Books On Books Collection – Kathy Bruce

Valise for Mallarmé (1997)

Valise for Mallarmé (1997)
Kathy Bruce
Valise, altered book, X-ray film, wood, glass, die, collage. H8.5″ x W10.5″ x D5″. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 3 November 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Any artist who flirts with surreality is likely to begin or end up carrying Marcel Duchamp‘s bags or bearing Joseph Cornell‘s boxes. Cornell himself was influenced by Duchamp. He assisted Duchamp with the latter’s Boîte-en-Valise series, 1935-41, and assembled a few of his own suitcase- or valise-based works, such as Untitled (The Life of Ludwig II of Bavaria), 1941-52, and Untitled (The Crystal Cage: Portrait of Berenice), 1934-67. Boxes though became his forté. Although Cornell sourced a substantial amount of collage material from books, he did not frequently use altered books (especially excavated ones) as an object within an object, a container of objects or object in itself. One excavation example is his Object (glass, dust and plastic spoon), 1939. Another, which however embodies all the permutations, is Untitled (To Marguerite Blachas), c.1939, a thorough-going alteration of the Journal d’Agriculture Practique (Volume 22, 1911). A variation with Volume 21 was discovered after his death in 1972.

So, since 1972, how to make anything not merely derivative? Hefting the influences lightly, Kathy Bruce takes Duchamp and Cornell in an original direction and replaces their mysterious surreality with the mysteries of Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard (1897) and with her own surreality arising from chance-found objects and chosen juxtaposition. Cornell remarked that his boxes “are life’s experiences aesthetically expressed”. Valise for Mallarmé and the four other of Bruce’s works described below are aesthetic expressions of her experiences of the poem that “made us modern”.

This Duchampian valise opens to show that it has been pressed into a Mallarméan voyage. In the deeper compartment sits a Cornellesque glass-covered wooden box. It contains a red die; collage of an engraving of penguins, a spouting whale, a ship under sail against towering glaciers and a flight of birds; scraps of paper marked with Chinese ideograms and handwritten numbers and symbols; and mechanical diagrams. A reflective, smoky blue sheet surrounds the glass-covered “raft”. It is a piece of X-ray film discarded from Gramercy Hospital in New York City. The film is face down and affixed to a sheet of paper that later developed ripples. The artist “liked the way it looked– like waves in the water, so it stayed” (correspondence with the artist, 11 December 2021).

On the shallow side of Valise for Mallarmé is an altered book, excavated to fit around the “raft” and show a passage from Un Coup de Dés pasted at the bottom of the excavation and covered with translucent paper. The book is John L. Stoddard’s Lectures (Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Supplementary Vol 1). Stoddard was a prolific writer (16 volumes in his lecture and photograph series) and prodigious traveller (26 countries and multiple states in the US visited). The lecture series appeared 1897 to 1898, haply coinciding with Mallarmé’s poem and death. Strangely enough, where Mallarmé ended his spiritual voyage from Catholicism to atheism, Stoddard ended his from atheism to Catholicism. The combination of coincidence and divergence from this found readymade no doubt confirmed it to Bruce as the right choice of color, shape and material to echo the poem’s last line — Toute pensée émet un Coup de Dés (All thought emits a roll of the dice).

Conmoción, Contución y Compresión Cerebrales (1998)

Conmoción, Contución y Compresión Cerebrales (1998)
Kathy Bruce
Framed, altered book, surrounded by white cloth and containing an embedded box containing another box with dice and collage. H15″ x W12″ x D3″. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 3 November 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Were it not for the preceding work, the presence of dice and and the image of a ship pasted to the back of the glass-covered box embedded in the altered book framed here, we might miss that Mallarmé’s poem inspired Conmoción, Contución y Compresión Cerebrales. The altered book’s title, difficult to make out on the spine, is Patología y clínica quirúrgicas (1873), a medical manual by Joseph-Auguste Fort, a French contemporary of Mallarmé. Fort had travelled in Spain, voyaged to South America and studied medical education and practice in several countries there, hence the Spanish of his book.

The shredded book pages packed around the box within the box embedded in the medical manual could be compared to The Wasteland‘s “fragments I have shored against my ruins”, but T.S. Eliot’s fragments are snippets of civilisation (lines from a nursery rhyme, Dante’s Purgatorio, a Latin poem, etc.) that his speaker uses to shore against his contemporary wasteland. Bruce’s snippets come from that medical manual and serve a dual purpose. First, to provide the title of her work. Second, to insulate and secure the box containing the dice and print of the ships under sail. The title appears in the bottom space between the boxes and comes from a section heading in the book, a phrase that “speaks to the chaos and confusion of the wrecked ship at sea” (correspondence with the artist, 12 December 2021).

So, from what is the packing insulating that inner box? Loose in the tilted embedded box, the dice can still roll; tilted in the box, the ships are continually bound to founder. How can conmoción, contución y compresión cerebrales (cerebral concussion, contusion and compression) protect against chance that any roll of the dice can never abolish or against the “bookwreck” in which they are embedded? What surrounds the altered book implies that they cannot. The crumpled white cloth (from the poem’s velours chiffonné) evokes not only a fallen sail but also a coffin’s lining in which the book lies. How appropriate then that Mallarmé’s poem confronting le néant (nothingness) and inspiring this work of book art is here but not here.

Solitary Plume Lost (1998 or 2000)

Solitary Plume Lost (1998 or 2000)
Kathy Bruce
Small cigar box, feather, pine wood, collage, cloth. Closed H1.5″ x W6.5″ x D3.5″. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 3 November 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Inside the box:

Lining the cigar box, a piece of white crumpled velvet, which refers to the poem’s velours chiffonné.

A scrap of stiff, dark blue, glittering felt, a kind from which a toque de minuit (a hat or cap the color of midnight) might be made.

A triangular block of pine wood on which three translated lines of the poem are pasted along the hypotenuse surface, a 1998 commemorative stamp with Mallarmé’s likeness is pasted on the top surface, an image of the Aquila constellation with its main stars Altair, Tarazed and Alshain is pasted on the bottom surface, and constellation markings for the hypergiant stars of Draco are pasted along the two remaining sides.

A white feather, which refers to (plume solitaire éperdue/solitary lost plume), attached to the inside surface of the box’s top.

Among the best known images of Mallarmé is the portrait by Edouard Manet in 1876. Cross-legged in an armchair, the poet leans toward his right hand resting on a side table and holding a cigar from which smoke curls. It is so well known that, after puzzling over the constellations and text on the other sides of the block, it is a surprise that the image on the stamp has not somehow changed into it.

Navigating the Abyss I (1998)

Navigating the Abyss I (1998)
Kathy Bruce
Altered book, wood, lenses, collage, thread. H7.5″ x W5″ x D3″. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 3 November 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

Bruce brings her sculpture outside any enclosure with Navigating the Abyss I. Rigging-like thread wraps around a copy of Intermediate Reader, a relic from a series of readers compiled between 1867 and 1927 for the Brothers of the Christian Schools, headquartered in Montreal, which recalls Mallarmé’s school-teaching days. Three triangles of wood panelling are attached to the book’s back cover, a deft choice of material for the sail-like seams and shape. A glossy piece of postcard or a cut from the cover of an art book depicting a gilded hand, open as if having just rolled the dice, occupies one corner of the cover. It’s impossible to say whether it is the lower or upper, left or right, as the book has been turned upside down and back to front in its altering (note the photos above). The three loose lenses add to this effect of shipwreck detritus, as does the convex lens embedded like a porthole in the book and revealing a torn page and part of a handwritten letter presumably left in the book. Across from the convex lens, the pasted-down diagram is a scaled drawing of a template for what appears to be a rigging pulley with a diameter of 9 and 3/4 inches. The collaged precision diagram alludes not only to the ship but also to the poem’s reference to anciens calculs. It adds to the artifice and abstraction of poem, book, ship and flotsam that Bruce has created.

The paragraph pasted on the book’s front cover (the artwork’s “back cover”) comes from the Intermediate Reader. The content is uncannily apt:

Far in the horizon, they thought they saw a beautiful lake, with branching palm-trees. They longed for the water and the cool shade; but their ____ guide told them there was no lake in the place where it seemed to be; that it was only the mirage — a seductive illusion floating in the air.

The small rectangle excised from this passage is pasted face down among the other detritus on the opposite side. It is another bit of controlled artifice that not only alludes to the use of empty space (les blancs) in Un Coup de Dés but contributes to the work’s surreality.

Navigating the Abyss II (1999)

Navigating the Abyss II (1999)
Kathy Bruce
Altered book, camera lens, collage, thread. H9″ x W7″ x D5″. Unique. Acquired from the artist, 3 November 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection.

A withdrawn library copy of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s 18th century bestseller Julie, ou la nouvelle Heloïse, with one-sixth leather binding over marbled boards, provides Bruce with the raw “stone” for her second sculpted version of Navigating the Abyss. Headed for the graveyard of pulping or burying in landfills, this culled copy, stamped WITHDRAWN in black on all of its faded marbled edges, is destined never to be opened again, a point underscored by the tangle of black thread holding it closed. The inaccessible content is the epistolary tale of Julie d’Étange, an aristocrat who falls in love with her tutor Saint-Preux, is married off to the tolerant atheist Lord von Wolmar, becomes devout to overcome her attraction to Saint-Preux, and dies of hypothermia after plunging into water to save her child. The inauthenticity into which Rousseau throws religious belief makes Bruce’s choice of this marbled stone appropriate for paying homage to Mallarmé who chose to navigate the abyss without God.

Although both versions of Navigating the Abyss have a similarity, somehow this second version is bleaker than the first. Looked at on edge, the black lens and marbled book appear to be a funerary sculpture on a plinth. Unlike the embedded lens in the first version, a single Cyclopean camera lens sits atop the book into which a hole has been bored. The darkness at the lens’ center evokes the idea of an abyss or whirlpool, especially as the words and letters from the torn pages circle around the edges like detritus being pulled down. A black-and-white version of Goya’s Saturn Devouring his Son provides the ghostly image floating in the lens. While it isn’t necessary to know the source of the image or that the series from which Goya’s mural painting comes is called The Black Paintings, the details add to the funereality evoked by the black thread, the black stamp and decayed state of the book.

Further Reading

Bloch, R. Howard. 2017. One toss of the dice: the incredible story of how a poem made us modern. New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, a division of W.W. Norton & Company.

Lloyd, Rosemary. 2000. “Mallarme at the Millennium“. The Free Library. 2000 Modern Humanities Research Association. Accessed 01 December 2021. 2021.

Solomon, Deborah, and Joseph Cornell. 1997. Utopia parkway: the life and work of Joseph Cornell. Boston: MFA Publications.

Books On Books Collection – Michel Lorand

Après Un Coup de Dés (2015)

Après Un Coup de Dés (2015)
Michel Lorand
Cover and gatherings, untrimmed and unbound, in glassine envelope. Cover: H362 x W260; gatherings: H362 x W256 mm; 32 unnumbered pages. Edition of 50, of which this is #19. Acquired from the artist, 22 October 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with the artist’s permission.


Since the 1960s when Ernest Fraenkel, Mario Diacono and Marcel Broodthaers blotted out the text of Mallarmé’s poem Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard (1897) to create their works of homage, numerous others have expanded on the technique: substituting images of sonograms (Sammy Engramer, 2009) or algorithmically generated abstractions (Eric Zboya, 2018, and Benjamin Lord, 2019), or excising the text (Michalis Pichler, 2008, and Cerith Wyn Evans, 2008) or algorithmically erasing it (Jérémie Bennequin, 2009) — just to name a few.

In Après Un Coup de Dés (2015), the only printed marks are the cover’s traditional black and red borders and the printer’s registration and gathering marks on the sheets. Wherever else Mallarmé’s text would have been printed has been excised. In reply to a question about the process involved, Lorand explains that he had asked the designer Filiep Tacq to create a layout that would cover in black exactly the blocks of text as it appears in the current Gallimard book edition of Mallarmé’s poem, including the front and back covers (correspondence with the artist, 1 November 2021). Lorand took a scalpel to the offset printed sheets, removed the blackened blocks, folded the sheets by hand into the four gatherings, assembled them in the correct order and laid them untrimmed and loose inside the cover. Each of fifty copies was placed inside its own handmade glassine envelope along with a flyer including introductory text by Jacques Sojcher (emeritus professor, University of Brussels) and the colophon for the work. It is a book that is not-yet a book.

Lorand’s and all of these other works of homage give us inverse ekphrasis. They are the visual, tactile and conceptual works of art that come after Mallarmé’s text. 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.

Many of the hommageurs hint at the “and more” with a subtitle to Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard. With Broodthaers, it is Image; with Pichler, Sculpture; with Engramer, Onde (Wave as in soundwave); and with Bennequin, Omage (as in hommage with the “h” and “m” missing). With Lorand, there is no subtitle. Instead, we have the word après prefacing the truncated title of the poem. But, “after” Mallarmé’s poem, what is Lorand proposing? An homage in the form of something that restates, reproduces the poem but without the words? An homage in the form of something else presented in the manner of Un Coup de Dés but without the words? Or something else that simply occurs after the poem’s roll of the dice? As it turns out, all that and more.

Paul Valèry was probably the first of Mallarmé’s circle to see and hear Un Coup de Dés. His reaction picks out one of the themes that make up Lorand’s “and more”:

It seemed to me that I was looking at the form and pattern of a thought, placed for the first time in a finite space. Here space itself truly spoke, dreamed, and gave birth to temporal forms. Expectancy, doubt, concentration, all were visible things. With my own eye I could see silences that had assumed bodily shapes. Inappreciable instants became clearly visible: the fraction of a second during which an idea flashes into being and dies away; atoms of time that serve as the germs of infinite consequences lasting through psychological centuries — at last these appeared as beings, each surrounded with a palpable emptiness…. there in the same void with them, like some new form of matter arranged in systems or masses or trailing lines, coexisted the Word! — Paul Valéry, Collected Works of Paul Valery, Volume 8: Leonardo, Poe, Mallarmé (1972).

Lorand writes:

My <<Après un Coup de Dés>> introduces a corpus of approaches to what might be “the movement” that constitutes speech: “A language that speaks” as Martin Heidegger calls it (Unterwegs zur Sprache, Verlag Günther Jeske, Pfullingen, FRG, 1959).

How can we think, how can we imagine this movement within language itself? What path to take to allow us to experience this movement, the one that constitutes the word itself. This word is sound. The object of all my work is the identification of what could be the image of this movement, of this word. This exploration attempts to approach the nature of this movement: a word beyond language when the latter is silent. (Correspondence with the artist, 1 November 2021.)

Like his others, Heidegger’s On the Way to Language is a dense book; more than the others, it is poetical, an invitation to experience language. In it is a series of lectures entitled “The Nature of Language” in which Heidegger uses two poems, one by Stefan George and one by Gottfried Benn, to question language about its nature. Although George’s poem is the one that Heidegger deeply explicates, Benn’s is the one that, echoing Valèry, sheds the most light on Lorand’s Après Un Coup de Dés — especially with its last two lines.

A Word

A word, a phrase –: from cyphers rise
Life recognized, a sudden sense,
The sun stands still, mute are the skies,
And compacts it, stark and dense.

A word — a gleam, a light, a spark,
A thrust of flames, a stellar trace —
And then again — immense — the dark
Round world and I in empty space.

Après Un Coup de Dés seems to be a wordless invitation to experience language. But in a sense, Mallarmé’s words have not disappeared, not entirely. Their shapes — embodied in the voids — move silently and rhythmically across the unfolded sheets; in the gatherings, they cascade over one another much as they do syntactically and typographically in print. And even though the text is not before (in front of) us, Lorand’s artwork delivers a wordless experience of a key paradox of language with which Mallarmé sought to imbue his poem: the language of the void or abyss — the void or abyss of language. One of the ways in which the poem presents this self-enveloping paradox is that it begins and ends with the words un coup de dés, the act that can never abolish chance and the act that all thought emits. Similarly, Après un Coup de Dés displays the presence of language by displaying the absence of language, or les blancs defined by and defining empty space.

Mallarmé’s invitation in Un Coup de Dés, however, beckons us to a slightly different concept of language than that articulated by Heidegger. For Mallarmé, chance plays a prominent role in what Heidegger would call the “neighborhood of poetry and thought”. But chance, hazard or a roll of the dice plays a much less prominent role for Heidegger, and in Lorand’s work of art, with its registration and gathering marks and glassine enclosure, there seems little allusion to it — perhaps naturally so since Lorand’s work comes after the dice have been rolled.

Even though it comes after Mallarmé’s completed poem and after the Gallimard book edition, Après presents as an unfinished work, a book not yet trimmed and bound, which reflects not only Mallarmé’s unfinished realization of the poem as a book but also his unfinished life’s pursuit: le Livre, the thing in which everything in the world would end up — the thing that, by virtue of a spacious mobility of typographic layout and the interplay of its elements, would be “the total expansion of the letter”. Lorand’s attention and manual precision in excising the blackened blocks where the text would otherwise appear evoke Mallarmé’s attention to the minute details of typeface, size and font shown in his handwritten mark-up of the proofs for the book edition he was planning before he died.

Après also comes after the efforts of Broodthaers and Pichler, both of whom organized exhibitions for their works of homage. In fact, Pichler paid homage to Broodthaers by naming his exhibition “Pichler: Exposition Littéraire autour de Mallarmé” (Milan, December 2016) after “Broodthaers: Exposition littéraire autour de Mallarmé” (Antwerp, December 1969). Pichler’s exhibition was also daring in its exposure of the works to the visitors.

In the 2018 display of Après Un Coup de Dés, the previously gathered but now unfolded sheets and cover lie side by side under glass. Often this is cause for complaint about the distanced display of artist books. In the case of Après Un Coup de Dés, the distance effectively draws point-blank attention to what the privileged reader gradually discovers in handling the work. The unprivileged reader may have to imagine the making, unmaking and remaking of the book but, confronted with the gestalt of the undone gatherings and their registration marks, that reader immediately sees/witnesses the void defined by a void.

Après Un Coup de Dés in the group exhibition Reading Hand Writing Bodies at Les Abattoirs de Bomel, Centre d’art de Namur, Belgium, 8 February – 11 March 2018. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

In relation to Broodthaer’s Image and Pichler’s Sculpture, Après comes both before and after. The positioning of the words après, image and sculpture vis à vis the poem’s title has been noted already. Of all three visual, tactile and conceptual works, Lorand’s stands as the chronologically “after” yet unfinished “before” to Broodthaers’ and Pichler’s finished works. In yet another “afterness” to Mallarmé’s poem, Lorand likens Après to a silent score of music or a piano roll (correspondence with the artist, 1 November 2021). This echoes — if that is not too perverse a verb — Mallarmé’s reference to “score” in his preface to Un Coup de Dés. In premonitory, if not coincidental, irony, Lorand’s piano-roll-like 2015 work precedes a work that Michalis Pichler created for his 2016 Milan exhibition: a piano roll playable on a foot-pumped pianola and entitled Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Musique (see video above).

The interplay of its philosophical roots with its mechanically produced print and its manual cuts makes Lorand’s Après Un Coup de Dés one of the more challenging works of homage to Mallarmé’s poem. To “hear” it side by side with the others in the Books On Books Collection (see below) is rewarding.

Further Reading

Derek Beaulieu“. Books On Books Collection. 19 June 2020.

Jérémie Bennequin“. Books On Books Collection. 15 December 2020.

Christopher Brennan“. Books On Books Collection. 28 February 2021.

Kathy Bruce“. Books On Books Collection. NYP.

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

Jim Clinefelter“. Books On Books Collection. 17 July 2020.

David Dernie & Olivia Lang“. Books On Books Collection. 02 November 2020.

Klaus Detjen“. Books On Books Collection. 09 September 2020.

Chris Edwards“. Books On Books Collection. 28 February 2021.

Sammy Engramer“. Books On Books Collection. 01 June 2020.

Ernest Fraenkel“. Books On Books Collection. 30 October 2021.

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

Nicolas Guyot“. Books On Books Collection. 20 May 2020.

Brian Larosche“. Books On Books Collection. 3 July 2020.

Benjamin Lord“. Books On Books Collection. 19 June 2020.

Michael Maranda“. Books On Books Collection. 22 August 2020.

André Masson“. Books On Books Collection. NYP.

Guido Molinari“. Books On Books Collection. 13 April 2020.

Reinhold Nasshan“. Books On Books Collection. 23 September 2021.

Aurélie Noury“. Books On Books Collection. 09 November 2020.

Michalis Pichler“. Books On Books Collection. 19 August 2020.

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

Sam Sampson“. Books On Books Collection. NYP.

Ian Tyson and Neil Crawford“. Books On Books Collection. NYP.

Jacques Vernière“. Books On Books Collection. NYP.

Cerith Wyn Evans“. Books On Books Collection. 16 April 2020.

Eric Zboya“. Books On Books Collection. 01 June 2020.

Heidegger, Martin, and Peter D. Hertz, trans. 1959/2009. On the Way to Language. San Francisco: HarperOne. Reprint. “No matter how we put our questions to language about its nature, first of all it is needful that language vouchsafe itself to us. If it does, the nature of language becomes the grant of its essential being, that is, the being of language becomes the language of being” (p. 72).

Polt, Richard. 1999. Heidegger: An Introduction. Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press.

Books On Books Collection – Ernest Fraenkel

Les Dessins Trans-conscients de Stéphane Mallarmé
à propos de la Typographie de Un Coup de Dés (1960)

Les Dessins Trans-conscients de Stéphane Mallarmé, à propos de la Typographie de Un Coup de Dés (1960)
Ernest Fraenkel
Paperback, stapled to fold-in sleeve. H245 x W160 mm, 44 pages bound with 68 pages on 8.5 uncut folded and gathered sheets. Acquired from À la Page, 12 October 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Ernest Fraenkel should have left it at visually mapping Un Coup de Dés and offered it up as simply an artistic response to the poem. Even if it is a mapping of the condensed single-paged Cosmopolis (1897) version of the poem, think of the various renderings in handset chapbook form printed on letterpress or as lithographs, or etchings on glass, or even sculptures. It could have been the “Prometheus bound” to the “Prometheus unbound” of those who paid homage by appropriating the more expansive double-page spread book version (1914) that Mallarmé intended. Instead, it lies tucked away with 44 pages de l’explication. Professor David W. Seaman (Georgia Southern University), who has engaged with Fraenkel’s analysis, puts it well:

It must be said in [Fraenkel’s] defense that the idea is tempting: to make wordless patterns of the pages of the poem in order to see the ideogrammatic shapes more clearly. In addition, Fraenkel has contributed some worthwhile insights into the use of space and text in the poem, … However, there are three major objections to his project. First, he used, for most of his research, the text of the Cosmopolis edition of the poem, an edition which nearly everyone agrees is far from the author’s intentions, especially insofar as the ideograms are concerned; the preface to that edition gives ample warning of this. … / The second objection is that Fraenkel strays too far from the text, preferring to keep in mind a general idea of the meaning of the poem, and then go off according to the feelings the designs give him. … In fact,  sometimes Fraenkel recommends turning the design on its side or upside-down to see what image may present itself! / The third objection is that these designs are then used more or less like Rohrschach ink blots. (Seaman, pp. 142-43)

In his nine sets of single-sided uncut sheets, Fraenkel offers seven different diagrammatic approaches to the poem as it appeared in Cosmopolis, whose editors could not allow the poem’s lines to cross over the gutter to the next page as Mallarmé imagined the layout. The opening pages of Fraenkel’s seven approaches are laid out below in sunlight and paired with the textual opening page.

Seven different diagrammatic renderings. The one at the lower right shows Fraenkel’s sideways view.

The first rendering (above, upper left) is closest to what Mario Diacono and Marcel Broodthaers would create later in the decade.

Left: a METRICA n’aboolira (1968) by Mario Diacono (1968). Right: Image: Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (1969) by Marcel Broodthaers (1969).

Fraenkel’s nine sets of sheets break down into eight of 8 pages and one of 4 pages. Below is the first set opened out.

The first set of eight pages

Compared with Diacono’s, Broodthaers’ and all the other works of homage to date, Fraenkel’s renderings retain a distinction and suggest other new directions not yet taken physically or digitally. Given the sculptural interpretations by Geraldo de Barros, Jorge Méndez Blake and Kathy Bruce, doesn’t Fraenkel’s first rendering call for a three-dimensional cantilevered homage constructed of slabs of blackened flotsam connected with brushed steel rods?

From the series Jogos de Dados (1986)
Geraldo de Barros
Photo: Julia Parpulov. Permission from Fabiana de Barros.

Biblioteca Mallarmé/Mallarmé Library (2011)
Jorge Méndez Blake
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Navigating the Abyss (2014)
Kathy Bruce
Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Given the video created by Giulio Maffei transforming the 1914 book version into Broodthaers’ and the digital legerdemain of Karen ann Donnachie and Andy Simionato and Tayyib Yavuz, why not an animated digital transformation of the Cosmopolis version into the 1914 book version?

Le Vite dei Libri 26 – Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (2016)
Giulio Maffei
Permission from the artist.


Mallarmé’s Self-replicating Machine: A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance” (2018)
Karen ann Donnachie and Andy Simionato
Permission from the artists.

Experiment Book: “Un Coup de Dés”
Tayyib Yavuz
Permission from the artist.

And Professor Jed Rasula (University of Georgia), who has also explored Fraenkel’s work, suggests yet another medium:

Fraenkel’s sixty-eight seismographic and astral diagrams (or “stylizations”) practice a truly graphic mode of literary analysis. It was Fraenkel’s conviction that “a plastic text rests hidden in the extra-conscious layers of the poet, paralleling the verbal text of the poem” (9). … In their accentuation of the visual character of Un Coup de dés, Fraenkel’s designs are like watching a movie with the sound turned off, forced to rely on gesture rather than dialogue in order to follow the action.”

Except for the sound part, that could describe Man Ray’s Les Mystères du Château de Dés (1929).

Further Reading

Derek Beaulieu“. Books On Books Collection. 19 June 2020.

Raffaella della Olga“. Books On Books Collection. 8 December 2020.

Klaus Detjen“. Books On Books Collection. 9 September 2020.

Sammy Engramer“. Books On Books Collection. 1 June 2020.

Michalis Pichler“. Books On Books Collection. 19 August 2020.

Cerith Wyn Evans“. Books On Books Collection. 16 April 2020.

Eric Zboya“. Books On Books Collection. 1 June 2020.

Donnachie, Karen Ann, and Andy Siminiato. “Mallarmé’s Self-replicating Machine: A Throw of the Dice Will Never Abolish Chance”. MATLIT: Materialities of Literature, [S.l.], v. 6, n. 1, p. 37-49, Aug. 2018. Date accessed: 23 March 2019.

Rasula, Jed. Modernism and Poetic Inspiration: The Shadow Mouth (London: Palgrave, 2009). Accessed via Electronic Poetry Center, University of Pennsylvania, n.d. Accessed 14 June 2020.

Seaman, David W.  Concrete poetry in France (Ann Arbor: Umi Research Press, 1981).

Bookmarking Book Art – Jorge Méndez Blake

Mallarmé’s Library (2011)

Biblioteca Mallarmé (2011)

Jorge Méndez Blake

Metal, wood, mirror, resin, plexiglass + drawing. 95x180x150 cm (table) 50×70 cm (drawing). Photos: Courtesy of Estudio Jorge Méndez Blake.

Silvia Ortiz, founder of the gallery Travesía Cuatro in Madrid, writes

In this exhibition entitled Biblioteca Mallarmé, the artist establishes once again the link between his artwork, literature and architecture. On this occasion Jorge Méndez Blake reformulates the concept of library, this time to a library-shipwreck, a library stranded on the coast, as a wreck. 4 November 2011 – 1is 6 February 2012. Accessed 4 September 2020.

Photo: Courtesy of Estudio Jorge Méndez Blake.

Photo: Courtesy of Estudio Jorge Méndez Blake.

All of the works making up the exhibition pay homage to Un Coup de Dés. In keeping with the sub-genre of the homage to an homage, though, this work eponymous with the exhibition draws on Marcel Broodthaers’ homage to the same poem. With its colorfulness, it might also be drawing on Mario Diacono’s JCT 1, a MeTrica n’ABOOlira (1968), Ian Wallace’s Image/Text (1979) or Klaus Detjen’s Ein Würfelwurf niemals tilgt den Zufall (1995). With its three-dimensionality, also perhaps on Geraldo de Barros’s Jogos de Dados (1980s), Albert Dupont’s Désir-Hasard-Dés (2000), or Kathy Bruce’s Navigating the Abyss (2008). Probably not, but this gathering of artists attests to how much Mallarmé’s poem has permeated the genre of book art and its permutations.

Méndez Blake’s originality here arrives in the juxtaposition of the poem’s shipwreck in the form of resinous burnt detritus on the table and flotsam in the print on the wall with the mixed-media blocks on the table recalling books on library display as well as Broodthaers’ rectangular black redactions in his homage or appropriation. Appropriation is very much a theme in this work and the exhibition.

Exhibition view, Travesía Cuatro, Madrid, Spain.

Du fond d’un naufrage (2011)

Du fond d’un naufrage (2011)

Jorge Méndez Blake

Bricks and book. 1.61×1.20×1.06 cm. Photo: Courtesy of Estudio Jorge Méndez Blake.

Another work in the exhibition, Du fond d’un naufrage (2011), differs in material and shape from any previous homage to the poem. The work’s title (“from the bottom of a shipwreck”) comes from a line in Mallarmé’s poem, and cheekily, the volume at the bottom of the gap between the bricks is Mallarmé’s Collected Poems and Other Verse (Oxford University Press).

Toute Pensée Émet un Coup de Dés (2012-2019)

Toute Pensée Émet un Coup de Dés (2012-2019)

Jorge Méndez Blake

Photo: Courtesy of Estudio Jorge Méndez Blake.

Not in the exhibition but continuing the association with Un Coup de Dés and the theme of appropriation, Toute Pensée Émet un Coup de Dés (2012-2019) is a series of nine drawings that

reproduces classic shipwreck paintings using colored pencil. Classic painters used often the strategy of bending the mast, as a way to show the instability of the ship in the storm. These drawings go through an editing process, in which an image of the original painting is cropped and rotated X degrees to achieve the mast verticality and to make the scene look as if the ships were avoiding the fatal destiny. But by “fixing” the mast, the whole landscape loses its horizontality. Correspondence, Estudio Jorge Méndez Blake, 4 August 2020.

Further Reading

Large-Scale Installations (Updated 3 August 2020)”, Bookmarking Book Art, 3 August 2020.

Peden, Georgia. “Denver’s MCA exhibits adapted literary illustrations”, DU Clarion 9 October 2017. Accessed 23 August 2020.