Are there only public festivals : I also know withdrawn ones… (Mallarmé)
Mallarmé, who began in the Registration Department in the town of Sens ("first step into dullness") before teaching English ("badly" according to the "sneaks" on duty who perhaps envy him for giving a talk in Oxford), believes that "real life" is hidden in the alchemy of words and would wish to "paint not the thing, but the effect it produces" . Born from a long line of civil servants, he rejects bureaucracy and catholicism. He was five years old when his mother died. At 21 he married Marie Gerhart, a German nurse who will later lead him to the demi-mondaine Anna Rose Suzanne Louviot, called Méry Laurent and model of Manet.
He has a daughter and a son who dies at the age of ten. He had had a younger sister who died at the age of thirteen. He suffers bouts of depression, "my head on the marble of the mantelpiece, without thinking", hunting in the Venetian mirror "the invasion of stupidity" , in quest of an orphic explanation of the earth which he would sum up in Le Livre, another Bible according to him, and finally weeping with powerlessness onto "the virgin paper defended by its whiteness".
His father remarried, founded another family. Struck by bouts of melancholy nearly as strong as those of Jaques, of Timon or of Alceste, for hollowing out the verse he only met Nothingness at the very heart of language (in the absence of Derrida, Genette, Barthes or J.-P. Sartre ?), when nowadays he seems, and strangely so, to anticipate the critical methodologies in urgent need of analysis, in addition to theses by scalpel-happy academics in need of dissection (ô Mondor !). He was not from Bohemia ; his own Mimis were called Méry, Berthe, Julie and Lilith, and his Rodolphos : Manet, Monet, etc… Following the great Beaudelaire, he will have decisive influence in the Wagner affair, contributing as he does, with Verlaine, to the Revue Wagnérienne and applauding the noble attitude of Nerval, Banville, Villiers de l’Isle-Adam, Catulle Mendès and Judith Gautier, (these latter just back from Triebschen) and speaking of the Opéra Garnier inaugurated 5 January 1875 and insisting that a French composer should be on the programme on this occasion, or else Tannhäuser in revenge for the outrage caused, in the past, in the name of France by paddock Jockeys, if not later on by Julia Kristeva on duty : "The significance of antinormative thinking for gesture-language is all the greater since it enables escape from logocentric realité …" (Ask for the programme ! ô Sollers !).
In the manner of the composer of Tristan und Isolde, does he not himself interweave life’s things and feelings in a "small" synthesis of verse and prose "by subtle and infinite transitions" : a critic of painting at the "Villa des Arts, rue Ganneron near Avenue de Clichy, Monsieur Renoir paints, to who, in front of a naked shoulder, things do not look exactly black", literary critic (he despises the lords of best-selling, to whom he prefers Aubanel or Frederic Mistral (Mirèio), musical critic (he regularly attends the concerts of Pasdeloup, and the concerts of Lamoureux), railway critic ("Saint-Lazare station is the most spiritual and the most parisian of all" with its "Storm Trains" or its departures for London via Dieppe and Newhaven), vestimentary critic, he frequents "Le Bon Marché" and its corsets, he who didn’t hesitate to dress himself in Honoré d’Urfé’s shepherds’ garb, in the heart of Limagne, to please Méry Laurent – Angel more or less blue – and to the great displeasure of Geneviève, the poet’s daughter ("dear me ! that’s not nice !"), gastronomical critic (he signs Chef de bouche at Brégant’s), critic of tapestry-interior decoration (in memory of Monsieur Poquelin father?), delicate needlework that thus helped him to acquire a sailing boat on the waters of Valvins, hardly comparable, of course, to Captain Daland’s Thetis, but the furnaces of the Great Works had to be fed somehow.
He never knew poverty, he did not live under the roof, he did not drink absinthe. In provincial as well as in parisian lycées he was not loved by his pupils, hardly tolerated by the overseeing authorities (Mirotons-Navets) (also well-known the reservations of the head of the Lycée Fontanes in 1876, masterly reechoed by the academician Goncourt Billy the Sneak (ô Nourrissier, ô risée) : "a little less courtesy, amenity, protection and he would have been dismissed or posted 100 miles from the capital". He spent all his summers at Vulaines, near Fontainebleau, canoeing (‘his’ heavy canoe) on the very Seine which still sustains the moored barge of Jean Dutourd, the king of Pastiche (The Old man & the Sea) at the Quay-of-Zabiverts (the-Green-Clothes), rereading his dear Edgar Allan Poe on their joint ride towards the Eldorado.
In rue de Rome, not very far from Lycée Condorcet where he had been appointed in 1871, he gave "Tuesdays evenings" which became famous : attended by Renoir, Manet, Whistler, Verlaine , Wilde, Valéry, Gide, Berthe Morisot and others.
"How much time will nature need before she can produce another brain like that" ? Auguste Rodin sighed at Mallarmé’s funeral.
Translation : Dagmar Coward Kuschke (Tübingen)