Books On Books Collection – Hervé Di Rosa

Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard (2021)

Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard (2021)
Stéphane Mallarmé & Hervé Di Rosa
Casebound, cloth-covered hardboard. H295 x W245 mm, 36 pages. Edition of 15 (including 7 non-commercial copies), of which this is #5. Acquired from Éditions Virgile LeGrand, 11 April 2022.
Photos: Courtesy of Virgile LeGrand; Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Virgile LeGrand.

Many works of homage to Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard seek diligently to replicate the layout, typeface, artwork (its placement) and dimensions that Mallarmé intended for his deluxe edition with Ambroise Vollard — or those we think he intended. Bertrand Marchal, editor of Mallarmé’s Complete Works, thinks that absolute fidelity is unachievable because Un Coup de Dés is ultimately an unfinished work. Alain Hurtig (2018) thinks it more than likely the choice of typeface was as much Firmin-Didot’s as Mallarmé’s. With all the foregoing efforts of Mitsou Ronat, Michel Pierson, Alain Hurtig, Neil Crawford and others to achieve the unachievable, why would any serious hommageur retread their paths?

Virgile Legrand has chosen to ignore their paths altogether and take his inspiration from the May 1897 issue of Cosmopolis, where the poem first appeared and was constrained by the Cosmopolis typesetters’ inability or unwillingness to accommodate the double-page structure and the precision-typography Mallarmé had in mind.

Even within the usual constraints of the magazine, the poem astounded and confounded the Cosmopolis editors so much that they insisted on a preface that would explain how to read the poem. Although the preface’s author is named as the publisher/editor, its author is Mallarmé himself, and it begins tongue in cheek:

“I would prefer that this Note not be read, or only skimmed, even then forgotten; it tells the knowledgeable reader little beyond his or her penetration: but may confuse the uninitiated, prior to their looking at the first words of the Poem, since the ensuing words, laid out as they are, lead on to the last, with no novelty except the spacing of the text.” [reproduced in the NRF/Gallimard 1914 edition]

After 125 years, we can no longer be shocked by Mallarmé’s layout, and it is a humorous surprise that, having decided to ignore the pursuit of absolute fidelity to Mallarmé’s wishes, Legrand does accommodate the poet’s wish in the Cosmopolis preface and omits the Note from his homage altogether. As further evidence that the Cosmopolis edition is merely an inspiration for Legrand, several pages in the homage do not match up with it. Legrand deploys a much wider measure and takes full advantage to give les blancs a bit more space. He also does not hesitate to vary the layout and typeface of significant lines — in particular the poem’s final line (see below), mixing Bodoni and Univers.

Legrand’s contrary playfulness and independence show up equally, if not more so, in his embrace of the color, woodcuts and linocuts of the artist Hervé Di Rosa. Di Rosa’s art belongs to the “Figuration libre” movement, is associated with Keith Haring and grafitti artists and is not without controversy. Hard to say who could be further from Odilon Redon, Vollard’s and Mallarmé’s choice of artiste. The faces and signs on Di Rosa’s dice (nearly reproducing the blackface that stirred controversy in another context) rollick through the book — not sequestered in front and back matter as Mallarmé planned for Redon’s. Each of the woodcuts fills a recto page, while the linocut dice appear on verso and recto. Di Rosa’s bright red squeezes through the end papers and doublures right out into the spine, and spills over onto the front cover with his equally bright blue.

Like Vollard, though, Legrand pursues the kind of sourcing expected with livres d’artiste. The book was printed on the presses of the Dugrip Picard Jacomet workshop on Moulin de Brousse‘s paper — steeping it in the grand tradition of the livre d’artiste of handset letterpress, handmade paper and fine binding.

Also in keeping with the French livre d’artiste tradition, this copy of the homage includes a loose original print by Di Rosa (see below). As a co-founder of the Musée international des arts modestes (MIAM) and exponent of a movement to break down barriers to cultural diversity and to fringe and unorthodox art, Di Rosa is an hommageur who should remind us of Mallarmé’s unorthodoxies: the eloper, the heteronymic entrepreneur behind the short-lived fashion and culture magazine La Dernière Mode, the inscriber of poems on fans and rocks or the correspondent who wrote addresses in the form of quatrains (which the postal service recognized and delivered).

Further Reading

Arnar, Anna Sgrídur. 2011. The Book as Instrument: Stéphane Mallarmé, the Artist’s Book and the Transformation of Print Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Bloch, R. Howard. 2017. One toss of the dice: the incredible story of how a poem made us modern. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company.

e-flux. 20 October 2016. “Plus jamais seul: Hervé Di Rosa and The Modests Arts“. October 22, 2016–January 22, 2017, La Maison Rouge. e-flux announcements.

Marchal, Bertrand. March 2015. “Petite Histoire du Coup de Dés“. Transversalités: Revue de l’Institut Catholique de Paris, No. 134: 109-113.

Leydier, Richard, Claire Margat, and Catherine Millet. 2018. Hervé Di Rosa. Paris: Artpress.

Stark, Trevor. 2020. Total Expansion of the Letter: Avant-Garde Art and Language after Mallarmé. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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