• Member Since 18th May, 2012
  • offline last seen Nov 14th, 2020


Lecturer by day, pony word peddler by night.

More Blog Posts106

  • 163 weeks
    Words in print

    Recently, I've been asked for permission by Avonder to include Whom The Princesses Would Destroy... in a story anthology he's putting together. I'm not one for hoarding words and I gave it quite, quite gladly.

    You'll find it here.

    Read More

    6 comments · 1,566 views
  • 197 weeks
    Ghost Gallivants to Glorious Galacon

    Ghost Gallivants to Glorious Galacon


    A Supposedly Fun Thing I’m Totally Doing Again

    (with apologies to David Foster Wallace)

    Read More

    33 comments · 2,180 views
  • 199 weeks
    Now(TM) with Travel Advice

    I'm safely ensconced in my hotel room in Ludwigsburg. Hope to meet at least some of you. To increase the odds of this happening, I offer the following advice:

    Read More

    18 comments · 908 views
  • 199 weeks

    I will be flying to Galacon 2018 in under twelve hours and I expect I will be safely in Ludwigsburg within 24 hours. I will be hard to contact during this period, though I think I've acquired a method of fool-proof Internet access no matter where I am (aside from six miles straight up, of course).

    Hope to see many of you soon!

    16 comments · 691 views
  • 199 weeks
    Happy July 20th!

    ...or July 21st, depending on your timezone.

    49 years ago the first manned Moon landing was accomplished. It is one of my favorite moments in history (To learn about my favorite you may have to wait for December the 9th), and to celebrate I've re-edited Hoofprints to be a little less... ah, draft-y.

    Read More

    20 comments · 919 views

Ghost's Vigilante Footnoting Service 1—The Remarkable Facts Regarding Stéphane Mallarmé · 10:41pm Apr 15th, 2017

In case you weren't aware[1], Bad Horse does these amazing posts regarding the history of art and criticism leavened with insightful leaps from one field of study to the next. They are great fun and not one hundredth as dry as you might suspect. He was recently laboring on this amazing post regarding the origins of Modernism and how it ties into political extremism and he asked for my opinion (unwise), I commented that if he's talking about the roots of modernism he should totally talk about Stéphane Mallarmé who was clearly a proto-modernist and had an amazing life. He asked me to offer up my comment and so I did.

Then he said that it was too long to include.

[1] If so, allow me to be the first to welcome you to the sunlit world. It's quite nice here. We have cookies and Bad Horse and ponies and, oh, loads of things. Also the world's on an unstoppable entropic slip-and-slide to utter oblivion. But we don't let that get to us by way of the magic of friendship. Also alcohol.

Well, dear reader, I simply could not let that stand. Not by a long shot. So, given my position as the Chief Footnotist, I decided to write a blog-sized footnote to his whole post just so I could regale you with the weird life and odd poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé.

In his blog post Bad Horse writes about how late period French symbolism was, effectively, proto-Modernism[1]

[1] This is the point where a bit of history might be useful: Modernists are those weird writers who wrote between the two world wars (though Bad Horse's post goes into more detail regarding the wisdom of such a view) and whose writing was, variously, so densely packed with references as to be incomprehensible (my favorite, T.S. Eliot falls here), and those whose writing was so incomprehensible as to be incomprehensible (Gertrude Stein, who very much isn't my favorite, whose poetic output is indistinguishable from that of a Markov Chain).

The most notable example of this proto-modernism was Stéphane Mallarmé who, aside from having facial hair with more personality than six or seven normal people, was a Symbolist poet with a strong influence on Modernists, specifically the school commonly referred to Paleomodern.

Pictured above, facial hair. There may be a poet somewhere in there as well. Haven't checked. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

He also once accused Proust of not being able to read above the level of a newspaper. Yeah.

Mallarmé influenced people as important as Rilke and Yeats through salons which rather resemble certain blogs I could mention: a prominent intellectual sort holds court on some topic or other and then his guests—none slouches in the intellectual department, mind—listen and argue. Loudly, extensively, intensely, and at cross-purposes.

It should also be noted that Mallarmé did not have the good grace and decency to die in a duel[2]/of consumption/massive absinthe poisoning/suicide[3] at an early age like a great many of his colleagues and so wrote over an extended period of time. This gives his poetry range from fairly straightforward stuff like the ‘Tomb of Edgar Allan Poe’ (his is the definitive translation of the Raven into French) to the straight-up symbolist ‘The Flowers’ all the way to the stream-of-consciousness ‘The Pipe’ which, in its cuts between mundanities in a sort of experiental bricolage—perhaps presages bits of the Waste Land (Book II ‘round about verse 140).

[2] Mikhail Lermontov got that sorted at 26, after all. Very considerate. Great form.
[3] Perhaps he felt that whatever he did he'd be overshadowed decades later by Sergei Yesenin who killed himself at the ripe old age of thirty, but not before leaving a suicide note in the shape of a poem. Written in blood.[4]
[4] Yes. All my examples are Russians. I offer no apology.

This experimental tendency reached its apex in the… unique, let’s go with unique ‘Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard’ which even my fractured and ill-gotten French reads as ‘A throw of the dice will never abolish chance’ which can be rea looked a experienced here in attempted translation.

This last bit about ‘attempted translation’ is not facile humor, either: Mallarmé’s poetry is notoriously difficult to translate as he relies excessively on worldplay and, even more, the sound of words so much so that the editor of the Collected Poems in the Oxford World’s Classic edition (which is the one I happen to be using) admitted in the preface that he did not fully understand all the poems he helped translate.

Yeah. Your stamp of quality, right there.

In summary, a lot of what was supposedly purely Modernist was written by Mallarmé first, and this penchant for experimentation suffused with the vision of art as new religion for a world that’s gone and killed God was transmitted to the Modernists either through Mallarmé’s fame or through his famous salons.

This ‘new religion’ business is especially vital as it speaks to the (more paleo- than neomodern) notion that meaning had gone from the world and that Art-with-a-capital-sodding-A must put it back. Mallarmé was so taken by this belief that he spent most his life labouring—at least in theory—on a Book-with-a-capital-sodding-B (he liked his capitals, he did) which would be a total artwork encompassing within it a whole new thought-system and which would lead, in merging with (he said) Science, to a new form of Theater (he may have, in fact, had a fetish for capitals) which would be a purely secular modern religious celebration and would, thus, renew and change the world.

This belief may appear to us bizarre and unique but, in fact, seemed to be catching at the time because Mallarmé’s contemporary, one Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin, a Russian composer and pianist, believed that a Master Composition could be made that, if performed for a week non-stop on Tibet would usher in a new age of universal enlightenment and brotherhood and all that New Age stuff that wasn't New Age at the time.

Scriabin, incidentally, never got to finish his masterpiece[5] but he did manage to compose a bit of the ouverture (the 'prefatory act' is what he called it) and it is available online.

Incidentally, if any of my readers is on Tibet, could you try playing it and then reporting on, I don't know, cosmic understanding, lights in the sky, Alicorn princesses descending from above like luminescent snow, the usual. Anything that looks like this, basically:

[5] He died under rather iffy circumstances which led me to use him for a rather nice campaign concept that's adaptable for either Spirit of the Century or Call of Cthulhu, depending on your current level of malignancy towards the players.

Comments ( 12 )

Scriabin, incidentally, never got to finish his masterpiece

Fun fact: Among the gentleman’s many achievements is the idea of using a light organ as an actual instrument and specifying the light organ part for a symphony.

Were this idea to take off, we could have had disco fifty years early.

I was going to write all about that but I was writing under a time constraint. Yup! Another fun fact: he decided on a Light Organ[1] because he had synesthesia and saw music as colors anyway. As a fellow synesthete I can sympathize.

[1] And was generally down with what people more than half a century hence would call 'multimedia'

This Scriabin piece sounds like the more 'magical' portions of The Planets, with the occasional detour through Seventies sacred-horror film soundtracks. You know, The Omen, The Exorcist, the sort of music somebody once called 'rats digging their way to hell' music.

Classical music was pretty thoroughly strip-mined by various soundtrack &c composers. Famously, Williams was rather... liberal with his use of Holst. Indeed, take Holst and Orff and you have, like, half of all soundtracks. :twilightsmile:

Ghost's Vigilante Footnoting Service

This is the best idea.

How awesome would it be to go to buy a book, and see that it had been vigilante-footnoted before you got to it? Or to encounter graffiti on the street with handy footnoted explanations / elaborations?

I'm known to pause in the middle of the street, pull out a sharpie, and correct a poster.

It's probably illegal but bad writing rankles. Just the other day I found a bilingual sign (Redactedstani/English) that had three sentences and, I think, five errors. Unfortunately they had cunningly placed protective plexiglass over it so I couldn't wield the Red Sharpie of Justice.

(And if anyone were to buy my textbooks second hand, they'd certainly find them footnoted to within an inch of their lives. I used to joke that you don't buy textbooks, just the space in the margins.)

Speaking of Scriabin, the complete version of his Mysterium is a Mythos tome in Trail of Cthulhu, with hints that if it was performed as planned, it might actually change the world, or end it. (All IIRC, because I don't have my copy of ToC at hand, alas.)

Y'know this reminds me a little bit of an Adam Curtis documentary (in a good way)


Every musician and music major I know has told me, often quite angrily, that the theme for the shark in Jaws has NOTHING WHATSOEVER TO DO with the advance of the Tuetonic Knights on Lake Neva in Aleksandr Nevsky.

All I know is what I hear. And this: both lietmotifs were developed to convey the advance of a monstrous but as-yet-unseen threat (the knights are hidden by fog until they're practically on top of the Russians).

Oh, and a large body of water is involved. This doesn't matter very much at first in Nevsky as Lake Nevada [EDIT: NEVA. LAKE NEVA, DAMN YOU AUTOCOMPLETE] is frozen over. But it becomes an immerse [EDIT immersIVE. Well at least I have a bigger vocabulary than my damn smartphone] reality by the end of the battle (well, for the Tuetonic Knights, at least).

Another amusing and intriguing blog post as always. I live with bated breath for your next words from on high.:raritywink:

Author Interviewer

I love Gertrude Stein, ever since I read, became obsessed with, and memorized "Susie Asado". I don't reject meaning, I just don't require it.

Also, that Mallarme 'experience' was marvelous. :D

There was actually something I had thought to say, but since I've forgotten it, I'd rather just gush over poetry that doesn't make sense. :V

he did manage to compose a bit of the ouverture

I just noticed the overture is 2 hours 40 minutes long. :twilightoops:

When they do the complete performance, you'd better buy a lot of popcorn.

Login or register to comment