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Fall 2021

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New in Journal of Art Historiography
Art History in light of Mallarmé

In a recent piece in the Journal of Art Historiography, Alex Weintraub reviews Andrei Pop’s A Forest of Symbols: Art, Science, and Truth in the Long Nineteenth Century. Click here to learn more about the book. Click here to read the full article. An excerpt appears below:

“Pop’s analysis of Mallarmé and Manet’s 1875 collaboration on ‘The Raven’ treats their project as symbolist in both senses of the term, since the book only explicitly appeared under the symbolist banner after some delay, when Léon Vanier re-editioned the work in 1889. For Pop, Mallarmé’s interest in Poe was both personal (the French poet avowed that he learned English in order to become a better reader of Poe) and, more importantly, aesthetic. In Poe’s essay ‘The Philosophy of Composition’, the American author wrote that ‘a poem is a metrical composition without ideas’, which (with a good deal of wit) he aimed to describe through a meticulous detailing of the steps that went into composing ‘The Raven’. In a similar vein, Pop cites Mallarmé’s casual remark to his friend, the painter Edgar Degas: ‘you can’t make a poem with ideas; you make it with words’.41 The correspondence here between Mallarmé and Poe may call to mind the theory of language proposed by Stark in Total Expansion, in which modern artists started to work with linguistic materials only contingently bound to determinate ideas or objects. This connection is all the more striking, since Pop also draws our attention to Mallarmé’s ‘self-effacing performance’, or the anonymous aesthetics perceptible in the poet’s literal-minded translation of Poe. ‘[B]y printing his highly rhythmic translation in blocks of italicized prose, [Mallarmé] intended to stay out of Poe’s and Manet’s way’.”