A commentary on Mallarme’s ‘crisis in poetry’

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What is Mallarme referring to when he speaks of the “supreme” language that is lacking among the many that already exist? If thinking is to write without accessories—to use language to express, or narrate a ‘thought’ that falls short from describing what it aims to describe, then what and how does the unspoken ‘immortal word’ that Mallarme writes about reveal itself? Why is ‘truth itself in its substance’ unattainable? Why is language limited? By means of these questions I sense the immortal word fleeting, disintegrating into the appropriating terms that I’ve used in writing these questions. I am limited to a set of conventions and definitions that are inadequate for the topic—they restrain me from speaking of the ‘eternal’ for example. By invoking the word, I’ve evoked an idea that cannot be grasped by the transitory words that define it. The Oxford English dictionary definition of ‘eternal’ is ‘adj. infinite in past and future duration; without beginning or end; that always has existed and always will exist: esp. of the Divine being.” The word ‘eternal’ is a gateway to other words that allude to a concept which is not intuitive, or understood when ‘read’—the understanding is illusive since the word itself is tacit. To say these words are eternal does not make them eternal. This chasm between representation and reality is in line with Huysmans’ descriptions of Des Esseintes—a character that is lost in the sphere of representation and to whom reality is a mere backdrop for the other worldly. This ‘otherworldliness’ exemplified in the symbolist ‘apparition’ and the decadent ‘against nature’—points to a certain duality between thought and matter that extends to the flesh. Flesh is not all there is in the human experience—the cold and hostile reality that envelops matter is sustained by the spirit—Ideas, for both symbolism and decadence, are independent of matter and often ineffable.

Mallarme also alludes to the idea that verse exists in the gap between what is meant and what is written—poetry adds to language the evocative element that is often lacking. The everlasting Azure’s tranquil irony/ Depresses, like the flowers indolently fair,/ the powerless poet who damns his superiority/ Across a sterile wilderness of aching Despair. Mallarme clashes words together and grants them mobility. Flowers that are indolently fair depress the poet— flowers have acquired a disposition, they acquire human qualities through the substantive adjective that describes them, and as such, flowers become slothfully just. The poet is helpless when he faces this truth—he damns language for restricting his ability to describe what lies beyond representation and for limiting what he knows lurks beneath what he writes. If we refer back to Huysmans’ Des Esseintes, poetry is a vessel which he uses to evoke and ignite his wandering imagination—the reader of poetry is the receptor of a poet’s evocations, and as such, poetry revives Des Esseintes’ mundane reality. What one gleams from this connection is a complimentary relation between symbolism and decadence that paves the way to the limits of language and matter.

“I say: a flower! and outside the oblivion to which my voice relegates any shape, insofar as it is something other than the calyx, there arises musically, as the very idea and delicate, the one absent from every bouquet.” (76)

Is the delicate idea that is absent from every bouquet also absent from every word that describes flowers? Poetry, at least as seen by Mallarme, gyrates around the immortal word—poetry is saliva that foams and engulfs a tongue that does not move. If this immobile tongue, a supreme language that is not, were to click, it would unveil the pure notion of flowers that is absent from language. Poetry suggests the pure notion without indicating its absence- poetry is the moisture of the tongue that keeps it alive despite its immobility.

Many of the questions raised in this short text have gone unanswered, at least directly, for to answer any question directly would imply marring the revelations they bring forth. I have opened doors to uncertain observations in the honest attempt of demonstrating, at least implicitly, how conceptualizing obscures the concepts it aims to understand. Poetry however resides in the lyrical in-betweens of that which can’t be said and the rest.

 

Zemblan

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