Books On Books Collection – Jim Clinefelter

A Throw of the Snore Will Surge the Potatoes: John M. Bennett meets Stéphane Mallarmé (1998)

A Throw of the Snore Will Surge the Potatoes: John M. Bennett meets Stéphane Mallarmé (1998) Jim Clinefelter

Saddle-stitched with staples, card and pink end sheets over twelve sheets of copier paper, H280 x W215 mm. Edition of Acquired from John M. Bennett, 8 July 2020.

Clinefelter’s is not the first parody or spoof of Mallarmé’s Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard. That claim belongs to a nineteenth-century Australian poet and aficionado of Mallarmé’s poetry — Christopher Brennan. Brennan’s Prose-Verse-Poster-Algebraic-Symbolico-Riddle Musicopoematographoscope appeared in manuscript in 1897 but wasn’t published until 1981.

With images from a reprint of an early Sears Roebuck Catalogue and drawing on John M. Bennett‘s poetry as well as Un Coup de Dés, Clinefelter composed his book on a borrowed Macintosh SE — the late twentieth-century substitute for penmanship. Mallarmé only thought of having some images from his friend Odilon Redon separated from the text Un Coup de Dés. Clinefelter’s sense of fun and close attention to the original led him to integrate those Sears images throughout with the text to mimic Mallarmé’s textual and typographic road signs. Notice in the third row of the photos above how the hands holding pencils point toward lines (or perhaps enclose the lines between them like single quotation marks) and how the figure of the man’s head with directional arrows indicates the order or path in which the text should be read.

Clinefelter’s text, which draws on Bennett’s boisterous poems, pokes fun at the original’s emphasis on sonority even at the expense of semantic or syntactic clarity. It also pokes fun at some of the lines that have challenged readers and translators alike:

LE MAÎTRE surgi inférant de cette conflagration à ses pieds de l’horizon unanime que se prépare s’agite et mêle au poing qui l’étreindrait … becomes

“THE MASTER knees inferring from this conflagration drips there as soft threatens the unique clam”

and cadavre par le bras écarté du secret qu’il détient … becomes

“corpse mud the arm”.

For their parody, Clinefelter and Bennett may have to apply for honorary Australian citizenship. It seems that, starting with Christopher Brennan, the Australians cannot stop teasing Mallarmé. We have Chris Edwards’ A Fluke: A Mistranslation of Stéphane Mallarmé’s “Un Coup De Dés…” with Parallel French Pretext (2005) and John Tranter’s Desmond’s Coupé (2006). Parody, pastiche or spoof — Clinefelter’s and these other responses enrich the genre of Un Coup de Dés. Somehow in their exuberance they are all saying “yes” to the abyss or, at least, managing one more guffaw of the dice.

Further Reading

Rodney Graham“, Books On Books Collection, 3 July 2020.

Guest, Stephanie. “Barbecued sunrise: Translation and transnationalism in Australian poetry“, Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, 18.3.

Shaw, Mary Lewis.”Mallarmé at the Circus: Incoherent Parody“, Dalhousie French Studies, Vol. 24 (Spring-Summer 1993), pp. 71-85.