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Nineteenth Century French Studies 33.3&4 (2005) 400-402

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Grossman, Kathryn M., Michael E. Lane, Bénédicte Monicat, and Willa Z. Silver-man, eds. Confrontations: Politics and Aesthetics in Nineteenth-Century France. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2001. Pp. 311. ISBN 90-420-1304-4

Confrontations is a collection of essays that takes its theme from the 1998 Nineteenth-Century French Studies Conference "J'Accuse…!: Offensive Moves, Defensive Modes" held at Pennsylvania State University. Any one who has attended an ncfs conference is well aware of the richness and diversity of the sessions it inspires. Confrontations is at once a document of and a monument to the range of thought inspired by the "J'Accuse…!" conference.

The editors of Confrontations have organized their work around three distinct but interrelated aspects of nineteenth-century confrontations. The first section of the book is entitled "Negotiating Texts," and it opens with T. J. Farrant's essay on a "negotiation" in which the animal metaphors of Balzac's Avant-Propos for La Comédie humaine confront the author's own carnavalesque contributions to Pierre-Jules Hetzel's Scènes de la vie privée des animaux. Barbey d'Aurevilly's writing of [End Page 400] the "dandy comme danger" is the object of the next study, where Anne Frémiot analyzes this figure's role as a poison that infects and destabilizes the nineteenth-century ideology of purity. Philippe Met then takes the example of Mérimée's La Guzla, an apocryphal translation of "poésie illyriques," to show how translation, both real and simulated, reflects the rise of the fantastic and Romanticism's struggle with new and menacing epistemological frameworks. Armine Kotin Mortimer's contribution pits meaning against itself in a reading of several key texts where ambiguity, ellipsis, and even omission draw us toward the secret places of literature's hidden self. Aline Mura-Brunel also takes on the "non-dit," which reaches such "scandalous" proportions in Stendhal and Balzac that the liseuse is written into the text as a challenge not simply to fill in the gaps but to "imaginer le livre manquant." Things lost and then recovered are also the object of Timothy Raser's reading of Proust, where not Time but Art – specifically a worn and crumbling figure on the façade of the Rouen cathedral – is twice reborn, once in John Ruskin's preface to La Bible d'Amiens and again in the act of reading where resurrection is wrested from the critical judgment that would mean art's death. The tables turn again in Michael J. Tilby's study of the means by which Jules Janin's "intentionally unreadable" writings of the late 1820s gesture not towards the salvation of the Charles x's decaying regime but, though a discrete "idiom of contestation," toward its dissolution.

The second part of Confrontations, "Violence, Defiance, Audaces," opens with Owen Heathcote's keen reading of violence, gender, and "male hysteria" in Balzac's Un Début dans la vie. Next, the dandy returns in a new guise as Garrett R. Heysel examines the ways Jean Lorrain weaves figures of fashion into texts where decadence confronts society and where clothes make not only the man but also the story. David Powell's musical reading of Mallarmé's line "La Pénultième est morte" is an eloquent argument that these words offer not an obfuscation of meaning but rather an affirmation of poetic expression beyond the realm of explication. Debarati Sanyal then draws on Walter Benjamin and Baudelaire's "Une Martyre" to disclose the means by which this poem's treatment of mutilation and dismemberment are embedded into the fabric of nineteenth-century aesthetic and nascent consumerism. We move next from disintegration to fusion, albeit deferred, as Juliet A. Simpson exposes Paul Fort's Théâtre d'art and its incorporation of painting, especially that inspired by Gauguin, into the quest to attain a synaesthetic realization of Wagnerian "Total Art." Gayle Zachmann concludes this section with an examination of Symbolism's relation to the other arts, here the constellation...


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