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Mallarmé at the Movies Felicia McCarren IN ATEXT THAT SERVES AS A KIND OF DRAFT for "Sur Le Théâtre," a letter to Verlaine published in the Pléiade edition as "Autobiographie" (dated November 16,1885), Mallarmé describes the project of "the Book" without using the word theater, but in the same terms that he will later put under the rubric of Theater: [...] j'ai toujours rêvé et tenté autre chose, avec une patience d'alchimiste, prêt à y sacrifier toute vanité et toute satisfaction [...]. Quoi? c'est difficile à dire: un livre, tout bonnement, en maints tomes, un livre qui soit un livre, architectural et prémédité, et non un recueil des inspirations de hasard fusent-elles merveilleuses... J'irai plus loin, je dirai: le Livre, persuadé qu'au fond il n'y en a qu'un, tenté à son insu par quiconque a écrit, même les Génies. L'explication orphique de la Terre, qui est le seul devoir du poète et le jeu littéraire par excellence: car le rythme même du livre, alors impersonnel et vivant, jusque dans sa pagination, se juxtapose aux équations de ce rêve, ou Ode.1 In this well-known exposition, the Book's three characteristics are that 1) it is a volume, 2) it has rhythm, and 3) it is unrealizable, or that it could be realized only partly, in fragments, or by "je ne sais qui." There is no mention of theater at all, except perhaps in the orchestral musicality that will make possible an Orphic explanation of the earth. Absent from this formulation of the project in the mid-1880s, theater will become another name for this project by the mid-90s. I have suggested elsewhere that Mallarmé's encounter with one theater of his time, the dance performance of Loie Fuller, helped to shape this vision of theater in its relation to Literature; in this article, I will suggest that another way that "theater" enters into the equation is through another revolution in the theater of his time, the coming-into-being of cinema.2 I had never before imagined Mallarmé at the movies, but now I am sure he went. The questions that theater raised for him—questions of spectating, and (with dance) musical silence (or voicelessness)—would be raised by early silent cinema. Watching dance performance, Mallarmé describes it provoking a pleasurable anxiety in the viewer, a "desire, or contradictory fear, of seeing too much and not enough." The pleasure and torture that the Théâtre provokes —like the literary project—bring sharply together elements whose interconnection will be fundamental to two disciplines founded in the 1890s, the same decade that "Sur le Théâtre" is published. Both psychoanalysis and Vol. XL, No. 3 25 L'Esprit Créateur cinema, both reputedly "born" in 1895, will engage with and stage the pleasure and torture Mallarmé associates with his isolating literary project. But to understand how cinema works on Mallarmé through its combination of text and image, movement and musical silence, public and private spectatorship, we have to begin with still images and with print. The autobiography written to Verlaine announces Mallarmé's distaste for picture books, or albums, "ce mot condamnatoire d'Album" (663), which is what other people who undertake simpler projects make. No matter what minor successes they may have, "c'est bien juste s'ils composent un album, mais pas un livre." In a text published with "Réponses à des Enquêtes" dating from 1898, Mallarm é explains further that he is against illustrated books, but makes a striking prediction about the cinema. Sur Le Livre Illustré (dated January 1898, Mercure de France) Je suis pour—aucune illustration, tout ce qu'évoque un livre devant se passer dans l'esprit du lecteur: mais, si vous remplacez la photographie, que n'allez-vous droit au cinématographe, dont le déroulement remplacera, images et texte, maint volume, avantageusement. (878) Although he is against illustrated books, Mallarmé believes that the cinema's merging of text and image will sooner or later replace volumes, and although there may be a bit of a bite in that "avantageusement"—that is, to whose advantage will...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 25-38
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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