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.