Theses Doctoral

Out of the Néant into the Everyday: A Rediscovery of Mallarmé's Poetics

Martin, Séverine

This dissertation, focusing on the Vers de circonstance, takes issue with traditional views on Stéphane Mallarmé's aesthetics and his positioning on the relation of art to society. Whereas Mallarmé has often been branded as an ivory-tower poet, invested solely in abstract ideals and removed from the masses, my research demonstrates his interest in concrete essences and the small events of the everyday. As such, the Vers de circonstance offer an exemplary entry point to understanding these poetic preoccupations as the poems of this collection are both characterized by their materiality and their celebration of ordinary festivities. Indeed, most of the poems either accompany or are directly written on objects that were offered as gifts on such occasions as birthdays, anniversaries or seasonal holidays. The omnipresence of objects and dates that can be referred back to real events displays Mallarmé's on-going questioning on the relation of art to reality. As I show, some of these interrogations rejoin the aesthetic preoccupations of the major artistic currents of the time, such as Impressionism in France and the Decorative Arts in England. These movements were defining new norms for the representation of reality in reaction to the changes of nineteenth century society. But as the genetic study of the Vers de circonstance reveals, along with the contextual framing and analysis of his other works, the occasional and the concept of the real play a fundamental role in his poetics at large. On the one hand, the aesthetic concept of the real allows him to draw the attention of his readers to the tension between the concreteness of reality with its elusiveness and ephemerality. On the other hand, the occasional is a way for Mallarmé to humanize the otherwise anonymous and impersonal quality of print. In an epoch when reality became mechanically reproducible and the distance between an author and its readers became increasingly distant and diffuse, the questions posed by Mallarmé on the relation of art to real objects, people and events were fundamental. As I conclude, therefore, the use of widely accessible quotidian objects, the mise en abyme of the visuality of writing, and Mallarmé's programmatic note to the reader to emulate his poetic project, all combine to validate his postulation of a new poetic art turned towards the everyday and his contemporaries.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
French and Romance Philology
Thesis Advisors
Ladenson, Elisabeth
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
December 6, 2013