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Title: Public Enemies: French symbolist rationales for a restricted readership
Authors: Williams, Benjamin Custis
Advisors: Blix, Göran M
Contributors: French and Italian Department
Keywords: criticism
Subjects: Literature
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: My dissertation asks why many French symbolists of the 1880s and 1890s thought that participation in poetry - both the production and the reading of it - ought to be restricted. Authors studied include Pierre Louÿs, Camille Mauclair, Charles Morice, Pierre Quillard, Henri de Régnier, Paul Valéry, and Francis Vielé-Griffin, as well as influential older authors such as Stéphane Mallarmé and Auguste de Villiers de l'Isle-Adam. My corpus consists of the symbolists' poems, correspondence and, above all, their numerous literary journals. Several conservative contemporary critics held that, in rejecting readers, symbolists sought only notoriety and eventual canonicity. While such considerations play a role in my analysis, I also place the symbolists' rationales for restricting readership in terms of their various, often "idealistic" poetic aims. I additionally situate those rationales in the context of non-elitist symbolist attitudes that accorded at least superficial respect to popular instinct. Still, in a period of universalized education and mass printing, it was common to anticipate, above all, incomprehension from the distracted, newly literate masses. Symbolists valued intensive readers willing to embrace "difficult" texts; they associated such readers with the aristocratic old regime. My first chapter establishes "concentration" as an overarching artistic and social value. Concentration has two relevant connotations, here: patient, concentrated effort in the rewriting and rereading of poetry, and the social concentration of the literary tradition in the hands of the few. The following chapters show how these two values were nuanced and sometimes flatly contradicted in other, equally "symbolist" discourse. The movement's extensive production of critical discourse on poetry was, itself, a source of ambivalence. Frequently scholarly themselves, symbolists decried pedantry and insisted on poetry's oral qualities. Poems were, furthermore, meant to be read without mediation by any form of commentary. In that sense, symbolists were still able at times to claim affinity with naïve (i.e. unmediated) popular poetic instinct. I conclude by contrasting this mistrust of critical commentary with the twentieth century's more frequent blurring of primary (poetic) and secondary (analytic) texts. Symbolists participated in but were, on the balance, ambivalent about trends contributing to poetry's increased "difficulty" and ties with the academy.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:French and Italian

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