At first, Șerban Alexandru's tetralogy Benedict and Maledict, of which Mallarmé is the first volume, might seem like an anti-realist or surrealist or even trans-realist experimental novel. In fact, it draws upon a much older, pre-realist tradition of Menippean satire that can be traced back through Laurence Sterne and Rabelais to Lucian of Samosata. Rather like in Béroalde de Verville's Le Moyen de parvenir (1610), the narrator and myriad characters of Mallarmé, real and fictional, ancient and modern, become the interlocutors in a never-ending dialogue of the dead. The subject of this dialogue is by turns literary, philosophical, metaphysical, mythological, lexicological, scatological, and even entomological. The characters that pop up inside the narrator's head to engage in riotously funny logomachy range from Occam to Kant, from Empedocles to Camus. The cast of characters is completed by allegorical figures turned personified literary devices such as Pensiero, Histrion, and the eponymous Benedict and Maledict; the colorful inmates of a mental asylum in the Danube town of Brăila; and, of course, the narrator's constant foil and companion Mallarmé, whose ideal book would be a literary microcosm of the universe.

This is what Benedict and Maledict ultimately attempts: to encompass the whole of the universe, from high to low, if we believe that everything in the world exists to be included in a book, and if by the world we mean literature. Benedict and Maledict has devoured the whole of literature and takes endless delight in making comical, often grotesque, allusion to everything from Gilgamesh to Jean-Paul Sartre. Interspersed with the madcap dialogues of the dead are Monty-Pythonesque episodes, ribald tales, shaggy-dog stories, and facetious monologues in the manner of Bruscambille, making Mallarmé a novel whose plot is impossible to summarize in any conventional sense, but whose narrative is driven forward by endless imaginative and lexical inventiveness.

Publication Date: 
August 24, 2021