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 – Ian Tyson and Neil Crawford

Poème: Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard (1897)
Poem: A cast of Dice never can annul Chance (1985)

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard (1897)/A cast of Dice never can annul Chance (1985)
Ian Tyson and Neil Crawford
Embossed cloth-covered clamshell box enclosing two set of folios, each in a blue folio folder. Edition of 40, consisting of 30 numbered copies, of which this is #7, and 10 copies marked I-IX. Acquired from Roseberys, 2 November 2021.
© Ian Tyson and Neil Crawford. Photos: Books On Books Collection. Permission to display from Neil Crawford.

As Mitsou Ronat and Tibor Papp were preparing their mise-en-page edition of Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard(1897/1980) following Mallarmé’s corrected proofs, Neil Crawford came across a copy of Robert Cohn’s Mallarmé’s Masterwork and was struck by its reproduction of the set of proofs sold by Pierre Berès to an American collector – the so-called Lahure proofs. Crawford, too, was determined to prepare a “typographic translation” of the proofs — but in English. In an essay providing a rich background to the poem, his meeting with Tyson and the publishing of their homage, Crawford explains how he went about his typographic translation.

First, using Cohn’s reference to the original’s size, he enlarged the reproductions photographically and then began puzzling over how to squeeze an English version taking up 10% more space than the French into Mallarmé’s careful layout. Compromising on the use of Bodoni in place of Didot as the typeface (the latter was not available to English typesetters when the poem was first pubIished anyway), it would take Crawford seven years of evenings in tracing letters, translation, transcription, adjustment, retranslation and retranscription to generate hand-crafted layouts that could be stored away until the day that photocomposition would be sufficiently advanced to accommodate the word and character spacing necessary to follow them. The original of Crawford’s typographic layout resides at the University of San Diego. Below are iterations toward the double-page spread that completes the appearance of the poem’s title within the poem.

Courtesy of Neil Crawford.

When Crawford and Tyson met in the early Eighties, Tyson had already established Tetrad Press and was planning his own livre d’artiste version of the poem. His aquatints in a separate folio cover would occupy the position Mallarmé expected for Odilon Redon’s prints in the abortive limited edition in train at the time of his death in 1898. In an ironic reversal of Mallarmé’s concern that the Redon prints might undermine the typography, Tyson and Crawford were concerned that anything less than letterpress printing would not ensure the density of black on the page that would complement Tyson’s aquatints. This led to phototypesetting output as patch setting, then hand pasting according to Crawford’s layouts, and then creation of process line blocks for the relief printing in letterpress.

At a glance, Tyson’s aquatints present a puzzling juxtaposition with the poem, but we can thank Crawford’s essay for a clue to the puzzle.

© Ian Tyson. Permission to display from Neil Crawford.

The poem’s reference to LE NOMBRE (“THE NUMBER”) has sent plenty of scholars on the hunt for its identity. Mitsou Ronat had argued that the magical number has to be 12. After all the classic Alexandrine line of French poetry numbers 12 syllables, and the larger type sizes that Mallarmé chose for the poem are 36, 48 and 60. Unconvinced “typographically”, Crawford points out that “at the time of composition – faces above 24 point were cut in multiples of twelve as standard”. Nevertheless, he also writes, “It would appear that the number 12 (the number of feet in the classic Alexandrine verse form) had great symbolism for Mallarmé” and notes that Tyson’s images

reflect the undertones of the Poème’s symbolism with a composition based on a duodecic permutation corresponding to the measures within the Alexandrine metre, referring in an oblique way to Mallarmé’s recurring imagery ….

Duodecic refers to the Base 12 system, which has the arithmetic advantage over Base 10 of making fractions easier as can be seen from the following image. To apply that image’s Base 12 grid to Tyson’s permutations, however, requires modifying it from 3×4 to 4×6. In other words, there are 24 small squares underlying Tyson’s images, not 12. Mallarmé intended the double-page spread, not the single page, to be the unit for page layout. So perhaps Tyson’s oblique reference to the Alexandrine is also “doubly oblique” (2×12), referring to Mallarmé’s preferred canvas.

“The Curious Case for Base 12 …” Steemit.

Tyson’s geometric approach would be echoed in later works of homage such as Michael Lechner‘s Les Ondes de sable; Un coup de dés / d’ordinateur (1986), Geraldo de BarrosJogos de Dados (1986), Ellsworth Kelly‘s livre d’artiste (1992) and Michael Graeve‘s Hexagram 12: Heaven and Earth Shall not Meet (1998). Neil Crawford has kindly shared the following image of Tyson’s preliminary study for the print suite. Ian Tyson passed away in France on 2 October 2021.

© Ian Tyson. Photo: Neil Crawford.

Further Reading

Cohn, Robert Greer. 1966. Mallarmé’s Masterwork: New Findings. The Hague: Mouton.

Crawford, Neil. December 1997. “A typographic translation of Stéphane Mallarmé’s Un coup de Dés”. Unpublished.

Dave __. 2017. “The Curious Case For Base 12 (Why Dozens Are Easier For Everyday Maths Than Tens)“. Steemit. Accessed 28 December 2021. (Base 10 has 1, 2, 5 and 10 as factors; Base 12 as 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 12).

Meillassoux, Quentin, and Robin Mackay. 2012. The Number and the Siren: A Decipherment of Mallarmé’s Coup de Dés. Falmouth: Urbanomic.