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  • Le Double Discours de Mallarmé: une initiation à la fiction by Annick Ettlin
  • Helen Abbott
Le Double Discours de Mallarmé: une initiation à la fiction. Par Annick Ettlin. (Theoria incognita.) Paris: Ithaque, 2017. 352 pp.

How can we read Mallarmé from the perspective of the twenty-first century? Exploring parallels with contemporary crises concerning literary value, Annick Ettlin calls into question some of the common critical tropes that have emerged around Mallarmé as a poet of crisis, ultimately revealing how an over-emphasis on a literary 'crisis-mode' has distorted our ability to read Mallarmé as a poet whose literary craft remains fully embedded in everyday life. Echoing Rancière's view of Mallarmé as a writer who experienced the constant need to negotiate between art and life, Ettlin also draws on field-defining work by Bertrand Marchal and Roger Pearson, while placing Mallarmé-the-poet back at the centre of the argument. Examining both the writer and his work, this book humanizes Mallarmé's writing by showing off his more playful side. The (over-)emphasis on the primacy of the Mallarméan text, and its concomitant suppression of the text's author, may seem to be authorized through statements made by the poet himself. In fact, Ettlin reveals how a critical predilection for the concept of 'la mort de l'auteur' between the 1960s and 1980s has led generations of Mallarmé readers to gloss over Mallarmé's more ludic and ironic formulations, already evident in his youthful writings: 'Ainsi le poète "impersonnel" des lettres de jeunesse n'est-il rien d'autre que la figuration d'un "je" réel' (p. 89; original emphasis). Ettlin demonstrates how the tendency to view Mallarmé as a poet who has two distinct phases to his career — a 'before' and 'after' in relation to his personal crisis in the late 1860s (known as the 'crise de Tournon') — misrepresents the poet's consistent attempts throughout his career to unfurl the secrets of literary fiction (p. 203). While Ettlin does not examine all of the poet's writings, such as his attempts to produce a fashion magazine during the 1870s, it is clear that any notional gaps in coverage are because Ettlin has opted to focus on detailed rereadings of significant key texts, such as the 1894 Oxford and Cambridge lecture on La Musique et les lettres, and Crise de vers compiled during the 1890s, or his longer-form poems Hérodiade and L'Après-midi d'un faune (both of which Mallarmé began drafting in 1865, and which he revised on repeated occasions). In so doing, Ettlin redirects our attention to aspects of Mallarmé's work that, in [End Page 618] her analysis, have been overlooked or sidelined in favour of a conception of the poet as unique producer of a negative poetics. This book's attempts to rehabilitate Mallarmé and his legacy certainly go some way towards enabling scholars to re-evaluate their critical habits, such that we might be discouraged from relying on the soundbites that are so often repeated around his work, whether it is 'le double état de la parole' or 'la disparition élocutoire du poète' from Crise de vers. In sum, Ettlin's dexterity is in handling Mallarmé's poetics through a lens that resolutely seeks to revalorize his writing for the common good by showing him to be a 'défenseur passionné de la littérature' (p. 33).

Helen Abbott
University of Birmingham


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pp. 618-619
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