Books On Book Collection – Sammy Engramer

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’abolira le Hasard: Wave (2009)

Mallarmé’s strange poem, first published in the London-based journal Cosmopolis in 1897, had to wait until 1914 before appearing in a format close to the one Stéphane Mallarmé envisioned with the gallerist and publisher Ambroise Vollard.

Taking the poem’s self-referential line about its words appearing as a constellation, first Ernest Fraenkel, then Mario Diacono and Marcel Broodthaers transformed the poem into a series of images by substituting solid blocks of ink in place of the poem’s lines of verse.

From left to right: Ernest Fraenkel, Les dessins trans-conscients de Stéphane Mallarmé, à propos de la typographie de Un coup de dés. Avant-propos par Étienne Souriau, avec 68 planches en hors-textes (1960); Mario Diacono, a MeTrica n’ABOOlira (1968/69); Marcel Broodthaers, Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard: Image (1969).

Subsequently, dual homages to Mallarmé and Broodthaers arose. One of them is Engramer’s. Where Fraenkel, Diacono and Broodthaers focused on layout, size and space to generate their visual translations, Engramer added a sonic element, albeit by visual display. Recording his own reading aloud of the poem, Engramer then ran the recording through sonographic equipment. The rendering of each line’s soundwave became his graphic substitute for Mallarmé’s line of verse and, by extension, each black block that Broodthaers used to displace Mallarmé’s text.

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Wave (2009)
Sammy Engramer
H340 x W240 mm, 32 pages. Acquired from Florence Loewy, Paris, 27 March 2019.

In 2010, Engramer took his inspiration one step further and put together an exhibition called “JAMAIS”. As soon as the idea or sensation of visualizing the sound of a poem is mooted, the choice of ink, type, brush, paint, surface, chisel, mold, material, camera, computer and, again, surface opens up. In JAMAIS, Engramer chooses a multiplicity of tools and media (or they choose him): sound recording, computer output, ink, printed book, mold and plastic, camera and animation.

In the video below, pages of the book undulate in a wave along the wall to which they are loosely attached. Alongside them are eighteen 3D PVC renderings of the sonograms. At the end of the hall, a large screen shows a 3D animation of a rolling die whose dots spell out hasard in Braille. The juxtaposition of fluttering pages of sonographs, the physical instantiation of the sonograms and the animated Braille die that cannot be read by touch generates a confounding conundrum for the senses. Text has become sound, sound has become image, and image has become object and animation.

Video: Courtesy of the artist.

Since, according to the artist, his recording of the poem was not played in the exhibition, the conundrum focuses on perception of sound through the eyes. Whether listening/hearing can be performed by seeing a visual or physical representation of what has been listened to/or heard (or is being listened to/or heard) is a neurological question. Rendered in ink and plastic, Engramer’s sonographic images and objects are metaphoric assertions: “hear with your eyes the words no longer printed or carved before you, hear through your eyes the decibels increasing or attenuating according to an unheard recording of those words spoken”.

Further Reading

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

Halliday, Sam. Sonic Modernity: Representing Sound in Literature, Culture and the Arts: Representing Sound in Literature, Culture and the Arts (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2015).

Dick Higgins, Hannah Higgins, “Intermedia”, Leonardo, Volume 34, Number 1, February 2001, pp. 49-54.

Pichler, Michalis. Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Sculpture (Berlin: “Greatest Hits”, 2008).

Rasula, Jed. Modernism and Poetic Inspiration: The Shadow Mouth (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

Schaffner, Anna Katharina and Kim Knowles, Ulrich Weger and Andrew Michael Roberts, “Reading Space in Visual Poetry: New Cognitive Perspectives“, Writing Technologies, vol. 4 (2012), 75-106.

Books On Books Collection – Eric Zboya

un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard: translations (2018)

un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard: translations (2018)
Eric Zboya
Perfect bound; 60 pages printed on Rives Design 170 gsm Brilliant White.
H280 x W204 x D85 mm. Edition of 120 of which this is #42 and signed. Acquired from the artist, 1 April 2019.

Eric Zboya is poet, writer and artist. Years before this book, he wrote for Ubu Web about the dialogues between Mallarmé’s groundbreaking poem and artists such as Marcel Broodthaers, Guido Molinari and Michalis Pichler, who explore “the higher-dimensional characteristics of the poem”. Broodthaers’ and Molinari’s solid-colored horizontal blocks take the place of lines of text and, reflecting its typographic size, deliver the poem’s page-oriented image(s) without its words. Pichler goes a sculptural step further and excises the lines altogether.

In one sense, Zboya returns to the traditional “collaborative” livre d’artiste, where the artist’s images illustrate the author’s text. But Zboya’s process for generating the images and his handling of the text are anything but traditional.

Just as Mario Diacono runs parallel to Broodthaers, so too do Didier Mutel (2003) and Sammy Engramer (2009) to Zboya. His Ubu Web essay appeared in 2011. While similar, the three artists’ approaches to images differ far more from one another than those of Diacono and Broodthaers differ. Mutel’s sonographs come from recordings of three different speeches. Engramer’s come from the recording of his reading of Un Coup de Dés. Although Zboya’s images come from the translated text of Un Coup de Dés, they do not come from sound recordings.

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Poème (2005)
Didier Mutel
Consists of three volumes: the first entitled “2003 — may god bless america — 4 speeches by George Walker Bush”; the second, “2003 — 4 speeches by Tony Blair”; the third, “Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard”. Each engraved in drypoint on steel and printed on Velin Arches 300 gsm.

Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Wave (2009)
Sammy Engramer
H340 x W240 mm, 32 pages.
Recording his own reading aloud of the poem, Engramer then ran the recording through sonographic equipment. The rendering of each line’s soundwave became his graphic substitute for Mallarmé’s line of verse and, by extension, each black block that Broodthaers used to displace Mallarmé’s text.

Zboya uses graphic imaging software to transform each letter, mark of punctuation and pixel into an abstract image based upon the original topographical placement of the type on the space of the page. Text mutates into a graphic, nonlinear entity. Zboya calls this Algorithmic Translation. Due to a randomization function, the program never yields the same image from the same input. In keeping both with the title (Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard) and the poem’s last line (Toute pensée émet un Coup de Dés), no run of the program ever abolishes chance, and every input (thought) generates a roll of the dice.

Zboya’s artist book presents more than these graphic, constellation-like translations of the text. Literally shadowing the right-reading English translation of the title is the French text set in reverse. Drawing the reader closer to the synaesthesia promoted by Mallarmé, Valéry and, before them, Baudelaire, the contrast of black (English) and gray (hcnerF) echoes the tonality of the algorithmically translated images; the reversed letters of the French emphasize the physical reversing that occurs when printing text; and the movement from the original hcnerF to the translated English urges the “mind’s ear” to play along with the mind’s eye. The choice to print everything on the same highly textured Rives Design, Brilliant White, enlists hand and eye in support of a synaesthetic equation of text, page and image.

Just as important in another dimension is Zboya’s creative manipulation of the poem’s English translation by Basil Cleveland and preface by Charles Bernstein. The preface is the first clue. Only words selected by Zboya appear in black, left in their original position on the page and creating an envoi to Zboya’s book:

This Note beyond the space of the page vanishes. Narrative is avoided. Intonation falls. Courageous Poem, open a few eyes to this unforeseen symphony.

Zboya has done the same with the text of the translated poem. He erases certain lines and leaves those not erased in their topographical position as close to Mallarmé’s intention as interpreted by Zboya’s numerous predecessors (Broodthaers in 1969, Pichler in 2008, Meillassoux in 2012, Bononno and Clark in 2015, Bloch in 2017 among others). In this way, Zboya’s appropriation occurs across multiple dimensions.

By “erasing” text to select text that syntactically creates new content, Zboya is also following in the footsteps of Tom Phillips (A Humument, 1966-2016), but the effect and result of doing so differs distinctively from Phillips’ work, which is decidedly narrative. The concept of translation in Zboya’s book is closer to Ezra Pound’s approach in Personae (1926). The fragments and sentences created by the “translated” words are close but not the same as those in the source. In Pound’s case, not the same sentences as those of the troubadours. In Zboya’s case, not the same as Mallarmé’s, Cleveland’s, Bernstein’s, etc. The appropriation/translations make something new.

Occurring in its several dimensions, Zboya’s manipulation of text, image and surface recalls Valéry’s description of reading and looking at the worksheets for the book version of Un Coup de Dés:

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).

That is the effect of reading and looking at Zboya’s work of book art.

Further Reading

Bibliography: Synaesthesia in Art and Science”, Leonardo Online, updated 26 July 2012. Accessed 22 May 2020.

Sammy Engramer”, Books On Books Collection, 1 June 2020.

Fraenkel, Ernest. Les dessins trans-conscients de Stéphane Mallarmé : a propos de la typographie de Un coup de dés (Paris: Nizet, 1960). An earlier example of blacking out the text of Un Coup de Dés.

Funkhouser, C.T. Prehistoric Digital Poetry: An Archaeology of Forms, 1959-1995 (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2007).

Higgins, Dick and Hannah Higgins, “Intermedia”, Leonardo, Volume 34, Number 1, February 2001, pp. 49-54.

Pichler, Michalis. Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard: Sculpture (Berlin: “Greatest Hits”, 2008).

Rasula, Jed. Modernism and Poetic Inspiration: The Shadow Mouth (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).

Schaffner, Anna Katharina and Kim Knowles, Ulrich Weger and Andrew Michael Roberts, “Reading Space in Visual Poetry: New Cognitive Perspectives“, Writing Technologies, vol. 4 (2012), 75-106.