It was, improbably, the forerunner of our digital age: a French poem about a shipwreck published in 1897 that, with its mind-bending possibilities of being read up and down, backward and forward, even sideways, launched modernism. Stephane Mallarme's "One Toss of the Dice," a daring, twenty-page epic of ruin and recovery, provided an epochal "tipping point," defining the spirit of the age and anticipating radical thinkers of the twentieth century, from Albert Einstein to T.Read more...
It was, improbably, the forerunner of our digital age: a French poem about a shipwreck published in 1897 that, with its mind-bending possibilities of being read up and down, backward and forward, even sideways, launched modernism. Stephane Mallarme's "One Toss of the Dice," a daring, twenty-page epic of ruin and recovery, provided an epochal "tipping point," defining the spirit of the age and anticipating radical thinkers of the twentieth century, from Albert Einstein to T. S. Eliot.
Celebrating its intrinsic influence on our culture, renowned scholar R. Howard Bloch masterfully decodes the poem still considered among the most enigmatic ever written. In Bloch's shimmering portrait of Belle Epoque Paris, Mallarme stands as the spiritual giant of the era, gathering around him every Tuesday a luminous cast of characters including Emile Zola, Victor Hugo, Claude Monet, Andre Gide, Claude Debussy, Oscar Wilde, and even the future French prime minister Georges Clemenceau. A simple schoolteacher whose salons and prodigious literary talent won him the adoration of Paris's elite, Mallarme achieved the reputation of France's greatest living poet. He was so beloved that mourners crowded along the Seine for his funeral in 1898, many refusing to depart until late into the night, leaving Auguste Renoir to ponder, "How long will it take for nature to make another such a mind?"
Over a century later, the allure of Mallarme's linguistic feat continues to ignite the imaginations of the world's greatest thinkers. Featuring a new, authoritative translation of the French poem by J. D. McClatchy, One Toss of the Dice reveals how a literary masterpiece launched the modernist movement, contributed to the rise of pop art, influenced modern Web design, and shaped the perceptual world we now inhabit. And as Alex Ross remarks in The New Yorker, "If you can crack Mallarme's] poems, it seems, you can crack the riddles of existence." In One Toss of the Dice, Bloch finally, and brilliantly, dissects one of literary history's greatest mysteries to reveal how a poem made us modern.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-07-18
- Reviewer: Staff
Praising Stéphane Mallarmé’s 1897 poem “Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard” (translated here as “One Toss of the Dice”) as “the birth certificate of modern poetry,” Bloch (A Needle in the Right Hand of God) meticulously reconstructs the events leading to its composition. He shows how the poem was a synthesis of the poet’s experiences and influences and an “enormous break with the conceptual world in place since the Renaissance” that anticipated developments in painting, music, and dance. From a densely detailed biographical sketch packed with accounts of Mallarmé’s family life and his association with the Mardists—a salon whose members included Paul Verlaine, André Gide, Edgar Degas, and other leading artists—Bloch singles out two major influences on the poem’s final structure: the “all-embracing total artwork” of Richard Wagner’s operas, then all the rage in Europe; and the Lumière brothers’ pioneering work in cinema. The full text of the poem (as translated by J.D. McClatchy) is reproduced here in its entirety, and it’s a visually striking collage of fonts, type sizes, fragmented phrases, and empty spaces that encourage and inhibit interpretation. Bloch’s analysis of the poem’s verbal and syntactical acrobatics and its resonance with later works is enlightening. For most readers, this book will be an engrossing introduction to a work of literature whose artistic significance the author makes seem inarguable. (Nov.)