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Toward the Prose Fragment in Mallarm and Valry: Igitur and Agathe

Author(s): Ursula Franklin

Source: The French Review, Vol. 49, No. 4 (Mar., 1976), pp. 536-548
Published by: American Association of Teachers of French
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REVIEW, Vol. XLIX, No. 4, March, 1976 Printed in U.S.A.

Toward the Prose Fragment in Mallarme

and Valery: Igitur and Agathe'
by Ursula Franklin
CRITICS HAVEBEGUN TO SHOW INTERESTin the emergence of the "fragment" as a

twentieth-century literary genre. Germaine Bree, for example, has recently

remarked that "at present the major literary forms, in France at least, do seem
to be the 'fragment' and the 'book."'2 In fact, the "fragment" had already
come into its own near the close of the nineteenth century. To demonstrate
this I propose to discuss two extremely important prose fragments of that
period-Mallarme's Igitur and Valery's Agathe-and to draw some parallels
between the two pieces, as well as between their respective positions in the
oeuvre of their creators. I will also explore the influence of Igitur on Mallarme's
prose poems, and that of Agathe on Valery's, since I believe that the
emergence of the prose poem itself may be viewed as a stage in the evolution
(which is paradoxically a dissolution) from poem-or roman-to fragment.
Julia Kristeva, in her recent study of Lautreamont and Mallarme, situates
and traces the break-up of traditional genres, as well as that of the traditional
"langage poetique," in the nineteenth century:
Une nouvelle economie signifiante est en train de se degager, qui commence par
contester la normativite phrastique-narrative,en y introduisant le rythme et la
polysemie poetique. Mais il ne s'agit plus de l'ancienne poesie, contrepartiede la
narrationlinearisantequi reflchissait la syntaxe liniaire. Cette nouvellepoesie n'est
ni poetique ni prosaique:elle amene son rythme dans la ligne syntaxique, et en ce
sens elle poetise la prose.... Une genre nouveau nait dans ces mutations, un
nouveautype de langage:le texte.3
This break-up of traditional genres is reflected, moreover, from a diachronic
point of view, in the marked morphological change and evolution from the
Mallarmean anecdotal or narrative form of prose poem, situated in a
structured cycle, to the "broken" and fragmented quality of Valery's prose
of them centered on a mere moment in time-which
dispersed throughout his work.
When Mallarme was twenty-seven years old, he wrote his friend Cazalis that
A modified version of this article was presented as a paper at the State University of New York
Conversation in Nineteenth-Century French Studies, at Fredonia, New York, on 31 October 1975.
2 Germaine
Bree, "The Break-up of Traditional Genres: Bataille, Leiris, Michaux," Bucknell
Review, 21 (Fall-Winter, 1973) Nos. 2-3, 13.
3Julia Kristeva, La Revolution du langage poetique (Paris: Seuil, 1974), p. 289.

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he was working on "un conte, par lequel je veux terrasser le vieux ronstre de
l'impuissance, son sujet, du reste, afin de me cloitrer dans mon grand labour
deja reetudie. S'il est fait, je suis gueiri."4One year later, in 1870, he read his
Igitur to Mendes, Judith Gautier and Villiers de l'Isle-Adam who were visiting
him at Avignon. Mendes was "stupefied" by the work, and surprised to see
Villiers "y prendre interet." Igitur was incomprehensible to Mallarme's
friends and fellow poets.5
When Valery was twenty-seven years old, he wrote his friend Gide that he
was working on "un conte," which was in fact "un probleme de psychologie
transcendante, imaginaire, qui est fort dur a meme envisager ... la variation
de la pensee devenue peu a peu vide."6 In the same letter, he suggested that he
would never finish his Agathe, "car il est trop difficile a faire."
Neither Igitur nor Agathe is "finished," that is published during its creator's
lifetime;7 Igitur appeared in 1925, and Agathe in 1957, when Mallarme and
Valery would have been eighty-three and eighty-five years old respectively. I
will not here attempt a new reading or interpretation of Igitur,8 but rather try
to situate it in the Mallarmean universe, and especially in his prose work.
Until its late appearance, Igitur was indeed a kind of missing link in an wuure
which it at once enlightens and is enlightened by. It is therefore not surprising
that Mallarmists were immediately attracted to it, notably Mallarme's friend
and fellow poet, Paul Claudel." Whether one shares Claudel's views of the
work or not, one must, nevertheless, agree with him that "tous les themes,
toutes les idees, toutes les images, tous les accessoires, que nous retrouvons
pousses avec detail et travailles du dehors dans l'Album de prose et de vers,
les voici a l'etat



La lampe,

la glace,

la console,

les rideaux,

l'horloge, la bibliotheque, les des, sans oublier, dans sa vacuite transparente,

'cette goutte de Neant qui manquait a la mer."'
Igitur, we recall, is not a single fragment, but several, written at different
periods of the poet's life, some of which were grouped into a coherent whole by
'Stiphane Mallarme, (Euvres completes, ed. Henri Mondor et C. Jean-Aubry (Paris:
Gallimard, 1945), p. 1580. All quotations from Mallarme will refer to this edition, unless otherwise
5Villiers' Axel appears, nevertheless, to owe a great deal to the figure of Igitur, as Igitur owes
much to Villiers de l'Isle-Adam.
6 Paul
Valiry, (Euvres II, ed. Jean Hytier (Paris: Gallimard, 1960), p. 1387. All quotations
from Valery will refer to this edition, unless otherwise indicated.
7 Neither poet considered
any of his work ever "finished" in the traditional sense of that term.
Cf. Valery, I, 1497: "un ouvrage n'est jamais achieve,-mot
qui ... n'a aucun sens,-mais
8 For analyses of Igitur, see Robert Greer Cohn,
L'YCuvre de Mallarme: "Un Coup de dis"
(Paris: Librairie les Lettres, 1951), pp. 449-59; Gardner Davies, Vers une explication rationnelle
du "Coup de des" (Paris: Corti, 1953), pp. 52-67; Wallace Fowlie, Mallarme (Chicago and
London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1953, 1962), pp. 105-18; Kristeva, pp. 197-202; Jean-Pierre
Richard, L'Univers imaginaire de Mallarme (Paris: Seuil, 1960), pp. 183-95; Kurt Wais,
Mallarme (Miinchen: C. H. Beck'sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1952), pp. 201-17.
9 Paul
Claudel, "La Catastrophe d'Igitur," Nouvelle Revue Francaise, 1" novembre 1926, pp.

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Mallarme's son-in-law who first published them with an explanatory preface.

The last was published only in 1948.10 Some of these show a greater degree of
"finish" than others, which are mere notes. And some scholars feel that these
fragments were a kind of "poesie brute," to borrow a term from Valery,
culminating in Mallarme's most significant poem: "Le Coup de des, nous en
sommes convaincu, represente l'aboutissement de toutes les ebauches d'Igitur,
repensees et remainiees sans cesse pendant une periode de pres de vingt-cinq
annees."1 Yet "Igitur" sets forth one of the dominant myths of Mallarme's
world. Paradoxically, then, Igitur on the one hand is merely preparatory notes,
a sort of prolegomenon to a future poem (labeled by the poet himself
"D'echet") while at the same time it is in fact one of the key works in this
poetic universe, delineating one of its heroes. The somber Igitur figures as
prominently in this oeuvre as does his sister figure, the white Herodiade.
We shall now examine some of the relationships between Igitur and
Mallarme's prose poems, individually and as a complete cycle. Of the thirteen
prose poems,l2 six were written before Igitur; in these, therefore, we can find
premonition and anticipation-prediction,
literally speaking-of the later
The first prose poem, "Le Phenomene futur," suggests by its very title the
terminology of Hegelian philosophy, to which Mallarme had been initiated
through his friends, especially Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, whom he had met in
1864. The poet's predilection for such terms as "la notion," "la notion pure,"
and "l'Idee" seems due, at least in part, to this influence. Hegel almost
certainly influenced some of Mallarme's poetry, and especially Igitur, which
without a consideration of Hegelian thought would remain hopelessly obscure.
In "Frisson d'hiver," some of the major symbols of the prose poems, and
indeed this whole poetic universe, first appear. The room itself, which emerges
as a symbol of the poet's mind or consciousness, will be the setting also of some
of Mallarme's late sonnets, where we meet again the familiar objects: the
mirror, the window, the lace and the clock. In this prose poem, the persona's
need to close the mind off from what threatens it reflects two important
aspects of this moment in the poet's development, both revealed by the
correspondence of these years: the need Mallarme felt for solitude and
withdrawal to be able to hear the melody within, and, at the same time, the
approaching crisis of 1866, a decisive period whose impact will influence the
next prose poem of the cycle even more strongly. The emerging poet is already
beginning to experience a truly existential anguish, whose full force will be
rendered dramatically in Igitur, by means of those same symbols: the room
and its furnishings, and above all, the mirror-into which the hero must now
1OStephane Mallarme (1842-1898), "Inedits, Hors-texte, Etudes" ("Longtemps oh!"), Etudes,
III (1948), 24.
l Davies, p. 53.
12 Cf.
my "Poet and People: Mallarme's 'Conflit' and the Thirteen Prose Poems of Divagations," French Review, 46, No. 5, (Spring 1973), 77-86.

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look-and the clock, the objectification of the obsession with Time, and
reminder of the ephemeral in human existence:
J'ai toujoursvecu mon ame fixee sur l'horloge.Certesj'ai tout fait pourque le temps
qu'elle sonna restdt present dans la chambre ... J'ai epaissi les rideaux,et comme
j'etais oblige pour ne pas douter de moi de m'asseoir en face de cette glace, j'ai
recueilli precieusementles moindresatomes du temps ....
Et quandje rouvraisles yeux au fond du miroir,je voyais le personnaged'horreur,
le fant6me de l'horreurabsorberpeu a peu ce qui restait de sentiment et de douleur
dans la glace, nourrirson horreurdes supremes frissons des chimeres et de l'instabilite des tentures, et se former en rarefiant la glace jusqu'a une purete
innouie,-jusqu'a ce qu'il se detache, permanent, de la glace absolument pure,

comme pris dans son froid,-jusqu'a ce qu'enfin les meubles, leurs monstres
ayant succombe avec leurs anneaux convulsifs, fussent morts... et que les
rideaux cessant d'etre inquiets tombassent, avec une attitude qu'ils devaient
conservera jamais. [OCpp. 439-41]
"Le Demon de l'analogie" celebrates the persona's death and resurrection,
his descent and return, the paradoxical "fortunate fall" from faith to atheism,
without which the poet could not have been born. To be born a poet, a self had
to die, and we know how cruelly Mallarme suffered the death agonies which
set him free. This dying in order to be reborn, a voluntary death for the sake of
gaining a new existence, is well described by Poulet in his essay on
Mallarme,'3 which enlightens the experience of the poet-persona of "Le
Demon de l'analogie," and also points to his relationship with his dramatic
counterpart, Igitur:
La mort est un acte, une operationvolontairepar laquelle on se donne une nouvelle
existence et par laquelleon donnel'existence meme au neant. La mortest le seul acte
possible. Presses que nous sommes entre un monde materiel vrai dont les combinaisons fortuites se produisent en nous sans nous, et un monde ideal faux dont le
mensongenous paralyseet nous ensorcelle,nous n'avonsqu'un moyende ne plus etre
livres ni au neant ni au hasard. Ce moyen unique, cet acte unique, c'est la mort. La
mortvolontaire.Par lui nous nous abolissons,mais parlui aussi nous nous fondons.
"Pauvre Enfant pale," whose anecdote concerns a street singer in a big city
and the narrator's reflections about him, introduces the decapitation theme
later elaborated in the "Cantique de Saint Jean." The poet-singer-martyr is
threatened by the disintegration of his mind, figured in the beheading. And
this threat of annihilation and disintegration links this prose poem also to
Igitur, whose hero does, in fact, cross over into the absolute, the utter purity of
thought, that Hegelian Absolute Notion which swallows up individual consciousness:

Je n'aime pas ce bruit, cette perfectionde ma certitude me gene: tout est trop clair,
la clarte montre le diesird'une evasion; tout est trop luisant, j'aimerais rentreren
mon Ombreincreee et ant6rieure,et depouillerpar la pensee le travestissementque

Georges Poulet, La Distance interieure (Paris: Plon, 1952), p. 325.

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m'a impose la necessite, d'habiterle coeurde cette race (que j'entendsbattre ici) seul
reste d'ambiguit. . .. un personnagedont la pensee n'a pas consciencede lui-meme,
de ma dernierefigure,separe de son personnagepar une fraise arachneenneet qui ne
se connalt pas. [OCpp. 438-39]
The separation of head from body, by the "fraise arachneenne," relates Igitur
to the beheaded street singer of "Pauvre Enfant pale," while suggesting also
Hamlet, who had been evoked already in the prose poem by the "As-tu jamais
eu un pere?"
Thus already in some of the early prose poems, that movement of the young
poet's spirit toward the metaphysical crisis-the "crise de Tournon"-whose
purgation is later effected in Igitur, is beginning to make itself felt. These
poems move us as it were toward the Igitur fragments, for they reflect
Mallarme's stance of ontological questioning and anguish. The Angst which is
directly revealed in Igitur, is seen indirectly through the veil of anecdote in the
prose poems. Moreover, many of the key images and symbols of Igitur, such as
the room, the mirror, the clock, and most of all the solitary, anguished hero,
hesitating before life and his mission and tempted by suicide and madness, are
identical to those of some of the early prose poems.
The seventh of the "Anecdotes ou poemes" of Divagations, published in
1875, is chronologically intermediate between the six early prose poems, all of
1864, and the six later, all of 1885 or after. We do not know when "Un
Spectacle interrompu" was written, but its language is markedly different from
that of the preceding pieces, the result, we believe, of the "crise de Tournon."
Mallarme critics agree that a decisive stylistic change took place in both his
prose and his verse shortly after 1870-a change which reflects an increasingly
complex system of analogies, and one which produces in all his mature prose a
most unusual syntax.
We have seen that Mallarme's friends, Villiers and Catulle Mendes, were
unable to understand the Igitur fragments into which the poet had distilled
the spiritual struggles of his crisis of Tournon.14 Norman Paxton sees this
"failure" as strictly connected with the drastic changes in Mallarme's prose
style very shortly thereafter:
That Mallarme recognizedIgitur as a failure to be discarded is surely indicated by
the fact that he never attempted to publish it . . . It is my belief that the realisation

that the message which he wished to communicate could not be rendered by a

conventional use of language came to Mallarm6as a result of Igitur and began the
search for a new languagewhich continued all his life.15

Igitur, then, influenced all the rest of the prose poems-as well as all of the
poet's mature prose work-in their very essence; that is, their language.
The eighth prose poem, "Reminiscence," with its very first sentence, which
14This disastrous reading of Igitur is related in Henri Mondor, Vie de Mallarme (Paris:
Gallimard, 1941), pp. 229-302.
'5 Norman Paxton, The Development of Mallarmi's Prose Style (Geneve: Droz, 1968), p. 50.

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is a striking example of the "new" style, introduces the Hamlet-Igitur theme:

"Orphelin, j'errais en noir et l'ocil vacant de famille: au quinconce se
deplierent des tentes de fete, eprouvais-je le futur et que je serais ainsi,
j'aimais le parfum des vagabonds, vers eux a oublier mes camarades" (OC p.
278). This sentence, by its extreme compression-and, conversely, its infinite
suggestiveness-not only creates the key image of the poem, but contains in
germ, as it were, the whole poem. On the narrative level the piece retells an
event in the persona's youth, which becomes an image of that moment when
Man confronts his destiny alone, those threatening worlds both within and
without, a moment which for Mallarme was embodied in the modern myth of
Hamlet. This figure is the incarnation of that moment suspended between the
alternatives of action or refusal, acceptance or suicide, alternatives symbolized in Mallarme's universe by the twin figures of Herodiade and Igitur. The
Hamlet-figure is encountered in almost all the early prose poems; here, in
"Reminiscence," it is recalled for the last time.
In "La Declaration foraine," we encounter an Igitur echo in a persona who
"un instant ecarte, plutot qu'il ne s'y fond, aupres de son Idee, reste a vif
devant la hantise de l'existence" (OC p. 279). Here a mature poet-persona, in
full possession of his art, is haunted by existence like Igitur who did, in fact,
almost fully "melt into" the realm of pure essence, as one after another "les
choses" disappeared about him, including his own existential manifestation,
namely his mirror image.
The theme of voluntary death, dramatized in Igitur, reappears in the last
prose poem, "Conflit," in the narrator's reflections about the drunken railroad workers who have invaded Valvins. As he beholds them lying senseless
on the ground, he feels that these men have by their choice of drunkenness,
which is a "momentary suicide," counterfeited that only "free" act possible,
and have in their own way negated chance.
The influence, then, of Igitur on Mallarme's prose poems is threefold:
imagistic, thematic, but most important of all, stylistic. We found Igitur's key
images foreshadowed in some of the early prose poems, as well as its principal
theme of the disintegration/sublimation of the self. In Igitur this theme
becomes a Hegelian progression, as the hero moves through the Triad, by first
divorcing his consciousness from phenomena, in order to reach a pure
consciousness of the self, and finally almost achieves the dissolution of that
individual consciousness in the Absolute Spirit. We found echoes of this
sublimation of the existential and contingent into the Absolute in some of the
late prose poems, to which we might add "Le Nenuphar blanc." But I believe
that the most important mark Igitur left on the Mallarmean prose poem-and
on the wuvre as a whole-is the stylistic one. For the metaphysical problem of
Igitur becomes a linguistic one in the mature Mallarme: the sublimation of the
contingent into the Absolute is the transposition of "parole" into "ecriture."
Even the "Nenuphar blanc," Mallarme's "whitest"-purest-prose
involves the poet-as does any poem for that matter-in contingency, that of

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language itself. In creating the intricate structures of his style, Mallarme

continues to combat "le hasard." But its total abolishment, true purity,
would-as the "Nenuphar" suggests with the image of the white searose
enclosing nothing, or the bubble, "un de ces magiques nenuphars clos...
enveloppant de leur creuse blancheur un rien," "la bulle visible
d'ecume"-not be any poem, but the empty page of the poet's silence: "le
hasard vaincu mot par mot, indefectiblement le blanc revient, tout a l'heure
gratuit, pour conclure que rien au-dela et authentiquer le silence" (OC p. 387).
In discussing Agathe, we are again not concerned to make a detailed
analysis or reading, but rather, as with Igitur, to situate this fragment in the
euvre of which it is an essential part. We mentioned that Valery first had a
"conte" in mind, about which he wrote Gide. Originally, this story was to be
about "une de ces femmes qui dorment deux, trois, ou dix ans de suite; on
suppose (fort gratuitement) qu'elle a reve tout le temps, et qu'elle peut
raconter au reveil ce reve." As Agathe continues to be discussed in the letters,
various titles appear: "Agathe ou le Sommeil," "Sommeil d'Agathe"; and in
the notes to the correspondence with Fourmont,16 we find yet another:
"Manuscrit trouve dans une cervelle." In his review article of "Agathe,"'7
Maurice Tosca mentions among the unpublished drafts an "Agathe Sainte du
Sommeil." Valery soon abandoned the idea of the "conte" and envisaged
Agathe as a fragment of Monsieur Teste, and finally as a chapter, that is a
fragment, of the never-written "roman d'un cerveau"'8-to which he alludes
Agathe, then, is the title of the "conte" Valery had planned to write, and the
name of its protagonist. But as the "story"- or what Mallarme would call "le
recit"-is gradually abandoned, so is its heroine. Agathe becomes a mere title,
the name of this fragment, whose persona is "je," a self both subjective and
universal, a self whose identity Valery explored all his life. Our poem's "Qui
interroge? Le meme repond. Le Meme ecrit, efface une meme ligne" is echoed
Qui pleure la, sinon le vent simple, a cette heure
Seule, avec diamants extremes?...Mais qui pleure,
the opening lines of "La Jeune Parque," that young Fate who had no name,
human destiny deified.
Correspondance Valery-Fourmont, ed. Octave Nadal (Paris: Gallimard, 1957), p. 246, n. 4.
Maurice Tosca, "Paul Valery: Agathe," Nouvelle Revue Franqaise, May 1957.
18Ibid., pp. 910-11.
une poesie des merveilles et des emotions de
' Cf. "L'Homme et la coquille": "S'il y eit
l'intellect (a quoi j'ai songe toute ma vie) ..."
(OC, I, 866); "Descartes": "la vie de l'intelligence
constitue un univers lyrique incomparable, un drame complet, ou ne manquent ni l'aventure, ni
les passions, ni la douleur ... ni le comique, ni rien d'humain.. . . Ce monde de la pensee, oiul'on
entrevoit la pensee de la pensee et qui s'etend depuis le mystere central de la conscience jusqu'a
l'etendue lumineuse . .. est aussi varie, aussi emouvant, aussi surprenant par les coups de theatre
et l'intervention du hasard, aussi admirable par soi-meme, que le monde de la vie affective" (OC,
I, 796-97).


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In the Teste cycle, Agathe was to be a fragment of the hero's night, a hero
who is himself a fragment, for "l'existence d'un type de cette espece ne
pourrait se prolonger dans le reel pendant plus de quelques quarts d'heure"
(OC, II, 13). "Teste . .. est un personnage obtenu par le fractionnement d'un
etre reel" (OC, II, 1381, my italics). But in contrast with some of the other
Teste fragments, Agathe no longer mirrors Teste by others, like the acquaintance of the cafe or his wife Emilie, but makes him his own witness, and the
mirror of his changing states of mind and being. For during his night, Teste is
alone; his friend leaves him as he appears to be going to sleep, saying: "je suis
etant, et me voyant, me voyant me voir, et ainsi de suite . .. " (OC, II, 25).
Agathe is the poetic mono/dialogue of a mind beholding itself think, and
therefore speak, during a fragment of a night-Agathe is a fragment of a poem
in prose.
The task of delineating the influence of Agathe on Valery's prose poems is
infinitely more complex than was the case with Igitur's on Mallarme's for
Valery's prose poems were never neatly grouped together by their author as
were Mallarme's, but are dispersed throughout the cuure. They appear under
such headings as "Melange," "Poesie brute," "Instants," "Histoires brisees,"
and "Tel Quel," along with free verse, sketches, observations and epigrams, or
dreams. An exhaustive study and definition of Valery's prose poems remains
yet to be written. Moreover, the form of the Valeryan prose poem is much more
varied than Mallarme's "anecdote ou poeme," where in almost every case a
short narrative, or "recit," constitutes the vehicle for the symbolic meaning.
Though some of Valery's prose poems are narrative in this sense, as for
example the well-known "Enfance aux cygnes," many of them have a
momentary "broken" quality about them, born out by such titles as
"Instants," and "Histoires brisees." These prose poems are sparkling fragments of an interior mono/dialogue, brilliant verbal reflections of the poet's
states of mind, or of his vision of the phenomena surrounding him.
If we should very roughly group the more than sixty prose poems into
narrative pieces, descriptive poems and those celebrating a state of mindand another type of grouping, as for example a thematic one like "water prose
poems" and "morning pieces" would be equally possible-we find echoes of
Agathe predominating in the last group, that is in the prose poems objectifying
an "etat d'esprit."
In Agathe a "mind-persona" involves us in its world, its thinking-"plus je
pense, plus je pense"-which is a dynamic process. But this mind is anchored
to a specific body, which it beholds; as she is going to sleep, Agathe reflects on
the relationship of her mind to her body, their duality and yet their
inextricable interdependence which make up her moi: "Mon corps connait a
peine que les masses tranquilles et vagues de ma couche le levent: la-dessus,
ma chair regnant regarde et melange l'obscurite." And the mind's attesting
the duality of connaitre and etre is echoed in "Reversibilite" and some of the
prose poems celebrating awakening at dawn, such as "Au Commencement
sera le soleil," or its other version, "A": "tiede et tranquille masse myste-

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rieusement isolee; arche close de vie qui transportes vers le jour mon histoire et
mes chances, tu m'ignores, tu me conserves, tu es ma permanence inexprimable... Je me penche sur toi qui es moi."20 Agathe's mind, "ce clos unique,"

"ma sphere singuliere," is imaged as an enclosed sphere, suggesting on the

physical level le cerveau evoked in the alternate title "Manuscrit trouve dans
une cervelle," and on the metaphysical one the universe epitomized in its
microcosm of human consciousness. The solitary moment of the mind
beholding itself, and withdrawn into its "sphere singuliere" is echoed in the
prose poem "Laure," where the persona and his Ideal are alone "dans une
sphere unique au monde, . . j'appelle Solitude cette forme fermee ou toutes
choses sont vivants" (OC, II, 857). Agathe's observing herself think, Monsieur
Teste's "je suis etant, et me voyant, me voyant me voir," the mind's self- or

this mirroring is, moreover, objectified

in the prose poem "Sur

la place publique," whose protagonist says:

Je m'observe qui observe...
Et ceci fait un second spectacle, qui se fait un second spectateur.
II m'engendre un temoin du second degre; et celui-ci est le supreme.
Il n'y a pas de troisieme degre, et je ne suis capable de former quelque Quelqu'un qui
voie en deqa, qui voie ce que fait et ce que voit celui qui voit celui qui voit les pigeons.
[OC, II, 688-89]

Agathe beholds her mind and its phenomena: the apparition of its images
whose origin is hidden and whose changes she appears to undergo rather than
control: "Une idee devenue sans commencement, se fait ciaire, mais fausse,
mais pure, puis vide ou immense ou vieille; elle devient meme nulle, pour
s'elever a l'inattendu

et elle amine

tout mon esprit." And we recall how the

fortuitous nature of thought, its lack of order or style, is deplored by

"L'Amateur de poemes":
Si je regarde tout a coup ma veritable pensee, je ne me console pas de devoir subir
cette parole interieure sans personne et sans origine; ces figures ephemeres; et
cette infinite d'entreprises interrompues par leur propre facilite, qui se transforment l'une dans l'autre, sans que rien ne change avec elles. Incoherente sans
le paraitre, nulle instantanement comme elle est spontanee, la pensee, par sa
nature, manque de style. [OC, I, 94]
This spontaneous rise and succession of ideas is further elaborated
prose poems "Reveil III" and "Meditation avant pensee II."

in the

Passing from waking to sleep, or dream, and again to awakening, Agathe

as she witnesses

her changing states of consciousness

becomes more and more

lucid. At the privileged moment of midnight, that still-point and non-hour of

the night, "cette heure qui ne compte pas," her mind aspires to the universal,
to free itself from the particular existence to which it is bound: "c'est ici
l'occasion pure; defaire du souvenir l'ordre mortel, annuler mon experience20Paul Valery, "Poemes A, B, et C," Commerce, Cahiers Trimestriels No. 5 (1925), pp. 7-8.

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et par un simple songe nocturne, me deprendre tout a fait." Agathe no longer

wants to know her own form; in this she reflects Valery's contempt for one's
biography which is impure "comme un livre." This disdain is often expressed
in the oeuvre:

Tard, ce soir, brille plus simplement ce reflet de ma nature: horreurinstinctive,

desinteressement de cette vie humaine particuliere...Je fremis avec degofit et la
plus grandeinquietudese peut meleren moi a la certitude de sa vanite, de sa sottise,
a la connaissance d'etre la dupe et le prisonnierde mon reste, enchain'ea ce qui
souffre, espere implore, se flagelle, a c6te de mon fragment pur.

. . Mon idee la plus intime est de ne pouvoiretre celui que je suis. Je ne puis pas
me reconnaitredans une figure finie. Et MOI s'enfuit toujoursde ma personne,que
cependant il dessine ou imprime en la fuyant. [OC,II, 572, my italics.]
Valery celebrates the same aspiration toward the absolute or pure, the mind's
desire to break the chains binding it to a finite self, in many prose poems on
the awakening at dawn, like "Reveil III," "Meditation avant pensee,"
"Reveil," and in "Coeur de la Nuit" and "L'Ange." In "Matin" he says:
Pourquoi,ce matin, me choisirais-je?Qu'est-cequi m'obligea reprendremes biens
et mes maux? Si je laissais mon nom, mes verites, mes coutumes et mes chaines
comme reves de la nuit, comme celui qui veut disparaltre et faire peau neuve,
abandonnesoigneusementau bord de la mer, ses vetements et ses papiers?
N'est-ce point a present la lecon des reves et l'exhortationdu reveil? Et le matin
d'ete, le matin, n'est-il le moment et le conseil imperieux de ne point ressemblera
soi-meme? Le sommeil a brouilliele jeu, battu les cartes; et les songes ont tout mele,
tout remis en question...
Au reveil il y a un temps de naissance, une naissance de toutes choses avant que
quelqu'unen'ait lieu. I1y a une nudite avant que l'on se re-vetisse. [OC,II, 658-59]
As our poem moves toward its culmination point and Agathe approaches the
goal of her quest, she becomes all expectation; at the height of her lucidity, her
mind becomes a well-tuned instrument, a virtuality "pour que le reste musical
de mon esprit m'envahisse." This "attente" and imminence, this pure
moment of expectation is also rendered in the prose poems "Matin," "Laure,"
"L'Unique," and "Meditation avant pensee." In "Avant toute chose," the
persona says:
Est-il espoir plus pur, plus delie du monde, affranchi de moi-meme-et toutefois
possession plus entiere-que je ne trouve avant le jour, dans un moment premierde
propositionet d'unite de mes forces, quand le seul desir de l'esprit, qui en precede
toutes les pensees particulieres,semble prefererde les suspendreet d'etre amourde

ce qui aime?21

In the solitary stillness of her midnight, "la noire et delicate unite," Agathe,
deserted by her senses, like Igitur is all thinking. And her mind, "une limpidite
identique," has become a transparent mirror in which she sees the functioning

Paul Valery, "Petits Poemes abstraits," La Revue de France, janvier 1932, p. 47.

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of "les plus profondes deductions, les visites les plus internes," as our poem is
itself a fragment of a mirror reflecting a moment of a mind. If this crystal were
completely clear, "si toujours cette purete se pouvait," the intellect would be
so lucid as to be a transparent and necessary system, "permettant la
separation de ses aspects, et la division de la duree spirituelle en intervalles
clairs," luminous against contingency and the dark: "bient6t, je ferais toutes
mes idees irreductibles ou confondues." This ideal recalls the last poem Valery
wrote, the prose poem "L'Ange":
Une maniere d'ange etait assis sur le bord d'une fontaine. II s'y mirait, et se voyait
Homme...... Et il s'interrogeait dans l'univers de sa substance spirituelle
merveilleusementpure, ou toutes les idees vivaient egalementdistantes entre elles et
de lui-meme, et dans une telle perfectionde leur harmonieet promptitudede leurs
correspondances,qu'on eit dit qu'il euit pu s'evanouir, et le systeme, itincelant
comme un diademe, de leur necessite simultanee subsister par soi seul dans sa
sublime plenitude. [OC, I, 205-6]
And now, at the height of her power, Agathe-and the poem-reaches her
climax: "voluptueusement, la palpitation de l'espace multiple ne revive plus
qu'a peine ma chair"; her mind is a pure system, a spiritual "diademe,"
independent of its content as well as of her, or any, particular existence.
Agathe has attained the Absolute: "L'ensemble de connaissances diverses,
egalement imminents, qui me constitue,... forme maintenant un systeme
nul ou indifferent a ce qu'il vient de produire ou approfondir, quand l'ombre
imaginaire doucement cede a toute naissance, et c'est l'esprit." This is the
moment of the "naissance de l'esprit," the emergence of cosmos (system)
against choas, the constellation of a "coup de des" against the night and
The influence of Agathe on Valery's prose poems is not only thematic, but
also stylistic. For this fragment announces the predominant form of the
Valeryan prose poem, which I have called "broken." And it is particularly that
group of prose poems thematically related to Agathe, the prose poems
objectifying an "etat d'esprit," which is characterized by this fragmentary
form: these poems are fragments of a dialogue of je with moi, each reflecting a
moment of a mind.
We have traced some striking parallels between the respective positions of
Igitur and Agathe in the oeuvre of their creators, while showing the
relationship of these fragments to Mallarme's and Valery's prose poems. At
the same time we have distinguished between the Mallarmean anecdotal or
narrative form of prose poem in that poet's structured prose poem cycle, and
the fragmentary quality of Valery's prose poems, dispersed throughout his
work. Certain correspondences between Igitur and Agathe should now be discussed, parallels between these two pieces other than their relative positions
in their authors' works.
The most significant parallel between the two is, of course, the formal one,
the fact that both are fragments. They are "unfinished," posthumously

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published pieces, which are important links in the ouvre of which they are
essential parts. Both Igitur and Agathe are poetic prose pieces, hence related
to the prose poems in their respective poetic galaxies.
Both fragments are named after their protagonists, and these names bear a
strange phonetic resemblance--"Igitur" and "Agathe."2 In both fragments
the persona is "je," a self both subjective and universal. But while the Igitur
fragments shift from first to a third-person, reflecting Mallarme's metaphysical attitude of ontological questioning, in Agathe we have a first-person
narrator throughout, which points to Valery's psychological stance and his
life-long exploration of the self. And while in both pieces the "action" is purely
mental, and the personae of these abstract pieces are disembodied, symbolic
figures, Igitur is the hero of a philosophical-"en effet, le personnage de cette
scene est la logique meme" (Kristeva)-Agathe
the hero(ine) of a psychological-logos, Agathe writes-fragment.
Both figures retreat alone into the night, that hour out of time, "le minuit";
and the quest of both is a descent into the self-Igitur descends to his
ancestors' tombs, and Agathe to "mon fond que je touche"-and at the same
time an ascent beyond it to attain the Absolute, their goal.23 But while in
Igitur this Absolute is the Hegelian negation of individual consciousness and
its subsequent synthesis into the Absolute Spirit, the Weltgeist, in Agathe the
Absolute is the Pure consciousness of Thought dissociated from any particular
content, the Pure System, the spiritual "diademe" of "L'Ange."
Both heroes progress cyclically toward a culmination, Agathe by the
"phases" of her mind, Igitur through the spiral staircase leading up from the
ancestors. And in both fragments this cyclical progression is stylistically
rendered by internal echoes in the text. Both mental heroes, then, strive to lose
their individual existence to attain the universal, and in both pieces, after the
cyclical rising action of these dramas of the mind, leading up to the final
ascent and hubris of their climaxes-Igitur is the incarnation and symbol of
the hubris of his race, that is humanity, while Agathe aspires to the pure
spirituality of the Angel-there comes the "falling off," the sinking of the ship

In "Wherefore Igitur," (Romanic Review, 60, No. 3, [October 1969], 174-77), Robert Greer
Cohn, discussing the fragment's full title, "Igitur ou la Folie d'Elbehnon," refutes the notion that
the protagonist's name, "Igitur," represents an echo of the Vulgate's igitur perfecti sunt coeli.
Here, as always, he would have us look closely at the sounds and shapes of Mallarme's letters:
"Igitur evokes a brilliant flash of vision, like the lightning stroke of the Hamlet hero on page seven
of the Coup de des." He further suggests the "Igit-Ci-gtt" echo, thus evoking the final image of
Igitur, as a gisant on his sarcophagus. Cf. Jacques Derrida, La Dissemination (Paris: Seuil, 1972),
p. 308, note 61, for further suggestions regarding "Igitur," and especially its final syllable "ur."
Basing himself on Robert Greer Cohn's study on Mallarme's sound symbolism, summarized in
Toward the Poems of Mallarme (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1965), pp. 265-75, Derrida
here develops "le calcul anagrammatique des formes en URE," and others, such as Igitur's
23 The only critic who has, to my
knowledge, seen the parallel between Igitur and Agathe in
their quest for the absolute is James R. Lawler, The Poet as Analyst (Berkeley: Univ. of California
Press, 1974), p. 164.

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with its "maitre" in his gesture of defiance, and "RIEN de la memorable crise
. .. N'AURA EU LIEU ... QUE LE LIEU!" "C'est l'esprit; si ce n'est que,
bien etranges, bien seuls a la limite de cet univers, un doute, un trait, un
souffle uniques, parfois s'echangent."
Finally Valery himself suggested the parallel between Igitur and Agathe,
and their particular importance, when he said:
... Igitur. C'est un brouillon,notes et morceaux,pour une ceuvreen prose.... Ce
qui m'a tres fix--c'est un fragment plus acheve, le Minuit. Ce Minuit a bien de
points de contact avec Agathe, avec ce qui est fait d'Agathe.De meme qu'elle, il est
en plusieurs etats, avec des reprises, des surcharges,des re-reprises...C'est aussi le
noir et le cerveau... Ce qu'il faut comprendredans ce genre d'amusement ou de
torture-c'est qu'il n'est plus question la de talent ou de ginie ordinaires...Ce sont
des travaux plus pour l'auteur que pour le lecteur. Ce sont des monuments de
discipline . .. de purete et de finesse pure-et, comme dans la geometrie,la formeet
le fond doivent etre identiques. [OC,I, pp. 29-30]
The "form" of the poem objectifying a moment of a mind is that of the poetic
prose fragment.

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