Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Parody and Metaphysics: Le Coup Du "Livre"

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

Parody and Metaphysics: Le Coup Du "Livre"

Article excerpt

Difficult or ludicrous as it may seem to attempt to perform it, Un coup de des presents itself to the reader as a "partition"--a musical score. The self-effacing preface of the Cosmopolis edition explicitly invites us not only to contemplate and interpret the dramatic, tangible writing's "subdivisions prismatiques de l'Idee," its "mise en scene spirituelle exacte," but also to orally transpose the quality and arrangement of its graphics through highly unusual variations in vocal dynamics and tone: "La difference des caracteres d'imprimerie entre le motif preponderant, un secondaire et d'adjacents, dicte son importance a l'emission orale et la port, e, moyenne, en haut, en bas de page, notera que monte ou descend l'intonation." (1) Thus, Mallarme encourages us to risk subjecting one of his most serious texts to a bizarrely styled recitation, which many, from Paul Valery to Suzanne Bernard, have dismissed as either an impossibility or a joke. (2) Why does Mallarme do this?

I have tried to answer this question, in part, in previous studies arguing that Un coup de des and Mallarme's other ambivalently theatrical texts--L'Apresmidi d'un faune, Herodiade, Igitur, and, above all, the Notes en vue du "Livre"--point to supplementary performances for metaphysical reasons, that is, as forms of ritual to complete and consecrate the symbolic processes and abstract principles they signify or represent. (3) While actual (as opposed to virtual) performance is presented as a desirable if problematic and curiously conceived option for Un coup de des and other works, it clearly becomes a crucial factor amd a stumbling block in Mallarme's conception of Le Livre. For here, the ultimate reckoning with fundamental conflicts of mind and body, word and deed, speech and writing, order and chance, is consistently linked to the possibility of the Book's annexation of some type of theatrical presentation--one which mimicks or even mocks, in a performative mode, what is always already occurring in the text on the level of writing.

In a passage of 1895 notes concerning the nature of verse, Mallarme goes so far as to articulate a need for the performance of all writing, affirming that speech, insofar as it provides an echo of writing, functions as its public proof:

   Le Vers et tout ecrit au fond par cela qu'issu de la parole doit se 
   montrer a meme de subir l'epreuve orale ou d'affronter la diction 
   comme un mode de presentation exterieur et pour trouver haut et 
   dans la foule son echo plausible, au lieu qu'effectivement il a lieu 
   au dela du silence que traversent se rarefiant en musiques mentales 
   ses elements, et affecte notre sens subtil ou de reve. (4) 

To recognize that Mallarme, here and elsewhere, can place oral performance in the secondary domain of the echo and characterize it as lesser in dignity and reality than writing, should not lead us to conclude that he dismisses or denies the importance of performance. On the contrary, as this passage states, and as much of his corpus suggests, writing, for Mallarme, however completely and autonomously it may evoke the world for the mind of the solitary reader, must at some point, in some way, also give back to speech and to a multiple human presence its due- that is, allow for its own retransposition into some kind of communal, sensorial performance. It is not then simply the virtuality or effects of music, dance, or theater that Mallarme seeks to appropriate for writing or the Book, though he certainly does this in a radical way; it is also the confirmation or consecration of this appropriation in a "mode de presentation exterieur." (5)

That performance and writing constitute contrary reciprocal proofs of an absolute metaphysical principle, fictional in essence though this principle may be, is stated in many ways throughout Mallarmes critical prose, most categorically, perhaps, in La Musique et les Lettres:

   Je pose, a mes risques esthetiquement, cette conclusion (si, par 
   quelque grace, absente, toujours, d'un expose, je vous amenai a la 
   ratifier, ce serait l'honneur pour moi cherche ce soir): que la 
   Musique et les Lettres sont la face alternative ici elargie vers 
   l'obscur; scintillante la, avec certitude, d'un phenomene, le seul, 
   je l'appelai, l'Idee. … 
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