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Borrowing Mallarmé Serge Gavronsky IBEFORE THE TEXT: THE TITLE(S)-The question I would like to • raise in this essay may become clearer as an amplification of the title I have selected: "Borrowing Mallarmé," which might also include the following options as a continuous title or as a series of sub-titles: "Burrowing Mallarmé," or "Burying Mallarmé" or, finally, "Un Tombeau pour Stéphane Mallarmé." The progression of these titles suggests the translational mode of reading, ingesting, and making the other one's own, or as Ariel sings it (The Tempest, I, ii, 396-401): Full fathom five thy father lies; Of his bones are coral made; Those are pearls that were his eyes: Nothing of him that doth fade. But doth suffer a sea-change Into something rich and strange. It doesn't take a Freudian to acknowledge at least some of the implications in that song, which, in fact, apply quite nicely to the text in point: the way the American poet Louis Zukofsky, founder of the Objectivist School in the 1930s, discovered Mallarmé and not only rode with him for a long while but eventually made him suffer a "sea-change" before turning Mallarmé into "something rich and strange." In fact so rich that, going beyond what we normally understand as translation, he reconceived the source: metonym, theory, poetry and critical works on the poet himself as well as existing American translations. Zukofsky will shape his poetics out of what we refer to, in quotes, as "Mallarmé." This is not to imply that such an operation is in any way a practice out of the ordinary. If we take painting as a parallel illustration, then it is obvious that Delacroix picked on Rubens, and that Picasso revisited Delacroix's Les femmes d'Alger. During the past 30 years the assumption, now flagging, was absolutely clear: no text existed unto itself and, as a matter of fact, whether one called it translation or intertextuality, both the writing and the reading of a text incorporated other texts. No text ever stood alone with the possible exception of the one which came from the country of Ur. 72 Fall 2000 Gavronsky Now Louis Zukofsky had as a dear friend Ezra Pound, or as Paul Zukofsky called him, uncle Ez, and the examples then become all the clearer: Pound's Cantos inscribe themselves in a long line of songs or chants. Pound himself readily admits this when he indirectly introduces the Odyssey in Canto I and Dante in Canto VII, as Dante himself had introduced Virgil in Canto I of the Inferno: "Art thou then that Virgil that fountain which pours forth so rich a stream of speech?"1 I shall not belabor the theme: whether we remember Racine's Seneca or Molière 's Roman precursors, John Ashbery's Parmigianino in Reflections in a Convex Mirror or Francis Ponge's Pour un Malherbe, the practice is an unending one, however wrapped in concealment or seen with the naked eye. II. Learning Mallarmé—When does a budding New York City poet, the first bom in the U.S. (in 1904) of Russian Jewish parents, who thereafter becomes a brilliant student at Columbia College, graduating at the age of 20, discover Mallarmé? I might hypothesize that the first serious encounter may have come via Arthur Symons's Symbolist Movement in Literature (1899) which so directly influenced T. S. Eliot. Or could it have been in a Columbia College classroom? What is clear is that Mallarmé finds his place in part two of a four-part article on The Writing of Guillaume Apollinaire, which appears in the 1934 Spring and Winter issues of the Westminster Review. There Zukofsky alludes to the tradition of absent punctuation in Apollinaire's poems, which he assigns to Mallarmé himself. If that mention is nearly parenthetical, decades later, in the first edition of Bottom: On Shakespeare,2 Zukofsky composes his own mini-anthology of French poetry, ranging from Malherbe through Genet, with fragments of five Mallarmé poems, all in French, which include Le Pitre châtié (with an allusion to Hamlet), Don du poème, L'après-midi d'un Faune (a one liner!), Prose, and Feuillet...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 72-85
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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