Books On Books Collection – Chris Edwards

A Fluke: A Mistranslation of Stéphane Mallarmé’s “Un Coup De Dés…” with Parallel French Pretext (2005)

A Fluke follows in the footsteps of several parodists of Un coup de Dés and even more “homageurs”. Edwards mingles bilingual homophonic mistranslation with the monolingual variety, false cognates, mis-contextualization and more to deliver his “fluke”. Part of that “more” leads off with the subtitle and the side-by-side prefaces.

The pun in “pretext” plays out not just in the word itself but in Edwards’ squeezing into one page the French predecessor alongside its English exaggeration. The squeeze harks back to Mallarmé’s “Note” being added to the Cosmopolis issue, where it first appeared, at the insistence of the editors. Having led with the pun and clown-car layout, Edwards follows on with a fright wig (mixed metaphors, too, are part of the “more”). He turns Mallarmé’s tongue-in-cheek “I would prefer that one not read this Note or that having read it, one forgets it” into “I wish I knew what lunatic pasted this Note here– …”.

Edwards’ preface is proleptic — to use the word with which the overlording associate professor interrupted the teaching assistant’s nervous first lecture on how a poem’s opening line can encapsulate the working of the whole. (But nevermind the digression, though digression is another part of Edwards’ “more”). In transforming “Lecteur habile” [“practiced Reader”] into “Hannibal Lecter”, Edwards forecasts such transformations as “SOIT / que” [“Whether”] to “SO IT / came to pass”, “l’Abîme” [“the Abyss”] to “the Bistro” and “LE HASARD” [“CHANCE”] to “BIO-HAZARD”. After the preface, Edwards spreads his sails — so to speak. The French moves to the verso, the English to the recto. The double-page spreads of the 1914 edition of Un coup de Dés are nevertheless crammed into a single page to facilitate enjoyment of the pretext’s mistranslation.

But no, “proleptic” is not le mot juste (which juste goes to prove that the professor remains mal dit, if not maudit). Nothing in the side-by-side prefaces prepares the reader (or Hannibal Lecter) for Mallarmé’s “COMME SI …. COMME SI” becoming Edwards’ exactly mapped, appropriately italicized, all caps loan phrase “COMME SI … COMME ÇA“. And so it goes — linguistic, spatial, typographic, cultural antics piled atop each other.

Edwards’ madcapping his way to A Fluke must have been part of a global warming trend in pastiche. How else to explain Jim Clinefelter’ A Throw of the Snore Will Surge the Potatoes (1998), John Tranter’s “Desmond’s Coupé” (2006) and Rodney Graham’s Poème: Au Tatoueur (2011)? If the trend is there, it had a hidden beginning distant in time but geographically close to Edwards.

In New South Wales Public Library in 1897, when that issue of Cosmopolis arrived, a cataloger-cum-poet/scholar named Christopher Brennan seized on it. Shortly after publishing his own XXI Poems: MDCCCXCIII-MDCCCXCVII: Towards the Source (1897), Brennan received several negative reviews of his Mallarmé-influenced poetry. Turning to Un coup de Dés for solace and a format with which to tear the critics to shreds, he performed his own coup in calligraphied manuscript where it remained undelivered until 1981, when it was published in facsimile by Hale & Iremonger (see below). In length alone, its title — Prose-Verse-Poster-Algebraic-Symbolico-Riddle Musicopoematographoscope — must have had some influence on Edwards’ subtitle. Or perhaps it was just a coincidence, a fluke.

Further Reading

Jim Clinefelter“, Books On Books Collection, 17 July 2020. An American-English mis-translation.

Rodney Graham“, Books On Books Collection, 3 July 2020. Un coup de Dés as instructions to a tattoo artist.

Barnes, Katherine E. “With a smile barely wrinkling the surface: Christopher Brennan’s large Musicopoematographoscope and Mallarmé’s Un Coup de dés“, Dix-Neuf, Vol. 9, No.1 (2007), pp. 44-56. Accessed 25 November 2020.

Brennan, Christopher. XXI Poems: MDCCCXCIII-MDCCCXCVII: Towards the Source (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1897).

Edwards, Chris. People of Earth: Poems (Sydney: Vagabond Press, 2011). The mistranslation is printed without the “French pretext”. The briefest comparison provides a convincing argument for the artistic and comic genius of the 2005 version. People of the Earth itself does reveal more of Edwards’ poetic and philosophical grasp of the issues that preoccupied Mallarmé and the avant garde when it comes to language, glyphs, meaning and the technique of collage.

Fagan, Kate. “‘A Fluke? [N]ever!’: Reading Chris Edwards“, Journal for the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, Vol. 12, No. 1 (2012). Accessed 25 November 2020.

Tranter, John. “Desmond’s Coupé“, Jacket 29, April 2006. Accessed 1 July 2020. Another Australian spoof of Un coup de Dés.

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.