Kolekar on Montoro Araque (2018)
Montoro Araque, Mercedes. Gautier, au carrefour de l’âme romantique et décadente. Peter Lang, 2018, pp. 378, ISBN 978-1-4331-5158-3
In Gautier, au carrefour, Mercedes Montoro Araque uses the question “Romantic or Decadent?” to subject Gautier’s work to a rigorous theoretical analysis based on Gilbert Durand’s “mythodology,” a multi-disciplinary structural approach. Montoro Araque takes into account both literary criticism of Gautier’s œuvre—Marcel Voisin’s work in particular—as well as anthropological scholarship by comparatist Pierre Brunel, André Siganos, and Yves Durand, along with other critics informed by Gaston Bachelard, Mircea Eliade, and Carl Gustav Jung. The author convincingly argues that Gautier’s œuvre is situated “à mi-chemin entre un imaginaire romantique et décadent” (365); more importantly, she reveals the complexity underlying Gautier’s imagery and allows for new readings of his work.
Gautier, au carrefour is dense and complex, with a wealth of citations from original and secondary sources. It is rendered accessible, however, through the excellent organization of material and the support that Montoro Araque provides for those uninitiated into Durandian philosophy. The preface by Jean-Jacques Wunenburger gives an introduction to Durand’s mythodology, followed by the introduction, ten chapters divided into three distinct sections, and the conclusion. Wisely, given the vast number of citations, the bibliography as well as the copious footnotes are placed at the end of each chapter and not at the end of the book, as is often the case.
The first section, “Parlons mythodology,” comprises two chapters—a good fifty pages—which carefully describe the methodology followed. Of these, the second chapter reproduces an interview with Blanca Solares, an expert on Durand. Summarized very briefly, Durand created a structural model to interpret works of the imagination: not just poetry, art, and music, but also myth and religious representation. It is a complete hermeneutic model that takes into account both synchronic and diachronic aspects of myth. Durand postulates that a creator’s imaginary, “l’imaginaire,” is not just a reflection of his or her personal genius or of cultural/historical determinants. It is a world of its own that is consistent and cohesive, whose narrative combines a transcendental body of symbols, archetypes and frameworks that can be configured according to two orders—diurnal, based on separation, and nocturnal, based on unification—and three structures, mystical, diaeretic, and synthetic. Durand’s study of the imaginary involves interpreting repeated configurations of images that haunt a creator’s work as a first step (mythocriticism), followed by inscribing the creator’s personal imaginary within the collective imaginary of a given geo-cultural space (mythanalysis). This process is followed by Montoro Araque in her analysis of Gautier’s work in the two sections that follow.
The second section of Gautier, au carrefour, “L’Imaginaire gautiériste, cette ‘forêt de symboles’: redondances et constellations d’images,” takes note of the symbols, archetypes, and romantic myths in Gautier’s narrative works. Comprising five chapters, this section examines the numerous instances of being and seeming, doubling, mirroring, and “regards croisés,” among other motifs (59). The analysis follows the contours of myth in Gautier’s work, since “[t]oute son œuvre repose sur la mise en parallèle, plus ou moins explicite, du monde humain et du monde de figures mythiques” (194) and concludes by finding “des échos décadents” (190), fleshed out in the last chapter of the section. Gautier’s fantasy novellas such as Omphale ou la tapisserie amoureuse (1834), Une Nuit de Cléopâtre (1838), La Toison d’or (1839), Le Roi Candaule (1844), and Mademoiselle Dafné (1866) lend themselves easily to the mythocritical analysis carried out here. Montoro Araque uses La Toison d’or as a perfect example of how Gautier treats myths: “transformations, recréations parodiques, miroitements constants, éliminations de certaines séquences inadaptées à sa fiction. Sous la multiplicité d’insinuations et de motifs mythiques, sous la polysémie inattendue d’un seul nom mythique, le lecteur découvre un labyrinthe référentiel, permettant d’échapper à la linéarité du seul récit mythique émergé” (170). Many of Montoro Araque’s observations, however, bring to mind other works by Gautier, as allusions to myth pervade all of Gautier’s work, including his journalistic writings.
The third section is titled “Prolégomènes à une mythanalyse.” Gautier’s imaginary, outlined through the mythocritical process of the second section, is situated within the cultural context of the mid-nineteenth century, then at the juncture of Romanticism and Decadence. Montoro Araque discusses the creative arts—the paintings, the sculpture, and the music—that influenced Gautier’s work. Using the Durandian metaphor of the evolution of the imaginary as a river, Montoro Araque succeeds in “situer l’œuvre gautiériste entre la phase du delta du basin sémantique romantique . . . et les périodes de confluences et du nom du fleuve du décadentisme” (204). The last chapter of the section (and the book) sets out Gautier’s personal philosophy. Art is his religion, his response to this chaotic and ephemeral world. And his dream? “Essentiel et polymorphe, son rêve s’est révélé être un rêve de beauté dans l’harmonie éternelle” (370).
Gautier is often underestimated by modern scholars, although his contemporaries Mallarmé and Baudelaire praised him highly, as Montoro Araque reminds us. Her book gives Gautier his due, taking Gautier’s own words to heart: “Il ne faut pas toujours prendre au pied de la lettre ce que dit un auteur: on doit faire la part des systèmes philosophiques ou littéraires, des affectations à la mode en ce moment-là . . . Mais sous tous ces déguisements, la vraie attitude de l’âme finit par se révéler pour qui sait lire . . . l’un après l’autre les voiles tombent et les mots des énigmes se découvrent” (cited by Montoro Araque, 9). Gautier, au carrefour de l’âme romantique et décadente is a successful attempt to uncover the hidden meanings in Gautier’s work, helping others discover “la vraie attitude de [son] âme.”