Academic journal article The Romanic Review

"Beaucoup De Bruit Pour Rien": Mallarme's 'Ptyx' and the Symbolist "Bric-a-Brac."

Academic journal article The Romanic Review

"Beaucoup De Bruit Pour Rien": Mallarme's 'Ptyx' and the Symbolist "Bric-a-Brac."

Article excerpt

Les autres symbolistes renferment et agitent un certain bric-a-brac concret de sensations et d'objets aimes par leur epoque . . . Antonin Artaud, 1923(1)

Bibelots d'emplois incertains, Fleurs mortes aux seins des almees, Cheveux, dons de vierges charmees, Crepons arraches aux catins.

Tableaux sombres et bleus lointains, Pastels effaces, curs camees, Fioles encore parfumees, Bijoux, chiffons, hochets, pantins,

Quel encombrement dans ce coffre! Je vends tout. Accepte mon offre, Lecteur. Peut-etre quelque emoi,

Pleurs ou rire, a ces vicilles choses Te prendra. Tu paieras, et moi J'acheterais de fraiches roses.

Charles Cros, 1873(2)

Charles Cros begins his 1873 collection Le Coffret de santal with a metaphorical clearing-out of what Artaud would with hindsight call the `bric-a-brac' of `objets aimes', the accumulated so-called clutter of tropes and conventions in the literary attic. The poem can be read as an inventory of refused objects and symbols that make up the various `points d'appui' of Symbolist, Parnassian and Decadent `artes poeticae'. Lurking behind the individual items which collectively make up the `encombrement' we are justified in reading a number of specific literary allusions. Baudelaire is present in the `fleurs mortes' and the `cheveux, dons de vierges', while the `bleus lointains' alludes to another facet of the Romantic/ Symbolist stock-in-trade, the unreachable `Azur' later to figure so prominently in the work of Rimbaud, Mallarme and others. We also have the line containing the conflicting poetic agendas of `Pastels effaces' (Verlaine) and the `curs camees' of Gautier's `sculpte, lime cisele' of Emaux et camees. The whole lot is `sold up' in a literary jumble sale with the message `everything must go', and with the reader as prospective buyer or consumer of this `junk'.

But what concerns us here is only tangentially Cros' poem or indeed Artaud's `bric-a-brac'. Our real purpose is to examine the creation of one particular item in the Symbolist `bric-a-brac'--the `ptyx' in Mallarme's `Sonnet en -yx'.

In October 1888 Vanier published a book entitled Petit Glossaire pour servir a l'intelligence des auteurs decadents et symbolistes. Written by Paul Adam(3) under the pseudonym `Jacques Plowert', its stated aim was to provide the ordinary reader with a glossary of words used by these poets, of words `aimes par leur epoque'. According to Plowert, the greatest reproach that could be levelled at these writers

vise l'etrangete des termes mis en usage par [leurs] oeuvres. On en

conclut a une pernicieuse difficulte de lecture pour quiconque n'est

pas initie au prestige hermetique des vocables. Aussi semble-t-elle

opportune la publication d' un gloss aire cap able d' aplanir le

malentendu et de simplifier l'initiation. [ . . . ] Il mentionnera la

signification precise de tous les termes rares qu'on ne rencontre point

dans les lexiques ordinaires . . .(4)

Insofar as the glossary's mission is to explain, clarify and demystify, it purports to be an aid to the reader in ascribing some kind of practical meaning to what Cros describes as `bibelots d'emplois incertains'--objects of uncertain use, but also words of uncertain usage. The book is produced with great attention to detail, giving for each word an example from one of fourteen writers of the period, set out in a list of `auteurs cites': three prosateurs (Adam, Barres, Poictevin), ten poetes (Ghil, Mallarme, Laforgue, Kahn, Moreas, Regnier, Rimbaud, Verlaine, Vignier, Viele-Griffin), and one critique (Feneon). In addition it provides, where appropriate, details of etymology, sources of neologism and examples of declension. We have, for instance,

COMATEUX. Adj.--Gateux au sens provisoire .

De comateux bavardages dus a des bas-bleus probablement calvinistes.

Revue Independante.


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