Summary of Stéphane Mallarmé
Stéphane Mallarmé is considered one of the greatest French poets of the later nineteenth century. He is most closely associated with the loosely defined Symbolist movement in literature and art, which centered on the expression of emotions and sensations rather than on reproducing observed reality. Although he led a fairly low-profile, middle-class life (unlike some of his more famous, bohemian colleagues including Arthur Rimbaud), his innovative and challenging use of language proved highly influential for subsequent writers, artists, musicians, and philosophers. He was also a champion of many of the avant-garde artists of the time, including the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Mallarmé's Tuesday evening gatherings, which he held at his Parisian home from 1877 until his premature death in 1898, became a meeting place for many of the leading figures in European arts and culture of the time.
- Mallarmé sought to use language to capture ideas and sensations that were not fully expressed in words, combining words in unexpected ways that were often difficult to interpret. As he wrote to a friend, he wanted to capture "not the thing, but the effect it produces... all the words should fade away before the sensation." Even the blank space of the page was significant, as demonstrated particularly by his poem "Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard," (A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance), which is typeset with just a few words spread across otherwise empty pages.
- Mallarmé was one of the first - along with novelist and critic Edmond Duranty - to write an extended defense of the emerging Impressionists, penning an 1876 article on their work. His essay suggests that the Impressionist artists' goals, to record the visual effects of a subject or scene as an observer perceives them, rather than an objective description, were similar to his own in poetry.
- Like poet avant-garde and novelist Emile Zola, Mallarmé befriended many of the avant-garde artists of the time and used his writing to support and defend them against criticism. He also collaborated on numerous projects with them, from sitting for portraits to commissioning illustrations for his poems, although the challenge of providing a visual complement to his often enigmatic verses regularly proved difficult.
- The ideas of Symbolism brought together a variety of avant-garde practitioners of different art forms who shared Mallarmé's interest in expressing abstract concepts and emotions; as Alex Ross describes it, "the goal was to discover novel spheres of expression: the unspoken word, the unpainted image, the unheard sound." Examples include composer Claude Debussy, whose "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" was inspired by Mallarmé's poem, and the disembodied dancing of Loie Fuller - with whom the poet was fascinated - which was enhanced by flowing robes and colored lights.
Biography of Stéphane Mallarmé
Mallarmé's writing was usually conventional in its form but radical in its aim to take apart language and find meaning beyond words; "I know of no other bomb than a book," he once wrote. As an avant-garde artist himself, he befriended and championed many other modern artists.