1st Edition

French Symbolist Poetry and the Idea of Music

By Joseph Acquisto Copyright 2006
    202 Pages
    by Routledge

    200 Pages
    by Routledge

    What role did music play in the creation of a new aesthetics of poetry in French from the 1860s to the 1930s? How did music serve as an unassimilable 'other' against which the French symbolist poets crafted a new poetics? And why did music gradually disappear from early twentieth-century poetic discourse? These are among the questions Joseph Acquisto poses in his lively study of the ways in which Baudelaire, Mallarmé, Ghil, and Royère question the nature and function of the lyric through an ever-shifting set of intertextual and cultural contexts. Rather than focusing on 'musicality' in verse, the author addresses the consequences of choosing music as a site of dialogue with poetry. Acquisto argues that memory plays an under acknowledged yet vital role in these poets' rewriting of symbolist poetics. His reading of their interactions, and his focus on both major and neglected poets, exposes the myth of a small handful of 'great authors' shaping symbolism while a host of disciples propagated the tradition. Rather, Acquisto proposes, the multiplicity of authors writing and rewriting symbolism invites a dialogic approach to the poetics of the period. Moreover, music, as theorized rather than performed or heard, serves as a privileged mobile space of poetic creation and dialogue for these poet-critics; it is through engagement with music, supposedly the purest or most abstract of the arts, that one can retrace the textual and cultural transformations accomplished by the symbolist tradition. By extension, these poets' rethinking of poetics is an occasion for present-day critics to re-examine assumptions, not only about the intersections of music and poetry and our understanding of symbolist poetics but also about the role that the aesthetic implicitly plays in the creation, preservation, or reshaping of cultural memory.

    Contents: Introduction; Baudelaire in Wagner’s forests, or the persistence of the lyric; Mallarmé and the spectacle of musical poetry; René Ghil and Stéphane Mallarmé between Crise de Vers and the Traité du Verbe; Performing the ends of symbolism with Jean Royère; Conclusion: literary history and the invention of symbolism; Notes; Works cited; Index.


    Joseph Acquisto is Assistant Professor of French in the Department of Romance Languages at the University of Vermont, USA.

    'This finely tuned reinterpretation of the relationship of music to the "poetic" in works by important practitioners of lyric poetry, such as Baudelaire, Mallarmé, René Ghil, and Jean Royère, brings the period concept of "symbolism" alive. Acquisto writes with the clarity, conviction, and sensitivity that come from a profound knowledge of his subject.' Suzanne Nash, Professor of French, Princeton University ’...Acquisto makes a major contribution to a developing field of interdisciplinary criticism... The close readings of major texts from the poets' verse, theory and criticism are consistently stimulating, eschewing the mystificatory tendency of much scholarly writing on poetry's musicality in favour of sensible and sophisticated analysis. Indeed, Acquisto saves both his primary sources and critical apparatus from the dangers of over-familiarity by investing the field with significant new optics... This important study manages to maintain perfect clarity throughout while preserving the necessary difficulties and ambiguities of the material.’ Forum for Modern Languages ’Using well-chosen, music-dominated works for his podium, Acquisto conducts a verbal fantasia of texts and intertexts, where music and poetic language often emerge as each other's 'other'... In pursuit of his elegant and original hypothesis Acquisto takes his reader through his own choice of spaces... Acquisto is sympathetic and revealing of his authors and texts... stimulating and interesting.’ Nineteenth-Century French Studies ’Acquisto takes us for a fascinating ride into the tangled groves of symbolism. His style is professional, his language virtually clear of critical literary jargon. His introduction states his intention, his chapters develop his thesis, his concluding Chapter 5 tells us what we have learned--an old-fashioned form of argument we students of literary criticism see all too little of today.’ European Legacy