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Pencilingand ErasingMallarme"'s "Ballets" Evlyn Gould BETWEEN 1886 AND 1897, Stephane Mallarmd wrote a series of theatre reviews, newspaper articles later collected under the title Crayonn6 au th atre (Penciledat the Theatre), that have long been dismissed as more "frivolous" and less relevant to French letters than the poet's thoughtful "metaphysical" poetry. Today, however, by virtue of both the reading experience provided and the critical insights articulated, Mallarmd's prose continues to renew theoretical speculation about literary modernism. The open-ended significance of Mallarme's theatre reviews is not only acknowledged but repeatedly exploited almost casually for its attentive designation of the performative nature of reading and writing. Nonetheless, relatively little attention has been given to relations between the performative nature of Mallarme's essentially anti-representational prose and the performances-those actual representations-he reviewed in Crayonn . In another context, I coined the phrase "virtual theatre" to account, precisely, for the interrelation of these two kinds of performance. For a large part of the performing arts public, Mallarme remains what he has always been called, "difficult" or "obscure." Part of the problem is related to the supposed need for a particular kind of academic formation to understand why we cannot or should not clarify Mallarm6's obscurity. A greater part of the problem, however, is that of translation itself, a problem about which Mallarm6 continually mused, if indirectly. Indeed, the essays in Crayonng can be read as a series of inquiries into just what happens when one translates various theatrical genres and their "poetry" 97 into language and its poetry. From that collection, the essay "Ballets," composed in 1886, is translated here precisely because it forces a performance of the work of translation at the same time that it discusses that very performance. In this self-consciousness, this performance of its own potential meanings, the essay is representative of all of Mallarm6's "difficult " writing. However, its topical, circumstantial subject matter-the ballet The Two Pigeons and by extension, all ballets-makes it dangerously easy to glide through. The resulting difficulty within simplicity or, obscurity within clarity, makes of these essays a unique genre, both part of and yet separate from the daily theatre reviews increasingly popular in 19thcentury Paris. Before (or after) reading my translation of Mallarm6's essay "Ballets," therefore, a sense of the confusion as to who is really dancing may be in order. The essay reads, like many theatre reviews, fluidly and almost carelessly in a way that makes perfect sense to a mind accustomed to reading newspapers, that is, accustomed to singularizing meanings and narrativizing paragraphs on a daily basis. But the essay, like all of Mallarm6's writing, also comes complete with its own deconstructive voices to which one may choose to listen, carefully. The hidden mobility of these voices creates the choreographic allure of the essay by surrounding apparently singular images with the petals of only virtual blossoms, an imaginary corps de ballet encircling the stars; their poetry is only "heard" or "envisioned " as one reads. And as one reads, so many of Mallarm6's sentences dance on, puffing themselves up with relative clauses, that the relatives become more captivating than the sense of the whole they mobilize and detail in fractions, infinitely. This turns reading into translation, a continual exercise in penciling and erasing no different from what dancers do as they write in space. The essay "Ballets" engenders and replays this effort to translate by multiplying potential associations among words and by generating a constant confusing of subjects of discussion and their interlocutors. These potential associations and confusions approximate the imaginary representations or, what I call "virtual theatres," that accompany any attendance at a theatrical performance. What is unique about Mallarmd's essay is its reproduction of this virtual performance experience through the creation of potential echoes across the text that cause a reader to stop and think back or to jump over and start again. Let us look, for example, at one translation dilemma from "Ballets" that encompasses this experience. The expression "Enamords volatiles" refers, in the essay "Ballets," to the bird protagonists of the one ballet that occasions the poet's remarks, The Two Pigeons.In a...


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pp. 97-105
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