“Everything in the world exists to end up as a book.”
French poet Stéphane
Mallarmé (1842–98) was modernism’s great champion of the
book as both a conceptual and material entity. A colossal
influence on literature from Huysmans to Ashbery, art from Manet to
Broodthaers, music from Debussy to Boulez and philosophy from
Blanchot to Rancière, Mallarmé spent more than 30 years on a
legendary, ultimately unfinished project he called simply Le Livre.
The Book was
Mallarmé’s dream of a total artwork, a book to encompass all
books. His collected drafts and notes toward it, published first
posthumously in French in 1957, are alternately mystic, lyrical and
banal: many concern the dimensions, page count and cost of printing
this ideal book. Often cited, frequently quoted, but rarely
encountered in its entirety, The Book has remained as much
myth as text.
Sylvia Gorelick has
undertaken the first complete translation of The Book into
English. This fresh translation is not only between languages, but
from its original handwritten manuscript — now in the collection of
Houghton Library, Harvard University — to the typographic page. The
result is a strikingly visual poem about its own construction.