Total Pageviews

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

side show act, interrupted

We all work to one effect, some willingly, and with a rational
apprehension of what we do: others without any such knowledge.
As I think Heraclitus in a place speaketh of them that sleep,
that even they do work in their kind, and do confer to the general
operations of the world. One man therefore doth co-operate after
one sort, and another after another sort; but even he that doth murmur,
and to his power doth resist and hinder; even he as much as any
doth co-operate. – Marcus Aurelius

LI was going to directly plow into our Barthes quote – in the post before the last post – to suss out this “immanence” and the strangely intimate world of the news as it is sliced, diced, produced, and repeated on the tv news broadcast that forms the basis for your average American householder’s feel for the world outside of the perimeter. And also the world at the urban center, the fear of the black planet world. Our idea is that the ‘idiocy’ at play in the defense of the Iraq war as something that could best be described in terms of American crime – and not any old American crime, but the crime associated with black metropoles – is a kiss away from the forms and figures of the newscast, from the mentality shaped by those news casts.

But then we said to ourselves: what’s with the fuckin’ directness, LI? Don’t you always say, by indirection I will find direction out? Or something like that, you mumbly old prick? LI likes to diversify meetings of the editorial board with a little insult, to break up the monotony of there being only one editor. I’m cracking myself up here, folks. I’ll be in Omaha on the 5th, and then a two week engagement at the Bismark, North Dakota Holiday Inn with the Dakota Polka Nation. …

Instead, I’m going to cut from Barthes to Mallarme. There’s a cut for ya. Mallarme was fascinated by the fait divers, which was blooming in the late and degenerate last decade of the farce Napoleon. The ‘interrupted side show’, as I am going to translate the following piece of prose, figures in his final collection, Divagations, subsumed under the title of Grands faits divers. Translating Mallarme is a classic mug’s game. It can’t be done, it destroys the destruction wrought on the French language in the French – for like any good modernist prose, Mallarme’s works by wrecking. How, for instance, to reproduce Mallarme’ habitual inversion of the order of anaphora, so that the “this” referred to comes after its anaphoric marking. Like I am supposed to know what this would sound like in English! I’m a babbler here meself. But I found this piece to have, a, on odd match with the line from Marcus Aurelius, and b., something to do with the notion of the brief, intense episode that catches fire with its own elements and burns itself out.

An interrupted side show act.
How far is civilization from procuring the joys attributable to that estate! One has to be astonished, for example, that there does not exist an association between dreamers sojourning in every great city to support a newspaper which would take note of events in the proper light of the dream. Reality is an artifice, made for sticking the middle intellect between the mirages of a fact; but it reposes for that very reason on some universal entente: let’s see if it is not, in the ideal, a necessary aspect, evident, simple, which serves the type. I wish, for myself alone, to write as it struck my poet’s gaze, an anecdote in the state it was in before reporters divulged it to the crowds prepared to assign to each thing its common character.
The little theater of PRODIGALITES adds to the exhibition of a living cousin of Atta Troll or of Martin its classic fairy pantomime the Beast and the Genie; I have, in order to recognize the invitation of a double ticket some ending up yesterday at my place, posed my hat in the vacant auditorium in the seat next to me, an absence of friends testifying to the general taste for avoiding this naïve spectacle. What happens before my eyes? Nothing, save that: from amidst the evasive palenesses of muslin finding shelter on twenty pedestals in architecture imitative of Baghdad there jumps out a smile and open arms to the sad weight of a bear: while the hero, a clown, evoker of these sylphids and their guardian, in his high silver nudity, rallied the animal with our superiority. What a break, to enjoy like the crowd the myth, all banality added, and without anyone sitting nearby to whom to pour out these reflections; to see the ordinary and splendid eve of the act discovered on the ramp by my research saturated with fantasies or symbols. A stranger to the many reminiscences of evenings like this, the brand newest of accidents! suscitated my attention: one of the numerous salves of applause distributed according to the enthusiasm for the illustration before us of the authentic privilege of man, having just, broken by what? ceased all at once, with a fixed fracas of glory at its peak, unable to expand itself. All ears, when what was needed was all eyes. At the puppet’s gesture, a bent palm in the air opening five fingers, I understood that he had brilliantly captured all sympathies by the air of trapping on the wing something, the figure (and that is all) of the facility which one is taken by an idea; and that moved by the light breeze caused by the gesture, the bear rhythmically and gently rose up, questioned that exploit, one claw posed on the ribbons of the human shoulder. No one breathed, so much did this situation pose some grave consequences for the honor of the race: what was going to happen? The other paw fell, supple, against an arm extended along the silver suit; and one sees, a couple united in some secret understanding, how an inferior man, beefy, good natured, standing on two hairy, slightly apart legs, squeezes to learn here the practices of genius, and his black muzzled cranium only gets halfway there, the butt of his brilliant and supernatural brother: but who, himself! lifting up, the mad mouth of a vagueness, a terrible head moving by a visible string a golden paper fly in the horror of true denials. An act of a clarity transcending the vast sawdust strewn stage, with this gift, proper to art, of lasting for a long time: in order to make it complete in its entirety I let tacitly stream out of the rejection from the Polar regions a forbidden discourse, without letting myself be put off by the probably fatal attitude taken by the mime, repository of our pride. “Be good enough (this was the sense) to not lack the charity to explain to me the virtue of this atmosphere of splendor, of dust and voices, where you have taught me to move. My request, my pressing request, is simply that you don’t seem, in an anguish that is not only faked, to be able to respond to it; o subtle older brother, throw yourself on the regions of wisdom, to me, still dressed for an informal stay in the caves where I replunge, in the night of humble epochs, my latent force, in order for me to free you. Let us authenticate, by this narrow hug, before the multitude sitting here to this end, the pact of our reconciliation.” The absence of any breath united to space, in what an absolute spot I lived through one of those dramas of astral history electing, in order to produce itself, this modest theater! the crowd was effaced, all, in the emblem of its spiritual situation magnifying the scene: modern dispenser of ecstasy, only, with the impartiality of an elementary thing, the gas, up in the ceiling of the auditorium, continuing a luminous expectant sound.
The charm was broken: this is when a piece of meat, nude, brutal, traversed my vision directed from the wings, in advance by some moments on the recompense, the mysteriousness of the ordinary after these scenes. A substitute rag bleeding by the bear who, instincts that were anterior to a higher curiosity with which the stage lights had endowed him now rediscovered, fell on his four paws and, as though the silence has carried one away, went to sniff it in the stuffed animal march of his kind, in order to sink his teeth into it, this prey. A sigh, almost exempt of deception, soothed incomprehensibly the assembly: of which the lorgnettes, by rows, searched, glinting with their refined lenses, the game of that splendid imbecile evaporated in his fear; but they see an abject meal preferred perhaps by the animal to the same thing that he had needed to do at first to our image, in order to taste it. The curtain, hesitating up to now in the worry of increasing the danger or the emotion, suddenly let fall its daily round of prices and common places. I got up like everybody else, in order to breath outside, astonished not to have felt, again, the same genre of impression as my fellows, but serene: for my way of seeing, after all, had been superior, and even true.”


Anonymous said...

I do have to hand it to you, and not just because you're crazy enough to try and translate SM! Being quite crazy myself, I have an inkling about what you are upto with this jumpcut from Barthes to SM re the fait divers.
I bet you know that these articles by SM first appeared in La Revue Blanche run by Félix Fénéon , and know what the latter was allegedly accused of...
So I'll translate just one line from SM, "there is no explosion but a book..."
Isn't the question for SM that of 'exploding' the immanance of the fait divers, or as SM might say, fait dit-vers?

Roger Gathmann said...

Amie, ah, you have me pegged! Now, here is a question for you in return. I like the idea of an exploded immanence. But - as I was going to say in a post that I decided not to put up - the immanence of the fait divers is of a violence such that the crowd around it can either crush forward or move back -crushing forward in that contagious desire to revenge the wounded socius, and move back to avoid the violence. We know this urban rhythm. So is Mallarme, by seeking other act of violence, making a gesture to, in a sense, destroy this predictable movement of the crowd, or to give it another direction, or to annul the danger he sees in it? I don't want to fix too political a tag on him! But dates are interesting, still. This was written before the commune, I believe, in 1874, although divagations came out in the anarchist 90s. In the poem, everything depends upon one suspended instant in which the only sounds are imaginary (the speech of the bear) and material (the sussuration of the gas). The bear's speech is the hardest part of this thing to translate and I haven't quite got it right yet. Actually, Mallarme's french really does have to be translated into the English of the late Henry James to sound at all like Mallarme.

ps - and of course, here we have another of the infinitely labile couplings of the sage and the buffoon, except that the sage is a buffoon and the buffoon is a bear.

Roger Gathmann said...

oops, I meant 3 years after the commune. So after the second empire.

Anonymous said...

LI, you're quite right that dates matter, and in more than one way, and more than once, I wager.
For one thing, some of Mallarmé's texts are customarily grouped as 'vers de circonstance', and they are generally referred to as his
"frivolous" stuff. wouldn't deny the frivolity, but what if all his poems - if not all poems! - are vers de circonstance, and this of course relates to the question of the fait-divers.
My previous comment was pretty much off the cuff - didn't have my well thumbed OC at hand - so didn't remember the exact date of your translated text, just that several of the texts in Divagations were published during the 90s in La Revue Blanche under FF, and also in an English rag devoted to literature and politics, 'The National Observer', where SM wrote a text on the Panama Canal Company collapse, subsequent "trial" and "scandal". The text is titled L'Or.

I was also thinking that for the publication of Divagations in 1897, SM arranged the texts such that Grands Faits Divers, what he calls poèmes critiques, is the 'culmination' of the 'book'...

But I'm digressing, delaying responding to your question!

LI, yup, the essential in the poem is exactly the 'suspended instant' of the speech of the bear, and the sussuration of the gas. You put them in terms of the imaginary and the material, but I wonder if with SM one could not articulate them as mimesis and techne? (you know, a bear that speaks, etc.! the question of the buffoon and the sage yet again!)

The amazing thing with SM is that he does not only try to interrupt - explode - the fait divers, and the economie politique which it is tied with, (you know his famous "line" about there being but aesthetics and political economy) but that he also finds it absolutely necessary of doing the same to aesthetics, and the latter as best exemplified by Wagner and his 'total work of art'. Not to get into the analysis by SM of Wagner in Divagations, but I do think they touch on something of your question, as it is a matter of the cult(ure) of heroes, kings, etc., of addressing the question of models to imitate where there are no longer any models!
Neither the rule of political economy nor the rule of myth. What the fuck else is there!?
SM's contesting Wagner - and the fait divers - is precisely about rhythm. Wagner ( i.e. art ) and the fait divers saturate everything, inundate, overwhelm, there is no longer any gap, any space to move think breathe.
Re your question of the movement of the crowd, to put it super simplistically, with art (music, spectacle) one is carried away in a communal effusion, but it is the task of 'poetry' to interrupt this movement, to punctuate it, with the theatre of a 'page' which is nothing but punctuation! ( SM writes somewhere of wanting to write a page that would be nothing but punctuation marks!)
SM knew about negativity and the void as did Mr. Hegel as the moving force of 'history', but he also sensed it as a suspension, as among others did Beckett:
Encore une seconde. Rien qu'une. Le temps de aspirer ce vide. Connaître ce bonheur.

Roger Gathmann said...

Amie, that is some comment!
I think the reference to Wagner is interesting. After all, Mallarme himself was always working on the supreme work - it guided his life since he imagined it, out there in the sticks, in the late 1860s. I've been reading his bio - when the Franco-Prussian war broke out, he was planning to take up his friend Catulle Mendes offer of half of his house in Paris. Mendes, at the time, was actually interviewing Wagner, and had to leave Germany - fleeing, as a matter of fact, to Avignon, where Mallarme and his wife were living.
I'm running on about these biographical details because Mallarme's great work was highly mobile, in a sense - he was carrying it with him - whereas Wagner's was, while technically modern, anachronistically feudal, requiring the patronage we all know he depended on.

I'm sorry, I'm not responding to you so much as sort of moving into place the elements for a possible response. Since, of course, you are right: the fait divers, the fait di-vers, and the total work of art form a little dialectical set that impinge on the side show act interrupted. (Oh, the imprecision of trying to be precise - the translator's worst curse).

Roger Gathmann said...

ps- I wish you'd explain a little more about explosion-interruption, inhuman force - and rhythm. When I said that Mallarme inverts the order of anaphora - the referencing bits in language that usually depend on some precedent noun or phrase - I know he does this because there is another order he is working with - which is, I think, rhythm. Is this right?

Anonymous said...

LI, sorry about my prior rambling comment. I really should try to be more precise, but am tripping over myself in preparing for a trip.
I love your comment about the mobility of SM's work, something one can scarcely say of Wagner. I think there are some pretty high stakes at play in SM's - and CB before him - confrontation with Wagner. (Curiously, it all begins with a letter! from CB to RW.)
you're right of course about how SM reverses the order of anaphora, all these very precise re-versions, in-versions, to try and get to a precise "point" where rhythm - and repetition - is stopped, suspended, such that the irrepeatable flashes for an instant.

Roger Gathmann said...

Amie, have fun on your trip!
Hmm, your comments give me material that I should probably use for another post. Oddly, I'm sort of running into a brick wall on this fait divers topic. I wrote a post yesterday on it, and I wanted to move into the media, the Troppman murders, the sinister atmosphere at the end of the Second Empire, etc. But the post didn't work, somehow. It died. I might try to put the corpse of the poor thing up, but I think it might have died because of exactly what we are talking about - a certain lack of rhythm, a certain mistaken rhythm. There is a politics of tone, and Mallarme is a good starting point for talking about it - as it is hardly ever talked about.
And now I'm rambling too much!
Bon voyage.

northanger said...

mistaken rhythm?

northanger said...


hmmm. i think you're doing fine. throw water on yourself. snap out of it! {slap}

Roger Gathmann said...

Two steps forward, two steps back?
I was bred up during the disco era, and learned that you take a side step to slide, spin on your heel to make it real, and come back, jack, to the spot where you're on top. None of this hokey pokey shit for yours truly!

northanger said...

btw, that's from Paula Abdul's Opposites Attract.

northanger said...

forgot this one.....


Matt Christie said...

what a freakshow, here...