Books On Books Collection – West Court Gallery, Jesus College, Cambridge UK, 21 May – 27 June 2022

Jessica Berenbeim, a University Lecturer at the Faculty of English and a Fellow of Jesus College, has selected works from the Books On Books Collection for this exhibition. With the assistance of Justine Provino, a doctoral student at Cambridge, Berenbeim has arranged the works to effect a certain conversation. As she writes,

Artists’ experiments with books and letters have taken many forms, some of which look more like books than others. This exhibition of book art, and book-inspired art, opens a view of one of its most intriguing stories: the tradition of reflections, riffs, and responses to one seminal work, Stéphane Mallarmé’s A Roll of the Dice Never Will Abolish Chance (Un Coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard). Mallarmé’s experimental work celebrates its 125th anniversary in May 2022, when this exhibition opens. The particular objects on display here, and on view at the screening events, play on two central ideas inspired by this work: chance and visible language. The works in the exhibition are in effect a conversation about the intersection of those themes. What part does chance have to play in the way language is depicted on (or off) the page, and how might accidents of language determine how it looks? How does meaning settle throughout the forms of letters, words, lines, pages, and books, as well as in what the words say?

The exhibition and screenings include works by Jérémie Bennequin, Isabella Checcaglini & Mohammed Bennis, Robert Filliou, Ernest Fraenkel, Rodney Graham, ‘Estelle J.’, Michel Lorand, André Masson, Reinhold Nasshan, Michalis Pichler, Man Ray, Mitsou Ronat & Tibor Papp, and Honorine Tepfer.

Berenbeim and Provino have suspended seven plates from Pichler‘s homage to hang over the cases containing works by Bennequin, Nasshan, Lorand, Tepfer and Estelle J.. and quietly cast shadows to pun with those works and the exhibition’s title.

Three other cases across from those above present a conversation of dice between Masson and Filliou, then a French and Arabic conversation between Checcaglini and Bennis, and then Tibor Papp and Rodney Graham joking with one another.

In a display case seemingly made for his particular work, the result of Bennequin’s long-distance performances of erasure with his colleague and publisher Antoine Lefebvre calls across the room to all the other works of chance and visible language.

Jérémie Bennequin, Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard, Dé-composition (2009-2013)

With the sun streaming into West Court Gallery, the only things missing from the buzz of these conversations were perhaps canapés, champagne and name tags to celebrate the 125th anniversary of this strange poem’s publication.

Further Reading

“Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira l’Appropriation” — An Online Exhibition. 1 May 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Books On Books Collection – Alain Hurtig

Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (1914/2012)

Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (1914/2012)
Stéphane Mallarmé (text), Alain Hurtig (design), Catherine Belœil (art)
Online and downloadable files for printing at L’Outil Typographique. Creative Commons (BY-NC-SA). Accessed 28 January 2022.
Screenshots: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Alain Hurtig.

Much has been made of Mallarmé’s precision or preciosity in the marked-up proofs of the deluxe edition of Un Coup de Dés. Also, as many scholars, hommageurs and facsimilists have attested, a suitable substitute for the Firmin-Didot typeface that the poet specified for the deluxe has been hard to find. Master typographer Alain Hurtig, however, puts “suitable substitute” into perspective with his essay “À propos du Coup de dés de Stéphane Mallarmé“. The essay offers single pages and double-page spreads set in Bodoni Antiqua (Berthold), Legato, Clifford and the Hoefler & Frère-Jones digital revival of Didot.

Clockwise from the upper left: Bodoni Antiqua (Berthold), Legato, Clifford and Didot.

It seems unlikely that Mallarmé pored over the Didot firm’s type books to choose the Firmin-Didot face, but there is nothing precious about specifying a typeface. Different faces have different personalities. Hurtig enables us to see rather than imagine the effect of choosing the business-card-like Legato — not that that would have been a choice for Mallarmé. Nor would the Clifford, although a plausible (if squat) choice with its contrasting thin and thick strokes. The opportunity for the most extensive comparison comes with Hurtig’s two complete settings of the poem — one in Bodoni Antiqua (Berthold), the other in HFJ Didot. Below, for comparison, is the poem’s central double-page spread — the COMME SI … COMME SI verses.

Above: Bodoni Antiqua (Berthold). Below: Hoefler & Frère-Jones Didot.

Of these two revival faces — Bodoni Antiqua (Berthold) and HFJ Didot — Hurtig himself prefers Bodoni. Bodoni is one of the more attractive alternatives for facsimilists. Neil Crawford chose it for the edition created with Ian Tyson, as did Gary Young for his edition with D.J. Waldie. Hurtig even provides a comparative view of three versions of Bodoni:

Hurtig’s explanations of deciding the trim size and adjusting the size of fonts and spacing fascinate. Likewise his choice of Bodoni because it

s’imposait avec élégance, il rythmait les phrases en les faisant incroyablement vibrer et remplissait de sa grâce les immenses blancs de la double page — ces espaces que, selon Mallarmé, “il n’est pas moins beau de composer que les vers” [Hurtig, 2012]

[imposed itself with elegance, it gave rhythm to the sentences by making them vibrate incredibly and filled with its grace the immense blanks of the double page — these spaces which, according to Mallarmé, “it is no less beautiful to compose than the verse”.]

My vote, however, would be for the HFJ Didot. It has a more upright, steelier and brighter aspect, fittingly constellatory. In other online comments, Hurtig points out, however, that the HFJ Didot is not the Firmin-Didot of Mallarmé:

Le didot d’Hoefler n’est évidemment pas celui choisi par Mallarmé, et pour cause : un siècle les sépare — et Hoefler a, dans son dessin, évidemment tenu compte des conditions modernes de composition et d’impression : au plomb, son travail ne tiendrait probablement pas une seconde, et moins encore sur les papiers utilisés à l’époque. [Hurtig, 2018]

[Hoefler’s Didot is obviously not the one chosen by Mallarmé, and for good reason : a century separates them – and Hoefler has, in his design, obviously taken into account modern conditions of composition and printing: with lead, his work would probably not hold for a second, and even less so on the papers used at the time.]

While carefully experimenting with the choice of faces, Hurtig has no qualms about jettisoning Odile Redon from his edition. He does not like the Redon prints et en plus il est mort (“and besides he’s dead”). Combined with his finer typographic points, Hurtig’s substitution of prints he commissioned from Catherine Belœil heeds the call to which facsimilists and hommageurs such as Jean Lecoultre, Alessandro Zanella and Jacques Vernière, Honorine Tepfer, Robert Bononno and Jeff Clark, Virgile Legrand and Hervé Di Rosa, and Sam Sampson have also responded: to look afresh and even radically at Un Coup de Dés.

Further Reading

Bodoni’s Bicentennial“. 14 December 2013. Books On Books Bookmark.

Robert Bononno and Jeff Clark“. 26 October 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Hervé Di Rosa“. 20 April 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Jean Lecoultre“. 28 March 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Sam Sampson“. 17 April 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Honorine Tepfer“. 7 April 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Jacques Vernière“. 9 February 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Arnar, Anna Sigrídur. 2011. The book as instrument: Stéphane Mallarmé, the artist’s book, and the transformation of print culture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Pp. 231-35, 348n.

Cohn, Robert Greer. 1967. Mallarme’s masterwork: new findings. The Hague: Mouton.

Hurtig, Alain. 28 March 2012. “À propos du Coup de dés de Stéphane Mallarmé“. L’Outil Typographique. Accessed 25 January 2022.

Hurtig, Alain. 11 July 2018. “Remarques typographiques“, responding to Laurent Bloch’s “Le Poème de Stéphane Mallarmé: Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard. Son exégèse et sa typographie”, posted 11 July 2018, modified 29 September 2020. Accessed 26 January 2022.

Books On Books Collection – Honorine Tepfer


Stéphane Mallarmé (text); Honorine Tepfer (art & design)
Accordion fold with embossed paper cover. Cover – H325 x W255 mm; Book – H320 x W250 mm, 34 pages. Edition of 48, of which this is #5. Acquired from Studio Montespecchio, 2 February 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Before his sudden death in 1898, Stéphane Mallarmé was planning a deluxe edition of Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard with Ambroise Vollard, an entrepreneur and publisher. A single-volume version of the poem did not appear until 1914. Issued under the direction of Mallarmé’s son-in-law Dr. Edmond Bonniot through the Nouvelle Revue de France (NRF), it omitted intended prints by Odilon Redon, used the typeface Elzevir rather than the Didot that Mallarmé preferred, and did not precisely follow his layout. We know all this because of correspondence between the poet, Redon and Vollard and because the Sorbonne’s Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques Doucet and Harvard’s Houghton Library hold proofs of the deluxe edition with Mallarmé’s handwritten corrections and instructions.

Mallarmé’s placement of words and lines was intentional and precise. Even before the planning for the deluxe edition, he wrote of what could be achieved with type size and layout:

Pourquoi — un jet de grandeur, de pensée ou d’émoi, considérable, phrase poursuivie, en gros caractère, une ligne par page à emplacement gradué, ne maintiendrait-il le lecteur en haleine, la durée du livre, avec appel à sa puissance d’enthousiasme: autour, menus, des groupes, secondairement d’après leur importance, explicatifs ou dérivés — un semis de fioritures. [Oeuvres Complètes, 2 227]

“Why — couldn’t a considerable burst of greatness of thought or emotion, carried in a sentence in large typeface, gradually placed with one line per page, hold the reader’s bated breath throughout the entire book by appealing to his or her power of enthusiasm: around this [burst], smaller groups of secondary importance, explicating or deriving from the primary phrase — a scattering of flourishes.” [Arnar, 234]

The NRF edition 1914 edition makes quite a few sad missteps as Robert Cohn pointed out in 1967. Tepfer’s inspiration to restore the intended layout follows in the footsteps of Mitsou Ronat & Tibor Papp (1980) and Neil Crawford (1985). She visited the Doucet library to examine the proofs and layout. Following the layout was not difficult, but with the scarcity of Didot, Tepfer needed to select another typeface. She chose Baskerville. Given that Firmin Didot was inspired by John Baskerville’s experimentation with thick and thin strokes, the choice adds historical interest, although Bodoni might have been nearer the mark. Below are Tepfer’s double-page spreads across which Mallarmé’s burst of thought appears one line per page among the “scattering of flourishes”.

The book’s central double-page spread, beginning with COMME SI / “AS IF”) in the upper left and ending with COMME SI / “AS IF” in the lower right, mimics the throw and fall of the dice and provides another example of the semantic and typographic play that Mallarmé describes above.

Like the artists before her — Redon (1897), André Masson (1961), Mario Diacono (1968), Marcel Broodthaers (1969), Jean Lecoultre (1975), Ian Wallace (1979) and Ian Tyson (1985) — Tepfer had to solve the puzzle of relating image to text. This is the difficult path of inverse ekphrasis: what and how the visual, tactile and conceptual works of art that come after Mallarmé’s text can be. We are more used to ekphrasis where the object, painting or sculpture comes before the text — like Achilles’ shield before Homer’s description, or the Grecian urn before Keats’ ode, or Brueghel’s Fall of Icarus before Auden’s Musée des Beaux Arts. Homer, Keats and Auden vie with the art of the crafted object to put that object (and more) in front of us with words. With the inverse, the crafted objects vie without the words to put Mallarmé’s poem (and more — and sometimes less!) in front of us. Tepfer’s solution?

A simple line runs across the debossed front and back covers. As Tepfer wrote in June 1990 about her journey into Un Coup de Dés: La ligne d’horizon était un sujet de ma hantise / “The horizon line was my obsession”. As the folded paper cover opens, a single geometric, abstract image appears — debossed and embossed on blank paper. Except for a single round dot, everything is linear. Two separate lines angle across the space. One cuts through the debossed horizon line that lies beneath a series of closely spaced horizontal lines — suggesting clouds? The other, longer one cuts at a different angle, creating a foreground from two sets of parallel lines that have slipped or shifted like tectonic plates. Could the round dot be the single-dot side of a die rolling down a slanted deck or broken mast? Could the longer slanted line be a broken mast? Could the shifted parallel lines be a broken handrail?

Rather than trying to track back to verbal images in the poem, though, perhaps we should recognize Tepfer’s prefatory image as a kind of substitute for Mallarmé’s preface in 1897 — the one he preferred we not read. He wanted us to look. To see les blancs. To hold thought and emotion like our breath across the space of the book. With her simple rectangle of blank paper, with the absence of ink, with the geometric solidity of the horizontal and slanting lines, and with the velvet softness of the velin d’Arches across her version’s accordion folds, Tepfer encourages us to look, see, hold meaning in abeyance and sense it.

Further Reading

“Mitsou Ronat & Tibor Papp“. 16 November 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Ian Tyson & Neil Crawford“. 7 February 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Arnar, Anna Sigrídur. 2011. The book as instrument: Stéphane Mallarmé, the artist’s book, and the transformation of print culture. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Pp. 231-35, 348n.

Cohn, Robert Greer. 1967. Mallarme’s masterwork: new findings. The Hague: Mouton.

Mosley, James M. 7 November 2011. “Elzevir Letter“. Typefoundry: Documents for the History of Type and Letterforms. Accessed 28 March 2022.

Tepfer, Honorine. June 1990. “Toute realité se dissout”. La Part du Livre, No. 2. Paris: Ed. Le Temps qu’il fait.