From contrapuntal writing to antipodal carving: Paul Gauguin's Polynesian "Afternoon of a Faun"
This article examines the adaptation of Mallarmé’s symbolist poem, “The Afternoon of a Faun,” by Paul Gauguin. During his first trip to Tahiti, Gauguin carved a cylindrical wooden totem that recreates the faun’s lustful dream in Mallarmé’s poem, replacing the faun and nymphs with Polynesian mythology. Memory is understood here from an intertextual, intermedial, and intercultural perspective, where the contrapuntal musico-literary qualities of fugue suggested in Mallarmé’s poem permeate through its afterlives as a palimpsest, culminating in Gauguin’s “primitive trinket.” Finally, to reverse the colonial gaze and to push adaptation and interextuality further, the Pacific gains more agency once we consider the afterlife of the totem reproduced in the recent film Gauguin: Voyage to Tahiti by Edouard Deluc.
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