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This review is taken from PN Review 186, Volume 35 Number 4, March - April 2009.

COMPETING SYSTEMS STÉPHANE MALLARMÉ, Sonnets, translated by David Scott, with introduction and notes by Mark Raftery-Skehan and David Scott (Shearsman) £9.95

This volume will be appreciated by devotees of Mallarmé, students and enthusiasts of nineteenth-century French poetry and by anyone interested in the philosophy and practice of translation. Ten years after the publication of Ciaran Carson’s versions of nine of Mallarmé’s sonnets in The Alexandrine Plan (Gallery Books, 1998), David Scott’s thirty-nine translations offer a rich, sustained engagement with this most challenging of poets.

The Introduction, informed by semiology and, above all, by the work of Jacques Derrida and Jean-Pierre Richard, offers an account of Mallarmé’s writing and the place of his sonnet practice therein; it also offers a more general consideration of poetry and language, and a thoughtful, stimulating reflection on the act of translation. For reader and translator of Mallarmé alike, note Raftery-Skehan and Scott, the dialectical tensions between the ‘vertical logic of interconnection between words’ in the rhyme scheme and the ‘horizontal logic of syntax or proposition’ within the verse line present a major challenge (p. 14). Whilst this observation is not a new one (Malcolm Bowie’s Mallarmé and the Art of Being Difficult alerted us thirty years ago to the constant, troubling presence of such dialectics) the clarity of its formulation is admirably effective. Raftery-Skehan and Scott acknowledge the impossibility of taking into account the manifold, competing systems at work within the Mallarmean sonnet and transposing these into another poem in another language. Scott has produced translations, however, which do succeed (some to a remarkable degree) in communicating a sense of the linguistic, syntactic ...


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