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Nerval: une poétique du deuil l’âge romantique. By Dagmar Wieser .( Histoire des idées et critique littéraire, 412). Geneva, Droz, 2004. 408 pp. Pb 60 SwF.

Dagmar Wieser here strives to meld analysis of genre and psychoanalytical criticism. She focuses on accounting for Nerval's clearly announced, but never quite realized, abandonment of poetry for prose. Wieser also interleaves her text with questions of authorial intention, and follows recent attempts to direct critical attention away from Nerval's best-known works (the Odelettes and Promenades et souvenirs receive more attention than Les Chimères and Aurélia). Hers is, then, an ambitious study. Wieser's combination of critical approaches and objectives is not a radical departure, however. Jean-Nicolas Illouz's Nerval: le rêveur en prose — Imaginaire et écriture (1997) also involves the study of genre and psychoanalysis, and it even sets out its modus operandi in similar terms. The various strands of Wieser's work are equally related to significant works from the mid-1990s by Claude Leroy and Michel Brix. Recognizing such facts, Wieser is meticulous in citing her sources. The scholarship involved in this book's wide coverage of past material is indeed laudable. The text is, however, haunted by citations of other works, and Wieser's own arguments are sometimes difficult to extract from the mass of quotations that she includes. None the less, Wieser's overall argument regarding Nerval emerges more clearly. Nerval's œuvre is seen as an attempt to trace a process of mourning that can never be resolved, because its object has never properly been known. For Wieser, the irresolvable quality of this process leads to a fluctuation between the denial of loss and its acceptance, and a correlative movement between genres. She views Nerval's poetry as the primary site of denial, and his prose as the privileged space for the acceptance of loss. Yet Wieser is far from simplistically binary in her reasoning here; she explores extensively the ways in which denial fails in the verse and resurfaces in poetic sections of the prose. Moreover, her premise that the Nervalian object of mourning has never really been known means that she also resists — just — a wild psychoanalysis of textual mourning in terms of the death of Nerval's real-life mother. Nevertheless, Wieser's incessant return to Nervalian images of the mother, especially in the first section of her book, suggests a considerable temptation to abandon the distinction between the textual self and the person who created it. Wieser eventually cedes to that temptation regarding a different textual detail. She reads the fragmentary nature of Aurélia as the result of impasses in the writer's unconscious, and her approach nears that presented by Julia Kristeva's reductive reading of 'El Desdichado' in Soleil noir. However, unlike Kristeva, Wieser fails to undertake any rigorous explanation of her choice of psychoanalytical terminology. Her introduction cites Freud's Mourning and Melancholia as a guide, but she does not discuss the differences between 'normal mourning' and melancholia outlined by Freud. This omission is particularly troubling in a book that takes one of those categories as its central concern, but whose more original and engrossing [End Page 403] sections include somewhat peripheral close readings of child imagery in Aurélia and dissidence in Les Faux-Saulniers. Indeed, the impact of such digressive sections troubles the thematic primacy of mourning in the book. Wieser's insistence on Nerval's unresolved attitude towards loss, meanwhile, might leave the reader wondering why she features mourning rather than melancholia in her title.

Alistair Swiffen
Hertford College, Oxford

Additional Information

ISSN
1468-2931
Print ISSN
0016-1128
Launched on MUSE
2007-01-10
Open Access
No
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