Mallarme and Debussy: Unheard Music, Unseen Text
This book constructs a new approach to the interdisciplinary study of music and poetry by examining a series of encounters between Mallarme and Debussy. It challenges the easy metaphorical impressionism that has dominated much of the scholarly literature to date. It seeks to express in a set of analytical terms both the coherence and the affront to coherence that are fundamental to our inter-art experience.
In a fresh reading of the famous lecture La Musique et les Lettres, Elizabeth McCombie argues that Mallarme's poetic theory creates an architecture for the cohabitation of music and letters. She proposes his ornamental figures of arabesque and thyrsus as performative structural motifs through which the musico-poetic aesthetic is enacted in his text.
Using this interpretation of Mallarme's vision, McCombie places works by both artists alongside one another as case studies. Each becomes a filter for the other to reveal an intermediary ground defined by the specific and precise analyses of both arts. The studies develop more conceptual motifs, either from external models or from transferable elements in the Mallarmean text. The new terminology (arabesque, eclat, enroulement, eventail, explosante fixe, Moebius strip, pli, and thyrsus) foregrounds rhythmic relations of time and space; it generates, in the author's words, a poetics of hesitation.McCombie offers a model for rereading Mallarme's notoriously elusive late verse and prose and for reassessing views commonly held about the work of both artists. But the potential of this relational discourse for literary and musical study reaches beyond Mallarme and Debussy. The apparatus of figures derived here provides a powerful tool of inter-art investigation, a necessary supplement to the individual criticisms of music and poetry, and a new critical vocabulary for illuminating modernism.
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