Death in Quotation Marks: Cultural Myths of the Modern Poet by Svetlana Boym

By Svetlana Boym

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At the same time, poets might stylize themselves excessively, making their attributes and theatrical makeup more visible. I wish to elaborate the notions of cultural image, cultural fashions, self-fashionings, and theatricality further, since they have been frequently excluded from the iconoclastic accounts of modernist writing. The metaphor of the theater has emerged in various contexts in the examination of both the French and American critics, as well as the Soviet Russian Formalists and semioticians.

As Jonas Barish demonstrated in his fascinating book The Antitheatrical Prejudice, the "antitheatrical prejudice" runs through the whole of Western intellectual history from Plato to Artaud. 67 The argument against theatricality is at the cornerstone of Plato's Republic. Theatricality is a kind of human malaise, a superficial fondness of spectatordom, posing, grimacing, affection, in short, a fondness for the transient world of appearances, for the aberrant imitation of imitations. Plato builds his own Utopian republic—a totalitarian philosopher-state—in opposition to what he calls "an evil sort of theatrocracy," a rein of superficially innovative poets and decadent theater people who are incapable of capturing the essential archetypes.

Mallarmé's mime imitates nothing in the Platonic sense; he plays both the part of Pierrot the murderer and of Colombina the victim, and mimes only "the supreme spasm, the rising of ecstatic hilarity," which appears to be beyond good and evil. " Mallarmé's text displaces or "puts under erasure" the very opposition between internal and external, between the original and the copy, between the artistic act and its external referent. We note that Derrida does not "deconstruct" the "masturbatory suicide" of Mallarmé's mime.

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