10 August 2010

Des Esseintes on Poets of the Decadence

Filed under: Culture, Fiction — ktismatics @ 11:09 am

“For him, there was no such thing as schools; the only thing that mattered to him was the writer’s personality, and the only thing that interested him was the working of the writer’s brain, no matter what subject he was tackling. Unfortunately this criterion of appreciation, so obviously just, was practically impossible to apply, for the simple reason that, however much a reader wants to rid himself of prejudice and refrain from passion, he naturally prefers those works which correspond most intimately with his own personality, and ends by relegating all the rest to limbo.”

“By diligent self-examination, however, he realized first of all that to attract him a book had to have the quality of strangeness that Edgar Allan Poe called for; but he was inclined to venture further along this road, and to insist on Byzantine flowers of thought and deliquescent complexities of style.”

“Unable to attune himself, except at rare intervals, to his environment, and no longer finding in the examination of that environment and the creatures who endure it sufficient pleasures of observation and analysis to divert him, he is aware of the birth and development in himself of unusual phenomena. Vague migratory longings spring up which find fulfilment in reflections and study. Instincts, sensations, inclinations bequeathed to him by heredity awake, take shape and assert themselves with imperious authority. He recalls memories of people and things he has never known personally, and there comes a time when he bursts out of the prison of his century and roams about at liberty in another period, with which, as a crowning illusion, he imagines he would have been more in accord.”

“These were works of which he had gradually grown fonder, works which by their very defects provided a welcome change from the perfect productions of greater writers. Here again, the process of elimination had led Des Esseintes to search through pages of uninspiring matter for odd sentences which would give him a shock as they discharged their electricity in a medium that seemed at first to be non-conducting. Imperfection itself pleased him, providing it was neither base nor parasitic, and it may be that there was a certain amount of truth in his theory that the minor writer of the decadence, the writer who is incomplete but nonetheless individual, distils a balm more irritant, more sudorific, more acid than the author of the same period who is truly great and truly perfect.”

[On Verlaine] “But his originality lay above all in his ability to communicate deliciously vague confidences in a whisper in the twilight.”

[On Corbière] “Des Esseintes, who, in his hatred of all that was trite and vulgar, would have welcomed the most outrageous follies, the most bizarre extravagances, spent many happy hours with this book in which droll humour was combined with turbulent energy, and in which lines of disconcerting brilliance occurred in poems of wonderful obscurity… this poet of the condensed epithet and the perpetually suspect charm…”

[On Hannon] “…a disciple of Baudelaire and Gautier who was actuated by a very special understanding of studied elegances and factitious pleasures…”

“Little he cared about ordinary emotions or common associations of ideas, now that his mind had grown so overstocked and had no room for anything but superfine sensations, religious doubts and sensual anxieties.”

“…Baudelaire with his thirsty, ruthless passion, whose disgusted cruelty recalled the tortures of the Inquisition, and Poe with his chaste, ethereal amours, in which the senses had no share and only the brain was roused, followed by none of the lower organs, which, if they existed at all, remained forever frozen and virgin. This cerebral clinic where, vivisecting in a stifling atmosphere, this spiritual surgeon became, as soon as his attention wandered, the prey of his imagination, which sprayed about him, like delicious miasmas, angelic, dream-like apparitions, was for Des Esseintes a source of indefatigable conjectures…”

[On Mallarmé] “…a style so magnificently contrived that in itself it was as soothing as a melancholy incantation, an intoxicating melody, with irresistibly suggestive thoughts, the soul-throbs of a sensitive artist whose quivering nerves vibrate with an intensity that fills you with painful ecstasy… The truth of the matter was that the decadence of French literature, a literature attacked by organic diseases, weakened by intellectual senility, exhausted by syntactical excesses, sensitive only to the curious whims that excite the sick, and yet eager to express itself completely in its last hours, determined to make up for all the pleasures it had missed, afflicted on its death-bed with a desire to leave behind the subtlest memories of suffering, had been embodied in Mallarmé in the most consummate and exquisite fashion. Here, carried to the further limits of expression, was the quintessence of Baudelaire and Poe; here their refined and potent substances had been distilled yet again to give off new savours, new intoxications. This was the death-agony of the old tongue which, after going a little greener every century, had now reached the point of dissolution, the same stage of deliquescence as the Latin language when it breathed its last in the mysterious concepts and enigmatic phrases of St Boniface and St Adhelm.”

“Many were the times that Des Esseintes had pondered over the fascinating problem of writing a novel concentrated in a few sentences and yet comprising the cohabited juice of the hundreds of pages always taken up in describing the setting, drawing the characters and piling up useful observations and incidental details. The words chosen for a work of this sort would be so unalterable that they would take the place of all the others; every adjective would be sited with such ingenuity and finality that it could never be legally evicted, and would open up such wide vistas that the reader could muse on the meaning, at once precise and multiple, for weeks on end, and also ascertain the present, reconstruct the past and divine the future of the characters in the light of this one epithet. The novel, thus conceived, thus condensed in a page or two, would become an intellectual communion between a hieratic writer and an ideal reader, a spiritual collaboration between a dozen persons of superior intelligence scattered across the world, an aesthetic treat available to none but the most discerning.”

– excerpts from Chapter 14 of Joris-Karl Huysmans A Rebours, 1884

– painting: “The Yellow Scale” by František Kupka, 1907


  1. Divine, monsieur. I see you got over your ‘I invested too much libido in bleugs’ very quickly.

    I intend wearing a yellow shirt when traxus comes back through in a week or so. This time I want to smoke the cigarette without it in my mouth, so I’ll keep my mouth closed, unless the top teeth don’t look as if disappeared. Oh, all that Huysmans was superb, I read some of it years ago, and may need to again. Marvelous the way he decided Mallarme was better Fagged Noumena than just plain old Baudelaire and very good on that horrid Poe, about whom no wonder D. H. Lawrence got wrongful ideas about ‘masturbation being the only habit that can’t be broken’. But my brother broke it. There’s no reason to quit masturbating if you’re also getting laid (and NOT by reptiles that certain bleugers keep locked in glass cages with metal locks that they then let loose if I go too close…I already reported her beharious to Arpege…) Glad you had a good trip. There’s an interesting post at Carl’s.


    Comment by Quantity of Butchness — 10 August 2010 @ 11:22 am

  2. Oh. My. God. I just read Harman’s bleug for the first time in months and Mikhail is so right. By now it’s become a DOT PALIN bleug, but without any of the naturalness and charm–the last thing Des Esseintes would be able to stand more than 30 seconds (beyond that, you’ll get a hemorrhoid.) She writes about her ’12 books bought in Paris’, and how she doesn’t want to ‘taint Levi’s glorious post’ with her ‘corollaries’ (note that she has much to add, though) and that she’d like to rent a car in Massachusetts in the dead of winter at night for a ‘lovecraftian tour’. She thinks about THIS when there’s all that BITE in Paris? I assume she’s still there. Why doesn’t she just play ‘penny’ with her girlfriends and walk around the Baptist church, and that way she can learn to ask a girl for a date. And she talks about how she might cut out pieces of her book, this is why Mikhail told me to stop talking about ‘how we write’, because it is ‘harman-like’ and ‘such a bad taste’.


    Comment by Quantity of Butchness — 10 August 2010 @ 12:56 pm

  3. The Temptress just revealed to us (in that well-known ”bursting on the scene” manner) that her favorite place on the global map is Alaska, where she can completely withdraw, like the Objects, into asexual frigidity. I find the revelation anticlimactic… to say the least.


    Comment by parody center — 10 August 2010 @ 10:11 pm

  4. Alaska, where she can completely withdraw, like the Objects, into asexual frigidity

    Yes, but the fact that she is writing all this from Paris (I have to look up and down the whole page to make sure she really is in Paris, tolerating places like the Jardin des Plantes, and not realizing that she should be thinking about visiting Arpege) is most amazing. Will we get an Iowa reverie from the Ile St. Louis, since she’d obviously rather think of Sarah Palin being able to keep an eye on Russia from such a cosmopolitan place as Alaska. Plus, she’s talked about Turkey’s bad customs, Levi’s KNOCKOUT post, and her homesickness for Cairo. You know, I think it’s Paris that is best for her to withdraw into asexual frigidity, because she KNOWS what some of those boys look like…I’ve heard that some of the bars in Alaska have beasts in them, you know, don’t know how to wear those tight pants just right, grey or brown, mmmm…some of those Parisians I knew…

    So bored she refused Deneuve’s constant begging for her to accompany her to the Tour d’Argent. So much for the Place des Vosges, eh?


    Comment by Quantity of Butchness — 10 August 2010 @ 11:15 pm

  5. Maybe it’s better for her to stick to the odd bins bookshops (I DID notice she wasn’t prepared to shell out 100 euro for her favorite dingo paranoia book, the dog-hater, despite enjoying a handsome assistant provost salary), what if she bumps into Edith Piaff’s grave and confuses herself with the Diva,…

    I think she’s not visiting Mis’z because they are both remorseless clinical tops, and in this way not sexually attracted to each other?


    Comment by parody center — 11 August 2010 @ 8:45 am

  6. Dan Zukovic’s “DARK ARC”, a bizarre ‘Huysmans noir’ dark comedy called “Absolutely brilliant…truly and completely different…” in Film Threat, was recently released on DVD through Vanguard Cinema(http://www.vanguardcinema.com/darkarc/darkarc.htm), and is currently
    debuting on Cable Video On Demand. The film had it’s World Premiere at the Montreal Festival, and it’s US Premiere at the Cinequest Film Festival. Featuring Sarah Strange (“White Noise”), Kurt Max Runte (“X-Men”, “Battlestar Gallactica”,) and Dan Zukovic (director and star of the cult comedy “The Last Big Thing”). Featuring the glam/punk tunes “Dark Fruition”, “Ire and Angst” and “F.ByronFitzBaudelaire”, and a dark orchestral score by Neil Burnett.

    TRAILER : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mPeG4EFZ4ZM

    ***** (Five stars) “Absolutely brilliant…truly and completely different…something you’ve never tasted
    before…” Film Threat
    “A black comedy about a very strange love triangle” Seattle Times
    “Consistently stunning images…a bizarre blend of art, sex, and opium, “Dark Arc” plays like a candy-coloured
    version of David Lynch. ” IFC News
    “Sarah Strange is as decadent as Angelina Jolie thinks she is…Don’t see this movie sober!” Metroactive Movies
    “Equal parts film noir intrigue, pop culture send-up, brain teaser and visual feast. ” American Cinematheque


    Comment by vancinema — 21 May 2012 @ 3:31 pm

  7. We like the sound of this, vancinema, and also thank you for drawing our attention to this blog with its wonderful Huysmans stuff, particularly on Mallarme, which is a bit over-wrought but just the sort of thing that’s usually said about Mal, but more so. Please, all readers, steep your head in Mal’s ‘ Prose for Des Esseintes’. I see it as the forerunner of ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’.


    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 24 May 2012 @ 1:16 am

  8. Do you read French well, lafayette? I found an online translation of Mallarme’s poem but it doesn’t seem to track well with the original; e.g., the whole second stanza is missing. The local library offers a compilation of Mallarme in both languages, but it’s online and hard to search.

    I was reminded of Huysman’s book in a brief discussion elsewhere about St. Aubyn’s novels, of which I previously posted this excerpt. His characters are aristo decadents, but they have no style, no taste; mostly they’re just grotesque and sadistic and dissipated, without any of the redeeming qualities sometimes associated with those violations of bourgeois norms.

    “his theory that the minor writer of the decadence, the writer who is incomplete but nonetheless individual, distils a balm more irritant, more sudorific, more acid than the author of the same period who is truly great and truly perfect.”

    This aesthetic preference for individuality over greatness may account for the subsequent ascent, perhaps decadent in its own right, of abstract expressionism — “It’s a Pollock!” “It’s a Jasper Johns!”


    Comment by ktismatics — 24 May 2012 @ 9:47 am

  9. No, not well, but I can follow it with a crib, which is the point of page-facing translations I suppose. If you haven’t at least that much French ( I did it at school), you’re not going to get anywhere with Mallarme, because none of the translations really amount to anything very readable in English, and most are in my opinion worse than an auto-translate.

    Here’s C.F. MacIntyre’s version. He at least produced a dependable crib for a lot of M’s poems. At first glance this is pretty poor English, but I’ve come to appreciate its fitness for its purpose – if you’ve got the original French to hand.

    [ I find new things every time I look. I just notice that Macintyre translates iridees as Irides, rather than Irises, which I’d always taken it to be, and in trying to sort this out – the ambiguity is probably deliberate – I came across this – one of the best pieces on M, I’ve ever seen, though M. is only part of it –
    This very brief excerpt is an excellent intro:
    Evans – Hermetic Art: Manifesto Of The Hermetic: ‘Prose Pour Des Esseintes’ (1885)

    If there could be such a thing as a manifesto of hermetic poetry then this crucial work would be it. Prose was a basic statement about the poetic experience of visionary perception, the phenomenon Mircea Eliade has called ‘hierophanization’. Its iconography derived from the archetypes of the voyage, the island and the soror mystica (female companion). Symbols familiar to students of the hermetic tradition but occurring in the poem naturally and in no way rendering it less ‘obscure’ to Mallarme’s contemporary readership.

    The poet, accompanied by a mysterious female penetrates an island which is also a magic garden. Mallarmé’populated this magical garden with irises, lilies, gladiolae and fantastic flowers of his own creation called Iridees. Here the poet experiences an epiphanic moment, a hierophanization of the senses and perceives the flowers as numinous symbols – living, vibrating surrounded by an aura or ‘lacuna’:]

    for des Esseintes

    Hyperbole! from my memory
    triumphant can you not arise,
    today from a book bound with iron
    as cabalistic gramaries [I really don’t like that bit]

    because by knowledge I induct
    the hymn of all hearts spiritual
    to this labour of my patience,
    atlas, herbal, ritual.

    We would turn our visages
    (I maintain that we were two)
    O sister, to the landscape’s charms,
    always comparing them with you.

    The era of authority
    is troubled when, with no motifs,
    they say of this southland our double
    mind’s subconsciousness perceives

    that, hundred-iris bed, its site,
    they know if it really existed,
    does not bear a name the gold
    of the Summer’s trumpet cited.

    Yes, on an island charged by air
    not with visions but with sight
    every flower showed off, freer,
    though we never spoke of it.

    Such, immense, that every one
    usually adorned itself
    with a lucid edge, lacuna
    which from the gardens set it off.

    Glory of long desire, Ideas
    all in me with great elation
    saw the family Irides [but I think he meant the flower Iris]
    arise to this new consecration,

    but this sensible fond sister
    went no further than to spare
    a smile and, to understand her,
    I attend my ancient care.

    O spirit of contention! know
    at this hour when we are still,
    that too tall for reason grows
    the stalk of multiple Asphodels

    and not as the shore weeps,
    when its monotonous frolic lies
    to wish an amplitude would come
    into my juvenile surprise

    at hearing all the sky and map
    always is my steps attested,
    by the wave even that ebbs away,
    that this country never existed.

    Already lessoned by the roads [ oh non]
    the child resigns her ecstasy
    and says it: Anastasius! born
    for parchments of eternity,

    before a sepulchre could laugh
    in any clime, her ancestor,
    to bear the name: Pulcheria!
    hidden by the too great lily’s flower.


    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 24 May 2012 @ 6:24 pm

  10. If you’re tempted to try and follow any of his other poems, it’s a good idea to read up on the formal rules of 19c French poetry. Mallarme was very strict about keeping to the rules. It helps to read them if you know how to scan them. For instance, he mostly (not in Esseintes) sticks to the bedrock French poetic line, the Alexandrine, 12 syllables with a caesura between the 6th and 7th; but if you go and read one of his poems, you’ll find that the syllables don’t add up. That’s because there’s a further rule that the normally silent ‘e’s at the end of words count as syllables. So if you read it to yourself pronouncing those ‘e’s you’ll get it – quite different from normal spoken French. There may be other refinements I’ve forgotten.


    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 24 May 2012 @ 6:39 pm

  11. Thanks for the translation, laffayette. I’m not prepared to give it my full attention quite yet; tomorrow morning at the latest. I can tell that this version is more literal than the one I’d seen before. My French is more conversational than written so I can at least hear in my head the cadences; e.g., the vocalization of the trailing e. My vocabulary and conjugations are limited though, so I stumble my way through. The French-English side-by-side works best for me as well — I’ll summon the original online when I read the translation you’ve provided.


    Comment by ktismatics — 24 May 2012 @ 7:27 pm

  12. Here it is, so I won’t have to find it again tomorrow:

    Prose pour des Esseintes

    Hyperbole! de ma mémoire
    Triomphalement ne sais-tu
    Te lever, aujourd’hui grimoire
    Dans un livre de fer vêtu:

    Car j’installe, par la science,
    L’hymne des coeurs spirituels
    En l’oeuvre de ma patience,
    Atlas, herbiers et rituels.

    Nous promenions notre visage
    (Nous fûmes deux, je le maintiens)
    Sur maints charmes de paysage,
    O soeur, y comparant les tiens.

    L’ère d’autorité se trouble
    Lorsque, sans nul motif, on dit
    De ce midi que notre double
    Inconscience approfondit

    Que, sol des cent iris, son site
    Ils savent s’il a bien été,
    Ne porte pas de nom que cite
    L’or de la trompette d’Été.

    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.

    Gloire du long désir, Idées
    Tout en moi s’exaltait de voir
    La famille des iridées
    Surgir à ce nouveau devoir.

    Mais cette soeur sensée et tendre
    Ne porta son regard plus loin
    Que sourire, et comme à l’entendre
    J’occupe mon antique soin.

    Oh! sache l’Esprit de litige,
    À cette heure où nous nous taisons,
    Que de lis multiples la tige
    Grandissait trop pour nos raisons

    Et non comme pleure la rive
    Quand son jeu monotone ment
    À vouloir que l’ampleur arrive
    Parmi mon jeune étonnement

    D’ouïr tout le ciel et la carte
    Sans fin attestés sur mes pas
    Par le flot même qui s’écarte,
    Que ce pays n’exista pas.

    L’enfant abdique son extase
    Et docte déjà par chemins
    Elle dit le mot: Anastase!
    Né pour d’éternels parchemins,

    Avant qu’un sépulcre ne rie
    Sous aucun climat, son aïeul,
    De porter ce nom: Pulchérie!
    Caché par le trop grand glaïeul.


    Comment by ktismatics — 24 May 2012 @ 7:29 pm

  13. I remembered: the silent e at the end of a word is pronounced (and counts towards the 12, or whatever, syllables) if it’s followed by a consonant, but not otherwise. It would pretty much work out like that in spoken French anyway, I think.


    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 24 May 2012 @ 7:33 pm

  14. I don’t know the rule, but musical lyrics work this way too with the vocalized e; e.g., Edith Piaf singing “La Vie en Ros-eh.”


    Comment by ktismatics — 24 May 2012 @ 7:40 pm

  15. So I’ve set up the side-by-sides by opening two browser windows. Here’s my shot at the first two stanzas:

    Hyperbole! From my triumphant
    memory you do not know
    to rise, clothed today
    in an iron book of sorcery;

    For by science I install
    the hymn of spiritual hearts
    in the work of my patience:
    books of maps, herbs, rituals

    I like mine better than MacIntyre’s, maybe because by doing it myself I have a better feel for the translational trade-offs. I think it’s important, for example to see a parallel between the paralyzing iron book of magic and the poet’s liberating books of science. Also there’s the parallel between Atlas as a book of maps and herbier as a book of herbs: these are the works of his patience. I know of no English word corresponding to herbier, so what’s to be done? Malllarme’s poem actually has formal structure, as you point out, plus a rhyme scheme, and there’s nothing really to be done about those features in shifting to English. The best to be hoped for is achieving some kind of flow and rhythm.

    More later, hopefully. I’ve never tried translating poetry before, but this work of patience reminds me of when I was back there in seminary school doing my own translations of Bible passages from Hebrew and Greek into English.


    Comment by ktismatics — 25 May 2012 @ 11:33 am

  16. So presumably Mallarme is addressing his poem to Des Esseintes, the fictional “hero” of Au Rebours. Hyperbole! Mallarme blurts out: you exaggerate my poetical virtues, as if I were some sort of shaman. I am but a patient craftsman, a chronicler of places and plants. Though I grant that there is a spiritual heart to my work, I achieve the effect deliberately, by a “science” of poesy. But you, Des Esseintes: you are so bound up in your grimoires — your hermetic books of magic — that you can’t rise up and be free, cannot triumph as I do.


    Comment by ktismatics — 25 May 2012 @ 11:44 am

  17. What I like about the Macintyre is it forces you to look at the French, rather than just leaving you with the memory of a bad English poem. So yes, one is forced to do one’s own interpretation, which is as should be.

    I think books of herb-lore were known as ‘herbals’ so that’s how I’ve always translated it.

    That’s a bold interpretation you’ve imposed on it already. Perhaps I’d feel more confident if I’d actually read Huysmans book – I own it but haven’t got round to it yet.

    I wish to qualify my enthusiasm for that article by Evans on Hermetic Art. On closer inspection, like most of ‘that sort of thing’, it begs a lot of questions. But it’s interesting nonetheless, and possibly helpful in approaching Mallarme, since his own head seemed to have been full of stuff like this. For instance, these 2 typical paras sound quite impressive and inviting, but is there really any verifiable ‘truth-content’ in this?:

    “… modern art and modern occultism remain complimentary tropisms: elements of a profound shift in modern sensibility. An understanding of magical terminology and ideas can help in appreciating modern art as an art of evocation, invocation and initiation – a new aesthetic gnosis – a revolutionary inner alchemy of imaginative transformation. ”

    ” As C. G. Jung and others have shown, the alchemical process reflects ‘archetypal’ processes of psychic growth – ‘individuation’ or occult self- initiation. Hermetic art, while superficially referring to a cultural construct – Flora’s poesia ermetica – is also grounded in the same psychic procedures. It follows that an examination of the works of a true hermetic artist like, say, Mallarme, should reveal the same ‘archetypal’ procedures of individuation as Jung’s analysis of hermetic texts. ”

    The most intriguing is the bit I offered above:

    ” Its iconography derived from the archetypes of the voyage, the island and the soror mystica (female companion).

    Well, voyages and islands crop up in Baudelaire a lot, but it’s the ‘soror mystica’ that’s most important, and unfortunately likely to prove disappointing. Evans states this as if it was well-known, but I’ve always got the impression that the reference to his ‘Dear Sister’ was an unsolved problem to Mallarmists like Cohn for instance (who you MUST read), but maybe Evans has got something everyone missed, and doesn’t know it? I’ll have to check the ‘soror mystica’ out…

    To be realistic though, I think it just as likely that the ‘Dear Sister’ bit was just a convenient rhyme or something, and he thought he could get away with it…sounds mysterious… I feel M does that a lot.


    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 25 May 2012 @ 2:04 pm

  18. From near the beginning of your linked essay: “The obscurity (‘hermeticism’) of modern art arises, therefore not from its assimilation of certain occult theories (the doctrine of the androgyny, the idea of ‘correspondences’) but from an ultrapersonal subjectivity bordering in some cases upon a solipsistic despair – as for instance in certain works by Mallarme, Khnopff, Artaud and Beckett.”

    That seems right. Des Esseintes had plunged into solipsistic subjective despair; presumably Mallarme had had the same experience. But now there is a way out: through seeing the outside world and enhancing subjective delights thereby, patiently transforming the world through the science of poetic sensibility. Des Esseintes loved the flowers too as I recall. I read the “sister” in Mallarme’s poem as the poet’s unconscious. In stanza 3 he maintains that there were two, as if others might doubt it. They turned their face, not their faces — two with a single face. In stanza 4 it is “our double unconscious,” that delves the flowers, but it could also be read “our double, the unconscious, delves…” The poet sees, but the unconscious sister envisions (stanza 6). Why is Mallarme’s unconscious “she”? It’s perhaps an anticipation of Jung’s anima. As you point out Jung studied alchemy as a key to unlocking the unconscious, a science of the spiritual heart.


    Comment by ktismatics — 25 May 2012 @ 3:41 pm

  19. “As you point out Jung studied alchemy as a key to unlocking the unconscious, a science of the spiritual heart…”

    No, I didn’t point that out; that’s a quote from his essay, which I quoted as an example of how he ‘begs the question’ a lot i.e. in this instance, does this actually MEAN anything? I’m not a fan of Jung. I haven’t read enough of you to know if you rate him. Or Freud for that matter. I suppose you’ve had these arguments a million times.

    Back to the topic, I mean what COULD this mean:

    ” …same ‘archetypal’ procedures of individuation as Jung’s analysis of hermetic texts…”

    What is an ‘archetypal procedure of individuation’? And how could it be the same an analysis of a text, any text?

    Answers on a postcard please.


    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 25 May 2012 @ 6:16 pm

  20. I don’t care for Jung either. I don’t know Mallarme well enough to generalize, but in this poem he disavows the mystical in favor of the unconscious and the aesthetic. That suits me fine. The unconscious sister alter-ego certainly conjures Jung though; Jung would have used Mallarme’s image as indicative of the archetypal anima. And the flowers in Mallarme’s poem do seem in the unconscious vision to take on demiurgic qualities that would have suited Jung’s purposes. After writing A Rebours Huysmans abandoned his insular decadence by relapsing into hard-core Catholicism. Maybe Mallarme could see the writing on the wall.


    Comment by ktismatics — 25 May 2012 @ 6:25 pm

  21. I had a look at the 16 page section on Prose for Des Esseintes in Robert Greer Cohn’s ‘Towards the Poems of Mallarme” (’65, expanded edition ’80). to see if there was some insight into Anastase and Pulcherie that I’d forgotten since the last time I looked at it. But no! Just the same as you’ve no doubt by now arrived at: Anastase = girl’s name usually, meaning ‘resurrection’, or ‘stand up’ (Cohn has it), so I think of it as ‘ arise!’; and Pulcherie = girl’s name meaning ‘beautiful’.
    So what’s that about? Your guess… My skim of Cohn suggests that your instincts about the poem so far are spot on. But is it good? Well, whatever, I find (and I’m not alone) it sticks in the mind for some reason.


    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 1 June 2012 @ 7:16 pm

  22. I got too caught up in the translation and the meaning to let the poem hit me, reading it more as discursive prose. What I need to do is get hold of a volume of Mallarme and expose myself to it. By the third stanza I was happy enough with the English translation you provided, realizing that I had been nitpicking it like a theologian. I just requested the newish Blackmore translation, side-by-side with the original French, from interlibrary loan.

    I’m nearly finished with the Iain Sinclair, but unless something hits me in the last chapter I probably won’t post on it. Reading that book has been a strange experience. The colloquial voice keeps tricking me into expecting that it’s going to flow, and the phrasing is often striking, but I have the damnedest time following what’s going on sometimes. I have the sense that I could stop five pages from the end without feeling a lack of closure. But I expect that I’ll do my duty and finish before I have to pay an overdue fine.


    Comment by ktismatics — 1 June 2012 @ 9:31 pm

  23. Intentionally or not, Sinclair invokes the Mallarme on page 408:

    My project, the grimoire of rivers and railways, is almost complete: its spiritual well-being is critical…

    Sinclair goes on self-referentially; apparently he shares my concern:

    …I’ve gone over the top, invested too much. I’m sure it’s very close to the end, but it lacks a final tableau vivant, a magical getout. The one that lets the narrator melt from the narration. Can we make our escape while the witnesses (the readers) weigh the plausibility of some tricksy conclusion?


    Comment by ktismatics — 1 June 2012 @ 10:32 pm

  24. I was going to warn you against starting with the Blackmores’ translations, but I had a long look at it there – I’ve owned it for a while, but just skimmed it previously, because I already know most of the poems intimately – and I’d say yes, that is the best place to start, with some reservations which I’ll come to in a minute.

    Mallarme’s poems have worked their way into my head by a sort of osmosis over 20 years, but there were some distinct intense stages, and some – pertinently, the first translation I came across – would not be the path I’d recommend to someone else. But the first stage in my path, fortuitously, I still see as the best possible start. What first sparked my interest in Mallarme was coming across an old book in my local library, C.M. Bowra: the Heritage of Symbolism, which is a a collection of 5 essays on the German poets Rilke and Stefan George; the Russian poet Alesxander Blok; Mallarme’s most faithul French acolyte, Paul Valery; and W.B. Yeats. The introduction (as long as the essays) however is mostly about Mallarme. Some excerpts:

    “ A poetical movement is recognised in its exponents, and the
    chief poets of Symbolism are Baudelaire, Verlaine and Mal-
    larmé. Baudelaire was the first to exalt the value of symbols;
    Verlaine used them instinctively, and Mallarmé erected a
    metaphysic to explain and justify them. In his theory and
    his practice Mallarmé was the conclusion and crown of the
    Symbolist Movement. When we speak of it, it is of him
    primarily that we think, his ideas that we remember. But his
    work would have been impossible without Baudelaire and
    would hardly have found recognition but for the more
    popular form which Verlaine found for its principles.

    … Symbolism, then, was a mystical form of Aestheticism.
    Its counterpart in England was the Aesthetic Movement
    whose apostles were Rossetti and Pater and whose martyr was
    Wilde. Rossetti’s poetry is infused with a belief in Ideal

    … English Aestheticism, however, was less exacting, less
    theoretical, less mystical than French. Neither Rossetti nor
    Pater developed their theories of the Beautiful with the
    desperate logic of Mallarmé.

    …For Mallarmé certainly created a new mysticism of art.
    He expressed it disjointedly in words of Heraclitean darkness
    and power. Indeed any attempt to epitomise his views must
    end in distorting them; for he preferred to speak on particular
    issues in metaphor and simile. But his main tenets and his
    actual practice may be discerned, and in them the most
    mportant doctrines of the Symbolists are contained. In his
    Divagations he says:
    Je dis une fleur; et hors de l’oubli où ma voix reégue aucun
    contour en tant que quelque chose d’autre que les calices sus,
    musicalement se lève, idée même et suave, l’absente de tous
    This hermetic text is a central clue. The flower, evoked by
    the magic word, is the ideal flower which has in it the beauty
    of all flowers and is not one among them but something above
    them. Readers of Plato will see a resemblance between this
    “idée” and the Platonic εἰ + ̑δος, or Form, which is both a
    universal principle and an ideal particular. And the com-
    parison is justified so long as we remember that for Mallarmé
    the Absolute is not Being but the Beautiful. In this world of
    beautiful things he found a creating and sustaining principle
    in “les Idées” which are both beautiful in themselves and
    the cause of beauty in other things. In his Prose pour des
    Esseintes he expresses much the same doctrine in verse
    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.
    The flower is the ideal flower. It belongs to pure sight, not to
    the senses. “

    C.M. Bowra The heritage of symbolism (which you can buy on US Abebooks for $3.97, free postage) http://tinyurl.com/bqj4ud7 , or read online on Questia http://tinyurl.com/6op3t2l (I was able to read a big chunk of the intro, but it seems you have to pay to see the whole thing – I think it’s copyright’s expired, so I grudge that)

    After Bowra, the first Mallarme book I found was:
    Anthony Hartley: Mallarme http://tinyurl.com/cro87gg
    which I really do NOT recommend, though I still feel a fondness for it, because it got me started and I’ve owned a copy for so long, and because it was so unreadable that it forced me to do my own translations which got me deeply into it.

    So, back to the Blackmores’ translation: nearly everything is there, except ‘Igitur’ (a prose fragment which crops up a lot in the critics’ discussions), and a dozen of the ‘fans’ (eventails) which are in the ‘verses of circumstance’ in Mondor’s ‘Oeuvres Completes’. These ‘fans’ were short verses Mallarme inscribed on fans. I guess the missing dozen aren’t very substantial – I haven’t looked at them very closely.

    I was taken aback at the skill of the Blackmores in turning Mallarme into rhymed English poetry – ALL of it ! They actually all work as passable English poems. But there’s a problem with this, which is why I hesitated to recommend it: while it’s the easiest, most approachable read… take this for an example, from Prose for Des Esseintes:

    Hyperbole! Can you not rise
    From my memory triumph-crowned,
    today a magic scrawl which lies
    in a book that is iron-bound:

    That’s ‘triumph-crowned’ for ‘triomphalement’, to get a rhyme. To my taste, that’s radically different, and they do this a lot, so while they’re convincing poems, they’re not quite Mallarme’s poems, and because they’re convincing poems, they make it less likely that the reader will look closely at the French. This is especially so with the sonnets, where there’s less room to move, though the Blackmores’ ingenuity astounds me. There, you’ve been warned.

    The versions of the prose poems are truly excellent though – I think the best I’ve seen. Be sure to read the White Water-Lily and the Announcement at the Fair (aka the Strolling Proclamation), which contains the lovely sonnet, ‘the Hair’.

    Ignore his early poetry – everything before ‘Sigh’ in Blackmore – it’s mawkish and unnecessary. And for the time being you can ignore the ‘unpublished poems’, except for the 2 parts of Herodiade that were unpublished in his lifetime – the Ancient Overture, and the Canticle of St Jean. This is another annoyance. Most translations gather the three parts of Herodiade together.

    So for all these reasons, I recommend that you get these as well and keep them, and dip into them now and then.
    C.F. MacIntyre Stephan Mallarme: Poems http://tinyurl.com/buuodzg

    Mary Ann Caws ed.:
    Mallarme in Poetry and Prose
    Good selection of good translations of the core pieces; and only collection I know which includes the prose/drama fragment ‘Igitur’, which maybe should be beside Herodiade – I think it’s a precursor. Unfortunately, my favourite, Toast Funebre (Funeral Toast for Theophile Gautier, as I call it) is missing. Some Mallarmologists consider this one a bit rhetorical, but I consider it a good rival for the soliloquy from Hamlet.

    Mallarme in Prose
    (. Also, a selection from his ballet and fashion criticism).

    I think anyone interested in these poems should own this, a line by line guide and criticism of most of his poems.
    Robert Greer Cohn
    Toward the Poems of Mallarmé

    And if you’ve got plenty of money or a good library, this seems vital (I haven’t got hold of it yet)
    Robert Greer Cohn ed.
    Mallarme In The Twentieth Century


    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 2 June 2012 @ 5:04 pm

  25. I see what you mean about the Blackmore translation, where the rhyme scheme could overwhelm the original aesthetic. I’ll see what I think when the book arrives at the library, and will probably try an alternate translation afterward. I’ll be sure to read the prose-poems in the Blackmore.


    Comment by ktismatics — 2 June 2012 @ 6:50 pm

  26. Well, enjoy! If you haven’t seen ‘Coup de Des’ before, you’re in for a treat.


    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 3 June 2012 @ 2:04 am

  27. I tested my links, and noticed that these two were linked straight to the ‘look-inside’ front cover. I’m sure you’d find the books, but here they are again. I included links to spell out how cheaply and easily these are available (except for Cohn’s ‘ …in the 20C’).

    C.F. MacIntyre: Mallarme

    Mary Ann Caws ed.: Mallarme in Poetry and Prose


    Comment by lafayettesennacherib — 3 June 2012 @ 2:46 am

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