In 1897, French Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé (1842-1898) wrote an oblique minimalist poem entitled Un Coup de Dés Jamais N’Abolira le Hasard about a sinking ship on whose deck stands her master clutching a pair of dice but hesitating to complete the throw. Mallarmé specified that the text should be arranged in a precise order across each opening of the intended book, spanning the gutter, probably to represent the listing and rolling of a sinking ship in heavy seas. The book was published only once in Mallarmé’s lifetime, in the periodical Cosmopolis, where it did not follow Mallarmé’s typographical specifications, and where it therefore met with his disapproval.

In 1914, Un Coup de Dés was published according Mallarmé’s specifications by the Nouvelle Revue Français as a limited edition. In 1969, Marcel Broodthaers appropriated the 1914 edition, changed the text from words to dark black lines but otherwise produced an almost exact copy. One subtle change was inserting his own name as the author and calling the work “IMAGE” rather than “POÈME.”  The result is the work of a poet stripped of his words; a poem distilled to purely visual symbolism.

This book was first shown at the Wide White Space gallery in Antwerp, and it was accompanied by a recording of Broodthaers reciting Mallarmé’s deleted text. The edition had three presentations: ten copies on aluminum sheets, ninety copies printed on translucent paper so that the arrangement of the typography on every page would be visible at once, and 300 copies printed on regular paper, of which this copy is one. Copies of this work are held in prominent libraries and art museums including the Museum of Modern Art, the Victoria & Albert Museum, and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp.

 

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