Friday 8 April 2016

The name of Mallarmé sprang from The New Yorker today and in I went. This is prepared ground. I spent four or five years with Mallarmé in my twenties, working on a PhD, the most comfortable/uncomfortable fit of my young life. 'After only a few lines of Mallarmé, you are engulfed in a fine mist, and terror sets in,' writes Alex Ross. To me it wasn't terror, unless the terror that underlies ecstasy. Most other reading after that was akin to a long hot bath or an afternoon in the sun. My immersion in Mallarmé prepared me in an absolute way for the long business of not understanding. Any correlation between words and life was silently shattered. I was more at home among words that were, you could say, talking among themselves, than among people. I could move among words as among trees or clouds. Especially French words, with their greater, plausible, unknowability. For a number of years I wrote my diary in Mallarméan encryption from which I only emerged by going to live in another country and becoming a teacher. For years after my thesis, and the book I made from it, the name of Mallarmé was unbearable. What kind of creature could read Mallarmé with such fellow feeling? Become Mallarmé when left to herself? I didn't wait around to hear the answer.

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