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Mallarmé: Experimentation with the Relationship Between the Word and the Printed Page (May 1897)


In May 1897 French symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé issued his poem Un coup de dés jamais n'abolira le hasard (A Throw of the Dice will Never Abolish Chance) in the magazine CosmopolisMallarmé's death in 1898 prevented him from realizing the full expression of his experimentation with the relationship between the word and the printed page. The poem was first published in book form on July 10, 1914 by the Imprimérie Sainte Catherine at Bruges, in an edition limited to 60 copies. In this edition the printers attempted to follow Mallarmé's specific instructions for the typography:

"The poem is spread over 20 pages, in various typefaces, amidst liberal amounts of blank space. Each pair of consecutive facing pages is to be read as a single panel; the text flows back and forth across the two pages, along irregular lines.

The sentence that names the poem is split into three parts, printed in large capital letters on panels 1, 6, and 8. A second textual thread in smaller capitals apparently begins on the right side of panel 1, QUAND MÊME LANCÉ DANS DES CIRCONSTANCES ÉTERNELLES DU FOND D'UN NAUFRAGE ("Even when thrown under eternal circumstances from the bottom of a shipwreck"). Other interlocking threads in various typefaces start throughout the book. At the bottom right of the last panel is the sentence Toute Pensée émet un Coup de Dés ('Every Thought issues a Throw of Dice')" (Wikipedia article on Un Coup de Dés . . . , accessed 01-27-2014). 

However:

"Prior to 2004, "Un Coup de Dés" was never published in the typography and format conceived by Mallarmé. In 2004, 90 copies on vellum of a new edition were published by Michel Pierson et Ptyx. This edition reconstructs the typography originally designed by Mallarmé for the projected Vollard edition in 1897 and which was abandoned after the sudden death of the author in 1898. All the pages are printed in the format (38 cm by 28 cm) and in the typography chosen by the author. The reconstruction has been made from the proofs which are kept in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, taking into account the written corrections and wishes of Mallarmé and correcting certain errors on the part of the printers Firmin-Didot.

"A copy of this new edition can be consulted in the Bibliothèque François-Mitterrand. Copies have been acquired by the Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques-Doucet and University of California - Irvine, as well as by private collectors. A copy has been placed in the Museum Stéphane Mallarmé at Vulaines-sur-Seine, Valvins, where Mallarmé lived and died and where, according to Paul Valéry, he made his final corrections on the proofs prior to the projected printing of the poem" (Wikipedia article on Stéphane Mallarmé, accessed 01-27-2014).