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Like his painter-contemporaries, Mallarmé’s attention to japonisme was to a visual phenomenon. Like them, he had a strong visual sense, and one could argue that even the early poems that tried to apprehend nothingness did so as if the problem were a visual one even if the results were more the ideas of things seen, rather than the creation of images. His visual orientation did change dramatically, however, by the time of La Dernière Mode in 1874, readying him for the acculturation to be provided first by Manet, and then by others, notably Whistler. The esthetics of japonisme is a strand that runs through this visual education from 1876 onwards and is tied to the poet’s development of a visual materialism that was independent of the image as practiced by his painter-contemporaries, and even independent of (and offering a counter poetics to) his other esthetic, the exalted ‘explication orphique de la Terre’. I submit that le japonisme is one of the threads we can use in following the later Mallarmé; as such, it provides an instance of how a contemporary visual idiom may be brought to the reading of an important development in the practice of literary modernism.
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