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Mallarm's Relation to Platonism and Romanticism Author(s): R. Champigny Source: The Modern Language Review, Vol. 51, No.

3 (Jul., 1956), pp. 348-358 Published by: Modern Humanities Research Association Stable URL: . Accessed: 25/09/2011 02:01
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The inversion of Platonism which has been noted in our Romantic age is to be found in Mallarm6,but with remarkable differences. Before examining Mallarme's position, it is necessary to indicate what will be meant by 'Platonism'. The word has been an abundant source of misunderstanding. Plato has often been brandished as a banner for indiscriminate 'spiritualism', when he has not been given a Christian baptism. A return to Plato still makes a choice necessary. What remains of the theory of Ideas after Plato checked himself in the Parmenides? The philosophy of Plato does not offer a solution; it sets up the problem of participation: of ideas between themselves, of being with non-being. Instead of solutions, myths are offered. Plato may have 'believed' in his myths; but 'belief' is a pejorative word for him. The Timaeus is presented as a myth. Yet, it is comparatively reliable, for if it makes use of such obviously inadequate metaphors as those of the demiurgos,of the exemplar, it tries at the same time to suggest quantitative determinations and to keep in touch with the theory of ideas duly amendedin responseto the Parmenides. We can thus reject the popular view of Platonism which, influenced by the dualistic tendency of Christianity, reifies ideas and makes them constitute a world by themselves. There is only one world. There is no intelligible world, but the world is intelligible in so far as it is. To allow for differences, being is allowed to mix with non-being. Being is stable, eternal. Of being one can say it is, but one cannot say that it was or will be. If we did, we would frame our notion of being accordingto existence (consciousness present to actual, past and future as such). Time is accepted in the bosom of being, not as it is lived, but as 'the flowing image of eternity'. Being is both rest and motion. Motion is intelligible, hence is, in so far as it can be frozen on a graph (more especially, for Plato, if it is circular). On a graph, there is no place for past and future as such. Christianity values faith over knowledge, the qualitative over the quantitative, the personal over the impersonal. Not only is God a person, but He (not it) was incarnated. The theme of incarnation surreptitiously alters the notion of eternity. God is; but one is tempted to add: He was and will be. How can He be person if He is not present to past and future ? We are no longer led to oppose the indefinite to the definite. We turn to the opposition between finite and infinite. From the point of view of the present study, the most important principle which emerges out of the Christian era is the axiom of Spinosa: omnis determinatioest negatio. It influences both the Romantic and the Mallarmean ways of thinking. From a Platonic point of view, determination defines being in so far as it denies that it is other than itself. But from a Romantic point of view, determination is not only an external negation, it affects the object internally. With Romanticism eternity is thrown into time. The intellect and its inventions are made relative to the living subject. From the God-man we turn to the man-God



(Blake, Shelley, Nietzsche). Spurredon by the eighteenth-century belief in progress, original Romanticism is delighted by the indefinite character of reality in time. Existence is the exemplar of the world. The world is not an intellectual, mathematical cosmos, it is a sentimental, analogical nature. The Platonic cosmos was static, or cyclic. Romantic nature is a vitalistic, dynamic notion. In the formation of this concept, the Romantics may have been aided by the spurious 'Platonic' tradition. What Plato sees in the world is the realized reflexion of the impersonal intellect. What the Romantic sees in the world is the realized reflexion of indefinite emotion, or at least of sentiment (since emotion, or mood, really came into its own with the Symbolist, or Impressionist, phase). The true, the good and the beautiful are one for original Romanticism as well as for Plato. But with Plato, intellectual truth defined both itself, the beautiful and the good. With the Romantics, it is the dynamic beauty of poetry that 'undefines' the good and the true. The Platonic intellect defines what at first appears indefinite in concrete reality. Once this is accomplished by the philosopher, not by the poet, man is reconciled with the cosmic order. The goodness of a conduct, the beauty of a work of art are ideally judged according to their truth and they are true in so far as they manifest the cosmic order. With Romanticism, on the contrary, indefiniteness is given a value. It is the indefiniteness of reality which permits the poet to create. The world is not made, it is yet and forever to be made. Mallarme's position in regard to Platonism is so peculiar that it is in Mallarme himself that one should look for its main 'causes'. Yet it is possible to see his position as a conclusion, a sober one, to the evolution of Romanticism. Let us isolate three factors: 1. What has been called the death of God. By mundanizing mysticism, Romanticism drowned the divinity in nature. The indefiniteness of nature was thought of as dynamic, but dynamic does not necessarily mean progressive. From the original optimism of Romanticism we turn to a pessimism whose most remarkable expression may be Hartmann's doctrine: the half-blind unconscious plays the role that God played in Christiantheology and that the Ideas and the demiurgos played in the Timaeus. 2. The success of science. The Romantic horror for the machine is generally interpreted as noble human indignation. There may be a more basic motivation. The nature to which the poet paid homage was ungrateful: it favoured the scientist. The Romantic poet liked to see himself as the descendant of the prophets. But compared to the 'materialistic' magic of science,1poetic magic was ineffectual. Of course the poet continued to preach a higher 'spiritual' truth and he looked for guidance into occultist literature. But faith was lacking. Objectively the beautiful was separated from the true. 3. The bourgeois supremacy. Horrorfor the machine and horrorfor the bourgeois were linked in the same 'spiritualism' versus 'materialism' crusade. As reformers too the Romantics proved ineffectual. Human nature was as impervious as concrete reality. Out of the dynamic indefiniteness of the revolutionary period came
1 The imaginative vision of reality which science stirs up in us nowadays is much more 'Romantic'.


Mallarme's Relation to Platonism and Romanticism

the static definiteness of bourgeois ethics and politics. Objectively the beautiful was separated from the good.1 Hence art for art's sake. The artist is separated from things and from men.2 The beautiful has nothing to do with the accepted good and the aesthete accepts the bourgeois good as the good. It is a convenient target: the indefiniteness of beauty mystifies the definiteness of virtue. Beauty is an ironic, negative weapon. Aesthetics is a negation of ruling ethics, it is no longer conceived as an inspiration for more advanced ethics. Mallarme accepts this anti-Platonic situation, yet his concern may often seem Platonic. In the wake of Baudelaire, Mallarmeaccepts the defacto split between the good, the true and the beautiful, the failure of optimistic Romanticism.3 His most pervasive notion is that of hazard. According to the Timaeus, the world is composed by the demiurgosout of three principles: being, generation and place (khora). In Plato's world, being was the dominant 'paternal' element. Like Laforgue's unconscious or Breton's surreality, Mallarme's hazard suggests that, in the worlds imagined by these three poets, the ruling element is the 'maternal', the khora: 'A formless universal recipient, which in the most dubious and scarcely explicable manner participates of an intelligible nature... perpetually exhibits the phantasm of something else; and can only participate in essence in a certain imperfect degree, or it would become in every respect a perfect nonentity.'4 The world viewed by Mallarme, Laforgue and Breton seems to be a case of parthenogenesis. If the 'paternal' element, which gives form, has intervened, the demiurgosmust have been a nineteenth-century scientist or bourgeois, not a poet. At least not a Mallarmeanpoet:5 the Surrealist might say that the demiurgoswas a poet in so far as he did not force form on surreality. For the Impressionist generated things may offer a pattern of beauty. But this pattern is the climate of a transient mood, the fugitive gestaltof emotional perception. Reality does not obey a Platonic cosmic order and it is not the nature of the optimistic Romantic. All it can offer, by chance, is a paysage (landscapeinscape). Yet both the Impressionist and the Surrealist manage somehow to make their idea of beauty participate in the actual. A non-Platonic beauty is applied to a nonPlatonic world. Mallarme, on the contrary, longs for a Platonic kind of beauty in a non-Platonic world. Unlike a Platonist, or a scientist, he does not try to forget his existential situation. Yet his ideal of beauty invites him to cancel this situation,
1 More is needed to show that aesthetics is not ethics, for ethics is no more 'objective' than aesthetics. The disillusioned Romantics paid an unconscious tribute to the Victorian era by assuming it was. Ethics is inter-subjective. In the Surrealist phase of Romanticism, poets thought that a reconciliation of ethics and aesthetics was possible through Marxism, which offered a dynamic concept of the good. But failure to enter the social circuit was registered again: the subjective is not the inter-subjective (though it is its condition). 2 Though it is a normal internal development, the gradual substitution of particular, indefinite moods for general sentiments may have been helped by the split between poet and public. It is difficult to distinguish between cause and effect: all depends on the point of view, sociological or literary. 3 See, in particular, Le Ten o'clock de M. Whistler (569-83). The numbers within parentheses in this article refer to the pages of (Euvres completes de Stephane Mallarme (Paris, N.R.F. 1945). 4 Timaeus, Taylor's translation (New York: Pantheon Books, 1944), pp. 169-71. 5 With Whistler and Wilde, Mallarme notes: 'La nature reussit rarement a produire un tableau' (574).



to make himself as impersonal as possible.1 What can be the relation between beauty and reality? Not participation, not mimesis. Mallarme started from Baudelaire: art for art's sake, a dandified isolation of beauty;2 also, in order to mystify the bourgeois, possibly oneself, a bad faith both in a transcendent pseudo-Platonism which places qualitative correspondances 'world of essences' 3and in nature. But the systematic mind of Mallarme decided to probe into this pose, instead of merely adopting it. Hence the famous crisis, the meaning of which Igitur, Mallarme'sParamenides, was to analyse. Igitur adopts a Romantic point of view: an ego trying to appropriate reality symbolically and to appropriatehimself at the same time. Igitur is a person, a hero, who chooses the impersonal way. In its unfinished state the project shows the ultimate equivalence of failure and success, since there is no subject without object and vice-versa. The plan of the project is a reductioad absurdumand infinite regression. It even presents the basis for such processes since the notions of absurd and infinite are brought into play. Subject and object depend on each other in time and space: past, future, actual. Through impersonality, Igitur attempts to be pure presence, 'un calme narcotique de moi pur' (435). Through reflexion, the subject leaves the actual and fancies he is out of time: 'Moi projete absolu' (434). 'L'absolu existera en dehors-lune, audessus du temps' (433).4 Igitur 'se separe du temps indefini et il est' (440). He is 'l'Identite (Idee) Soi' (428). The use of these terms indicates a Romantic translation of Platonism. Objectivity is shown to depend on subjectivity: only a person can be impersonal. Idea, being (in a Platonic sense here), absolute, the one, identity, these terms are'hypostases of the mystery of consciousness, subjectivity, presence. A presence outside time, but present to past and future, suggests God. Igitur, 'croyant a l'existence du seul Absolu, s'imagine etre partout dans un reve' (442). Igitur fancies he is God, but he is not.5 He is God in so far as he is not. Mallarme concludes that it is vanity to desire to be God.6 But he also implies that the concept of God depends on this fancy of the ego. There can be no presence, no consciousness outside time. For Mallarme this means a negation of the existence of
1 'Qu'est une immortalite relative, et se passant souvent dans l'esprit d'imbeciles, a c6te de la joie de contempler 1'Eternite, et d'en jouir, vivant, en soi? ' (Propos sur la poesie, Monaco, 1946, p. 71). But if this eternity is nrowhere except in us, is it not, in its utmost purity, death? Igitur develops this theme. See also Propos sur la poesie, p. 77: 'Ma Pensee s'est pens6e et est arrivee a une Conception Pure.... Je suis parfaitement mort, et la region la plus impure oiu mon Esprit puisse s'aventurer est l'Eternit6....Je suis maintenant impersonnel.' 2 'I1 confond trop l'Ideal avec le Reel.... Si le Reve etait ainsi d6flore et abaisse, ofu done nous sauverions-nous, nous autres malheureux que la terre degoute et qui n'avons que le Reve pour refuge?' (Propos sur la poesie, pp. 32-3). Representative of this juvenile mood are the poems 'Les Fenetres' and 'L'Azur'. 3 In his Esthetique de Stephane Mallarme (Paris, 1951) Delfel attributes this pseudo-Platonism both to Plato and to Mallarme. 4 Mallarm6's 'conception pure' (hazard affirmed and denied) and Laforgue's 'immaculee conception' (unconscious affirmed and denied) meet in the symbol of the moon. Laforgue made full use of the symbol. Mallarm6 preferred the constellation. 5 'Je veux me donner ce spectacle de la matiere, ayant conscience d'etre, et cependant, s'6lanqant forcenement dans le reve qu'elle sait n'Stre pas, chantant 1'Ame et toutes les divines impressions pareilles qui se sont amass6es en nous depuis les premiers ages, et proclamant, devant le Rien qui est la v6rit6, ces glorieux mensonges!' (Propos sur la poesie, p. 59). 6 'Cette prohibition s6vit expresse, dans la nature (on s'y bute avec un sourire) que ne vaille de raison pour se considerer Dieu' (364). This is said in connexion with language which is given to the poet as a conjunction of hazards.


Mallarme's Relation to Platonism and Romanticism

a divinity as well as a negation of Igitur's possibility to be God.' God is dead. Worthy of his Romantic 'race',2 Igitur 'a enleve a l'Absolu sa purete' (Platonic or Christian), 'pour l'etre' (442). In this fancy, or limiting situation, to an absolute subject corresponds,as object, the infinite. The infinite is hazard, the khora. As Christians,as Romantics, we have 'unleashed the infinite' (648). The cross has replaced the Platonic sphere. Subjectivity is no longer kept within its sphere. It tries hybristically to appropriate reality with the arms of the cross.3 The cross is the brand of possession (through negation), but, reciprocally, the subject is quartered on the arms of the cross. Absolute though he is, the hero remains under the sway of 'l'hymne (maternel) qui le cree' (428). 'Ceci devait avoir lieu dans les combinaisons de l'Infini vis-a-vis de l'Absolu' (434). 'Infinite' suggests at first the totality of space and time. Yet Igitur has to 'reduce' hazard to this aspect (442), to the ultimate aspect of khora. Hazard is to be rid of its masks: the constellation (Platonic rest), the sea (Platonic motion, or indefinite change): 'De l'Infini se separent et les constellations et la mer' (435). Each event is viewed as a conjunction of hazards, as a dice-throw.4Thus hazard is manifested nakedly by the clocks and, to the end, by Igitur's contingency, the beating of his heart. Igitur takes place at midnight. Daylight is perception; the actual is seen through the window (senses). From the window we turn to the mirrorof reflexion, in which objects appear as shadows.5 More generally, the room of Mallarme-Igitur is reflexion, or memory, and can thus be compared to Plato's cave. In the cave one interprets the shadows on the wall as reminiscent of the 'ciel anterieur ou fleurit la beaute'. In Mallarme's room one sees the shadows of former dice-throws (an ironical presentation of Plato's magic numbers). The absolute is present, is presence. The former heaven is our invention, our dream, our lie. 'Du Minuit demeure la presence en la vision d'une chambre du temps' (435). Hazard is trapped in the past. Past events can be explained, founded, after the fact. The scientist will tell us why Jesus was born on Christmas day. But hazard escapes its determinations in the past to appear infinite: 'L'Infini sort du hasard, que vous avez nie. Vous, mathematiciens expirates-moi projete absolu' (434). Igitur is presence to the future (or possible) which is the ultimate manifestation of hazard. Igitur used to be divided between 'tenebres et temps crees' (438), future and past. Now he has appropriated, justified the past. But, as possible, as future, hazard disposes of the meaning of this past. Igitur has left the room of memory to descend the staircase of the future. Each stair is a degree of reflexion. This infinite regression is the infinite. At each step, the subject 'emet un coup de des'. He is thus engulfed by hazard. A new step absorbs this hazard in memory; but this very step has to be justified in its turn; I About the refusal of God, see Propos sur la poesie, pp. 77-8.
There are connexions between Igitur and Villiers's Axel. In L'(Euvre de Mallarme (Paris, 1951) Cohn bases his exegesis of Un Coup de des on a tetrapolar system. The sonnet in x uses crosses for rhymes: brand and tomb, signature and erasure, affirmation and denial. On the anti-cosmic value of the cross, see Donne's poem 'The Crosse'. 4 Cohn 32) notes this etymological meaning of 'hazard'. 5 In the (p. sonnet in x, the constellation is seen reflected in a mirror. The Platonic order appears only in absence, in selective reflexion, through negations. The indefinite sea is absorbed by the curtains.
3 2



and so on. The solution is to place oneself at the end of the future, that is, in fact, to put an end to the future. The absolute would trap infinite hazard in defined past. The shadows of all Igiturs would be appropriated by Igitur, 'pour que l'ombre dernierese mirat en son propresoi' (437). Igitur would realize the dream of coinciding with oneself, of founding one's own existence: 'L'infini est enfin fix4' (442). But, in order to trap all dice throws, the subject has to put an end to himself as well as to the object: 'II ferme le livre,-souffle la bougie,-de son souffle qui contenait le hasard' (442). Mallarme wrote this conclusion: 'Bref, dans un acte ot le hasard est en jeu, c'est toujours le hasard qui accomplit sa propre Idee en s'affirmant ou se niant. Devant son existence, la negation et l'affirmation viennent echouer. II contient l'Absurde-l'implique, mais a l'6tat latent et l'empeche d'exister: ce qui permet a l'Infini d'etre' (441). In order to destroy hazard and efface the contingency of his existence the subject has to destroy himself. 'I1 y a et n'y a pas de hasard' (442). But since no hazard means death, this formula is equivalent to: 'Being is and nonentity is not.' Or, to quote Un Coup de des: 'Un coup de des jamais n'abolira le hasard', since the dice-throw is the individual figure of hazard. 'Rien n'aura eu lieu que le lieu', that is, the ultimate concept of hazard, the khora. Igitur discovers he cannot do away with the gratuitousness of his existence without doing away with his existence itself. And it is in so far as this existence is gratuitous that it can be considered an absolute: 'C'etait la conscience de soi (a laquelle l'absurde meme devait servir de lieu)' (438). Despite its barren appearance, Igitur was as fruitful for Mallarme as the Parmenides for Plato. The symbols on which Mallarme's fundamental writings will rely have been fixed: mirror, window, room, curtains, furniture, constellation, book, white page, tomb (or rather cenotaph). They are all, to varying degrees, references to the anti-reality of poetry and of consciousness. For Mallarmehas ascertained what the fuzzy concept of art, which he inherited from Baudelaire, meant. Let us compare three statements. 'Apres avoir trouve le Neant, j'ai trouve le Beau.' 'Voici deux ans que j'ai commis le peche de voir le Reve dans sa nudit6 ideale, tandis que je devais amonceler entre lui et moi un mystere de musique et d'oubli' (Propos sur la poesie, p. 81). 'L'art se limite a l'infini, et y commen9ant, ne peut progresser' (580). Mystery, the infinite, dream. The boundary situation of Igitur reveals the existence of consciousness as absurd. Why not say instead, placing ourselves within this absurdity, as realistically we must, that consciousnessis a mystery? Igitur was a presentation of this mystery, as far as Mallarm6was concerned, but it can be multiplied. After a pure vision of the one, Mallarme can reveal the one in the many. The infinite had been denied by subtracting subject from object. The infinite has thus been recognized as the void between the poles of consciousness: subject and object, oneself and oneself. Reflecting on what Baudelaire and Romanticism have bequeathed to him, Mallarmetraces to its 'naked' origin the Romantic 'soif de l'infini'. The infinite is no longer reified in a divinity. Whereas Plato was content
1 Propos sur la poesie, p. 68. Delfel emphasizes this quotation to substantiate his 'Platonic view of Mallarm6'. Despite oscillations between feigned hieratic intoxication and dejection, Mallarme appears to me more consistent than he is made to look in Delfel's presentation. 23 M.L.R. LI


Mallarme's Relation to Platonism and Romanticism

with the reflexion of intellectual definitions in the cosmos, the Romantics tried to assume the infinite and see in nature the very infiniteness of consciousness. The world of Platonic definitions and the world of qualitative Romantic correspondances are two aspects of the world of consciousness. Is the word 'world' appropriate? If Mallarme is a subjectivist, he is also a realist: 'Nous savons, captifs d'une formule absolue que, certes, n'est que ce qui est' (647). He does not mean Platonic being: 'La Nature a lieu, on n'y ajoutera pas; que des cites, les voies ferrees et plusieurs inventions formant notre materiel' (647). Contrary to what several commentators have taken for granted (that hazard was on the side of non-being), it seems to me necessary to assume that, for Mallarme, being is nature and the principle of nature is hazard. The khora is what is, ultimately. To be is to take place, a favourite phrase of Mallarme's. What can stand either through affirmation or denial, except being? It would consequently be as misleading to speak of the 'world' of consciousness as to speak of an intelligible 'world'. In every thought, it is ultimately the world that is affirmed (even if denied). Ideas are not models, but shadows. In order to be, being does not need demiurgoi after the fact. Nowadays it is the scientist, aided by the engineer, who proves the validity of the Platonic-Pythagorean effort by showing that ideas and numbers work, penetrate nature. We have just seen that Mallarme was not much impressed by industry. It may be because he did not live in the atomic age. Or one may see here the prejudice of a representative of art for art's sake who prided himself in the uselessness of art1 and lumped together scientific truth and bourgeois good in the concept of the useful. But his point of view was not only that of the aesthete, it was that of the philosopher. He saw that the useful could be reduced to the useless through an infinite regression of the what-for question, and that ideas that work are first of all ideas that play. And it was in this fundamental region of play that he found and founded beauty.2 Consciousness is necessarily and sufficiently play. One of the meanings of play, jeu, is looseness in a mechanism. Platonic thought made being tight. Mallarmean thought takes advantage of the looseness of being. If being was not loose, there would be no consciousness, no ideas (Platonic or otherwise). This looseness is the infinite 'dimension' of consciousness, which the Romantics experienced in insatisfaction, in ennui, and which art manifests: 'La Muse, pas autre que notre propre ame, divinisee' (503). One cannot call this infiniteness a world since it does not exist by itself. The world of consciousness, hence the world of beauty, can but be, by itself, an anti-reality. Mallarme refuses the bad faith belief in a super-world (unlike, perhaps, Baudelaire), in accordance with a Platonic argument: there is only one world. Hence an inversion of Platonism: the cosmos of Plato is beautiful in so far as it is Plato's, that is, in so far as it is not, as it is an anti-reality.
1 In order to show that Mallarm6 has not forsaken the Platonic identification of truth and beauty, Delfel quotes 'Sur le beau et l'utile' (880). But this article deals with the craftsman and the engineer, not the poet. It is in a different sense that poetic beauty can be truth (truth of the lie). The work of the craftsman (furniture) disengages its beauty when shorn of its usefulness ('bibelots abolis', props in a play) in the 'grotte de notre intimite' (Igitur's room, reflexion, absence) (449). 2 'A quoi sert cela-/A un jeu' (647). See also: 'L'explication orphique de la Terre, qui est le seul devoir du poete et le jeu litteraire par excellence' (663). This Orphic explanation is a game, for only the scientific explanation works. In the same 'Autobiographie', Mallarme recognizes that the identification of the good, the beautiful and the true does not fit his time: 'Je considere l'6poque contemporaine comme un interregne pour le poete qui n'a point a s'y m6ler' (664). Poetry cannot be 'committed'.



Omnis determinatio est negatio. In Igitur Mallarme has found not only nonentity, but also beauty, for he has ascertained the playing power of negativity. Being is affirmed even through denial. Yet it is remarkable that denial should be possible. It may be illusory, but it is remarkable that illusion should be possible. Even perception, which affirms being, manages somehow to affect being by determining it, by making it become world. In so far as our perception is cosmic, it denies being in itself by defining a first approximation of a demiurgic cosmos. Plato's cosmos is obtained through negations. But Mallarme is more interested in memory, in imagination, which he also calls dream. This time we have to deal with an explicit denial of being. The word 'imagination' has been the ecstatic battle-cry of Romanticism from Blake to Baudelaire and from Baudelaire to Eluard. Mallarme plainly calls imagination a lie, in accord with Plato. For the confident Romantic, imagination is the order of the world, logos. Through imagination the poet participates in nature and hopes to promote it (by enlightening the reader). For Mallarme dream is an anti-reality. The thing that I imagine denies the fullness of the actual. Yet it needs the actuality of the dreamer to be imagined. Mallarme states that the French mind is 'imaginatif et abstrait, done poetique' (544). This association between imagination and abstraction would sound suspicious to the average Romantic. It reflects Mallarme's philosophical bent. But if one thinks of the etymological meaning of the word 'abstraction', it appears to fit Mallarme's view of the image as well as of the concept. The abstract is what does not exist by itself, that to which being cannot be ascribed.1 Hence Mallarme's insistence on the concept of absence: in so far as it is present to itself, consciousness is absent from the world, creates objects absent from the world.2 Art realizes imagination, art takes place. A concert, a play, ballet are performed. The spectacle is actual. But the intention of the 'volatile' mind (645) is to deny the actuality on which it rests. We are not supposed to see the actual actor, we are just supposed to look at him; we must be hypnotized by the hero, by the nonexistent Hamlet. The theatre is a 'lieu absolu' (277). The khora is denied by the absolute Igitur. Duchamp's picture is not a nude descending a staircase. 'La danseuse n'est pas une femme qui danse' (304). She is not a woman and she does not dance.3 For Mallarme, as for Plato, art is a lie. But whereas for Plato art was a lie in so far as it was not philosophy, in so far as imagination was not intellect, Mallarm6
1 These two concepts of imagination, the Romantic and the Mallarmean, are now advocated by Bachelard (see his works on 'material imagination') and Sartre (see his terminological quarrel with Bachelard in L'Etre et le neant). L'Imaginaire is Mallarmean. The kinship between Mallarm6 and Sartre may be extended to the main concepts of L'Etre et le neant. Quite a few passages in Qu'est-ce que la litterature? and Saint Genet comedien et martyr are also Mallarmean echoes. The relationship between these two widely different authors should be made clear in the book which Sartre is preparing on Mallarm6. The fundamental difference is of course that Mallarm6 was exclusively interested in aesthetics while Sartre is primarily interested in ethics. 2 Mallarme links dream and laughter (Nietzschean laughter, Romantic irony). See for instance 503; the sonnet 'Victorieusement fui'; Un Coup de dgs. Laughter is the truth of the lying dream. Like the dream, laughter manifests a consciousness which disengages itself from being, and at the same time, as it is reflexion on the dream, shows that the dreaming consciousness was still engaged in being (though it considered itself absolute). To what degree is Socratic irony such laughter, to what degree does Plato laugh at Platonism? 3 Val6ry exploits this mock-Platonic commentary in L'Ame et la danse.


Mallarme's Relation to Platonism and Romanticism

lumps together imagination and intellect ('Imaginatif et abstrait') within human consciousness. Platonism thus becomes a 'glorious dream'. Mallarmeis an ironical Platonist (which, of course, Plato himself may well have been). Un Coup de des is Mallarme's Timaeus. But this Timaeus, like Igitur, is still a Parmenides. Its as-ifs must not be construed as 'assimilative of the truth' of being. The Platonic idea assures us of what being is; the Mallarmeanidea assures us of what being is not. For Mallarme as for Plato art should deny nature. But for Plato nature should be denied in so far as it is not. For Mallarme the denial of nature is the denial of being. Platonic art is reminiscently mimetic of being. Mallarmeanart is more creative: it gives us the illusion that what is not is. 'A l'egal de creer: la notion d'un objet, echappant, qui fait defaut' (647).1 For Mallarme poetry is, like other arts, 'fiction'. But, unlike the other arts (and more explicitly than the poetry of other poets), Mallarme'spoetry is not only fiction, but reflexion on the fiction.2 This reflexion is philosophical, even Platonic: 'A quoi bon la merveille de transposer un fait de nature en sa presque disparition vibratoire selon le jeu de la parole, cependant; si ce n'est pour qu'en emane, sans la gene d'un proche ou concret rappel, la notion pure' (368). Reflexion does not find the truth of being, but the truth of non-being. Mallarme presents a lie, but he presents this lie as a lie. He tells us the function of the artistic lie, which is to deny being and reveal, or veil, the mystery of consciousness. Thus poetry can be truth as well as fiction; it can be the truth of the fiction: 'J'ai fait une assez longue descente au Neant pour pouvoir parler avec certitude. II n'y a que la Beaute,-et elle n'a qu'une expression parfaite: la Poesie. Tout le reste est mensonge' (Propos sur la poesie, p. 79). Language takes place. The existence of language which is reality (print, sound) and anti-reality (meaning) shows the looseness of being. The name of a thing, of a motion, seldom 'paints' what it is supposed to refer to.3 Even in the case of 'concrete' words, language (except in conversation) tends to deny being, not only by its nature, but also by its structure. Even 'concrete' words tend to assume the anti-world status which is generally admitted for 'abstract' words. Mallarme emphasizes the overall abstract nature of language by various devices: alliance of 'concrete' and 'abstract' words in which the usual roles are exchanged; periphrases,
1 See also: 'Evoquer, dans une ombre expres, l'objet tu...' (400); and the well-known passage: 'Je dis: une fleur! et, hors de l'oubli ou ma voix relegue aucun contour, en tant que quelque chose d'autre que les calices sus, musicalement se leve, idee meme et suave, l'absente de tous bouquets' (368). 2 'Aux convergences des autres arts situee, issue d'eux et les gouvernant, la Fiction ou Po6sie' (335). In the same page Mallarme notes that the poem 'ne remplace tout que faute de tout . 3 Les Mots anglais is Mallarme's Cratylus. He remarks that the perfect language would be 'elle-meme mat6riellement la verit6' (364). As he himself recognizes, however, this would mean the end of poetic play (and, we may add, of philosophical play too). It is because language is a lie that poetry and philosophy exist, or rather that there are poets and philosophers. If language imitated reality in its very structure, our mind would probably be unable to rise above the level of conversation and attain reflexion: Mallarme's notes on a 'science' of language are too skimpy to be commented upon with certainty. He seems to have been tempted by the 'glorious lie' of Hegelianism: 'L'esprit. Ce qu'est l'esprit par rapport a sa double expression de la matiere et de l'humanit6, et comment notre monde peut se rattacher a l'Absolu' (853). Mallarme is speaking of language. This Hegelianism might be simply nominalistic and the 'science' of language might have for its only task to 'instituer un jeu .. qui confirme la fiction' (380).



an infrequent blemish; a systematic use of negations and of negative adjectives and nouns; above all, what characterizes best Mallarme's style, an elaborate syntax. Syntax can make language an anti-world since the rules of syntax are not the laws of nature. As in the case of 'concrete' words, Mallarme takes advantage of this fact by steering clear of the syntax of conversation. Conversation flows: we do not pay much attention to the words, we assume that they are a mirror for reality. Mallarme makes us violently aware of the anti-reality of syntax, he reminds us that syntax is a lie, he reminds us that 'it does not follow'. Yet, at the same time, if the poem is to be an anti-world, syntax must link the words so as to form a totality. The poem must look as if it were a world: 'le hasard vaincu mot par mot' (387). The denial of reality must be coherent, it must produce a totality in which connexions are unlike those of nature: 'Le vers qui de plusieurs vocables refait un mot total, neuf, 6tranger a la langue et comme incantatoire, acheve cet isolement de la parole' (368). This effort toward totalityl makes prose, in my opinion, a better Mallarmeanmedium than verse: witness Un Coup de des. This linear effort toward totality must, however, be subordinated to what could be called the micro-macrocosmicdevice which is the proper device of poetic composition. It consists in identifying terms with each other and in identifying the part with the whole. This anti-logical device suggests consciousnesswhich recognizes itself through its metamorphoses.2 Such devices contribute to making the poem an anti-world, stretched between reality and subjectivity. The blank page suggests the infinite field of consciousness on which dark hazard is fixed, not in the individual letters, but through the blanks which fuse letters into words, words into a poem, thus manifesting the power of nonexistent meaning, of the 'central purity' of consciousness.3 A book takes place, a book remains.4The book achieves a reconciliation between Platonic and Mallarmean being. But this reconciliation needs a reader. And the reader forgets the book to become engrossed in the nonentity of meaning. The book, as thing, evaporates. Will the mystery of consciousnesswhich it reveals be absorbed by the consciousness of the reader? Mallarmedid not write conversation. The very anti-world quality claimed by the poem prevents it from disintegrating. It resists the attempt of the reader to dissolve the poem into the images of his world.5 (Poetry is approached with this prosaic intention. It is a necessary step. It tells the reader, if the poem does not resist, that he is dealing with prose.) Besides, Mallarmemay have tried to reveal the mystery of consciousness, but to a reader the poem veils the mystery of
1 'Jamais pensee ne se presente a moi, detachee....' (883). 2 'Tout le mystere est la: 6tablir les identit6s secretes par un deux a deux qui ronge et use les nom d'une centrale purete' (Propos sur la poesie, p. 148). The best example of this objets, au device may be Un Coup de des, in which the parts and the whole equal zero. 3 Note also the ink-well: 'L'encrier, cristal comme une conscience, avec une goutte, au fond, de t6enbres, relative a ce que quelque chose soit' (370). A reminiscence of this passage can be suspected in the following extract from Sartre's L'Homme et les choses: 'Ce que nous trouvons partout, dans l'encrier, sur l'aiguille du phonographe, sur le miel de la tartine, c'est nousmmems, toujours nous' (Situations, i, 291). 4 'I1 a lieu tout seul: fait, 6tant' (372). 5 An indifferent novel is not a book, but just a 'volume' (374), which 'ne pr6sente rien, quant au lecteur, d'etranger; mais recourt a l'uniforme vie' (or, as the cliche goes the 'human interest').


Relation to Platonism and Romanticism MIallarme's

a consciousness. The poem stands as one anti-world. The reader cannot dissolve it into the mystery of his own consciousness. The anti-world becomes a world. Mallarme's obscurity is primarily intellectual. Once we hold the keys, the intellectual mystery dissolves, for it was but a secret. What cannot dissolve, however, what is not a secret, is the proper poetic mystery. Even if they are absorbed, justified intellectually, the connexions between words, between the stars of the constellation, which for Mallarmemay have been necessary, remain for us to some degree arbitrary, contingent, for the simple reason that Mallarme is Mallarme and I am I. Gratuitousness, contingency, hazard: the signs of reality, of a reality made cosmic since they are coupled with an understood or felt coherence. Consciousness by itself does not constitute a world; but a conscious being is world for another conscious being. Like hazard, he stands beyond appropriation,
beyond affirmation and denial. Mallarme takes place.