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I Mallarmé Here and Now Mary Ann Caws WANT TO BEGIN WITH ONE EPIGRAPH and one allegorical tale. Each as true as the other, and as deeply gestural. The Epigraph—John Cage's "Lecture on Nothing" starts off like this: —I am here, and there is nothing to say. If among you are those who wish to get somewhere, let them leave at any moment I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry as I need it This space of time is organized We need not fear these silences, —we may love them In each of our texts and performances, you will hear silence, if you know how to listen for it. It may sometimes take the simpler form of ellipsis, and sometimes is marked by the form of a digression. It is also, of course, about what Cage calls "Composition as Process." Nothing could be more Mallarmé than that (Cage 18-57). I'll get back to nothing. The Allegory—When Mallarmé has finished preparing Un Coup de dés. he shows it to his truest disciple and waits. Paul Valéry is witness to Mallarm é's great discovery. Tears in his eyes, he looks at the sheets Mallarmé hands to him, and he sees. Digression On Weeping— One of the simplest ideas we get is the one we get when someone is weeping. Duchamp was in a rocking chair. I was weeping. Years later but in the same part of town and for more or less the same reason, Rauschenberg was weeping. (Cage, 107) When Valéry walks back to the train station with Mallarmé, he looks up at the summer sky, and later writes of the experience: "Where Kant, perhaps naively, thought he saw the Categorical Imperative of a poetry, a Poetics ... [Mallarmé] tried, I thought, finally to raise one page to the power of the starry sky."2 Losing, Giving, and Meaning—I want to look at what Mallarmé meant to some others, and, by extension, has meant to us. What is it about Mallarmé that we still find so riveting? No one else has lasted this well in French liter 6 Fall 2000 Caws ature, it seems to me, except perhaps Montaigne and certainly Proust. He feels modern beyond our wildest imagination; what he gives us is everything that comes after him. That's more or less what I want to show, what he gives us— from his time to ours. What is giving?—We know from Marcel Mauss and Lewis Hyde after him about the gift that has to circulate. Mallarmé is the great Ur-Giver in that sense, and his offspring know, in their turn, how to use that original act. John Cage knows, and knows how to recognize such a circular giving. Here he is on Robert Rauschenberg: Having made the empty canvases (A canvas is never empty), Rauschenberg became the giver of gifts. Gifts, unexpected and unnecessary, are ways of saying Yes to how it is, a holiday. What is given is, at its best, a thing "we already have." (103) Now part of the excitement is loss. We know that Mallarmé's great piece on the impressionists and Manet was lost in the original—like some Derridean move, it means that we got back doubly what we had singly lost. There are two translations of what was lost, wildly different... Befriending—But my interest in Mallarmé goes around the house where we continue to see him in conversation with Manet and Méry, around to find him in his close association with that other early symbolist, the impossibly arrogant, remarkably touching, delightfully impossible Scottish American genius James Abbott McNeill Whistler: "my son the painter, Jimmy," said Whistler's mother. And he of his portrait of her: "Well, you want your mummie to look nice." Mallarmé sponsored, cared about, nurtured, corresponded with, flattered, and loved this improbable friend, whose great lecture called "The Ten O'Clock" he so memorably translated for the French. Theirs was one of the great friendships of the art world, and brought out the best in both as they, in a sense, translated and resembled each other. Let me single out...


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