Lautreamont and the poetics of posterity
by Thomas, Andrea S., Ph.D., Columbia University, 2008, 279 pages; AAT 3305268
This doctoral dissertation focuses on the editions and reception of a twentieth-century myth: Isidore Ducasse, better known as le comte de Lautréamont, author of Les Chants de Maldoror and Poésies . His abbreviated life (1846-1870) and provocative works defy classification. He left behind six precious letters, but no manuscript. With little historical documentation to rely on, readers in subsequent generations have produced and perpetuated Lautréamont's work and legend. I show how editions reflect the aesthetic strategies, polemics, and sociohistorical contexts of Lautréamont's readers. The first of three parts looks at fin-de-siècle Belgium and France, and addresses the difficult task of editing a work that was initially denied publication. The problem arises from the fact that editorial decisions must be made not from the author's intentions, but rather from choices made by the editor as a subjective reader. Then, I examine editions of Lautréamont's work during the Surrealist period. Often illustrated by eminent artists, such as Dalí, Magritte, and Miró, Surrealist editions merge the visual with the literary arts. Pictures and imagined portraits serve as a remedy for this difficult work, painting a vision of Lautréamont as a mad but enigmatic genius. These editions also facilitate artistic expression and self-promotion. In the third part, I examine more recent editions of the poststructuralist period. While Lautréamont's work was accepted into the literary canon as an "authoritative" annotated Pléiade edition in 1970, it was also celebrated again by a group of avant-garde writers and critics, this time because the authorial mystery favored their trans-historical, textual approach to literary analysis. My approach merges textual criticism with reception history to trace a genealogy of Lautréamont's legacy, examining historical periods and movements, as well as the interests that prompt new editions in them. Lautréamont acts as a screen on which groups project their ideas; taken together, these divergent images paint a fuller picture of Lautréamont's posthumous identity.