoeuvre according to the rules: disentangled myself, put about, and was already skirting a river wave, bearing away, like a noble swan’s egg, such as will never burst into flight, my imaginary trophy, which swells with nothing but the exquisite vacancy of self that many a lady loves to pursue in summer, along the paths of her park, as she stops sometimes and lingers, perhaps on the edge of a spring that must be crossed, or of some other body of water. (‘The white water lily’, trans. Henry Weinfield, pp.110–3.) Les Importuns/The intruders Véritablement, aujourd’hui, qu’y a-t-il ? L’escouade du labeur gît au rendez-vous mais vaincue. Ils ont trouvé, l’un après l’autre qui la forment, ici affalée en l’herbe, l’élan à peine, chancelant tous comme sous un projectile, d’arriver et tomber à cet étroit champ de bataille : quel sommeil de corps contre la motte sourde. Ainsi vais-je librement admirer et songer. Non, ma vue ne peut, de l’ouverture où je m’accoude, s’échapper dans la direction de l’horizon, sans que quelque chose de moi n’enjambe, indûment, avec manque d’égard et de convenance à mon tour, cette jonchée de fléau ; dont, en ma qualité, je dois comprendre le mystère et juger le devoir : car, contrairement à la majorité et beaucoup de plus fortunés, le pain ne lui a pas suffi – ils ont peiné une partie notable de la semaine, pour l’obtenir, d’abord ; et, maintenant, la voici, demain, ils ne savent pas, rampent par le vague et piochent sans mouvement – qui fait en son sort, un trou égal à celui creusé, jusqu’ici, tous les jours, dans la réalité des terrains (fondation, certes, de temple). Ils réservent, honorablement, sans témoigner de ce que c’est ni que s’éclaire cette fête, la part du sacré dans l’existence, par un arrêt, l’attente et le momentané suicide. La connaissance qui resplendirait – d’un orgueil inclus à l’ouvrage journalier, résister, simplement et se montrer debout – alentour magnifiée par une colonnade de futaie ; quelque instinct la chercha dans un nombre considérable, pour les déjeter ainsi, de petits verres et ils en sont, avec l’absolu d’un accomplissement rituel, moins officiant que victimes, à
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figurer, au soir, l’hébétement de tâches si l’observance relève de la fatalité plus que d’un vouloir. Les constellations s’initient à briller : comme je voudrai que parmi l’obscurité qui court sur l’aveugle troupeau, aussi des points de clarté, telle pensée tout à l’heure, se fixassent, malgré ces yeux scellés ne les distinguant pas – pour le fait, pour l’exactitude, pour qu’il soit dit. Je penserai, donc, uniquement, à eux, les importuns, qui me ferment, par leur abandon, le lointain vespéral ; plus que, naguères, par leur tumulte. Ces artisans de tâches élémentaires, il m’est loisible, les veillant, à côté d’un fleuve limpide continu, d’y regarder le peuple – une intelligence robuste de la condition humaine leur courbe l’échine journellement pour tirer, sans l’intermédiaire du blé, le miracle de vie qui assure la présence : d’autres ont fait les défrichements passés et des aqueducs ou liveront un terre-plein à telle machine, les mêmes, Louis-Pierre, Martin, Poitou et le Normand, quand ils ne dorment pas, ainsi s’invoquent-ils selon les mères ou la province ; mais plutôt des naissances sombrèrent en l’anonymat et l’immense sommeil l’ouïe à la génératrice, les prostrant, cette fois, subit un accablement et un élargissement de tous les siècles et, autant cela possible – réduite aux proportions sociales, d’éternité. (‘Conflit’, O.C., p. 358–60.) What is happening, today, really? The labour squad has come to the meeting place, but lies defeated. One after the other, they have fallen on the grass, barely completing their first effort, scattered as if bombed by a projectile, the body as if asleep with the unfeeling clod. And so I walk by them, freely admiring and dreaming. No, my view can’t, from the window I’m leaning out from, go all the way towards the horizon, without part of me stepping over the window sill, awkward and lacking in social graces in my turn, to become part of the swath of workers: whose mystery and duty I should understand, unlike that majority, and a lots of those more fortunate. Bread hasn’t sufficed for them! – first, they may have toiled most of the week to obtain it, and now, maybe tomorrow, they don’t
know, they crawl around in vagueness and dig without movement – which makes, in their fate, a hollow equal to the one they have been digging every day in the reality of the roadbed (but of course, it might be the foundation of a temple). Without saying what it is or elucidating this ceremony, they honourably reserve the dimension of the sacred in their existence by a work stoppage, an awaiting, a suicide. Out of the pride inherent in daily work, simply to resist and stand tall, comes knowledge, magnified by the pillars of a stand of tall trees; some instinct seeks it in a large number, soon to be thrown away, of little glasses; the workers are, with the absoluteness of a ritual gesture, less its officiants than its victims, if one takes into consideration the evening stupor of the tasks and if the ritual observances come more from fate than from will. Constellations begin to shine: I wish that, in the darkness that covers the blind herd, there could also be points of light, eternalizing a thought, despite the sealed eyes that never understood it – for the fact, for exactitude, for it to be said. I will thus think exclusively about them, about those whose abandon blocks my access to the vesperal distance more than their daily commotion ever did. Keeping watch over these artisans of elementary tasks, I have occasion, beside a limpid, continuous river, to meditate on these symbols of the People – some robust intelligence bends their spines every day in order to extract, without the intermediary of wheat, the miracle of life which grounds presence: others in the past have built aqueducts or cleared fields for some implement, wielded by the same Louis-Pierre, Martin, Poitou or the Norman. When they are not asleep, they thus invoke one another according to their mothers or their provinces. But in fact their births fall into anonymity, and their mothers into the deep sleep that prostrates them, while the weight of centuries presses down on them, eternity reduced to social proportions. (‘Conflict’, Divagations, pp. 45–6.) L’animal chimérique/The Chimerical animal Une race, la nôtre, à qui cet honneur de prêter des entrailles à la peur qu’a d’elle-même, autrement que comme conscience humaine, la métaphysique et claustrale éternité, échut, puis d’expirer le gouffre
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en quelque ferme aboi dans les âges, serait, non, j’en ris, malgré ce traitement céleste, comme si de rien, ordinaire, indemne, vague ; parce qu’il de reste trace, à une minute de postérité – quand ne fleurit même pas la vie reconquise et native. Tout au moins, pareil effacement sans que la volonté du début, après les temps, appelât, intimement comme elle frappe une solitude, l’esprit à résumer la sombre merveille – Lequel préfère, en dédain des synthèses, égarer une rechercher – vide s’il ne convient que l’ahurie, la banale et vaste place publique cède, aussi, à des injonctions de salut. Les plus directes peut-être ayant visité l’inconscience, les plus élémentaires : sommairement il s’agit, la Divinité, qui jamais n’est que Soi, où montèrent avec l’ignorance de secret précieuse pour en mesurer l’arc, des élans abattus de prières – au ras, de la reprendre, en tant que point de départ, humbles fondations de la cité, foi en chacun. Ce tracé par assises et une hauteur comme de trottoir, y descend la lueur, à portée, quotidienne du réverbére. (‘Catholicisme’, O.C., p. 391.) A race, our own, which has the honour of lending guts to the fear of itself felt by the metaphysical and monastic eternity, appeared, then bayed out the abyss throughout the ages, and would be, no, I laugh, despite this celestial treatment, as if none of this had happened, ordinary, immune, vague; since there remains no trace, to a minute of posterity – when not even reconquered, native life flourished. At the very least, such effacement, without the will of the beginning, after long periods, calling, intimately as it strikes a solitude, to the spirit to sum up again the sombre marvel – But the spirit, disdaining syntheses, prefers to lead research astray – empty in any case if it doesn’t agree that the astonished, the banal, and the vast public masses are also capable of answering the call to salvation. The most direct, perhaps, having visited unconsciousness; the most elementary, summarily of course, Divinity, which is never anything but Oneself, to which prayers have risen, in ignorance of their precious secret, in order to measure how far they have travelled, prayers leaping upward and being knocked down – to our level, and taken up again, as
a starting point, humble foundations of the city; faith in everyone. This trajectory from layers of earth to sidewalk level is illuminated, every night, within reach, by the circle of an ordinary streetlight. (‘Catholicism’, Divagations, p. 243–4.) Héritage II/Heritage II Je ne crois, du tout, rêver – Une parité, des réminiscences liturgiques exclusivement notre bien propre ou originel, inscrites au seuil et de certains apparats, profanes, avoués, s’impose : cependant n’allez mal, conformément à une erreur chez des prédicants, élaver en je sais quelle dilution couleur électricité et peuple, l’archaïque outremer de ciels. Tout s’interrompt, effectif, dans l’histoire, peu de transfusion : ou le rapport consiste en ceci que les deux états auront existé, séparément, pour une confrontation par l’esprit. L’éternel, ce qui le parut, ne rajeunit, enfonce aux cavernes et se tasse : ni rien dorénavant, neuf, ne naîtra que de source. Oublions – Une magnificence se déploiera, quelconque, analogue à l’Ombre de jadis. Alors s’en apercevra-t-on ou, du moins, y gardera-t-on la sympathie, qui m’angoisse : peut-être, pas ; et j’ai voulu, d’ici, quand ce n’est prêt, accouder le Songe à l’autel contre le tombeau retrouvé – pieux ses pieds à de la cendre. Le nuage autour exprès : que préciser.. Plus, serait entonner le rituel et trahir, avec rutilance, le lever du soleil d’une chape d’officiant, en place que le desservant enguirlande d’encens, pour la masquer, une nudité de lieu. (‘Catholicisme’, O.C., p. 394–5.) I don’t believe at all that I’m dreaming – A certain parity with liturgical reminiscences, exclusively our own avowedly original reminiscences, inscribed at the threshold of certain profane apparatuses, imposes itself: but don’t go and make the same mistake some preachers do, and lighten, through I don’t know what
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dilution into the colour of electricity and of the people, the archaic elsewhere of skies. Everything effective in history is interrupted, there’s little transfusion; or the relation consists in the fact that the two states existed, separately, to be brought together by the spirit. The Eternal, or what appeared to be the Eternal, doesn’t get younger, crawl into caves, and hibernate: nor will anything new henceforth be born, unless its comes from the source. Let us forget – Someday a magnificence will unfold, seeming like nothing, analogous to the Shadow of long ago. Then people will notice, or, at least, will retain some sympathy, which upsets me: but maybe not; all I’ve wanted to do here, seeing that the time isn’t ripe, is to push Dream against the altar found next to the tomb – its feet are pious with respect to ashes. The fog around it was purposeful: it would be a mistake to be too precise. To do more would be to intone the ritual and to substitute a false glow for a dazzling sunrise covered by an officiating priest’s vestments, while the server should fill the altar with incense, to mask a nakedness of place. (‘Catholicism’, Divagations, pp. 75.) Un droit méconnu/A misrecognized right Notre seule magnificence, la scène, à qui le concours d’arts divers scellés par la poésie attribue selon moi quelque caractère religieux ou officiel, si l’un de ces mots a un sens, je constate que le siècle finissant n’en a cure, ainsi comprise ; et que cet assemblage miraculeux de tout ce qu’il faut pour faconner de la divinité, sauf la clairvoyance de l’homme, sera pour rien. [. . .] La scène est le foyer évident des plaisirs pris en commun, aussi et tout bien réfléchi, la majestueuse ouverture sur le mystère dont en est au monde pour envisager la grandeur, cela même que le citoyen, qui en aura idée, fonde le droit de réclamer à un État, comme compensation de
l’amoindrissement social. Se figure-t-on l’entité gouvernante autrement que gênée (eux, les royaux pantins du passé, à leur insu répondaient par le muet boniment de ce qui crevait de rire en leur personnage enrubanné ; mais de simples généraux maintenant) devant une prétention de malappris, à la pompe, au resplendissement, à quelque solennisation auguste de Dieu qu’il sait être ! Après un coup d’œil regagne le chemin qui t’amena dans la cité médiocre et sans compter ta déception ni t’en prendre à personne, fais-toi, hôte présomptueux de l’heure, reverser par le train dans quelque coin de rêverie insolite ; ou bien reste, nulle part ne seras-tu plus loin qu’ici : puis commence à toi seul, selon la somme amassée d’attente et de songes, ta nécessaire représentation. Satisfait d’être arrivé dans un temps où le devoir qui lie l’action multiplie des hommes, existe mais à ton exclusion (ce pacte déchiré parce qu’il n’exhiba point de sceau). (‘Le genre ou des modernes’, O.C., p. 313–4.) The stage, our only magnificence, to which the participation of diverse arts sealed by poetry contributes, according to me, a religious or official character, if one of these words has a meaning, I note that the century now ending couldn’t care less about them, thus understood ; that miraculous assembly of everything needed for the divine, except for human clairvoyance, will end up being for nothing. [. . .] The stage is the obvious focus of pleasures taken in common, so, all things considered, it is also the majestic opening to the mystery whose grandeur one is in the world to envisage, the same thing that a citizen, having an inkling of it, expects from the State: to compensate him for his social diminishment. Can one imagine the governing entity (from the royal puppets – responding, with a mute come-on, to what was laughable in their beribboned persons – to the simple generals of today) being anything but disturbed before an ignoramus’ pretension to the pomp, the splendour, the worship of the god he knows himself to be! After looking around, go back along the path that brought you to the mediocre city and, without tallying up your disappointments or blaming them on anyone, take the train back, presumptuous guest of the hour, to your little corner of un-heard-of reverie; or else stay; you’ll never be as far away as here; then begin, all alone, according to
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the sum of expectations and dreams built up, your necessary spectacle. Satisfied to have arrived in a time when duty links the multiple actions of men, but at your exclusion (that pact torn up because it didn’t exhibit a seal). (‘Of Genre and the Moderns’, Divagations, pp. 143–4.) La traversée du tunnel/The tunnel crossing Extérieurement, comme le cri de l’étendue, le voyageur percoit la détresse du sifflet. « Sans doute » il se convainc : « on traverse un tunnel – l’époque – celui, long le dernier, rampant sous la cité avant la gare toute puissante du virginal palais central, qui couronne. » Le souterrain durera, ô impatient, ton recueillement à préparer l’édifice de haut verre essuyé d’un vol de la Justice. Le suicide ou abstention, ne rien faire, pourquoi ? – Unique fois au monde, parce qu’en raison d’un événement toujours j’expliquerai, il n’est pas de Présent, non – un présent n’existe pas. Faute que se déclare la Foule, faute – de tout. Mal informé celui qui se crierait son propre contemporain, désertant, usurpant, avec impudence égale, quand du passé cessa et que tarde un futur ou que les deux se remmêlent perplexement en vue de masquer l’écart. Hors des premier-Paris chargés de divulguer une foi en le quotidien néant et inexperts si le fléau mesure sa période à un fragment, important ou pas, de siècle. Aussi garde-toi et sois là. La poésie, sacre ; qui essaie, en de chastes crises isolément, pendant l’autre gestation en train. Publie. Le Livre, où vit l’esprit satisfait, en cas de malentendu, un obligé par quelque pureté d’ébat à secouer le gros du moment. Impersonnifié, le volume, autant qu’on s’en sépare comme auteur, ne réclame approche de lecteur. Tel, sache, entre les accessoires humains, il a lieu tout seul : fait, étant. Le sens enseveli se meut et dispose, en chœur, des feuillets. Loin, la superbe de mettre en interdit, même quant aux fastes,
l’instant : on constate qu’un hasard y dénie les matériaux de confrontation à quelque rêves ; ou aide une attitude spéciale. Toi, Ami, qu’il ne faut frustrer d’années à cause que parallèles au sourd labeur général, le cas est étrange : je te demande, sans jugement, par manque de considérants soudains, que tu traites mon indication comme une folie je ne le défends, rare. Cependant la tempère déjà cette sagesse, ou discernement, s’il ne vaut pas mieux – que de risquer sur un état à tout le moins incomplet environnant, certaines conclusions d’art extrêmes qui peuvent éclater, diamantairement, dans ce temps à jamais, en l’intégrité du Livre – les jouer, mais et par un triomphal renversement, avec l’injonction tacite que rien, palpitant en le flanc scient de l’heure, aux pages montré, clair, évident, ne la trouve prête ; encore que n’en soit peut-être une autre où ce doive illuminer. (‘L’action restrainte’ O.C., p. 371–3.) Externally, like a cry of distance, the traveller hears the wail of a whistle. ‘No doubt’, he says to himself, ‘we’re going through a tunnel – our time – that runs for a long way beneath the city before getting to the all-powerful station of the virginal central palace, which crowns it all’. The underground will last as long, O impatient one, as your concentration in preparing to build the crystal palace swiped by a wing of Justice. Suicide or abstention, why would you choose to do nothing? This is your only time on earth, and because of an event I’ll explain, there’s no Present, no – a present does not exist. . . For lack of the Crowd’s declaring itself, for lack of – everything. Uninformed is he who would proclaim himself his own contemporary, deserting or usurping with equal imprudence, when the past seems to cease and the future to stall, in view of masking the gap. Outside of those All-Paris occasions whose job is to propagate faith in the quotidian nothingness, and inexpert if the plague measures its period to a fragment, important or not, of a century. Therefore, keep yourself, and be there. Poetry is sacred; some people attempt hidden chaste crises in isolation, while the other gestation takes place.
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Publish. The Book, where the spirit lives satisified, in cases of misunderstanding, one feels an obligation towards some sort of purity of delight to shake off the dregs of the moments. Impersonified, the volume, to the extent that one separates from it as author, does not demand a reader, either. As such, please note, among human accessories, it takes place all by itself: finished, it exists. Its buried meaning moves and arranges, into a chorus, the pages. Afar, it dares to forbid, even at celebrations, the present: one notes that chance denies to certain dreams the materials of confrontation; or a special attitude helps them. You, Friend, whom it’s unnecessary to frustrate for years just because there’s a parallel with voiceless general labour, will find the case strange: I ask you, without judgment, without sudden factors, to treat my advice as, I admit, as a rare kind of folly. Nevertheless, it is tempered by this wisdom, or discernment: that it might be better (than to bet on, at the very least, an incomplete context around you) to risk certain conclusions of extreme art that might burst out, glittering like a cut diamond, now or forever, within the integrity of the Book – to play them, even through a triumphal reversal, with the tacit injunction that nothing, palpitating in the unconscious flank of the hour, shown clear and evident to the pages, will find the hour ready; while nevertheless it may be in another time that it will cast illumination. (‘Restricted Action’, Divagations, pp. 218–9.) Le rite de l’Idée/The rite of the Idea Le ballet ne donne que peu : c’est le genre imaginatif. Quand s’isole pour le regard un signe de l’éparse beauté générale, fleur, onde, nuée et bijou, etc., si, chez nous, le moyen exclusif de le savoir consiste à en juxtaposer l’aspect à notre nudité spirituelle afin qu’elle le sente analogue et se l’adapte dans quelque confusion exquise d’elle avec cette forme envolée – rien qu’au travers du rite, là, énoncé de l’Idée, est-ce que ne paraît pas la danseuse à demi l’élément en cause, à demi humanité apte à s’y confondre, dans la flottaison de rêverie ? L’opération, ou poésie, par excellence et le théâtre. Immédiatement le ballet résulte
allégorique : il enlacera autant qu’animera, pour en marquer chaque rythme, toute corrélations ou Musique, d’abord latentes, entre ses attitudes et maint caractère, tellement que la représentation figurative des accessoires terrestres par la Danse contient une expérience relative à leur degré esthétique, un sacre s’y effectue en tant que la preuve de nos trésors. A déduire le point philosophique auquel est située l’impersonnalité de la danseuse, entre sa féminine apparence et un objet mimé, pour quel hymen : elle le pique d’une sûre pointe, le pose ; puis déroule notre conviction en le chiffre de pirouettes prolongé vers un autre motif, attendu que tout, dans l’évolution par où elle illustre le sens de nos extases et triomphes entonnés à l’orchestre, est, comme le veut l’art même, au théâtre, fictif ou momentané. (‘Crayonné au théâtre’, O.C., p. 295–6.) The ballet gives but little: it’s an imaginative genre. When a sign of scattered beauty is isolated for the eye – flower, wave, cloud, jewel, etc. – if our only way of knowing it is to juxtapose it with our spiritual nudity so we can feel that it is analogous, and adapt it in some exquisite confusion of ourselves with this fluttering form – even if it’s through a rite, the utterance of the Idea. Doesn’t the dancer seem to be half the element in question, half humanity eager to melt into it, floating in the reverie? The operation, or poetry, par excellence, and theatre. Immediately, ballet becomes allegorical: it will bring together as well as animate, to mark out each rhythm, all the correlations or Music, latent at first, between its attitudes and such-and-such a character, so much so that the figurative representation of earthly props by Dance contains a test of their aesthetic merit, and a consecration results, which is the proof of our treasures. We have to deduce the philosophical point where the dancer’s impersonality is located, between her female appearance and a mimed object, destined for what Hymen: she sews it with her unerring points, and puts it in place; then unrolls our convictions in a writing of pirouettes extended towards another motif, it being understood that everything, in the whirling through which she illustrates the meaning of our ecstasies and triumphs, also being played in the rumblings of the orchestra, is, as art itself would want it, in the theatre, fictional or outside time. (‘Scribbled at the Theatre’, Divagations, p. 120.)
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Théorie du vers I/Theory of verse I [. . .] avant le heurt d’aile brusque et l’emportement, on a pu, cela est même l’occupation de chaque jour, posséder et établir une notion du concept à traiter, mais indéniablement pour l’oublier dans sa façon ordinaire et se livrer ensuite à la seule dialectique du Vers. Lui en rival jaloux, auquel le songeur cède la maîtrise, il ressuscite au degré glorieux ce qui, tout sûr, philosophique, imaginatif et éclatant que ce fût, comme dans le cas présent, une vision céleste de l’humanité ! ne resterait, à son défaut que les plus beaux discours émanés de quelque bouche. A travers un nouvel état, sublime, il y a recommencement des conditions ainsi que des matériaux de la pensée sis naturellement pour un devoir de prose : comme des vocables, eux-mêmes, après cette différence et l’essor au-delà, atteignant leur vertu. [. . .] Ainsi lancé de soi le principe qui n’est – que le Vers ! attire non moins que dégage pour son épanouissement (l’instant qu’ils y brillent et meurent dans une fleur rapide, sur quelque transparence comme d’éther) les milles éléments de beauté pressés d’accourir et de s’ordonner dans leur valeur essentielle. Signe ! au gouffre central d’une spirituelle impossibilité que rien soit exclusivement à tout, le numérateur divin de notre apothéose, quelque suprême moule n’ayant pas lieu en tant que d’aucun objet qui existe : mais il emprunte, pour y aviver un sceau tous gisements épars, ignorés et flottants selon quelque richesses, et les forger. Voilà, constatation à quoi je glisse, comment, dans notre langue, les vers ne vont que par deux ou à plusieurs, en raison de leur accord final, soit la loi mystérieuse de la Rime, qui se révèle avec la fonction de gardienne et d’empêcher qu’entre tous, un usurpe, ou ne demeure péremptoirement : en quelle pensée fabriqué celui-là ! peu m’importe, attendu que sa matière discutable aussitôt, gratuite, ne produirait de preuve à se tenir dans un équilibre momentané et double à la façon du vol, identité de deux fragments constitutifs remémorée extérieurement par une parité dans la consonance. (‘Solennité’, O.C., p. 332–3.) [. . .] before the sudden wing beat that carries you off – you might
once, and that’s even every day’s occupation, have had an idea of the concept to treat, but undeniably in order to forget it in its ordinary sense, and to give yourself wholly to the dialectic of Verse. As a jealous rival, to whom the dreamer yields mastery, it resuscitates, to the degree that it, glorious and philosophical and imaginative, revives a celestial vision of humanity! without it, there is just beautiful discourse out of some mouth. In this new – sublime – state, there is a fresh beginning of the conditions and materials of thought, laid down naturally for a prose study: the vocables, by themselves, after this differences and the experience of the beyond, find their virtue. [. . .] Thus emerges from itself the principle that is nothing other than – Verse! It attracts as well as sheds for its unfolding (the time it takes for it to shine and then die like a rapid flower, on something transparent like the ether) the thousands of elements of beauty crowding together and ordering themselves according to their real, essential value. A Sign! In the central abyss of a spiritual impossibility that says that nothing can belong exclusively to everything, the divine denominator of our apotheosis, some supreme mould for something that doesn’t exist in the same sense as other objects: from which it borrows, in order to revivify a seal, many scattered veins of ore, unknown and floating like unclaimed riches, and forges them together. This – I slide into an observation – is why, in our language, lines of verse go by twos or more, by reason of their terminal accord, that is, the mysterious law of Rhyme, which reveals itself with the function of guardian, and prevents any one of them from dominating, or peremptorily staying: in what thought was this made! Who cares? given that as soon as its material is debated, its becomes debatable, gratuitious ; momentary and double like flight, the identity of the two halves being stamped by their parity in sound. (‘Solemnity’, Divagations, p. 166–7.) Théorie du vers II/Theory of verse II Une dentelle s’abolit Dans le doute du Jeu suprême
Lace sweeps itself aside In the doubt of the ultimate Game
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A n’entr’ouvrir comme un blasphème Qu’absence éternelle de lit. Cet unanime blanc conflit D’une guirlande avec la même, Enfui contre la vitre blême Flotte plus qu’il n’ensevelit. Mais, chez qui du rêve se dore Tristement dort une mandore Au creux néant musicien Telle que vers quelque fenêtre Selon nul ventre que le sien, Filial on aurait pu naître. (Poésies, O.C., p. 74.)
Only to expose profanely Eternal absence of bed. This white and undivided garland’s struggle with the same Blown against the holy pane Floats more than it would hide. But where the dream would shine within Sadly sleeps a mandolin, The hollow core’s musician Such that towards some window, one Through no belly but its own, Filial, might have been born. (trans. Henry Weinfield, p. 80.)
Théorie du Livre/Theory of the Book Tout, la polyphonie magnifique instrumentale, le vivant geste ou les voix des personnages et de dieux, au surplus un excès apporté à la décoration matérielle, nous le considérons, dans le triomphe du génie, avec Wagner, éblouis par une telle cohésion, ou un art, qui aujourd’hui devient la poésie : or va-t-il se faire que le traditionnel écrivain de vers, celui qui s’en tient aux artifices humbles et sacrés de la parole, tente, selon sa ressource unique subtilement élue, de rivaliser ! Oui, en tant qu’un opéra sans accompagnement ni chant, mais parlé ; maintenant le livre essaiera de suffire, pour entr’ouvrir la scène intérieure et en chuchoter les échos. Un ensemble versifié convie à une idéale représentation : des motifs d’exaltation ou de songe s’y nouent entre eux et se détachent, par une ordonnance et leur individualité. Telle portion incline dans un rythme ou mouvement de pensée, à quoi s’oppose tel contradictoire dessin : l’un et l’autre, pour aboutir et cessant, où interviendrait plus qu’à demi comme sirènes confondues par la croupe avec le feuillage et les rinceaux d’une arabesque, la figure, que demeure l’idée. Un théâtre, inhérent à l’esprit, quiconque d’un œil certain regarda la
nature le porte avec soi, résumé de types et d’accords ; ainsi que les confronte le volume ouvrant des pages parallèles. Le précaire recueil d’inspiration diverse, c’en est fait : ou du hasard, qui ne doit, et pour sous-entendre le parti pris, jamais qu’être simulé. Symétrie, comme elle règne en tout édifice, le plus vaporeux, de vision et de songes. La jouissance vaine cherchée par feu le Rêveur-roi de Bavière dans une solitaire présence aux déploiements scéniques, la voici, à l’écart de la foule baroque moins que sa vacance aux gradins, atteinte par le moyen ou restaurer le texte, nu, du spectacle. Avec deux pages et les vers, je supplée, puis l’accompagnement de tout moi-même, au monde ! ou j’y perçois, discret, le drame. (‘Planches et feuillets’, O.C., p. 328.) Everything – the magnificent instrumental polyphony, the lively gestures of dance or the voices of men or gods, the excess attention paid to the material sumptuousness of the decoration – we consider, with Wagner, blinded by such cohesion or a whole artform, in the triumph of genius, what poetry has become today. Does this mean that the traditional writer of verse, he who works with the humble and sacred artifices of language alone, will try, crowned somehow by those very constraints, to compete? Yes, like an opera without orchestra or son, just spoken; at present now the book will try to suffice to open up the inner stage and whisper echoes into it. A versified collection summons one to an ideal representation: motifs of exaltation or dream are linked together or detach themselves, according to the design or their individuality. One portion sways in a rhythm or movement of thought, another opposes it: both of them swirl around, where there intervenes, emerging like a mermaid whose tail is taken for foliage or the curlicues of an arabesque, a figure, which the idea remains. Anyone who has really looked at nature contains inside himself a theatre inherent to the mind, a summary of types and correspondences; just as any volume confronts them, opening up its parallel pages. The haphazard collection, and there are indeed such, the present volume not excepted, where chance, and the author’s obsessions should be understood here, should never be anything but simulated. There is a certain symmetry, like that which reigns in every edifice, even the most vaporous, of vision and dream. The pleasure vainly sought by the late Dreamer-King of Bavaria in solitary attendance at the unfolding of scenery, is found, in retreat from the baroque crowd rather than in its absence from the bleachers,
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achieved by restoring the text, in its nakedness, to the spectacle. With two pages and their lines of verse, and the accompaniment of my whole self, I supply the world! Or at least I perceive, discreetly, its drama. (‘Stages and Pages’, Divagations, pp. 160–1) Adieu Mes bouquins refermés sur le nom de Paphos, Il m’amuse d’élire avec le seul génie Une ruine, par mille écumes bénie Sous l’hyacinthe, au loin, de ses jours triomphaux. Adieu My old tomes closed upon the name Paphos I take delight in summoning by pure genius a ruin blessed with myriad ocean sprays Beneath the distant hyacinth of its triumphal days
Coure le froid avec ses silences Let the cold with its scythe-like de faux, silence run, Je n’y huluerai pas de vide nénie I shall not howl out any void lament, not one Si ce très blanc ébat au ras du if this so white frolic on earth’s bare sol dénie face A tout site l’honneur du paysage denies the honour of some feigned faux. vista to any place Ma faim qui d’aucuns fruits ici ne se régale Trouve en leur docte manque une saveur égale : Qu’un éclate de chair humain et parfumant ! Le pied sur quelque guivre où notre amour tisonne, Je pense plus longtemps peutêtre éperdûment A l’autre, au sein brûlé d’une antique amazone. (Poésies, O.C., p. 76.) Satisfied by no fruits here, my starvation finds equal savour in their learned deprivation: let one burth forth in fragant human flesh! My foot on some wyvern where our love flames afresh I ponder longer, perhaps desperate, on the other, the seared breast of an ancient Amazon. (trans. E.H. & A.M. Blackmore, p 81.)
5. 6. 7. 8. 9.
10. 11. 12. 13. 14.
See, Charles Chassé, Les Clefs de Mallarmé, Paris: Aubier, 1954. See, ‘Victorieusement fui le suicide beau’, Œuvres complètes (=O.C.), Gallimard, coll. ‘Bibli. de la Pléiade’, 1945; most recent edition, 1992. (‘The beautiful suicide victoriously fled’, trans. Henry Weinfield, p. 68.) ‘Une dentelle s’abolit’ O.C., p. 74. (‘Lace sweeps itself aside’, trans. Henry Weinfeld, p. 80.) Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature, translated and introduced by Ann Smock, Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1982 [French original, 1955]. Letter to Cazalis, 3 March 1871, Correspondance, Gallimard, 1959, t. I,p. 342 (Selected Letters, p. 99.) ‘Sauveguard’, O.C., p. 420. (‘Safeguard’, Divagations, p. 290.) ‘A la nue accablante tu’, O.C., p. 76. (‘Hushed to the crushing cloud’, trans. Henry Weinfield, p. 83.) ‘La Musique et les Lettres’, O.C., p. 648. (‘Music and Letters’, Divagations, p. 188.) Preface to ‘Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard’, O.C., p. 455 (Preface to ‘A dice throw will never abolish chance’, trans. Henry Weinfield, p. 121, translation modified.) ‘La Musique et les Lettres’, O.C., p. 647. (‘Music and Letters’, Divagations, p. 187.) La Dernière Mode, O.C., p. 719 and 732. (Mallarmé On Fashion, p. 33 and 56, translation modified.) ‘Bucolique’, O.C., p. 403. (‘Bucolic’, Divagations, p. 269.) ‘Crise de vers’, O.C., p. 366. (‘Crisis of verse’, Divagations, p. 208.) ‘Salut’, O.C., p. 27. (‘Toast’, trans. E.H. and A.M. Blackmore, p.3.)
15. ‘Crayonné au théâtre’, O.C., p. 298. (‘Scribbled at the Theatre’, Divagations, p. 118.) 16. Ibid., p. 294. (Ibid., p. 123.) 17. See, ‘Le Mystère dans les Lettres’, O.C., p. 383. (‘The Mystery in Letters’, Divagations, p. 232.) 18. ‘La Cour’, O.C., p. 414. (‘The Court’, Divagations, p. 283.) 19. ‘L’action restreinte’, O.C., p. 373. (‘Restricted Action’, Divagations, p. 219.) 20. Letter to Léo d’Orfer of 27 June, 1884. (Selected Letters, p. 138.) 21. Cf. ‘Bucolique’, p. 404 (‘Bucolic’, Divagations, p. 267); and ‘La Musique et les Lettres, p. 647. (‘Music and Letters’, Divagations, p. 187.) 22. Letter to Léo d’Orfer of 27 June 1884. (Selected Letters, p. 138, translation modified.) 23. ‘Solennité’, O.C., p. 647. (‘Solemnity’, Divagations, p. 167.) 24. ‘La Musique et les Lettres’, O.C., p. 647. (‘Music and Letters’, Divagations, p. 187.) 25. ‘Ballets’, O.C., p. 302. (‘Ballets’, Divagations, p. 130.) 26. Translator’s note: The French word ‘calice’ means both ‘chalice’ and ‘calyx’ and both senses are important in understanding Mallarmé’s use of the word. The word recurs many times throughout this book and I have translated it one way or the other depending on the context, but the reader should always bear both senses in mind. 27. ‘Quand l’ombre menaça de la fatale loi / Tel vieux Rêve, désir et mal de mes vertèbres, / Affligé de périr sous des plafonds funèbres / Il a ployé son aile indubitable en moi’, O.C. p. 67. (‘When the shadow menaced with its fatal law / That old Dream, desire and pain of my spine, / Grieved at being swallowed in night’s black maw / If folded within me its indubitable wing’, (trans. Henry Weinfield, p. 66.) 28. La Musique et les Lettres, O.C., p. 647. (‘Music and Letters’, Divagations, p. 187.) 29. ‘Un spectacle interrompu’, O.C. p. 277. (‘An Interrupted performance’, Divagations, p. 25.) 30. Ibid. (Ibid., p. 24, translation modified.) 31. ‘Prose (pour des Esseintes)’, O.C., p. 56. (‘Prose (for des Esseintes), trans. Henry Weinfield, p. 46.) 32. ‘Un spectacle interrompu’, O.C., p. 278. (‘An interrupted Performance’, Divagations, p. 25, translation modified.) 33. ‘Planches et feuillets’, O.C., p. 328. (‘Stages and Pages’, Divagations, p. 161.) 34. ‘Hamlet’, O.C., p. 300. (‘Hamlet’, Divagations, p. 125.) 35. ‘Les Fleurs’, O.C., p. 33. (‘The Flowers’, trans. Henry Weinfield, p. 13.)
36. ‘Le nénuphar blanc’, O.C., p. 283–286. (‘The White Waterlily’, trans. Henry Weinfield, p. 110.) 37. ‘Surgi sur la croupe’, O.C., p. 74. (‘Sprung from the croup’, trans. Henry Weinfield, p. 79.) 38. Mallarmé is playing on the usual French expression ‘Autant ne rien dire’, or, in English, ‘best not to say anything’, where, by lifting the ‘ne’, ‘rien’, as Rancière makes clear in the following lines, takes on a positive value as that which is to be said. 39. ‘Las de l’amer repos’, O.C., p. 35–6. (‘Weary of bitter sleep’, trans. Henry Weinfield, p. 16.) 40. ‘L’après-midi d’un Faune’, O.C., p. 51. (‘A Faun in the Afternoon’, trans. E.H. and A.M. Blackmore, p. 43.) 41. ‘Toast funèbre’, O.C., p. 55. (‘Funerary Toast’, trans. E.H. and A.M Blackmore, p. 51.) 42. ‘Plusieurs sonnets’, O.C., p. 67–9. (‘Several sonnets’, trans. Henry Weinfield, pp. 66-9.) 43. ‘Sonnet d’inauguration du théâtre de Valvins’, O.C., p. 182. 44. ‘La déclaration foraine’, O.C., p. 282. (‘The Fairground Declaration’, trans. Weinfield, p. 107.) 45. Letter to Gustave Kahn of 13 January 1881. (Selected Letters, p. 130, translation modified.) 46. ‘La musique et les Lettres’, O.C., p. 647. (‘Music and Letters’, Divagations, p. 187.) 47. [Translator’s note: the English word ‘forgery’ is used by Mallarmé himself in the original text.] 48. ‘La Musique et les Lettres’, O.C., p. 647. (‘Music and Letters’, Divagations, p. 187.) 49. ‘Autre éventail’, O.C., p. 58. (‘Another fan’, trans. Henry Weinfield, p. 50.) 50. Mallarmé et le Drame Solaire, José Corti, 1959. 51. See, Les Dieux Antiques, O.C., p. 1159–1280. 52. The proposed reading of this poem clearly takes into consideration, however without following or seeking specifically to contradict, the philosophical interpretation put forward by Alain Badiou on the basis of Gardner Davies’ exegesis (see the bibliography). 53. ‘Prose’, O.C., p. 56. (‘Prose’, trans. Henry Weinfield, p. 46.) 54. ‘Catholicisme’, O.C., p. 391. (‘Catholicism’, Divagations, p. 243.) 55. Ibid., p. 394. (Ibid., p. 246.) 56. ‘La Cour’, O.C., p. 414. (‘The Court’, Divagations, p. 283); and ‘Villiers de l’Isle Adam’, O.C., p. 499. 57. ‘Villiers de l’Isle Adam’, O.C., p. 499–500.
58. See. Jacques Rancière, The Nights of Labour: The Workers’ Dream in NineteenthCentury France, translated by John Drury, introduction by Donald Reid, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989 [French original, 1981]. 59. ‘Conflict’, O.C., p. 355–60. (‘Conflict’, Divagations, pp. 41-6.) 60. ‘Confrontation’, O.C., p. 409–12. (‘Confrontation’, Divagations, pp. 276-80.) 61. ‘Conflit’ O.C., p. 359. (‘Conflict’, Divagations, p. 46.) 62. ‘Catholicisme’, O.C., p. 394. (‘Catholicism’, Divagations, p. 247.) 63. ‘Bucolique’, O.C., p. 401. (‘Bucolic’, Divagations, p. 266.) 64. See, Jean-Paul Sartre, Mallarmé, or the Poet of Nothingness, trans. Ernest Sturm, Pennyslvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1991 . 65. ‘Or’, O.C., p. 398. (‘Gold’, Divagations, p. 255.) 66. ‘Solitude’, O.C., p. 408. (‘Solitude’, Divagations, p. 275, translation modified.) 67. ‘Sur l’évolution littéraire’, O.C., p. 869. 68. ‘Le genre ou Des modernes’, O.C., p. 318. (‘Of Genre and the Moderns’, Divagations, p. 148, translation modified.) 69. ‘L’action restreinte’, O.C., p. 372. (‘Restricted Action’, Divagations, p. 219.) 70. ‘Étalages’, O.C., p. 376. (‘Displays’, Divagations, p. 224.) 71. ‘Services’, O.C., p. 388–97. (‘Services’, Divagations, p. 239-52.) 72. ‘Plaisir sacré’, O.C., p. 388. (‘Sacred Pleasure’, Divagations, p. 239.) 73. ‘Bucolique’, O.C., p. 403. (‘Bucolic’, Divagations, p. 268.) 74. ‘Plaisir sacré’, O.C., p. 388. (‘Sacred Pleasure’, Divagations, p. 239.) 75. ‘Le genre ou les modernes’, O.C., p. 314. (‘Of Genre and the Moderns’, Divagations, p. 145.) 76. ‘Richard Wagner. Rêverie d’un poète français’, O.C., p. 542. (‘The Reverie of a French Poet’, Divagations, p. 108.) 77. ‘Catholicisme’, O.C., p. 393. (‘Catholicism’, Divagations, p. 245–6.) 78. ‘Crise de vers’, O.C., 367. (‘Crisis of Verse’, Divagations, p. 209.) 79. ‘Plaisir sacré’, O.C., 389. (‘Sacred Pleasure’, Divagations, p. 240.) 80. ‘Hommage’, O.C., p. 71. (‘Homage’, trans. E.H. and A.M. Blackmore, p. 73.) 81. ‘Richard Wagner. Rêverie d’un poète français’, O.C., p. 543. (‘Richard Wagner: The Reverie of a French Poet’, Divagations, p. 110.) 82. Ibid., p. 544. (Ibid. p. 111.) 83. Ibid., p. 545. (Ibid., p. 111–2.) 84. ‘Crise de vers’, O.C., p. 367–8. (‘Crisis of Verse’, Divagations, p. 210.) 85. Ibid., 367. (Ibid., p. 209.) 86. ‘Sur Poe’, O.C., p. 872. 87. Letter to Edmund Gosse, 10 January 1893. (Selected Letters, p. 190, translation modified.) 88. Ibid.
89. 90. 91. 92. 93. 94. 95.
96. 97. 98. 99. 100. 101. 102. 103. 104. 105. 106. 107.
‘Solennité’, O.C., p. 332. (‘Solemnity’, Divagations, p. 166.) ‘Crise de vers’, O.C., p. 366. (‘Crisis of Verse’, Divagations, p. 208.) Ibid., p. 365. (Ibid., p. 207.) ‘Ballets’, O.C., p. 304. (‘Ballets’, Divagations, p. 130.) Ibid., p. 304. (Ibid., p. 130.) Ibid., p. 306. (Ibid., p. 133.) Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, translated and introduced by Barbara Johnson, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983 [French original, 1972]. ‘Le Mystère dans les Lettres’, O.C., p. 654. (‘The Mystery in Letters’, Divagations, p. 235.) La Musique et les Lettres, O.C., p. 654. (‘Music and Letters’, Divagations, p. 195.) ‘Crayonné au théâtre’, O.C., p. 298. (‘Scribbled at the theater’, Divagations, p. 123.) ‘Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard’, O.C., p. 477. (See, ‘A Throw of the Dice’, trans. Henry Weinfield, p.144.) ‘Crayonné au théâtre’, O.C., p. 296. (‘Scribbled at the Theater’, Divagations, p. 120–1.) ‘Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard’, O.C., p. 477. (See, ‘A Throw of the Dice’, trans. Henry Weinfield, p. 144.) Variété II, Gallimard, 1930, p. 194–9. Letters to André Gide, 14 May 1897 (Selected Letters, p. 223.); and Camille Mauclair, 8 October 1897. ‘L’action restrainte’, O.C., p. 371. (‘Restricted Action’, Divagations, p. 217.) ‘Le Livre, instrument spirituel’, O.C., p. 378. (‘The Book as Spiritual Instrument’, Divagations, p. 226.) ‘Catholicisme’, O.C., p. 394. (‘Catholicism’, Divagations, p. 247.) See, Hegel, Philosophy of Right, § 359.
Aristotle 12, 21 Baudelaire, Charles 3 ‘Phare’ 3 ‘Voyage’ 3 Blanchot, Maurice xv Boileau, Nicolas 12 Coppée, François 19 Cox, George W. 23, 29 Davies, Gardner 23 Derrida, Jacques 52 Descartes, René 22 Feuerbach, Ludwig 28, 30, 38 Flaubert, Gustave 19–21. 57. 59 Bouvard and Pécuchet 20 Madame Bovary 19 Hamlet 15–16, 52 Hegel, G.W.F. 15, 17, 19, 28, 38, 45–51, 58, 60 Lessons on Aesthetics 46 Hölderlin, Friedrich 28, 45 Homer 6
Horace 12 The Poetic Art 12 Hugo, Victor 3 ‘Oceano Nox’ 3 Kant, Immanuel 17 Mallarmé, Stéphane (poems and prose) ‘A la nue accablante tu’ (‘Hushed to the crushing cloud’) 1–4, 12 ‘Autre éventail’ (‘Another fan’) 22–3 ‘Ballets’ (‘Ballets’) 12, 51–2 ‘Bucolique’ (‘Bucolic’) 4, 10, 33, 35 ‘Catholicisme’ (‘Catholicism’) 30, 33, 35, 37, 59–60 ‘Conflit’ (‘Conflict’) 31–2 ‘Confrontation’ (‘Confrontation’) 31 ‘Crayonné au théâtre’ (‘Scribbled at the theatre’) 6, 54 ‘Crise de vers’ (‘Crisis of verse’) 4, 38, 41, 51–2 ‘Étalages’ (‘Displays’) 35 ‘Hamlet’ 15 ‘Hommage’ (‘Homage’) 39 ‘Igitur’ (‘Igitur’) 17
Mallarmé, Stéphane (poems and prose) – continued ‘L’action restrainte’ (‘Restricted action’) 7, 34, 55–8 ‘La cour’ (‘The Court’) 6, 30 ‘La Déclaration foraine’ (‘Fairground declaration’) 19–21 La Dernière Mode xii, 3 ‘La Même’ (‘The Same’) 35 ‘La Musiques et les Lettres’ (‘Music and Letters’) 2, 3, 11, 13, 22, 54 ‘Las de l’amer repos’ (‘Weary of bitter sleep’) 17 ‘Le genre ou des modernes’ (‘Of genre and the Moderns’) 34, 36 ‘Le Livre, instrument spirituel’ (‘The Book as spiritual instrument’) 58 ‘Le Mystère dans les Lettres’ (‘The Mystery in Letters’) 53 ‘Les fleurs’ (‘The flowers’) 16 Les mots anglais 50 ‘Or’ (‘Gold’) 34 ‘Plaisir sacré’ (‘Sacred Pleasure’) 35–6, 38 ‘Planches et feuillets’ (‘Stages and pages’) 15 ‘Prélude à l’après-midi d’un Faune’ (‘A Faun in the afternoon’) 18 ‘Prose (pour des Esseintes)’ ((Prose (for des Esseintes)) xvi, 14, 27 ‘Richard Wagner’ 36, 39–41, ‘Salut’ (‘Toast’) 4–5, 16 ‘Sauveguard’ (‘Safeguard’) xvi ‘Services’ (‘Services’) 35 ‘Solennité’ (‘Solemnity’) 11, 49–50 ‘Solitude’ (‘Solitude’) 34
‘Sur Poe’ (‘Sur Poe’) 44–5 ‘Surgi de la croupe’ (‘Sprung from the croup’) 88 ‘Toast funèbre’ (‘Funerary toast’) 18 ‘Un coup de dés’ (‘A dice throw’) 2, 3, 13, 55–6 ‘Un spectacle interrompu’ (An interrupted spectacle’) 14–5 ‘Villiers de l’Isle Adam’ 17 Marx, Karl 28 Plato 10–12, 50, 53 and eidos 10–11 Cratylus 50 Phraedrus 12 Proust, Marcel 20 Romanticism 37 Saint Simonians 28–9, 31 Schelling, Friedrich 28, 45 Schlegel, Friedrich 45 Schopenhauer, Arthur 17, 38 Symbolism 47–8 Tolstoy, Leo 1 Valéry, Paul 44, 56 Verlaine, Paul 41 Vigny, Alfred de 3, 50, 54 ‘La bouteille à la mer’ (The bottle at sea’) 3 Wagner, Richard 38–40 Lohengrin 40
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