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Frameworks for Mallarmé's Photo-Graphics Gayle Zachmann Dans V oubli fermé par le cadre, se fixe De scintillations...1 IN HIS 1896 "LE MYSTÈRE DANS LES LETTRES," Mallarmé states that one should be "oublieuse même du titre qui parlerait trop haut" (OC 387). Although my title for this essay is one that Mallarmé might have classed among the too resounding, each of its reciprocally reflecting terms highlights the pivotal points of my discussion of his aesthetic. "Frameworks" refers at once to myriad frames of aesthetic and epistemological reference informing Mallarmé's theory and practice, to the role of the pictorial arts and, finally, to a complex process of framing and cadrage as graphic aspects of Mallarmé's texts.2 Although the term "Photo-Graphics" in my title alludes to the advent of photography and the impact such technology and scientific advances subtending its development may have had on aesthetic discourses and particularly discussions of mimesis, the "photo" and the "graphic" refer primarily to Mallarmé's verbal exploitation of analogies with light and graphics and the various levels on which such "aspects" may function in his texts.3 During the latter half of the nineteenth century, attempts to apply scientific methods of analysis to literary criticism and creation became common currency.4 While Mallarmé is not typically associated with scientific method, and Mallarmé studies are characterized by over-generalized assertions that link the poet to a symbolist rejection of positivism, scientific thought and method, his aesthetics, on the contrary, attest to a progressive recuperation of the scientific gaze that was all-pervasive as a cultural discourse of his time. This applies not only to how his early "Notes" and texts interrogate the generative operations of image creation and artistic conception.5 It also evokes a career-long study of the creative product and processes as a system of autonomous elements that incessantly interact with one another. What I call Mallarmé's "photo-graphics" suggests just such a game of constant motion and reflection, a kinetic "play" that analogizes and reenacts his underlying conception of the logic of psychic and textual image production. Photo-Graphic Figures in the Work of Mallarmé—The plethora of mirrors in Mallarmé's œuvre exhibits his intense interest in subjective experience examined as exteriorized reflection. This reflection exposes a series of analoVol . XL, No. 3 39 L'Esprit Créateur gies between subjective phenomena and the functioning of light spectra: thought, likened to waves of light reflected in a mirror, returns to the observing subject as an object whose distribution is observable. Strikingly similar to the product of photography, which offers a graphic re-presentation of photic phenomena, this alienated vision of subjective experience provides a model of image conception and perception that is analogically applied to textual creation and reception. Privileging animation, the following passage from "Le Mystère dans les lettres" uses allusions to visual phenomena to illustrate the functioning of words and the mystery of his own art. The text's analogy with optical perception insists that words trigger a slide-like spectacle of animated light that comneme -orates effects of the verbal signifying event in the theater-like "cave" of the mind: —Les Mots, d'eux-mêmes, s'exaltent à mainte facette reconnue la plus rare ou valant pour l'esprit, centre de suspens vibratoire; qui les perçoit indépendamment de la suite ordinaire, projetés, en parois de grotte, tant que dure leur mobilité ou principe [...] prompts tous, avant extinction, à une réciprocité de feux distante. (OC 386) Mallarmé clearly states that the functioning of words analogically replicates a model of image perception and cognitive functioning that differs from those associated with conventional narrative arrangement—"la suite ordinaire." The multiple reflections and refracting facets of his mobile words are registered by "l'esprit"; the mind is thus a center of non-linear "vibratory suspense." Prior to synthesis, this center perceives these fragments (the facets of words) independently of rationalized, temporal order. Here, Mallarmé shares with the reader three major epistemological figures that inform his understanding of psychic and textual image production: 1 ) a mechanistic conception of cognitive processing based on fragmentation and mobility; 2) a vision of verbal...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 39-49
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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