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A Poetics of Summing-up and Making-away-with: Michel Deguy and Stéphane Mallarmé Christopher Elson [...] the poetic grasp of things implies a double refusal: of identification (of the type: "men are beasts"); and of analogy, which would expel us from this world. It awakens us to the hearing of die like-or-as, and so to paradoxicalization, to the is-and-is-not; and attaches itself to the operation (work, art) which transforms, which allows its figurants to rise up in the world, making differences flourish in "correspondences."' FOR THE CONTEMPORARY POET and theorist of poetry Michel Deguy the work of Stéphane Mallarmé stands in the rarest company. Implicitly situating himself and his own poetics of vigilance in the "guard-post where language keeps watch on itself," Deguy observes from that vantage point a source, ever-modern, toward which certain great poetic œuvres point: Modern would be the movement of going back down, fully awake, to that source: the place where there is no longer an "avant-garde" but Dante or Hopkins, Mallarmé or Petrarch; the place where prose is not yet different from poetry, or poetry from thought, nor the spoken word from the written word.2 There is no nostalgia here: for Deguy the grand indivision of great works—a term which he takes from the French Civil Code and which he characteristically dilates and manipulates for poetic ends—is a wellspring, even to the extreme-contemporary.' Among nineteenth-century poets admired, quoted or studied by Michel Deguy, Mallarmé is not the most frequently cited. That distinction would go rather to Charles Baudelaire. One thinks of such essays as "Esthétique de Baudelaire," "Le Corps de Jeanne," "L'infini et sa diction," '"Pour piquer dans le but, de mystique nature' (Que faisons-nous parlant de Baudelaire?)," to name but four important texts." One thinks also of innumerable references to "la profondeur de la vie," "le spectacle si ordinaire qui soit," "un diminutif de l'infini," "le monde va finir," "réversibilité," etc. Deguy is thoroughgoingly Baudelairean. Yet, he is no less steeped in the very specific richness of the Mallarméan corpus. Erudition, sensibility and long practice have produced a familiarity and an intuition, an understanding and an appreciation of the work, which make of Deguy a major reader of Mallarmé and a noteworthy inheritor within the difficult and in many respects inhospitable tradition founded by the sin86 Fall 2000 Elson gularly rigorous Mallarmé. Deguy was honoured with the eminently pertinent Prix Mallarmé in 1985, and the distinguished American Mallarmé scholar Robert Greer Cohn has expressed a view, shared by others, that Deguy may well be "the closest to Mallarmé in our era." He makes this observation all the more significant by singling out Deguy from a list that also contains such formidable "Mallarméans" as Ponge, Butor, Boulez, Bonnefoy, Emmanuel, Sarraute and Robbe-Grillet.5 The influence of Mallarmé can be felt from the very outset of Deguy's poetic career. Fragment du Cadastre with its very Rimbaldian search for a harmony between the "site" and the "formula" also integrates Mallarméan reflections on presence and absence into the emerging poetics of the earth that Deguy will come to call a "geopoetics."6 Even a non-exhaustive search of Deguy's work in its twin dimensions—poetic and critical—turns up a multiplicity of citations and quasi-citations, as well as the occasional gem like "T'introduire dans mon histoire," where the famous incipit of Mallarmé's sonnet is utilized to further Deguy's reflection on desire in Arrêts fréquents.1 A quick list of quotations and themes from Mallarmé found in a single volume by Deguy (Aux heures d'affluence) includes "l'estampe originelle" (35), "l'idée suave" (35), "musicalement se lève" (17), "le mot total refait" (18), le "retranchement" (31), "Rien" (136), "sur fond de néant nous dansons" (152), "A la nue accablante tu" (161), and "comme Mallarmé et l'opéra" (199). On the critical side of Deguy's publications, the first essay explicitly devoted to Mallarmé is "Jalons de lecture de Mallarmé," published in 1971 in a small, now-defunct review.8 In the present...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1931-0234
Print ISSN
0014-0767
Pages
pp. 86-96
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-24
Open Access
No
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