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This review is taken from PN Review 44, Volume 11 Number 6, July - August 1985.

NOTES TOWARDS A TOMB Stéphane Mallarmé, A Tomb for Anatole, translated and with an introduction by Paul Auster (North Point Press) $13.50 pb.

Of all the great moderns Mallarmé remains the most difficult to come to terms with, perhaps because he left so little trace of what his life had been upon the surface of his published work. His writings are immediately recognizable as his and no one else's, yet they are utterly bereft of what under other circumstances we might wish to call 'personality'. Of his crucial spiritual crisis at Tournon in 1862, we can say only that it decisively altered the direction of his enterprise, and that 'perfection of the work' (in Yeats's phrase) thereafter completely excluded any residual nostalgia he may have felt for 'perfection of the life'. We know almost nothing of the deep structures of this crisis, with the result that when we picture him recalled to life at one of the famous Tuesday gatherings in the rue de Rome, it is almost as if he were eking out an already posthumous existence. As a notion it helps us also to explain why his influence in death should have been so much greater than his influence in life.

But it is difficult to imagine Mallarmé displeased by such a destiny, however much he may have wished his true merits to be recognized and esteemed in his lifetime. For, more than any other comparable figure, Mallarmé was very much possessed by death, indeed sufficiently so to be unable to complete the project which the experience at Tournon had made possible: the Livre or Book that would ...


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