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"L'Après-midi d'un faune": Towards the Total Work of Art* Anthony Zielonka MALLARMÉ'S POEM "L'APRÈS-MIDI D'UN FAUNE" continues to stand as a monument to poetic ambiguity. It resists all interpretations , analyses, and readings that attempt to identify its sources, allusions, or even themes, or to clarify "what really happened."' Reading the poem once again, after examining many of the persuasive and well-informed attempts that have been made to explicate it or aspects of it, one is simply struck by the fact that such interpretations all fall short of clarifying the atmosphere and events depicted in it or re-creating the experience of reading the text itself. Mysterious, yet more fascinating and intriguing at each new reading, the poem simply is, its profusion of ambiguities held in check by the framework of its supple yet perfectly honed rhyming Alexandrine couplets. Over 100 years ago, in 1894, Claude Debussy completed the work that was inspired by Mallarmé's most famous poem, the Prélude à Γ après-midi d'un faune, which was to become his most popular orchestral work. Eighteen years after its première, Vaslav Nijinsky was to create and choreograph a ballet to Debussy's musical score, with sets and costumes by Léon Bakst, which he performed in Paris and, subsequently, all over Europe and the United States, with Diaghilev 's Ballets Russes. Its succès de scandale in 1912 ensured the dancer's lasting glory and legendary status in the history of ballet. A masterpiece of poetic ambiguity thus inspired masterpieces in at least two other art-forms, music and dance, to which one might add the further triumphs of the sets and costume designs by Bakst and the photographs of the production that were taken by Adolph de Meyer and published in the form of a luxurious album in 1914. Here, then, is a preeminent example of "la correspondance entre les arts," that well-known Symbolist preoccupation. Each aspect of this cultural phenomenon—poem, orchestral prelude, and ballet—has been the subject of considerable scholarship and documentation. What I wish to do here is to bring some of these elements together and to show how privileged a position is occupied by Mallarmé's poem and by the works it inspired in the overall development of modern art-forms. This will lead us to ask what, I believe, is an important question which has still not been fully answered: what was it about this well-known yet infinitely enigmatic text that prompted such breadth and such an intensity of artistic innovation? 14 Fall 2000 Zielonka We know that the definitive text of the poem, the one that was published by Alphonse Derenne, in 1876, in the form of a booklet or "plaquette," with four hand-tinted line drawings by Edouard Manet, was preceded by at least three earlier drafts or versions, which were all conceived as dramatic works rather than simply as poems.2 Interestingly, the final version retains some of the aspects of a dramatic monologue, with its initial capitalized mention of "LE FAUNE," the implication of this being that what follows is a speech by the Faun, who begins by announcing his intention in the first line: "Ces nymphes, je les veux perpétuer," and who formally takes his leave when his speech comes to an end: "Couple, adieu; je vais voir l'ombre que tu devins.'" Mallarmé's Correspondance clearly shows that the "eclogue" was first conceived as a dramatic work. He wrote to Henri Cazalis in the summer of 1865: J'ai laissé Hérodiade pour les cruels hivers: cette œuvre solitaire m'avait stérilisé et, dans l'intervalle, je rime un intermède héroïque, dont le héros est un Faune. Ce poème renferme une très haute et belle idée, mais les vers sont terriblement difficiles à faire, car je le fais absolument scénique, non possible au théâtre, mais exigeant le théâtre. Et cependant, je veux conserver toute la poésie de mes œuvres lyriques, mon vers même que j'adapte au drame. Quand tu viendras, je crois que tu seras heureux: l'idée...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 14-24
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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