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’s 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)? The trend had its beginning distant in time but close in proximity 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.
A perceptive reading of Brennan, Edwards and Tranter has become available from Toby Fitch, courtesy of the Cordite Poetry Review. It is a dynamite work itself.
“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.
Fitch, Toby. 1 May 2019. “Aussi / Or: Un Coup de dés and Mistranslation in the Antipodes“. Cordite Poetry Review. Accessed 27 April 2022.
Tranter, John. “Desmond’s Coupé“, Jacket 29, April 2006. Accessed 1 July 2020. Another Australian spoof of Un coup de Dés.