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Harmonie divine et subjectivite poetique chez Maurice Sceve. .

James Helgeson. Harmonie divine et subjectivite poetique chez Maurice Sceve. (Travaux d'Humanisme et Renaissance, 349.) Geneva: Librairie Droz S. A., 2001. 151 pp. Index. Bib. $55. ISBN: 2-600-00486-6.

James Helgeson is quite clear and acurate when he classifies his reading of Sceve's poetry as belonging to the modern "pessimistic" side of Sceve criticism. His views on the Delie, in particular, run counter to the "optimistic" views of closure, harmony, and balance through which others have interpreted Sceve's poetic love masterpiece. As he states the critical dichotomy: "certains mettent l'accent sur l'unite structureelle du texte, sur sa coherence formelle; cette critique, assez 'optimiste quant au succes de l'ceuvre et de la transcendance qu'elle promet, insiste sur l'aspect harmonieux de la concordia discors et sur le statut du texte comme une sorte de via negativa. D'autres, nettement plus 'pessimistes,' percoivent dans le texte scevien une fragmentation irremediable, un lieu de 'continuelz discors' (D392, vo. 2) qui deplace l'unite de l'rigine fictive, depuis toujours brisee" (106). Helgeson's personal position is the following: "[S]I dans cette etude nous avons tenance a nous placer d avantage du cote pessimiste'-c'est surtout pour une raison heuristique: a notre avis la notion de la coherence' de l'ceuvre est un a priori qui ne nous avance guere dans notre comprehension des mecanismes du texte."

The central poem from Delie highlighted by Helgeson to justify his critical position is D173, where the words "ceincte" and "prise" are used to qualify the "harmonie" of the beloved Delie and the overall anguish and violence (as Helgeson sees them) associated with both the subject and the object of desire in a kind of writerly "strategy of containemtn" (10). Now, most readers of Delie and Microcosme agree that the captivating poetic that Sceve and the reader are trying to come to terms with is that of concordia discors: the harmony of dialectical synthesis (the conjoining of seemingly disparate elements like physical desire and spiritual-intellectual desire). If this synthesis is unattintable, as Helgeson and others before him have argued, then an anguished, violent poetic is the result. Thus, in his first chapter on "La Mousike et ses effets," rejecting any Neoplatonic reading of Sceve which "mettrait l'accent sur la consonance, l'accord ultime des contradictions de l'etre comme de l'ceuvre," Helge son prefers to "proceder autrement: c'est l'ideologie de la formation, voire la violence faite a l'alterite afin soit de la contenir, soit de la 'repurger'--violence au sein de l'etre comme de l'ceuvre" that defines Sceve's understanding of poetico-musical harmony. Thus, in chapter 2, "Chantant Orphee," Delies's overriding Orphic, biblical motif of "death-to-life," previously studied so well by Cynthia Skenazi and most recently by Gerard Defaux, among others, is shown to be poetically impotent. Sceve is, therefore, viewed as a defeated Orphic poet for whom "Ia Redemption et La Vie eternelle" are nor "une chose acquise." Indeed, the love poet is called a "'musicien' imparfait, prive de la lyre d'Orphee, promis au silence mortel des 'signes evidents' (D447, vol. 6) de son etat dechu" (73). Thus, in chapter 3, "Delia ceincte," Helgeson reaffirms that Delie's/Delie's and the poet's "harmonie n'est jamais tout fait sans complications (i.e., sans violences]" (83). Finally, once again in his last chapter, "Rien, ou bien peu," Helgeson is consistent and insistent in his pessimistic assessments: "Aucune transcendance spirituelle n'intervient a la fin de D435; ... le retour a l'introspection permet de percevoir que la synthese avec l'autre dans l'intellect est vouee a l'echec" (113). Contrary to what Hans Staub had previously argued about Sceve's "conception optimiste de la curiosite humaine," Helgeson views Sceve's attempts at synthesis as epistemological and ontological failures (118-19).

Helgeson's reading of Delie's "continuelz discors" is well argued. But it does not convince this reader to accept them as Delie's dominant love esthetic. The poet's struggle is, as most everyone agrees, one of coming to terms with harmony. As illusory or violent as this poetic may sometime appear, Sceve does manage in many of his love texts to retrieve and capture from deep within poetic subjectivity love's "harmonie en celestes accordz" (D173). This is the dominant writerly impulse and the redeeming characteristic that rescue Sceve from the "continuous discord" of love and art.
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Author:Nash, Jerry C.
Publication:Renaissance Quarterly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 2003
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