|British Comparative Literature Association
Professor Malcolm Bowie , 1943 - 2007
Obituary: 'Professor Malcolm Bowie: French scholar of brio' by Clive Scott. The Independent 5 February 2007
Obituary: 'Professor Malcolm Bowie: energetic scholar and lucid Proustian' The Times 6 February 2007
Obituary: 'Professor Malcolm Bowie' The Telegraph 5 February 2007
'What stood out was the experience everyone had had of his unaffected kindness and generosity and his disregard for hierarchy and pomp, combined with an equally unaffected brilliance, style, and capacity for innovation'.
Books authored by Malcom Bowie on Amazon:
Bowie, Malcolm (2008) Mallarmé and the Art of Being Difficult Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Below is the tribute paid to Malcolm's intellectual achievements by Professor Clive Scott:
I have known Malcolm for forty years. During all that time I have enjoyed the warmth of his unfailing friendship. And even though, with all the demands upon him, I never managed to see enough of him, I had the consolation of looking him out between the covers of his books: the writing Malcolm was, although addressing a wide readership, no less intimately himself. His critical writing is quite palpably, quite tangibly, among the finest to be found in the Humanities. And it is that, for a variety of reasons, chief of which is the undissociatedness of his own sensibility. No one has, like him, the art of writing the pleasure of thought, the sensory substance of thought, the exuberant abundance of response to the work, irresistible, spreading. His is an encompassing writing, the kind of writing you read from the inside and don’t want to get out of. From the outset, from his 1973 book on Michaux, he had found this assured and captivating voice. About the white spaces of the page, he writes:
Widening spaces suggest a more and more exultant leaping – moments of wordless élan. Indeed at times space commands the scene: the occasional word is no more than a concrete prompting to further flight, or a hint of the gravity which the poet has suddenly found himself able to defy. But whiteness can be read in another way; […] Surrounding space may [...] be thought to represent the inanity which lies outside the word and against which the poem is constructed. A tenuous lifeline of sense proceeds over the empty expanses of the book. Space is an eradicating, nullifying agent. In either of these roles the page itself demands the reader’s attention. (Henri Michaux: A Study of His Literary Works, 1973, 145-6).
When I first knew Malcolm, we were immersed in the criticism of Bachelard, of Blanchot, of Poulet and of Jean-Pierre Richard. Malcolm never lost his affection for Richard in particular, because he recognized in his writing something deep-rootedly kindred. In a review of Richard’s Essais de critique buissonnière, published in 2000, Malcolm assesses Richard’s writing in these terms: ‘he found his distinctive voice by way of a long, generous self-absorption in another writer’s words. The more he became Mallarmé, the more he became himself’ (French Studies, 54, 548). This we might say is an autobiographical assessment in the third person, but only as long as we understand the sentence: ‘The more he became Mallarmé, the more he became himself’ not as the strategy of Proustian pastiche, but as the contiguity of complementary colours, a contiguity of reciprocal intensification. The more Malcolm, in his Mallarmé, writes Malcolm, the more Mallarmé seems to us to come into possession of his own kingdom. This is indeed a critical magic, where the critic and his subject do not write at each other’s expense, but, on the contrary, in the service of each other’s fulfilment.
But there are Richardian characteristics that Malcolm does not share. He makes reference to Richard’s ‘aphoristic wit and discreet lexical inventiveness’. This way lie the dangers of the studied and the slightly self-regarding, the danger that Richard will disappear into his own style. What Malcolm’s writing does is refuse to surrender the activity of writing, as the play of perceptual consciousness and complex sensory engagement, to the allurements of style. There is in his work bubbling wit, but without aphoristic ambition, and lexical inventiveness would perhaps break the spell of sumptuous plain-spokenness. Malcolm exercises English to its fingertips, and he does so not only by visiting all its territories, but more particularly by endowing its lexicon with a density that compels us bodily to inhabit it, and find our place in its every word. This is a peculiar gift, this ability to turn critical language from an instrument of interpretation into a source and medium of experience. When Malcolm writes of Mallarmé’s Un coup de dés: ‘The syntax binds divergent messages together and threads one negation into another with such exactitude that a new, perilous sense of positive value is created’ (1978, 142), we realise that we do not know what that plain-spoken word ‘exactitude’ means, because it only wants to come to meaning, to be exacting, to require a shrewd leap of intuition; and if we read ‘perilous’ lazily, as some upmarket version of ‘dangerous’, we would miss, deeper inside ourselves, the sense of something which should not be avoided, but must be risked, which if achieved will be achieved only just, something which engages a certain intellectual high-mindedness, something, too of course, which brings to mind a quest, and the sea. If I may put it this way: Malcolm persuades us to give meaning to the text by giving meaning to the language in which he writes about it. He wants the reading of him to be a highly rewarding exertion, and an affecting existential participation, and this it always is.
Return to the [ Home Page ]
|Maintained by Margaret Anne Clarke|