Books On Books Collection – Hervé Di Rosa

Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard (2021)

Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard (2021)
Stéphane Mallarmé & Hervé Di Rosa
Casebound, cloth-covered hardboard. H295 x W245 mm, 36 pages. Edition of 15 (including 7 non-commercial copies), of which this is #5. Acquired from Éditions Virgile LeGrand, 11 April 2022.
Photos: Courtesy of Virgile LeGrand; Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Virgile LeGrand.

Many works of homage to Un Coup de Dés jamais n’abolira le Hasard seek diligently to replicate the layout, typeface, artwork (its placement) and dimensions that Mallarmé intended for his deluxe edition with Ambroise Vollard — or those we think he intended. Bertrand Marchal, editor of Mallarmé’s Complete Works, thinks that absolute fidelity is unachievable because Un Coup de Dés is ultimately an unfinished work. Alain Hurtig (2018) thinks it more than likely the choice of typeface was as much Firmin-Didot’s as Mallarmé’s. With all the foregoing efforts of Mitsou Ronat, Michel Pierson, Alain Hurtig, Neil Crawford and others to achieve the unachievable, why would any serious hommageur retread their paths?

Virgile Legrand has chosen to ignore their paths altogether and take his inspiration from the May 1897 issue of Cosmopolis, where the poem first appeared and was constrained by the Cosmopolis typesetters’ inability or unwillingness to accommodate the double-page structure and the precision-typography Mallarmé had in mind.

Even within the usual constraints of the magazine, the poem astounded and confounded the Cosmopolis editors so much that they insisted on a preface that would explain how to read the poem. Although the preface’s author is named as the publisher/editor, its author is Mallarmé himself, and it begins tongue in cheek:

“I would prefer that this Note not be read, or only skimmed, even then forgotten; it tells the knowledgeable reader little beyond his or her penetration: but may confuse the uninitiated, prior to their looking at the first words of the Poem, since the ensuing words, laid out as they are, lead on to the last, with no novelty except the spacing of the text.” [reproduced in the NRF/Gallimard 1914 edition]

After 125 years, we can no longer be shocked by Mallarmé’s layout, and it is a humorous surprise that, having decided to ignore the pursuit of absolute fidelity to Mallarmé’s wishes, Legrand does accommodate the poet’s wish in the Cosmopolis preface and omits the Note from his homage altogether. As further evidence that the Cosmopolis edition is merely an inspiration for Legrand, several pages in the homage do not match up with it. Legrand deploys a much wider measure and takes full advantage to give les blancs a bit more space. He also does not hesitate to vary the layout and typeface of significant lines — in particular the poem’s final line (see below), mixing Bodoni and Univers.

Legrand’s contrary playfulness and independence show up equally, if not more so, in his embrace of the color, woodcuts and linocuts of the artist Hervé Di Rosa. Di Rosa’s art belongs to the “Figuration libre” movement, is associated with Keith Haring and grafitti artists and is not without controversy. Hard to say who could be further from Odilon Redon, Vollard’s and Mallarmé’s choice of artiste. The faces and signs on Di Rosa’s dice (nearly reproducing the blackface that stirred controversy in another context) rollick through the book — not sequestered in front and back matter as Mallarmé planned for Redon’s. Each of the woodcuts fills a recto page, while the linocut dice appear on verso and recto. Di Rosa’s bright red squeezes through the end papers and doublures right out into the spine, and spills over onto the front cover with his equally bright blue.

Like Vollard, though, Legrand pursues the kind of sourcing expected with livres d’artiste. The book was printed on the presses of the Dugrip Picard Jacomet workshop on Moulin de Brousse‘s paper — steeping it in the grand tradition of the livre d’artiste of handset letterpress, handmade paper and fine binding.

Also in keeping with the French livre d’artiste tradition, this copy of the homage includes a loose original print by Di Rosa (see below). As a co-founder of the Musée international des arts modestes (MIAM) and exponent of a movement to break down barriers to cultural diversity and to fringe and unorthodox art, Di Rosa is an hommageur who should remind us of Mallarmé’s unorthodoxies: the eloper, the heteronymic entrepreneur behind the short-lived fashion and culture magazine La Dernière Mode, the inscriber of poems on fans and rocks or the correspondent who wrote addresses in the form of quatrains (which the postal service recognized and delivered).

Further Reading

Arnar, Anna Sgrídur. 2011. The Book as Instrument: Stéphane Mallarmé, the Artist’s Book and the Transformation of Print Culture. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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.

e-flux. 20 October 2016. “Plus jamais seul: Hervé Di Rosa and The Modests Arts“. October 22, 2016–January 22, 2017, La Maison Rouge. e-flux announcements.

Marchal, Bertrand. March 2015. “Petite Histoire du Coup de Dés“. Transversalités: Revue de l’Institut Catholique de Paris, No. 134: 109-113.

Leydier, Richard, Claire Margat, and Catherine Millet. 2018. Hervé Di Rosa. Paris: Artpress.

Stark, Trevor. 2020. Total Expansion of the Letter: Avant-Garde Art and Language after Mallarmé. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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 – Honorine Tepfer


Stéphane Mallarmé (text); Honorine Tepfer (art & design)
Accordion fold with embossed paper cover. Cover – H325 x W255 mm; Book – H320 x W250 mm, 34 pages. Edition of 48, of which this is #5. Acquired from Studio Montespecchio, 2 February 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Before his sudden death in 1898, Stéphane Mallarmé was planning a deluxe edition of Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard with Ambroise Vollard, an entrepreneur and publisher. A single-volume version of the poem did not appear until 1914. Issued under the direction of Mallarmé’s son-in-law Dr. Edmond Bonniot through the Nouvelle Revue de France (NRF), it omitted intended prints by Odilon Redon, used the typeface Elzevir rather than the Didot that Mallarmé preferred, and did not precisely follow his layout. We know all this because of correspondence between the poet, Redon and Vollard and because the Sorbonne’s Bibliothèque littéraire Jacques Doucet and Harvard’s Houghton Library hold proofs of the deluxe edition with Mallarmé’s handwritten corrections and instructions.

Mallarmé’s placement of words and lines was intentional and precise. Even before the planning for the deluxe edition, he wrote of what could be achieved with type size and layout:

Pourquoi — un jet de grandeur, de pensée ou d’émoi, considérable, phrase poursuivie, en gros caractère, une ligne par page à emplacement gradué, ne maintiendrait-il le lecteur en haleine, la durée du livre, avec appel à sa puissance d’enthousiasme: autour, menus, des groupes, secondairement d’après leur importance, explicatifs ou dérivés — un semis de fioritures. [Oeuvres Complètes, 2 227]

“Why — couldn’t a considerable burst of greatness of thought or emotion, carried in a sentence in large typeface, gradually placed with one line per page, hold the reader’s bated breath throughout the entire book by appealing to his or her power of enthusiasm: around this [burst], smaller groups of secondary importance, explicating or deriving from the primary phrase — a scattering of flourishes.” [Arnar, 234]

The NRF edition 1914 edition makes quite a few sad missteps as Robert Cohn pointed out in 1967. Tepfer’s inspiration to restore the intended layout follows in the footsteps of Mitsou Ronat & Tibor Papp (1980) and Neil Crawford (1985). She visited the Doucet library to examine the proofs and layout. Following the layout was not difficult, but with the scarcity of Didot, Tepfer needed to select another typeface. She chose Baskerville. Given that Firmin Didot was inspired by John Baskerville’s experimentation with thick and thin strokes, the choice adds historical interest, although Bodoni might have been nearer the mark. Below are Tepfer’s double-page spreads across which Mallarmé’s burst of thought appears one line per page among the “scattering of flourishes”.

The book’s central double-page spread, beginning with COMME SI / “AS IF”) in the upper left and ending with COMME SI / “AS IF” in the lower right, mimics the throw and fall of the dice and provides another example of the semantic and typographic play that Mallarmé describes above.

Like the artists before her — Redon (1897), André Masson (1961), Mario Diacono (1968), Marcel Broodthaers (1969), Jean Lecoultre (1975), Ian Wallace (1979) and Ian Tyson (1985) — Tepfer had to solve the puzzle of relating image to text. This is the difficult path of inverse ekphrasis: what and how the visual, tactile and conceptual works of art that come after Mallarmé’s text can be. 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. Tepfer’s solution?

A simple line runs across the debossed front and back covers. As Tepfer wrote in June 1990 about her journey into Un Coup de Dés: La ligne d’horizon était un sujet de ma hantise / “The horizon line was my obsession”. As the folded paper cover opens, a single geometric, abstract image appears — debossed and embossed on blank paper. Except for a single round dot, everything is linear. Two separate lines angle across the space. One cuts through the debossed horizon line that lies beneath a series of closely spaced horizontal lines — suggesting clouds? The other, longer one cuts at a different angle, creating a foreground from two sets of parallel lines that have slipped or shifted like tectonic plates. Could the round dot be the single-dot side of a die rolling down a slanted deck or broken mast? Could the longer slanted line be a broken mast? Could the shifted parallel lines be a broken handrail?

Rather than trying to track back to verbal images in the poem, though, perhaps we should recognize Tepfer’s prefatory image as a kind of substitute for Mallarmé’s preface in 1897 — the one he preferred we not read. He wanted us to look. To see les blancs. To hold thought and emotion like our breath across the space of the book. With her simple rectangle of blank paper, with the absence of ink, with the geometric solidity of the horizontal and slanting lines, and with the velvet softness of the velin d’Arches across her version’s accordion folds, Tepfer encourages us to look, see, hold meaning in abeyance and sense it.

Further Reading

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

Ian Tyson & Neil Crawford“. 7 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.

Mosley, James M. 7 November 2011. “Elzevir Letter“. Typefoundry: Documents for the History of Type and Letterforms. Accessed 28 March 2022.

Tepfer, Honorine. June 1990. “Toute realité se dissout”. La Part du Livre, No. 2. Paris: Ed. Le Temps qu’il fait.

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.