Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Wallace Fowlie, Mallarmé. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1970; originally published in 1953.

Wallace Fowlie (1908-1998) romps through Stéphane Mallarmé’s life (1842-1898) and writings, providing English translations and comparisons with interconnected poet-writers like Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Baudelaire along the way. Not neglected are Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Marcel Proust, or Paul Valéry, nor Symbolist painters such as Odilon Redon, or composers Richard Wagner, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, and others. 

Symbolism is oft the name given to Mallarmé’s “style,” which is related to all of the above.
I’ve chosen a handful of Fowlie’s quips that may or may not shed light on the creation of poems specifically and artistic impulses in general. It’s your call.  

“The poem is the surviving mystery.” (p. 188)

“The legend of Mallarmé’s life was the great work dreamed by him, the unique work destined to subsume all other works. But it was never composed.” (p. 194)
“A doubling of the consciousness is indispensable for the artist.” (p. 197)

“The struggle of the artist to create out of the chaos of experience is not unlike a tempest of nature. The mystery of all art is the seeming chance, a throw of dice . . . out of which an order of logic and construction is achieved.” (p. 218)

"Poetry is a game of risk, of magic and incantation. Its meaning is always hidden under the brilliance of its images and the unusualness of its analogies.” (p. 223)
“At some point or other in the fabrication of [a] poem the poet is helpless and useless before the gift of chance.” (p. 226)

“The experience of religion for Mallarmé seems to have been completely merged with that of art, and particularly joined with the experience of theatre and music .” (pp. 235-236)
“The dead move and have their being in the words they leave. To live is to endure dangers, to move from one disaster to another.” (p. 247)

“First as a man  [Mallarmé ] made himself different from other men. And then as a poet he celebrated language, the sanctity of language, as a new Orpheus.”  (p. 287)

And so adieu: a salute to Wallace Fowlie and Stéphane Mallarmé.

Today's Rune: Strength.


Barbara Bruederlin said...

I think it would take me forever to read, as I would continuously be pausing and pondering what I just read.

Charles Gramlich said...

I like what William Zinsser said about symbolism, about how he always misses it. I'm kind of the same way.

the walking man said...

Ya know what the quotes and paintings remind me of Erik--perhaps the foundation on which Dada was formed, seems to be an early incarnation of that thought of art being the final expression of itself.