Reading Maurice Blanchot on Mallarme, courtesy of Jonathan.

Distinction he makes between Valery & Mallarme. For the former, poetry is a vehicle of meditation, intellectual mastery; for the latter, purely an aesthetic object formed from words (words from which everything has been refined away, except for this aesthetic essence).

An aesthetic based in turn on the one characteristic of language which fascinates Mallarme : the way in which words replace, disperse - distance themselves, abstract themselves - from the real things they sometimes represent. In so doing, words present themselves in aesthetic form - as poems.

Maybe my shadow-boxing with Language Poetry over the years has been, in part, a battle with my own fascination with, my own bent toward, some such seductive doctrine. Solipsism, solitude, silence, music.

How different the doctine of the Chicago critics (not great poets themselves, admittedly - but going back to Coleridge, for one, anyway...). Here the aesthetic imprint of a poem is not so simply yoked to the words, the language medium, per se.

Just as Mandelstam juxtaposed the Ukrainian philologist Potebnia (with his notion of the "inner psychic image" of the word) to the Russian formalists (with their poetics based on a linguistics which analyzed the word into separate functions) - the Chicago School opposed the strictly linguistic poetics of the New Critics, with a kind of metalinguistic concept of the poem. That is, the poem can't be reduced to its linguistic medium : rather, the medium conveys an imaginative whole, a complex image (a single lyric, or an entire play, or an epic).

Still, Mallarme (and lurking behind him, Poe & Baudelaire) accomplished something permanent (he discovered a sort of antimatter) : everything after has to take it into account. How that gets done, in theory & practice, is the big question. Celan maybe took it to the limit. Every word refers to some train of thought & feeling - conceptual, experiential, personal. Yet the words are so encrypted in their own musical silence as to both invite & defy "meaning", interpretation. The defiance itself is rendered as (tragic) beauty.

So Celan sort of has it both ways. His defiance of meaning is not a literary game or an ideological program. It stems from a felt awareness of death, wrong, grief, hope, love - which are, in a sense, extra-poetic "referents". Or they are elements from the realm of fact & "journalism" which are both acknowledged & somehow won for poetry, absorbed.

I'm sure all this sounds awfully obvious to those who've spent more time with these poets & these issues.

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