1. Member Since 18th May, 2012
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Grad student by day, pony word peddler by night.

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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.

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  • Viewing 173 - 177 of 177
#177 · 3w, 6d ago · · ·

Where it all began.

The memories! Ah!

#176 · 8w, 6d ago · 1 · ·

>>2421616

Ah. That.

Embarassing, really. I thought I had watched you ages and ages and ages ago and was yelling at FimFic for not showing your blogs when I realized that... yeah.

Whoops.

#175 · 8w, 6d ago · · ·

Thank you very much for the watch. :twilightsmile:

#174 · 13w, 6d ago · · ·

>>2403215 Yay I wrote something moderately interesting ;-;

#173 · 13w, 6d ago · · ·

>>2403205

She has! And I've been too zonked out (technical term) to read them (I recently got back from a 22 hour workday, and am writing this after waking up unexpectedly in the middle of the night) but what I've managed to take a brief gander at is really really interesting.

But. You know. No pressure.

(write interesting things)

:trollestia::pinkiehappy:

  • Viewing 173 - 177 of 177
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