Divagations

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Overview

"This is a book just the way I don't like them," the father of French Symbolism, Stéphane Mallarmé, informs the reader in his preface to Divagations: "scattered and with no architecture." On the heels of this caveat, Mallarmé's diverting, discursive, and gorgeously disordered 1897 masterpiece tumbles forth--and proves itself to be just the sort of book his readers like most.

The salmagundi of prose poems, prose-poetic musings, criticism, and reflections that is Divagations has long been considered a treasure trove by students of aesthetics and modern poetry. If Mallarmé captured the tone and very feel of fin-de-siècle Paris, he went on to captivate the minds of the greatest writers of the twentieth century--from Valéry and Eliot to Paul de Man and Jacques Derrida. This was the only book of prose he published in his lifetime and, in a new translation by Barbara Johnson, is now available for the first time in English as Mallarmé arranged it. The result is an entrancing work through which a notoriously difficult-to-translate voice shines in all of its languor and musicality.

Whether contemplating the poetry of Tennyson, the possibilities of language, a masturbating priest, or the transporting power of dance, Mallarmé remains a fascinating companion--charming, opinionated, and pedantic by turns. As an expression of the Symbolist movement and as a contribution to literary studies, Divagations is vitally important. But it is also, in Johnson's masterful translation, endlessly mesmerizing.

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Editorial Reviews

Bookforum

[A] lustrous new English translation...[A] remarkable book [and a] wise translator...I don't know whether I've expressed excitedly or lucidly enough my sense of this translation's importance.
— Wayne Koestenbaum

Choice

Johnson is among the world's foremost Mallarmé scholars, and this translation of "the author's 1897 arrangement" of this work, "together with 'Autobiography' and 'Music and Letters,'" is an unequivocal tour de force. Mallarmé's French echoes through and the English sounds authentic and coherent. But the fact that this translation is Johnson's reading of Mallarmé is its chief value. And this is why Mallarmé scholars who read Mallarmé in French will look at it and why scholars of comparable periods in English-language literatures and performance arts will consult it for Mallarmé's commentaries. In addition, Johnson's rendering of Mallarmé's voice will undoubtedly interest translation theorists. Surely this is the way Mallarmé must have sounded to the English speakers intermittently translating what he was saying as he held forth at his Tuesday evening receptions: witty and insightful, to be sure, but sometimes pretentious and fatuous.
— M. Gaddis Rose

Times Literary Supplement

Reading Divagations today, we see how resonantly [Mallarmé's] world rhymes with ours: inequality, sleaze, financial crashes, terrorism and state repression, along with an acute sense of the spectacular nature of modern life, its commodity-fetishism and materialism, its paradoxes of plenitude and emptiness. Key to Mallarmé's thinking is his refusal of those two great late-nineteenth-century paradigms, those mutually stabilizing opposites: Progress and Decline. He enjoys the democratization of luxury and beauty brought about by mass production, and does not denounce the glitter of fancy goods and their ephemeral pleasures. Nor does he "buy into" the belief that capital will always right itself or that science and technology guarantee social progress...Barbara Johnson has accomplished an exemplary work of translation, not just by making this important book available to non-French readers, but by carrying off Mallarmé's uniquely eccentric prose style without flattening or straightening it out...Where Mallarmé's poems strip away all that is not poetry, his prose brings it back into the fold, incorporates and recycles it. Recycling being the pragmatist's alchemy, and Mallarmé being more of a pragmatist than we allow, Divagations can be read as the great recycling project that balances out the alchemy of his poetry.
— Patrick McGuinness

Kevin McLaughlin
The translation is outstanding, and the collection (arranged according to the French writer's own plan) makes available in English a much fuller sample of Mallarmé's remarkable and influential prose writings than was previously available. This book makes a major contribution to modern literary studies and aesthetics.
Ann Smock
All Barbara Johnson's critical work over the years on modern French poetry and on Mallarmé in particular informs her handling of each syntactically complex phrase, each tenuous preposition, each ellipsis, each shift in tone, each aside, each mild joke. It has been not only a pleasure but very often a revelation to me to read through this translation. Barbara Johnson's Divagations are going to launch a stunning, vital (by no means transparent) Mallarmé not seen before.
Bookforum - Wayne Koestenbaum
[A] lustrous new English translation...[A] remarkable book [and a] wise translator...I don't know whether I've expressed excitedly or lucidly enough my sense of this translation's importance.
Choice - M. Gaddis Rose
Johnson is among the world's foremost Mallarmé scholars, and this translation of "the author's 1897 arrangement" of this work, "together with 'Autobiography' and 'Music and Letters,'" is an unequivocal tour de force. Mallarmé's French echoes through and the English sounds authentic and coherent. But the fact that this translation is Johnson's reading of Mallarmé is its chief value. And this is why Mallarmé scholars who read Mallarmé in French will look at it and why scholars of comparable periods in English-language literatures and performance arts will consult it for Mallarmé's commentaries. In addition, Johnson's rendering of Mallarmé's voice will undoubtedly interest translation theorists. Surely this is the way Mallarmé must have sounded to the English speakers intermittently translating what he was saying as he held forth at his Tuesday evening receptions: witty and insightful, to be sure, but sometimes pretentious and fatuous.
Times Literary Supplement - Patrick McGuinness
Reading Divagations today, we see how resonantly [Mallarmé's] world rhymes with ours: inequality, sleaze, financial crashes, terrorism and state repression, along with an acute sense of the spectacular nature of modern life, its commodity-fetishism and materialism, its paradoxes of plenitude and emptiness. Key to Mallarmé's thinking is his refusal of those two great late-nineteenth-century paradigms, those mutually stabilizing opposites: Progress and Decline. He enjoys the democratization of luxury and beauty brought about by mass production, and does not denounce the glitter of fancy goods and their ephemeral pleasures. Nor does he "buy into" the belief that capital will always right itself or that science and technology guarantee social progress...Barbara Johnson has accomplished an exemplary work of translation, not just by making this important book available to non-French readers, but by carrying off Mallarmé's uniquely eccentric prose style without flattening or straightening it out...Where Mallarmé's poems strip away all that is not poetry, his prose brings it back into the fold, incorporates and recycles it. Recycling being the pragmatist's alchemy, and Mallarmé being more of a pragmatist than we allow, Divagations can be read as the great recycling project that balances out the alchemy of his poetry.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674032408
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 6/15/2009
  • Pages: 312
  • Sales rank: 1,481,140
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 2.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Barbara Johnson taught in the departments of English and Comparative Literature at Harvard University and was the Frederic Wertham Professor of Law and Psychiatry in Society. She is the author of The Critical Difference, A World of Difference, and The Wake of Deconstruction.
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Table of Contents

Autobiography

Preface

Anecdotes or Poems

The Phenomenon of the Future

Autumn Lament

Winter Shudder

The Demon of Analogy

Poor Pale Child

The Pipe

An Interrupted Performance

Reminiscence

The Fairground Declaration

The White Waterlily

A Man of the Cloth

Glory

Conflict

Volumes on My Divan

Long Ago, in the Margins of a Copy of Baudelaire

Capsule Sketches and Full-Length Portraits

Piece: A Brief Summary of Vathek

Villiers de l'Isle-Adam

Verlaine

Arthur Rimbaud

Laurent Tailhade

Beckford

Tennyson Viewed from Here

Théodore de Banville

Edgar Poe

Whistler

Edouard Manet

Berthe Morisot

Richard Wagner

Richard Wagner: The Reverie of a French Poet

Scribbled at the Theater

Scribbled at the Theater

Hamlet

Ballets

Another Study of Dance: The Fundamentals of Ballet

"The Only One Would Have To Be as Fluid as the Sorcerer"

Mimesis

Of Genre and the Moderns

Parenthesis

Stages and Pages

Solemnity

Music and Letters

Music and Letters

Crisis of Verse

Crisis of Verse

About the Book

Restricted Action

Displays

The Book as Spiritual Instrument

The Mystery in Letters

Services

Sacred Pleasure

Catholicism

The Same

Important Miscellaneous News Briefs

Gold

Accusation

Cloisters

Magic

Bucolic

Solitude

Confrontation

The Court

Safeguard

Mallarmé's Bibliography

Translator's Note

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