Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


French Studies

Document Type



This dissertation analyzes Guillaume Apollinaire's rewriting of Merlin's mother and the Dame du Lac in L'Enchanteur pourrissant as a commentary on writing. I consider Merlin's state in the tomb as an effect of his desire for the Dame du Lac and relate this to the poet's relationship to writing, which is the result of his desire for a unity of expression -- to express what can be designated in the text, but not directly communicated in its totality through language. There is always something missing from any writing, but the very absence of meaning influences poetic production by encouraging attempts to supply what is missing. I elaborate the roles Merlin's mother and the Dame du Lac play in the creation and destruction of Merlin's corporeality and relate these roles to the dynamics of desire and the poetic act. Merlin's mother's active, creative desire and the Dame du Lac's destruction of Merlin's signifier-flesh illustrate the effects of the feminine ineffable, a logical, linguistic concept that I formulate, on the act of (re) writing. The feminine ineffable corresponds to one aspect of the Lacanian theory of the feminine and is specific to the literary text. This reading of L'Enchanteur pourrissant reveals the importance of Merlin's mother and the Dame du Lac to Apollinaire's text beyond mere representations of figures of the women in Apollinaire's life. Their actions symbolically define the limits of poetic expression. This dissertation evaluates the episodes of Merlin's conception and entombment in L'Enchanteur pourrissant alongside those in the Prophesies de Merlin and other key medieval works and thereby offers a comparative analysis of Apollinaire's sources together with that of his text, which is not found in existing criticism. In addition to reevaluating the traditional interpretation of these characters, this project revisits and offers a new reading of textual episodes, such as the Dame du Lac's blood writing, that is informed by both medieval literature and contemporary criticism. In this way, my reading of L'Enchanteur pourrissant reflects Apollinaire's combination of medieval tradition and contemporary invention in his early twentieth-century rewriting of legend.



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Committee Chair

Adelaide M. Russo