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  • Donner sa langue aux bêtes: poétique et animalité de Baudelaire à Valéry par Julien Weber
  • Insook Webber
Donner sa langue aux bêtes: poétique et animalité de Baudelaire à Valéry. Par Julien Weber. (Confluences, 2.) Paris: Classiques Garnier, 2018. 166 pp.

Challenging the most common literary representations of the figure of the animal through the twentieth century, this excellent study by Julien Weber seeks to (re-)interpret the place of the animal in the post-Romantic and modernist poetics of four authors: Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Flaubert, and Valéry. The book’s principal argument — that the animal is a radical other that exceeds human representation — is largely articulated through Derrida and Rancière’s notions of excès and trace. These concepts provide a theoretical support to question the Aristotelian and Cartesian dualism that has been used to justify the superiority of the man of logos over the animal of reactive instincts. In Chapter 1, going beyond the common interpretation of the stray dogs as quotidian comic heroes in the poem ‘Les Bons Chiens’ by Baudelaire, the author discerns an analogy between the activities of stray dogs and the poet’s own (post-auratic) poetic practice, or a ‘poétique du recyclage’ (p. 32), which has the effect of de-hierarchizing the poet’s and the dogs’ activities as gathering, recycling, and reading the rejects — or traces — of the city. In Chapter 2, which is centred on ‘Un spectacle interrompu’, a prose poem by Mallarmé, the author posits that for the poem’s narrator, the bear that interrupts the spectacle by his unprogrammed gestures not only undermines the certainty of man’s superiority over the animal, but that the unexpected gestures are also ‘un signe indéchiffrable’ that disrupts the spectacle to its core (p. 60). The poem, unlike a simple reportage of a fait divers, exposes a fault in the logic of representation that does not account for such a sign or disruptive trace. The third chapter examines the translation of Poe’s poem, ‘The Raven’, by Mallarmé, in order to foreground the poet’s discovery of language’s resistance to translation, not dissimilar to the way the animal resists and exceeds the Romantic-symbolic roles attributed to it by man. The study in Chapter 4, of ‘La Légende de Saint-Julien l’Hospitalier’ by Flaubert, provides the author a further occasion to explore the porosity of the human–animal divide. Most audaciously, Weber envisages the protagonist’s murderous hunting practice as mirroring the Flaubertian narrator’s aesthetic ideal of stylet or art for art (p. 118) before they are both interrupted, so to speak, by the animal, which provokes the emergence of a ‘poétique de la trace’ (p. 101), supplanting the before-the-interruption aesthetic ideal. The concluding chapter offers an intriguing analysis of ‘Ébauche d’un serpent’ by Valéry. The author shows the subtle process by which the poet transforms the biblical trope of the evil or guileful serpent, into the initiator of man, into poetic language. This process implicitly subverts the Cartesian subject of logos in favour of a hybrid subjectivity, or ‘un animalpoète’ (p. 151), incorporating the trace of the animal. This study is particularly timely in this age of Anthropocene, and it is also an immensely pleasurable read, which unfolds like an intricate, well-structured origami. [End Page 475]

Insook Webber
Washington State University


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