শুক্রবার, ২৭ মার্চ, ২০২০

SYNAPSE ESSAY THE SIXTH: Mallarmé / Mallarmi an essay (adapted for the eye) by David Seaman

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Mallarmé / Mallarmi

Mallarmé's Un Coup de Dés (A Throw of the Dice), so dazzled this author on first sight that he spent hours meticulously hand-copying it. Mallarmé himself stands as that spiritual figure in French poetry who resumes and crowns most of the preceding tendencies of imaginative poetry, and who serves as master to succeeding generations of poets and poetic movements. Mallarmé is called the inheritor of Dante and Goethe for his intellectual and global view of the metaphysics of poetry , while he is considered the descendant of the Romantic poets and Baudelaire for his expressive symbolic language. At the same time, his name is invoked as predecessor by a great number of the poetic schools of the twentieth

century, from Futurism to Spatialism. 1

One example of  typical  homage  to  Mallarmé is in the special issue of


Les Lettres published in the fiftieth anniversary year of Mallarmé's death.'

After the introductions and Inédits, the lead article is a consideration by Jean Starobinski of "Mallarmé et la tradition poétique française." In this article, Starobinski attaches Mallarmé to Maurice Scève and to the préciosité of the seventeenth century, as well as to Baudelaire and Parnasse. At the end of the volume, a series of articles headed by Jean Audard's "Sur

l'influence de Mallarmé" discuss his effect on the poetry of England, Germany, Spain, and Portugal.

The importance of Mallarmé in the context of this study is thus doubly assured: in his work, and especially in the masterwork, Un Coup de Dés (A Throw of the Dice) emerge the blossoming and perhaps the perfection of all those elements of visual poetry that were developing fragmentally up to this point. Further, a stimulus if not license is given to succeeding poets to work with the forms and structures which Mallarmé made respectable.

There will be no attempt to explicate fully the poems of Mallarmé which come under scrutiny here, for that requires analysis of many more dense areas of the poet's universe than are presently under consideration. How­ever, some of the rather detailed exegeses of Mallarmé's poetry will be

118 Mallarmi

examined to find various points of view from which to confront the visual aspects of his work.
Certainly the most    important document in the study of visual  poetry and Mallarme is the extraordinary poem, Un Coup de Des jamais n'abolira le Hasard (A Throw of the Dice Never Will Abolish Chance). While the effects mentioned are frequently evident in other poems, it is desirable to concentrate on the most fecund and highly developed source. In any case, more than one critic has used this work as the body from which to develop a theory of the poetics of Mallarme. Four areas of awareness of visual poetry can be discovered here. The first concerns the act of writing itself, and the second involves the question of the nature and form of books. The third has to do with the appearance of a page of poetry, and finally there is the value of letter-shapes. This list proceeds from the general to the' particular, and these points will be considered in that order, although there is necessarily a constant mixture of these elements in Mallarme's work.


The act of wntmg was something which gave Mallarme considerable difficulty. Throughout his work are references to the dilemma of bringing himself to this act. In Quant au livre (Concerning Books), a section significantly entitled "L 'Action restreinte" (Restrained Action) contains this utterance: "Suicide or abstinence, not doing anything, why?" 2 Referring to the writer's performance, this is like Albert Camus' existential point of departure, expressed at the beginning of Le Mythe de Sisyphe: "There is only one truly serious philosophical problem: Suicide."3 For Mallarme the response is to write, to perform the difficult and often onerous task, similar in many ways to that of Sisyphus who must roll his stone up the mountain, knowing that it will roll down again. Formulating a definition of writing at the head of his lecture on Villiers de l'Isle-Adam, Mallarme approached the idea in another way:
Do we know what writing is? . . . This outrageous game of writing is to claim for oneself
. . . the duty to recreate everything . . . . One by one, to revive each of our prides, by order of precedence, and see them. Otherwise, if it weren't for that, a summation to the world that this obsession is equal to rich numerical hypotheses, like a law, on the so audacious pale paper-I believe, truly, that there would be trickery, almost to the point of suicide.4

Thus the conclusion is that the writer must make the effort:

Therefore watch out and be there.
Poetry is a rite; which strives, in chaste crises in isolation, during the other gestation in progress.
examined to find various points of view from which to confront the visual aspects of his work.

Certainly the most important document in the study of visual poetry

and Mallarmé is the extraordinary poem, Un Coup de Dés Jamais n'abolira le Hasard (A Throw of the Dice Never Will Abolish Chance). While the effects mentioned are frequently evident in other poems, it is desirable to concentrate on the most fec.und and highly developed source. In any case, more than one critic has used this work as the body from which to develop a theory of the poetics of Mallarmé. Four areas of awareness of visual poetry can be discovered here. The first concerns the act of writing itself, and the second involves the question of the nature and form of books. The third has to do with the appearance of a page of poetry, and finally there is the value of letter-shapes. Th.is list proceeds from the general to the particular, and these points will be considered in that order, 

although there is necessarily a constant mixture of these elements in Mallarmé's * *



Mallarmé approached the idea in another way:

Do we know what writing is? . . . This outrageous game of writing is to claim for oneself
. . . the duty to recreate everything .... One by one, to revive each of our prides, by order of precedence, and see them. Otherwise, if it weren't for that, a summation to the world that this obsession is equal to rich numerical hypotheses, like a law, on the so audacious pale paper- I believe, truly, that there would be trickery, almost to the point of suicide.4

Mallarmé's suggestions (under the guise of advice to a young poet) could perhaps be seen as similar to Descartes' cogito ergo sum.  In Mallarmé's case, however, the cogito is replaced by scribo. The  poet declares: "Your act is always applied to paper; because meditation, without footprints, vanishes ... "6 Thus the first important concrete aspect of Mallarmé's poetry is that he views it as necessarily applied to paper. This seemingly obvious statement must be taken seriously, because Mallarmé felt very strongly the physical confrontation between himself and the materials of his craft: paper, ink, type, book bindings and the rest are for him, much more so than for other poets, vital considerations in the creative act. Mallarmé describes these materials in the passage which follows the above, offering what is almost a phenomenological definition of his art:

To write,
The inkwell, crystal-clear as a conscience, with its drop, in the bottom, of darkness relative to existence; then, push away your lamp.7

The dark fluid from the inkwell will contrast strikingly with the white paper, a point that Mallarmé insists on, comparing the letters wishfully with stars (a comparison to find its fullest meaning in the work, Un Coup de Dés). Man
does not write "in light, on a dark field," but rather, "man carries on black on white."8

The white paper is perhaps the most commonly mentioned concrete element in Mallarmé's creative endeavors. It appears in his essays, and in his poetry, acquiring various meanings that range from a vacant desert to quite feminine and sexual purity. These images almost always retain something of an analogy to the art of writing, hence to the physical circumstances which give birth to the image. In the passage from "L'Action restreinte," the poet describes the folded sheet of paper as "this fold of dark lace.''9 The reference is evocative of a petticoat with its many pleats and lacy fringe. The adjective "sombre" refers to the lacy scrawl of ink on the white paper, but also suggests the mystery and dangers enfolded in the page (the phrase continues "which contains infinity ... "). Elsewhere, the reference is more explicit, as Mallarmé speaks of the virginity of the page:

... unfailingly the white returns ...

Virginity which alone, before a sufficient transparency of the glance, has divided itself into its fragments  of  candor,  both  the one and  the  other, nuptial  proofs of  the Idea.10

As might be expected, the virgin purity of the page resists the poet's intrusions. This is most clearly expressed in "Brise Marine" (Sea Breeze). The poet, exhausted by the tribulations of his civilized and unproductive life purity of the page resists the poet's intrusions. This is most clearly expressed in "Brise Marine" (Sea Breeze). The poet, exhausted by the tribulations of his civilized and unproductive life,

120 Mallard

seeks to flee to the sea. Among the things he would leave behind, is "the empty paper protected by its white_ness" (line 7). Here white is associated with emptiness, but it is the very whiteness of the paper which seems to prevent his writing.
Yet, apart from the yearning for escape expressed in Brise Marine, it would be wrong to imagine Mallarmé discouraged by this confront.ation. It was a part of the circumstances of writing which he considered so important, and he appreciated it. To return to the image of Sisyphus, of whom Camus concluded, "One must imagine Sisyphus happy,"11 one must imagine Mallarmé content, having accepted the necessary struggle with the elements of poetry. This is confirmed by his comments in the letter to Verlaine commonly called Autobiographie. He stresses the solitude of his preferred life style, and in describing the surroundings in his Rue de Rome apartment, includes the inevitable page of white paper:

Solitude necessarily accompanies this sort of outlook: and apart from my driveway, and the various places where duty forces me to spend time, ...  I wander little, preferring to all that to stay in an apartment protected by my family, among a few familiar old furnishings, with a sheet of paper that is often blank.12

It would not be out of order to view the poet Mallarmé seated thus in his modest home, silent and contemplative before the blank paper, creating himself and his poem visually, almost existentially. One is reminded of Sartre's protagonist in La Nausée, seated before the task of writing his "journal," and beginning with a description of the box containing his ink
bottle. (It is perhaps pertinent to note that Sartre considered Mallarmé "our greatest poet").13
The first evidence of the concrete act of writing is the consideration of the materials necessary; this must be completed by a more physical act. That Mallarmé was also conscious of this aspect of poetic creation, is revealed in his consistent interest in the theatre. This interest is immediately indicated by the dramatic form which he gave to several of his works: "Hérodiade(Herodias), "L 'Après-midi d'un Faune" (The Afternoon of a Faun), and Igitur head the list, but there are also traces in some of the Poèmes d'enfance et de jeunesse (Poems from Childhood and Youth). Equally important are the articles collected under the title Crayonné au theâtre (Scribbled at the Theater), and various isolated writings where the subject is treated.
The essence of theatre is the gesture and movement of the actors. At the same time, writing is a gesture, the manuscript being a sort of electrocardio­ gram of the writer's thoughts, and in any case a direct record of the movements of his hand and arm. Mallarmé's comments on the theatre and literature--sometimes relating poetry and theatre, other times comparing

the concept of the book with the theatre--show that he felt this relationship, and occasionally tried to define it. There was for him something about the nature of theatre--and even more so, of dance--which corresponded to writing, either at its point of creation, or else in the concrete form on the page and in the book.
Mallarmé was probably discussing a dramatic version of "L'A près0-midi d'un faune" (The Afternoon of a Faun) in a letter to Eugène Lefébure, when he spoke of "... a new dramatic line, in which the pauses are closely traced along the lines of the gesture."14 Cohn sees this early (1865) statement as an initial step toward the form of Un Coup de Des.15 This seems accurate, especially insofar as it suggests that the written line reflects the dramatic gesture. The corollary to this--that the actor performs according to the line

  • á of text--is curiously suggested in the wording of this statement in an article of Crayonné au theatre (Scribbled at the Theater): "The actor avoids scanning the pace by the dramatic refrain, but straddles a silent carpet , on the rudimentary sonorous trampoline of walking and leaping."16
Dance is naturally associated with theatre, since it presents under similar circumstances certain of the aspects of theatre. It is, in fact, an isolation of the visual, physical elements, and bears the same relationship to theatre as visual poetry to conventional texts. It may have been with a similar thought in mind that Mallarmé defined dance as an art where one finds "human form in its most excessive mobility . . . as a . . . visual embodiment of the idea."17 Guy Delfel, in his Esthétique de Stéphane Mallarmé (Aesthetics of Stephane Mallarmé), perceives that the movement of dance, in this context, is like the "typographic casting arranged on the white sheet of paper."18 The idea of the stage as ·a white sheet of paper is contributed by Mallarmé in "Autre étude de danse" (Another Dance Study), where he is inspired by the dancer Loïe Fuller. When the dancer enters like a furious flake, "the floor acquires an undreamed of virginity of place which the figure isolates, builds, and makes flower."19 The furginity of the stage is not unlike the virginity of the page. Dance, as a concrete expression, is also the form which makes the most of the area where it is performed; similarly, visual poetry is the written expression which best takes advantage of the page. Mallarmi wrote, concerning this point, that

"Dance alone, because of its evolutions, along with mime, seems to me to require an actual space, which is the stage."20

If one had any doubts about the appropriateness of these comparisons of theatre and visual poetry for Mallarmé, they are dispelled by his comments in answer to a "Enquête sur le théâtre" (Questionnaire on Theatre). Mallarmé responds to the subject with his own definition of theatre, related to the ideas outlined here. It is not a question of plays or dramatic literature, but of theatre as a religious act (recalling the origins of
theatre in the mass) and more importantly, as a book. The "Livre" he evokes here sounds very much like the masterwork he was preparing; the phrase, "a Book, explanation of mankind," is similar to his comment on "the Book, ... Th orphic explanatio of th Earth," i Autobiographie..21 
The theatre of which Mallarmé speaks in this passage is also the creative act of every artist, contributing by his actions to the understanding of the world: "everyone has tried it ... " Finally, the theatre of which Mallarmé speaks is one in which everyone participates, but most crucially, the poet himself, to his own pleasure and torment. The passage referred to above is not too long, and will be quoted in its entirety:

I believe that Literature, taken back to its source which is Art and Science, will furnish us with a Theatre, whose performances will be the true modern worship service; a Book, explanation of mankind, satisfying our most beautiful dreams. I believe that all this is written in nature in such a way that only those who do not want to see anything will close their eyes to it. This work exists, everyone has tried it without realizing it....To show this and to lift up a corner of the veil over what such a poem can be, is in solitude my pleasure and my torture.22

In summary, writing can be for Mallarmé a drama which he performs, carrying on a dialogue with the concrete materials he must use. This drama become.s an image for other dramas of life, but it also becomes a visual poem in itself, just as the actor or dancer is the theatre, tracing lines upon the stage. The lasting advantage of literature is that this concrete act leaves a concrete record, the poem, or book , which is an attempt to record and preserve the knowledge of the drama.

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The Book

The importance of the book was capital for Mallarmé as a few random phrases reveal. He writes that "a book . . . replaces all theatres," although it is not as an alternative but rather a perfection of the theatrical elements.23 Furthermore, the significance of such a book is universal, since "everything, in  the world, exists to end up as a  book."24 This statement comes from the

article, "Le Livre, instrument spirituel” (The Book, Spiritual Instrument) in Quant au livre. The title suggests the underlying thought, already clearly presented in the preceding pages. However, one should not allow the metaphysical qualities of the book Mallarmé fancied to distract attention from his concern for its concrete presence. A hint of this is found in a reference to the "talisman du Livre" (Book as Talisman), for a talisman has magical properties but is at the same time a  physical object one can carry.25 An interesting example of a talisman-like book, which Claude Roulet calls a

"poème-objet"26 (though "livre-objet" would be more accurate), is described by Rene Ghil:

The book was still too explicit [for Mallarmé, who] dreamed of a sort of watch whose dial would bear simple signs variously placed and colored, a watch which, when pulled out of the pocket would tell enough by these lines, which would be moveable so one could manipulate them in different ways, to immediately suggest a whole meditation on man and the universe- according to the wishes of the "Me" who carried the  precious little instrument, a new kind of prayer wheel.27

The book-object described by Ghil remained a dream, but there are many artifacts available which pertain to the creation of a Livre by Mallarmé. These are mainly the poet's various writings of a critical nature, a mass  of  notes  published  as   L " Livre" de  Mallarmé'28   (Mallarmé’s  "Book"), and Un Coup de Dés, the finished work which comes closest to the ideal. (Cohn has shown that, in fact, many of Mallarmé's major works contribute to this project which dominated the poet's thoughts for most of his life. This discussion is limited to those which bear on the visual aspects of the Livre.)
The  primary  concern  for  the  Livre is that  it  be a  structural unit,
carefully coordinated. Describing his Grand Oeuvre (another term for the Livre), Mallarmi said it would be "a book that is a book, architectural and premeditated, and not inspirations collected by chance, even if fantastic." 29 Of his other works, then, he felt "it is right to say they make up an album,

but not a book."30 The surprising impression made by the notes for Le Livre is of all the calculations about the physical circumstances of its existence. From this there is little doubt left about the importance of the concrete qualities of the work. Edward Bird sums this up well in his study of L'Univers poétique de Stéphane Mallarmé (Stéphane Mallarmé's Poetic Universe):

In examining this sketch of the Book one is struck by the great number of sheets devoted to calculations of various subjects. It seems that Mallarmé wanted to fix in advance the number of pages, of volumes, and even the number of readers and listeners at the readings; he even wanted to set the price of admission to these sessions, the sale price of the books and the size of the edition. In fact, the main part of the manuscript treats questions  of  structure and  conditionnecessary to  assure  thexistencof  the Book.31

Naturally the structure and "architecture" of the book is not merely bound up in numerical relationships. There is a more intimate and literary structure, starting with the tiniest element. "The book, total expansion of theletter," remarks Mallarmé in the article, "Le livre, instrument spirituel."32 Cohn finds this quite true, assigning to the letter in Un Coup de Des the value of a molecule in the universe of the "Book:" "One can say that a word or a letter represents, in one sense, a monad, a microcosm of the general structure."33 The general structure is then developed in terms of sentences and  lines, carefully  tied  together:  

"Nothing  left  to  chance, there,  ... the
construction of the book...begins with a sentence."34 This thought is developed   further  in  Mallarmé's  response  to  an   Enquête  sur l’évolution
littéraire (Investigation into the Evolution of Literature): "And the volume of poetry in the future will be one through which the long initial verse will run with an infinity of motifs borrowed from individual hearing."35The descrip­ tion fits Un Coup de Dés, with its network of motifs around the central title­ phrase. This will be discussed later when the typography is examined.
One architectural feature of the book which can be found in Un Coup de Dés is symmetry. In his article,"Crise de vers" (Verse Crisis) in Variations sur un sujet (Variations on a Theme), Mallarmé suggests that in the ideal volume of poetry, "themes of the same action will be balanced at a distance... "36 Further on in the article, he evokes more levels of symmetry: "Some parallel  symmetry,   which,  in  the  position   of   the  lines  in  the  work is
connected to the authenticity of the work in the volume, flies beyond the volume ... in a mental space….”27 The symmetry in Un Coup de Des can be discovered at all levels. The first four words, part of the title, are repeated
as the last four words at the end of the poem. This makes a nicely tied up package, though it also suggests a return to the beginning, giving another dimension to the symmetry. This can be tied to the equilibrium of "mental space," but the full meaning of the poem will not be analyzed here.
There is symmetry in the structure of the middle page of  Un  Coup de
Dés (a page in this work being a two-page spread, verso and recto considered together). That is page 6, where a text group in the middle, over-lapping the fold, is enclosed by the words "COMME SI" (AS IF) repeated at the upper left and lower right of the page. They stand out by their large type, and are slightly 

apart from the main text of the page. This central, symmetrical page
6 is itself surrounded by two balancing pages. The ideograms (to be discussed more fully later) of pages 5 and 7 are similar, yet reversed; they are basically reflections of each other, as Roulet noted.38 There is symmetry also in the text of the poem, as in the palindromic line from page 5: "the sea by the ancestor attempting or the ancestor against the sea."39
A further intriguing idea on the structure of le Livre, again reported by Ghil, involves a scheme for introducing the reader to certain regularly spaced portions of the book. The poet would do this simply by taking advantage of the French practice of not cutting the folded edges of the bound book:
The volume was to be in-12° - and the folding of the paper was involved in the expression of thoughts. The book being vir.gin, pages uncut, the reader would only be acquainted with the pages thus made visible throughout the volume.40

This would permit the reader to discover the "exoteric meaning" before cutting the pages, and delving into the book would then learn the "esoteric meaning." .

The question of folded and piled pages arises more than once m the consideration of concrete aspects of Mallarmé's book. In "Le Genre ou des modernes" (Gender or on Moderns) Mallarmé sees the book as composed of a pile of pages:". . . superimposed pages as in a chest, protecting against brutal space an infinitely enfolded intimate delicacy of the being itself…”41  Although he imagines the book here as a pile of superimposed pages, and later emphasizes the folds, the important ingredient is the sense of secrecy and seclusion they provide. The article most often cited here, o_n"Le Livre, instrument spirituel," contains several allusions to these folds, which have already been encountered as "ce pli de sombre dentelle." For example, it has religious qualities: "The fold is, in relation to the large printed sheet, a
sign, almost religious: it is not as striking as when piled up m depth, providing what is surely a miniature tomb for the soul."42 Further on down the same page, Mallarmé indicates that the fold is the basic source for the mystery of a book:

intervention of the fold or the rhythm, original reason that a closed sheet might  contain a secret, silence residing there, precious, and extradition signs follow in
succession, for the mind abolished from everything literary.43

Almost inevitably the sexual imagery presents itself, with the book folded together in its virginity, to be entered by a phallic paper knife:

"The virgin folds of the book, again, lend themselves to a sacrifice which the red edges of ancient tomes bled for ; the insertion of a weapon, or paper-knife to establish possession."44 The folds then remain  as a  personal  reminder of the  submis­sion of the book to its master: "The folds will perpetuate a mark, bidding one to open or close the sheet, according to the master's wishes."45The folds can also  provide  a   specific  image;   Roulet  sees  them  in  Un  Coup  de Dés
reinforcing the basic imagery of ocean waves which dom.inates the work for him: "The fold of the binding poetically suggests the trough between waves."46 In addition, he sees the turning of pages as "the stylized form of a
wave which rises up before our eyes."747 

(Cohn feels, however, that Mallarmé was not trying to use this particular element in Un Coup de Des.)48

While the specific meaning and the poetic use of page folds may remain doubt, the importance of their physical presence is certain. The folded

       126 Mallarmé / Mallarmi 127

pages of the book, their inherent mystery, and the action required to enter into them, make the book a concrete object not only for the poet, but also for the reader, who is lured and obliged to participate physically in the act of reading

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The Page
The physical unit which one encounters after the book is the page, which held great interest for Mallarmé. One can safely say that most of Mallarmé's efforts and actual achievements in visual poetry relate to the page and its composition. The word talisman was used in relation to the total book; it occurs also as "talisman de la page."49 The importance of the page for Mallarmé is suggested by the title of his collection of prose writings : Pages (published in 1891). The distinction is partly due to Mallarmé's reluctance to give the name " livre" to anything not meeting his special definition; but also it is a sign of the special attention and care he lavished on individual pages.
For one thing, Mallarmé was interested in the carefully designed page as an alternative mode of poetry for the person wanting to write neither prose (or prose poems) nor vers libres. In bibliographical notes added to his Divagations (Meanderings), Mallarmé made this comment about his typography:

... There is doubtless a way, there, for a poet who does not practice free verse, eventually and with practice, to exhibit such immediate rhythms of thought as to set up a prosody through short condensed pieces.5o

In the preface he wrote for the version of Un Coup de Dés printed in the magazine Cosmopolis, Mallarmé declares that his unusual typography and page make-up is part of an effort to combine free verse and the prose poem.51 An important influence on Mallarmé's conception of the page is the poster. Like his new poetic form, it too falls into a different category than prose or poetry. Mallarmé reveals his surprised admiration for posters in making a comparison between poetry and newspapers (which .he usually found tediously regular, decrying "the unbearable column").52 Adding notes to his lecture, "La Musique et les lettres" (Music and Literature), Mallarmé claimed there were only two modes of writing-traditional verse forms, and free verse (which includes "prose with planned pauses"), with one exception: ". . . Except for posters, pithy, invading newspapers-often they made me think I was facing a new language and originality of the Press."53 Mallarmé offers another variation on this idea in his answer to the Enquête sur.
l’évolution littéraire (Questionnaire on the Evolution of Literature). Again he combines prose and poetry, saying that "in the genre called prose, there is

verse," and concluding that there is no such thing as prose, just "the alphabet and then some more or less compact verse."54 But posters are once more identified as an exception to this: "Verse is in any rhythmic language, everywhere, except in posters. . . ."55

Since the poet has singled out posters as different from the rest of writing, it is useful to know what he felt toward them. The evidence of his masterwork indicates approval; this is reinforced by some comments of Georges Rodenbach, evoking something of the feelings Mallarmé must have had about posters:

. . . Posters that he loves, posters whose example should show how to print books: with boldface letters that stand out and enter the eye on their own, Italics which run along singing, lower case letters which orchestrate the ensemble and accompany it like a chorus.56

Valéry tells how Mallarmé studied the effects of different type faces by examining newspapers and posters.57 The concept of Poster (affiche) is closely allied to print (estampe) which is another term Mallarmé applied to his work. In writing to Camille Mauclair about the pages of Un Coup de Dés, Mallarmé explains them as '.'fundamentally prints."58

The page, whose composition is thus raised to an art comparable to print-making, is essential to Mallarmé's visual poetry. The poet occasionally alludes to the pages in his comments on "the Book." He says to Verlaine in Autobiographie, that the rhythm of a book goes "even as far as the page make-up."59 More forcefully, he wrote to Gide about the .printing of Un Coup de Dés, probably referring to the Lahure edition, which he had toiled over. He had been somewhat limited by the format of the magazine which first printed the poem, as he states in his preface.60 Now he was able to present the pages as he wanted: "The poem is being printed , at this moment, just as I c0nceived the page make-up, where all the effect is found."61

C_ ohn  list thre area wher Mallarmé' U Coup de  Ds employs visual innovations on the· page. One of these is the variety of type faces, which enables him to identify the structural motifs in the book. Another is the use of ideogrammatic word-clusters on the pages. The third is the definition of the page itself.62 What Mallarmé changes here is the old concept that a page depends on the sheet of paper; for Mallarmé, influenced by posters and creating prints, it is the entire visual unit which counts: what Valéry recognized in Mallarmi works as "the page, visual unity." 63 Hence, a Page in Un Coup de Dés (which will be designated with a capital, as Cohn does), is the two-page spread that one can see any time a book lies open. It consists of the verso, or second side, of one sheet, and the recto of the next. This terminology gives us a clue to some of the visual values in the poem,

because the recto is psychologically more important to most viewers, in spite of the new pagination. Roulet points out that the recto is called "la belle page," a phrase which indicates its dominance. He feels this is the reason that Mallarmé puts the most important parts of his text on the right-hand side of the Page, and furthermore, that the uneasiness created by Page 5 is due to its position on the verso.64 There are other Pages where this reasoning falls short, however; one example is on Page 9, with "LE HASARD" in the middle of the recto. It should be mentioned here that Mallarmé preserves the normal reading order, from upper left to lower right; as Davies mentions, even the new concept of the Page embraces this traditi0nal pattern.65 By contrast, many twentieth-century visual poets, and some of Mallarmé's predecessors, make bolder attacks on the rectangular matrix of the page. Mallarmé considered typographical composition a rite;66 he always paid careful attention to it, even when arranging for a more conventional work than Un Coup de Dés. The notes in the "Pléiade" edition of Mallarmé suggest this with the continual references to typographical corrections in the
proofs.67 More direct evidence is to be found in the correspondence the poet carried on with_his Belgian publisher, Deman. Over a period of seven years, in the preparation of Poésies (not printed until 1899), Mallarmé discussed
his preferences of different families and fonts, demonstrating a wide knowledge of typography, but also showing that he had more than aesthetic reasons for his choices. At one point he says "poetry is only very beautiful in an impersonal typeface;" another time he sought something "monumental;" later he rejects Italics, because they are "too close to writing."68 A letter to Catulle Mendes concerning the inclusion of some poems in Le Parnasse contemporain, in 1866, shows that even at that early date Mallarmé was preoccupied with the typographical appearance of his poems.69
In planning the typography of Un Coup de Des, the poet used large sheets of graph paper. This was necessary to assure the alignment of his text. Mondor gives this description of them:

They are large pages of graph paper. With precision, the author gave his text the curious distribution and the different sizes of letters that he demands from the typographers. He himself wrote in tall letters when he wanted large Roman capitals or large Italics, and in
small writing when he only wanted the printer to use lower case Roman or ordinary Italics1.0

According to Albert Thibaudet, Mallarmé had settled on Didot type, after his extensive research.71 Ironically, the posthumous edition of the NRF did not  respect his wishes; although the fonts were kept the same-   various sizes
of italics and Roman-the type family was the same Elzevir as used in the imperfect Cosmopolis edition .72 (Some of Mallarmé's indications to Deman
were ignored when Poesiés came out posthumously, too.) The reason for the change is mysterious; we will examine some other changes later. But even a quick look at the proofs Mallarmé prepared for the Lahure edition showed Roulet a difference between them and the NRF edition: "I did not have the leisure to read them, but their format was bigger and the type face taller, more hieratic, it seemed to me, than those in the ordinary N.R.F. edition."73 One reason for the variety of type fonts in Un Coup de Des, and a justification of their unusual disposition on the Page, is to make the printed text resemble a musical score. Mallarmé showed an interest in this relation­ ship in an early article, " Hérésies artistiques-L'art pour tous" (Artistic Heresies-Art for Everyman), published in 1862. The subject is obscurity in art, which Mallarmé admires: "Everything that is sacred and wa nts to stay
- sacred  wraps itself in mystery."74 The  artistic example he chooses is music,
and  what touches him is the  mysterious appearance of the signs in a  score:

If we casually open Mozart, Beethoven, or Wagner, and glance indifferently at the first page of their work, we a re seized by a religious astonishment at the sight of these macabre processions of severe, chaste, and unknown signs.75

From there, the young poet wonders ,why poetry does not do the same; he deplores the fact that a poetic masterpiece is printed in a type just  as ordinary and accessible as the flattest verse or prose. He concludes by admonishing poets to react against popularizing their art: "Oh poets, you have always been proud; be more, become disdainful."76 Mallarmé has become disdainful by the time of Un Coup de Des, but it is not for the sole reason of hermeticism. The reference to music bears special significance, since he compares the text to a musical score in his introduction to the Cosmopolis edition: ". . . from this naked use of thought with retreats, extensions, flights, or its own design, there emerges a musical score for everyone who wants to read aloud."77 He goes on to suggest that  the different type faces identify the primary and secondary motifs, and even allows that the intonation may rise and fall according to the position of the word on the page. Numerous references to music could be introduced here, but it is not the intention of this study to treat that aspect of  Mallard's work (for which one can read Suzanne Bernard's Mallard et la musique78 Furthermore, it is not entirely evident that the allusion to a musical score is more than an image for the kind of visual impression given here. A clear warning is to be found in Valery's account of the first reading of the poem.

Mallarmi read the poem to him "in a low, even voice, without the slightest 'effect,' almost to himself."79 The indications for intonation were not so important to  the poet! In addition, Valery remarks that he was astonished to
see what the text looked liked when it  was shown  to him after the reading.

Of course, this is not the last word on the matter. One learns from Valery's article on Un Coup de Dés that a group of 13 people were intending to perform the poem on stage; Valéry was himself shocked to hear of the audacious idea.80 Occurring around 1920, this project might have had some relationship to the poème simultané, a kind of poem read by several people at once, arising particularly from the Dada movement. Mallarmé may have inspired the Dadaists in this with his typography and comments on Un Coup de Dés, so the inspiration for the "polyphonic" presentation of his poem perhaps simply came home to roost.
A basic use of the different type faces in Un Coup de Des is to identify the various motifs. Mallarmé makes an extraordinary projection of his poem in "Le Livre, instrument spirituel”:

Why not-a dash of grandeur, of thought or of feeling, a considerable drawn-out sentence, in large letters, one line per page in a graduated position, to keep the reader in suspense for the duration of the book, calling on his own enthusiasm: and around it,
smaller groups subordinated to their explicative or derivative value- a seed-bed of embellishments.&1

The "drawn-out sentence" is what he will call in the Cosmopolis preface a "latent guide wire", or more specifically, "a capital phrase introduced with the title and continued."82 This is none other than the complete title,  Un Coup de Dés jamais n'abolira le Hasard. Surrounding this are the secondary motifs, making up the "seed-bed of embellishments." Cohn calls these the "secondary typographic branches," and puts them together in this way:

If / it was the number / it would be / (chance) [and]
even when thrown in eternal circumstances / from the bottom of a  shipwreck  /  so  be it  the  master  should he exist / should he begin and end / should he calculate himself / should he illuminate himself nothing  will have taken place other  than  the  place  except  / perhaps / a constellationBl

In the NRF and Lahure editions, the title, or primary motif, is in large Roman capitals, the secondary motif, " Si c’était . . . " (If/ it was) is in medium-sized Italic capitals (the " st' being slightly larger than the others), and the motif, "quand bien même . . . "(even when) is in somewhat smaller 

Roman capitals. The other fonts used are two smaller sizes each of Roman and Italic lower case.
The visual effect of this is defined by Cohn as an added dimension. To the horizontal and vertical of the page, this adds a necessary thickness: Mallarmé's "superimposed pages as in a chest." The book is three-dimen­ sional because each page depends on its relationship to  other  pages.84 Roulet prefers to group the pages in another way, spreading them out side­ by-side. This enables him to trace lines connecting the different parts of each motif (and sometimes combining parts of several, according to the meaning), and to form ideograms that span several of Mallarmé's Pages at  a  time.85 The results are very intriguing, but the lack of precision in the schematic drawings Roulet prepares suggests the unscientific basis for this type of research. It seems, in any case, to be contrary to the intentions of Mallarmé.

12 squares from " Maquettes" for Un Coup de Des





132 Mallarmi

A second visual effect of the use of varied type faces is to enhance the texture of the Page. An idea of Mallarmi's intentions is afforded by his research into typography. Certainly the different faces used in Un Coup de  Dis underscore different moods in the text. Roulet assigns some basic values to the fonts: "[Mallarmé] attributed to the Roman character the  value of slow movement; to Italics, rapid movement, or dance . . . ."86 Mallarmi had once referred to "... Italics which run along singing."87
It should be noted in passing that Mallarmi had already used a combination of three type faces in "L 'Après-midi d'un faune" (The After­ noon of a Faun). The main text is in Roman, while substantial passages are in italics. The change seems to be from one kind of discourse to another; it is
most likely, as Cohn says in Toward the Poems of Mallarmé, to "indicate a change to the more fragile mood of a memory."88 This is therefore a visual use of italics, the delicacy of the type face suggesting overtones of its content. Sometimes it is an individual word which stands out on the Page.
Mallarmi said in the letter to Gide, that "a certain word in bold face requires a  whole page of white...."89 The page-in this instance the recto of  Page 5-can then function as the field on which isolated words play. "Words, by themselves, have many brilliant facets," declared Mallarmé in Le Mystère
dans les lettres, making the point that detached words have important special effects.90 A part of such effects is also in the position of the word on the page. Roulet has studied this in Un Coup de Dés, calling it the "aspect photographique." He finds that words are placed high, middle, or low, depending upon where they belong pictorially. Thus, when the poet describes the crest of a wave, it is at the top of a Page, and when he describes the break of the wave, it is on the lower part of the Page. In addition, naufrage ("shipwreck") is at the bottom of Pages 2 and 4, while Maître ("Master" or "God" in Roulet's interpretation), appears at the top of Page 4. Roulet maintains, furthermore, that the position of every word in the poem can be
justified in this way, if not for its pictorial place, then according to its importance.91One can easily find many more examples, but there are some
which seem not to fit: coiffe ("headdress") at the bottom of Page 7, and délire jusqu à une cime ("delirium up to a peak") at the bottom of Page 9 are two such  cases.  But  Cohn  asserts  that  certain  words are  placed  on  the Page
contrary to their meaning, and this helps establish the stasis of a balanced polarity.92

Another interesting contribution by Roulet is that the page of any text is limited by tranches ("slices"), real and psychological, at several points. First there is the edge of the page, and the fold, but also there are the margins of the text, and the horizontal lines of the lead type the page is set in. These tranches have a rigid effect in the normal book, something like the impression Mallarmé received from the regularity of newspaper columns. But Mallarmé's masterwork transcends these borders by breaking  them down into a myriad of smaller ones, and by placing these in larger contexts. On a typical P,age of Un Coup de Dés, there is a psychologic-al margin at the end of every cluster of words; at the same time, these correspond to similar margins on other pages, thus jumping over the tranche .at the edge of the paper. The margin at the center-fold is also reduced in strength, since there is no regular margin of type next to it. All this is suggested by Roulet in a chapter called "Vers un nouvel état de la page" (Toward a New State of the Page) in his latest work on Un Coup de Dés.93

The eternal circumstance of a shipwreck’s depth
Gravity declares. Drops through filters of itself a laughing bottom.
Beyond former calculations

Loosened rivets and adhesion. Wonder, cartography and modes of mathematics.

The focus up to now has been on the type on the page. It is also necessary to treat the blank spaces around the type, because for Mallarmé this was equally an important visual element in the poem. He indicates in
  • ¥ "Planches et feuillets" (Plates and Pages), that he relies on the white space at the end of the line of poetry to grasp the metric scheme of a poem.94Jacques

Scherer perceives that Mallarmi is serious about using the white space: "The way he talks about it leaves no doubt about the awareness he has of constructing his page by these blank spaces, which are truly extensions of what we have called his syntax."95 One place where Mallarmé used white spaces was in his prose. He liked plenty of room between paragraphs in what he wrote, and had faith in "the artlessness of the paper" to suggest the proper
transition9.6 One notes, for example, that there was an indication on one of his manuscripts that the printer should leave a certain blank space.97 A
similar suggestion was made to Catulle Mendès concerning the poems in Le Parnasse contemporain, requesting "a big white space after each one, . . . a pause, because they were not written to crowd together thus.' '98
The power of the white page has been seen as it confronted Mallarmé before he wrote on it. A sign of this power is that the poet worked a compromise with the whiteness, rather than eliminating or overcoming it. No matter how much one writes, "the white returns;" and as this white space is broken up into chunks, "fragments of candor," it completes and justifies
what has been written: "to conclude that there is nothing beyond and to authenticate the silence-nuptial proofs of the idea."99 The alternation between the writing and the blank page becomes a dialectic in a Hegelian
sense, resulting in a synthesis that authenticates the writing as equal to the absoluteness of the white. The care which Mallarmé took with the white spaces on his pages is indicated in this passage, which he wrote in response to an Enquête sur Poë (Investigation into Poe):
The intellectual core of the poem is hidden and holds up- takes place- in a space which isolates the verses in the white of the paper: meaningful silence which is no less beautiful to compose than poetry."100
Not only is it beautiful to create the white spaces- yielding the same
aesthetic pleasure as the composition of lines of poetry-,but also it may be necessary. This is the case in Un Coup de Dés, notably, of which Mallarmé said: "The 'blanks' in fact take on importance, and are noticed first; the versification required it . . . ."101
The first interpretation of the white spaces in Mallarmé's poems is in

but do not stop
Her voice except to brilliantly 
Mallarmi 135
terms of musical composition: the white space would correspond
to a pause or silence in the music. This is suggested by the comparison to silence in the Poe passage above, and by comments made elsewhere about rhythm. In the Cosmopolis preface, for example, Mallarmé says the advantage of involving
the white spaces in his poem is "to either accelerate or to slow down the movement."102 Scherer suggests that the white spaces indicate a pause equal
in length to their size, and discerns a value even in prose, where "this silence can be filled with the meditations stimulated by the sentence just read."103 Mallarmé experimented with spaces in some of his poems before Un Coup de Des, achieving modest effects. In numerous of the Vers de circonstance (Occasional Verses), a line will be spaced to make two. This often is simply a device to emphasize the subject or the name of the person to whom the poem is addressed, giving something of the appearance of a letter. Here it is used in a sonnet from the Feuillets d'album (Pages of an Album):

sans trop d'ardeur à la fois enflammant La rose qui cruelle ou dechirée et lasse
Méme du blanc habit de pourpre le délace Pour ouïr dans sa chair pleurer le diamantI04

And breast

White spaces play a part also in L'Après-midi d'un faune (The Afternoon of a Faun). Spaces separating whole lines occur in several places, serving both to define blocks of text, and to emphasize certain lines--particularly  the final line. There are in addition some broken lines with spaces inserted. It is worth noting that here, as in most of the other poems where this technique is used, that the fragments of the lines combine to compose a metrically regular unit. Hence, these spaces would be unnoticeable in an oral reading of the poem. A good example of effective use of space to invoke a revery (to use Scherer's term), is in the passage from the early part of the poem:

. . . prouve, helas! que bien seul je m'offrais Pour triomphe la faute ideale de roses.
Reflechissons ...

ou si !es femmes dont tu gloses Figuren. t un souhait de tes sens fabuleux! (lines 8-12)

. . . proof, alas! that quite alone I offered  myself As a conquest the ideal flaw of roses.
Let's think ...

or if the women you criticize Imagine a wish for your fabulous senses!

The white space on the pages of Un Coup de Des is not all of one kind. A large expanse of white has more force than a small patch, but is less insidious than a sliver between two lines. The composition of the white is equally important to the composition of the text because the two complement each other. When Mallarmé remarked to Gide that a certain word required a whole page of white, he could have expressed also the corollary, that a white page with just one word on it demands a boldly written word to keep the white under control. Roulet has suggested that the character of Th.

white space is conditioned by the neighboring words;106 This would apply to the meaning of the word as well as its typographical form. Ernest Fraenkel has this in mind when he determines the different "modalites" of the ideogrammatic structures on the Pages of Un Coup de Dés. He assigns different values to the white areas between the lines or words of text than to the op n spaces. At first he felt that this area was no longer "virgin" paper, so he attributed to it the same weight as the text; then he realized that this was too extreme, and he gave it a value part-way between the open white and the closed text. 107 His results will be examined in relation to the ideograms. If any more evidence is needed to prove that the concrete page was of extreme importance to Mallarm3, one has only to consult the proofs of the Lahure edition, recently made available in photographic reproduction.105 

These are proofs of the edition which Mallarmi was preparing when he died, and probably represent the closest thing to the poet's ultimate intentions. Although they do not vary to any great degree from the NRF edition, they have some of the author's recommendations written on them which reveal his concern for certain details. They will be referred to again in reference to other points, but their interest at present relates to the make-up of the Pages. On Page 3 the poet advises twice that the spacing between the lines must be just as he indicates; on this Page particularly there is sometimes an interval of one line, but other times a larger space of two or three lines.109 Also on this Page, as well as elsewhere in the poem, the poet insists that the printer make the lines of the two sides of the Page match up. The register must have given the printer some difficulty, or else he was just negligent, because Mallarmé often drew in lines to show what should match, with a comment like this typical one: "Here and there or on one page and the other, make two fragments of the same phrase line up, according to the marks drawn

By far  the most intriguing visual aspect of the Page in Un Coup de Dés is the 1deogrammat1c pattern, and in truth, everything discussed so far leads up to it. Little can be added in the way of comments by the poet, since most of the now-familiar essays and articles already cited bear on the ideograms as well as the concepts of book, page, and typography. However, a few statements by Mallarmé can serve to clarify his intentions. It is essential to the appreciation of an ideogram, which has an overall visual image, that the reader (viewer) look at the whole page at once rather than reading it line by line or word by word. The Page must be "viewed" as a picture is and not "read'.' like a book. The reading comes later, and is naturally unavoidable. 
The significance of Mallarmi's allusion to prints lies greatly in the manner of regarding the Page. Mallarmi certainly recognized the necessity of this kind of viewing, for in "Le Livre, instrument spirituel' (The Book, Spiritual Instrument), he said: "No more continual back and forth eye movement, returning to the beginning of the next line as soon as one is finished ...."111 Mallarmi speaks more directly to the visual image in the letter he sent
to Camille Mauclair, already cited above. Here he speaks of "prints" but

also of "rhythm." In this context, the rhythm must be a manner of referring to the placement of the words (he is discussing the proofs of Un Coup de Dés). Therefore, he is describing the way in which the poet models an

Basically they are prints. I believe that every sentence or thought, if it has a rhythm should pat ttern it on the object it is aiming at, and reproduce nakedly, direcytl,  as if bursting into  the  mind, a  bit  of  the  posture  of  this object as  irelates  to  things.    112

The "posture directly reproduced" is the visual representation of a concept (i.e., ideogram) which one notes when taking in the Page in one global
Finally, Mallarm3 spoke directly of the ideograms in a letter to Gide
which the latter quoted in a public lecture on Mallarmi. The passage is lengthy, but full of valuable precisions, so it will be quoted in full, with interruptions to stress certain points. At first Mallarmi gives assurance that he has satisfactorily worked out the arrangements with the printer:

The poem is being printed , at this moment, just as I conceived the page make-up, where all the effect is found. A certain word in bold face requires a whole page of white, and I feel sure of the effect. I will send the first suitable proof to you in Florence.

Then, Mallarmé identifies some of the ideograms, of which he seems to be quite proud. It is not clear what the "exact laws" are, but they may be the painstaking efforts he put into specifying the typography:

The constellation will inevitably take on the appearance of a constellation, following exact laws and as far as a printed· text can. The ship lists from the top of one page to the
bottom of the other, etc.

He concludes with a general statement justifying the necessity of ideograms in this work; his language here is quite similar to that in the note to Mauclair, which must have been written at about the same time. The "periodical" referred to is no doubt Cosmopolis, where an earlier, less satisfactory version of the poem appeared in May, 1897.

...   because, and this is the whole point (which I had to leave out in periodi ica,l) the rhythm of  a   phrase to the subject of an action, or even to the object, has meaning only   if it imitates them, and drawn on paper, connected by the letter to the original print, is able

to render something of them in spite of everything.113

Mallarmé's corrections of the Lahure proofs give another example of his concern for the ideogram. On Page 3 the poet changed the lower case 

of "abime" to a capital, giving instructions that if this changed the length of the type, the word should be moved to the left, so it would finish at exactly the same place.114 Now the possible displacement of the word by the change from lower to upper case would indeed be minimal; Mallarmé must have had something special in mind. Cohn points out that the ends of the first three words on that Page, leading up to the "Abime," line up in a perfect diagonal. Oddly enough, in the NRF edition the instructions were misinterpreted, and the beginning of the word is where the end should be. This upsets the effect of the descending diagonal.115
As for the ideograms themselves, three critics have dealt with them in depth: Roulet, Cohn, and Fraenkel. The first two make detailed exegeses of the poem which naturally include evaluations of the Pages; the third has
Ma/larme 139

to the ideograms. The similarities and differences between Roulet and Cohn will be revealed by a parallel presentation of how they view the ideograms. Inevitably, their conclusions are intimately associated with their overall interpretations of the poem, so that must be considered first.
Roulet published the first conscientious study of Un Coup de Dés, none
too soon, in 1943.116 His interpretation is Christian; while it does not betray the basic import of the poem, this designation is somewhat surprising. A few lines from his books give a good capsule impression of Roulet's point of view:

The characters in the Coup de Des, or let's say the actors, are three: the Master, the Number, and the Abyss. Because of the parallels established by Mallarmé between the divine heroes of the Christian epic and the heroes of the Coup de Des, the Master designates God and the Number is Christ.117
Surely the subject of Un Coup de Dés is no less amazing than its form . . . This great text is offered to us as a Bible.111

Any appreciation of Roulette's evaluation of the ideograms is undermined by several obstacles: first, the Christian interpretation is not wholly convincing, even though Roulette's instincts about the poem are often better than his conclusions. In addition, the visual aspect does not strike Roulet with the same intensity as it does Cohn, and so he is content sometimes to say that he sees no ideogram on a Page; the total structure of the Poem is more important to him, as the discussion on earlier pages showed.  But on the other hand, Roulette indulges in some speculations about Mallarmé's method of composition, which are at once too elaborate and too carelessly executed. For example, he hypothesizes that Mallarm3 must have sat before "maquettes" to 
exhaustive analysis of the ideograms, phrases, words, and letters, which he finds intimately associated in the poem. The particular appeal of Cohn's exegesis, apart from the validity of his intuitions, is that it presents an inclusive framework that can tolerate additional, ancillary interpretations. Roulet's Christian thesis discourages the reader from more personal re­ lationship with the poem; Cohn's cosmology of Un Coup de Dés is useful because it allows for an understanding not only of the universe, but also of art, of the human condition, and so forth. It would seem to be more true to
Mallarmé's intentions.
The tables on the following few pages place side by side the Roulet and Cohn interpretations of the ideograms in Un Coup de Dés, accompanied by key words from the text which relate to the ideograms so they can be identified in the original text. This method should transmit a synoptic appreciation of the richness of these ideograms, and suggest their importance as integral visual elements of the poem.

Mallarmi Cohn 1 Roulet

Page I

Un coup de Along with Page 2, presentation of des the metaphysical principles; the
initial duality (e.g., male-female)
leading to profusion.

Page 3
Cohn l Roulet2 MaUarme
Page 9
Cohn 1 Roulet2

profondeur aile
voile batiment
Page 4

conflagration mfle  tempete  flots
Page 5

vague ancestrale­
ment legs
Page 6

simple mystère tourbillon gouffre vierge
Page 7

plume toque blancheur sombre

Representing the realm of the physical sciences; the constellation Ursa Major, a sailing ship; inkwell and pen.

Biological sciences; fertile turbulence of stormy sea.

Social sciences; wave; civilization.

Primitive art; "whirlpool", sign of self-enclosed art; preparation for creation.

Theatre, public art; "a plumed hat which represents drama."

Wing of a bird, associated with the the ocean, ship.

An "X" pattern, suggesting a struggle; "boiling up"; a beard.

Horizontal lines suggest several things: death, calm waves, secular parchments retelling a hero's deeds, deeds, birth.

"White foamy crest of two waves, and the space which separates them."

Wave, foam (which is like a plume);
the abyss between waves.

nombre stellaire plume hasard existat-il illuminat-il

Whose dread the veil of illusion rejected
A phantom. A balance both holds and sways.
And cradles the virgin index
Results of quiet, an entire surface area. Reorganization.





page 10

rien absence vague

Page ll
constellation oubli sideralement fusionné compte total point dernier

"The synthesis of all the arts;" con­ vergence of the rigid geometry of poetry with metaphysics.

Return to the ocean, empty of reality.

Solitary space, a last constellation; the multiple returning to unity (whence it came); Ursa Major; con­ stellation repeated as a final micro­ cosm, the poem itself.
Referring to the area between "existat-il" and "illuminat-il," a geometric artificial heart.
"This short passage- inscribed typo­ graphically in a sphere and in an ellipse, and whose words, distributed at different levels on both sides of two perpendicular axes, again draw the form of a spiral, their exterior angles a hexagon, the double motif above a truncatFraenkeled pyramid or trape­ zoid, the triple lower motif a rectan­ gular trapezoid- this short passage constitutes the heart of the poem, its vascular center."3

A low wave;

Large constellation, made up of stars; repetition at the end as a cul­ de-lampe.

Page 8

vertige sirène bifurquées roc
une borne à

Poetry, private art; "a y-shaped figure, ... tail of a diving Siren, humanity risen from the sea and returning to it just as its upper 'half has risen from its marine past or from its embryo. The tail, by its division indicates the final convergence of life and art in art-synthesis. A rock struck by this tail is the human monolith, a temporary monument, nevertheless, abandoned like a tombstone: the Poem

preceding creation. The undulation of crest and hollow is also important to the development of rhythms which have many meanings.

The shapes mentioned so far are geometric and unspecific. There are some more pictorial shapes as well; the main ones are the wave, and the constellations (Ursa Major and Minor). Again, these are rather general, and allow for additional interpretations. Cohn and Roulet differ most in the more specific interpretations of the ideograms, as might be expected. On Page 3 both see the wave and ship ( one of the ideograms identified by Mallarmé), but beyond that the "aile" becomes a wing for Roulet,  while Cohn makes it also into a quill pen in an inkwell. The constellation is the other ideogram definitely identified by Mallarmé, and it certainly seems to dominate the poem. Not only is it the subject of the last Page, which combines perhaps Ursa Minor and Ursa Major, but it is alluded to on Pages 3, 5 (inverted), and 7 through 10. There would seem to be an explanation for the prevalence of this ideogram, which is not hard to discover, although neither Cohn nor Roulet mentions it directly (Cohn alludes to it m the cover design of the English edition of L' Oeuvre de Mallarmé). That is that the dice themselves, existing in a special relationship with the constellation, are also like it in form. The number seven, which is the number of the principle stars in Ursa Major (and important other constellations, notably the Pleiades), is also a magic number in the game of dice. And when seven points are showing on the dice thrown, lined up properly they look like Mallarmé's constellation:



                             X        X
                       X        X
The designs created by Fraenkel to aid in the analysis of The rigid whiteness The forgetting yes, the forgotten coin this. Slim dark tallness Keen deteriorates. The switching parallelism threatens have been saved for last, because his methods and his results are the least satisfying. It must be said in his defense that the idea is tempting: to make wordless patterns of the Pages of the poem in order to see the ideogrammatic shapes more clearly. In addition, Fraenkel has contributed some worthwhile insights into the use of space and text in the poem, which were referred to above. However, there are three major objections to his project. First, he used, for most of his research, the text of the Cosmopolis edition of the poem, an edition which nearly everyone agrees is far from the author's intentions, especially insofar as the ideograms are concerned; the

preface to that edition gives ample warning of this. Thus it is disappointing to miss a study of the much more exciting designs in other editions.
The second objection is that Fraenkel strays too far from the text, preferring to keep in mind a general idea of the meaning of the poem, and then go off according to the feelings the designs give him. There is no question but that this betrays Mallarmé's wishes. In factsometimes Fraenkel recommends turning the design on its side or upside-down to see what image may present itself!123 The third objection is that these designs are then used more or less like Rohrschach ink blots. Challenged on this point in a question period after a lecture on his project, Fraenkel maintained that he was vindicated in his conclusions by "the convergent reactions of hundreds of people to whom he has shown the dra
wings." 124
Fraenkel made one series of designs based on the NRF edition of Un Coup de Dés, using the technique that yields a "black series." Some of the results agree perfectly with other conceptions of the ideograms-for example, th. e plume of Page 2, and the "whirlpool" of Page 4.  Others, like the final
Page, where the constellation is barely discernable, fail. techniques, with varying degrees of success. Each technique, in a way, suggests a different range of interpretations. It is interesting that for the "série noire" of the NRF edition, he found the central image to be a dragon. 125
The different modes of Fraenkel's designs can be demonstrated by comparing the plates made from one page of the poem. The text is the first page of the Cosmopolis edition. Fraenkel's first drawing is formed by blocking out the lines of text and connecting the beginnings and ends of these blocks with lines. This is the most direct and accurate method, though on some pages there may be a question about where to draw the lines (this might occur on Page 4 of the NRF edition). The "Série noire" is essentially formed by filling in the encl.osed area; another difference is that the edges are more like brush strokes. This gives a heavy, macabre series, in which Fraenkel sees at one point the poet with a broken neck.126
Two of the series have triangular forms in the areas between fragments of text. This is done in an attempt to respond to the diagonal movement of the eye in reading from the end of one line to the beginning of the next (going both ways to accommodate both traditions of reading). 127 The design with the triangle all in black is seen by Fraenkel as "softening," while the other variation, white triangles in a black block, is "exacerbating."128
The other two series are stylized according to themes in the poem. The "série aquatique" imitates the dense fluidity of the sea, full of fish, odorifferous seaweed, and dragons; it is dangerous yet fecund, and FraenkelF

sees in it a sort of vagina of the universe,129 although his drawing looks more like an illustration of rock strata. Finally, the "stylisation étoilée" brings out the theme of the constellation, for an exhilarating conclusion to the visual analysis of the poem.130 In this series the words are represented as stars varying in size according to their typography and importance, making up constellations which Fraenkel likens to "black dice with white dots."131
The perusal of Fraenkel's designs is a curious experience, which can be rewarding or not, according to one's tastes. But it stands as an undeniable testimonial to the sheer evocative power of the visual poetic text. Mallarmé was perhaps only partially aware of the chain reaction he set off with Un Coup de Dés, but there was no chance involved in the task he set himself nor in the manner in which he chose to realize it. If the visual Page tempted Fraenkel to perform an ink blot test for himself and his fellows, it is only because Mallarmé created a magnificent projective test for the whole world.


Mallarmé once evoked "the book, total expansion of the letter;" the letter, then, would _seem to be the germ of the book.112 The subject of the visual value of the letter is, however, quite delicate. While any reader can observe by the unusual pag.e make-up that an ideogram is intentional most literate people are rather reluctant to acknowledge any significant 'visual attributes in the individual letter. Mallarmé does not give as much support here as elsewhere, but there is one major document that can be relied on: his treatise, Les Mots  anglais (English Words), which will be discussed shortly. One can glean from Mallarmé's writings a few allusions to the visual effect of letters, usually in terms of appreciations The fascination with letters is clear but no visual attributes are mentioned. A page in his Notes comes closer, containing references to the visual appearance of letters. For example, the poet evokes the "pleasure of the eye lingering among the equality of the exhausted signs (I suppose the S of the plural) . . . ." The S of the plural being silent, its only value is as a visual sign. In fact, Mallarmé goes on into a brief rapture over this letter:

S, I claim, is the ideal analytic letter; dissolving and disseminating: pardon me for exposing the sacred ol.d ideas ... or for showing myself as pedantic to the core, but I use this occasion to affirm that, beyond the verbal value as much as the purely hieroglyphic value, beyond the word or the book of spells, there exists a secret direction con.fusedly indicated by the spelling, and which agrees mysteriously with the pure general sign which is to mark off lines of poetry.134

The poet seems timid here because he is revealing a scandalous secret: he sees letters as more than the constituent parts of words. For him they are still hieroglyphic signs, and there is for him a hermetic message in the very spelling of the words he puts down. 

sees letters as more than the constituent parts of .words. For him they are still hieroglyphic signs, and there is for him a hermetic message in the very spelling of the words he puts down.
In Les Mots anglais, Mallarmé lists as one of his aims a demonstration of "the relationship that exists between the meaning of words ... and their external configuration."135 What follows is a table in which the poet groups together words in English that have certain letters or letter groups in common. For each of the letters, he suggests characteristics that contribute to the meaning of the words it appears in. For example, the letter B tends to be the initial of words for production, birth, and fecundity (among others).
.-As proof, Mallarmé lists words like build, board, bed, breast, etc.  The reason is partly in the labial formation of the letter.136 An excellent study of letter values in Mallarmé was done by Cohn for L'Oeuvre. de Mallarmé (Mallarmé's Masterwork), and appears also as an appendix to Toward the poems of Mallarmé. Cohn's findings are based not only on Les Mots anglais (English Words), but also on a meticulous study of all of Mallarmé's poetry. Most of the characteristics of the letters depend on sound, rather than on their visual configuration. However, enough visually important  letters appear to allow some suitable examples to be presented here.
The letter O is a basic example. In its circularity, it suggests stability and roundness; the words bowl, round , and rock are all enhanced in their meaning by the round 0. In addition, it has a fundamental corollary in the female principle. An example of the O in Un Coup de Des is found on Page 2, which Cohn analyzes as portraying the female end of the sexual polarity. On this Page the O is in circonstances ("circumstances") and fon.d ("bottom"); it is supported also by the M in même ("even"), a letter that pictorially suggests breasts. t37
The letter T, on the other hand, lends itself to some less universal images. On Page 7 it appears in toque, and Cohn comments: "The height and the hat shape (perhaps with a plume) in the upper part of the letter are understood in the 'toque' in Un Coup de Dés." 138 Accents and punctuation also come into play. The circumflex can be used to reinforce the ide.a of wave, crête ("crest"), arête ("fishbone") and so forth. On Page 5 it has this effect on suprême.139 There are no punctuation marks in Un Coup de Dés, but Mallarmé made this remark in his Vers de circonstance (Occasional Verses), "Apropos du point d'exclamation" (Concerning the Exclamation Point):

Ce point, Dujardin, on le met Afin d'imiter un plumet.140

This point, Dujardin, exists I assume To imitate the shape of a plume.

Some of  Fraenkel’s  drawings follow (somewhat garbled in the scanning process):

* *

.** ..

* *


 i:... L ;J
Clk <:O s·r. NCES ETERNl::1.1.ES

r,r; Fl1N IJ IJ"UN NAllf'N:AGE

It is difficult to accept all of Cohn's indications about letters, but he is not alone in stressing them. Roulet sees the choice of letters almost as preceding the word choice:

In Mallarmé's poetics, every idea first poses a problem ....Given the natural whiteness, serpentine movement, and fizziness of seafoam, try to find in the alphabet the suggestive letter ·or letters that best correspond to them in form and sound.141

He finds that such letters do exist; they are S and I, making the word SI which balances from the lip of the wave on Page 8. Furthermore, they are better in italics. It is interesting that in the Lahure proofs Mallarmé requests some "stronger Italics," with the result that in the N RF edition this word is slightly larger than the rest of its group.142 In the Cosmopolis edition, this whole motif ("si c'était le nombre" - if/ it was the number) is in a more fluid italic type, using upper and lower case.143
The clearest case of Mallarmé's attention to the visual details of letters again shows up on the Lahure proofs. The letter f is defined by Cohn as a sign of floating and breeziness; Mallarmé relates it to flying in Les Mots anglais. Thus it is no surprise that in the ideogram of the feathered toque, one finds that "the shape of the letter as a curled feather decorating a hat is especially effective on Page 7."144 But on Page 7 Mallarmé encountered a problem that recurs throughout the Lahure proofs: the italic lower case f was not correct. The printers had used three different kinds of lower case italic f . The one which Mallarmé preferred was of course the most plume­like, To bury itself in the original foam
It needs the fix. Denominators and unswerving.
The memorable crisis
Arrives and does repeatedly having both head and foot ornamented with a round serif. But usually the f used was either a variant without the head serif, or one without the foot serif. In the double letters, the poet chose to have two individual letters, and not a digraph (as he eventually got in the NRFedition). This too must have
been  to emphasiz the feathery  quality  of  the f .145


('Redon's Illustrations

Having examined visual poetry of all magnitudes in the w0rk of Mallarmé, nothing more is required to demonstrate this great poet's place in the tradition of visual poetry. However, this seems the appropriate moment to devote a few words to the Redon illustrations, executed to accompany the poem, Un Coup de Dés jamais n'abolira le Hasard. In spite of the fact that he had said, "I favor--no illustrations,"146 Mallarmé requested illustrations for various editions of his works. There were to be four lithographs by Odilon Redon for publication along with the Lahure edition; three are in existence now, and have been reproduced photographically in Cohn's book of New Findings.141 Mallarmé certainly could not have meant these to form


any integral part of the poem, and.in fact, they might well have led to more confusion about it. The three lithographs extant can be readily associated with themes in the poem, as Cohn has done. A head-dressed woman with dice refers to the general motif, a woman with a fishtail is doubtless the "sirène" of Page 8, and a partially hidden child probably represents the "childlike shadow" of Page 5.148 These lithographs have the enigmatic quality which pervades Redon's work, and which suits A Throw of the Dice. Without contributing anything to the intelligence of the poem, they certainly would have enhanced any edition of it, and are a fine token of the close understanding of two great Symbolists, Redon and Mallarmé.


Page scans/treatments throughout by David Seaman

Followed by: 

Darren Marsh
Helen Haj
Carolyn thompson
Liz Collini
Ernest Fraenkel
Eric Zboya
Arif Khan
Jean-Pierre Hebert
Marsh / Sokar
Ernest Fraenkel
Yohanna Joseph Waliya (weblink)
Miron Tee
Carolyn Thompson
Nicole Peyrafitte (video)
Odilon Redon
Liz Collini
Nico Vassilakis (scattered text / & below & in essay the tenth)


Dice Mallarme

The eternal circumstance of a shipwreck’s depth
Gravity declares. Drops through filters of itself a laughing bottom.
Beyond former calculations
Loosened rivets and adhesion. Wonder, cartography and modes of mathematics.
Whose dread the veil of illusion rejected
A phantom. A balance both holds and sways.
And cradles the virgin index
Results of quiet, an entire surface area. Reorganization.
The rigid whiteness
The forgetting yes, the forgotten coin this.
Slim dark tallness
Keen deteriorates. The switching parallelism threatens.
To bury itself in the original foam
It needs the fix. Denominators and unswerving.
The memorable crisis

Arrives and does repeatedly.

Nico Vassilakis

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