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Ms Fr 270: Prelude to a Translation Richard Sieburth OF THE VARIOUS UNFINISHED WORKS contained in Mallarmé's posthumous bibliography—Igitur (1925), Les Noces d'Hérodiade (1959), Pour un tombeau d'Anatole (1961)—the most enigmatic is no doubt Le Livre, a sheaf of 258 jumbled loose leaves piously passed on by Mallarmé's son-in-law Edmond Bonniot to Henri Mondor and then on to Jacques Scherer, who first published them as a volume in 1957 and, in a slightly revised version, again in 1977. Bertrand Marchal's magnificent new Pléiade of Mallarmé's Œuvres complètes I improves considerably on Scherer's earlier edition: many puzzling cruces have been solved, stray pages have been restored to their original sequence, and the entire text, now retitled Notes en vue du "Livre" (uncannily evoking Wallace Stevens' "Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction"), has been definitively dated to the final decade of the poet's life. The actual manuscript of Mallarmé's Livre is housed in Harvard's Houghton Library, the Bibliothèque Nationale having apparently decided that a book this chimerical, this virtual, failed to qualify as a non-exportable treasure of "le patrimoine national." It was thus at Houghton that, a young graduate student, I had occasion to peruse Ms Fr 270—a rather arduous process, given that the manuscript, consisting mainly of 16 X 20 centimeter sheets with no more than a minuscule scatter of words or numbers on each, had been arbitrarily dealt out into a series of gunmetal-grey archival acid-free folders, only four of which one was permitted to call up and consult at a time: "la lecture, cette pratique désespérée," especially when undertaken under the watchful and suspicious eyes of rare book room librarians. After several sessions of intermittent and intimidated scanning, I had worked my way through these feuilles volantes folder by folder, having understood virtually nothing, yet exhilarated to have experienced Mallarmé at his most evanescent and most concrete. What above all intrigued me was simply the material feel of his ghost in manuscript: page after page of abstruse mental doodles, some in pen, some in pencil, fragmentary seismographs of a mind sketching out a project for the ideal Book, the Book to end all books, not the layered lacquerwork or diamantine faceting of his published poetry, but the tentative gestures and jets of an œuvre registering its own gestation, a kind of "action writing" whose random jottings, scrawlings, scribblings, graphings, diagrammings, and erasures reminded me Vol. XL, No. 3 97 L'Esprit Créateur of Cy Twombly's works on blackboard or paper or the fractured visual prosodies of Susan Howe. It is unclear whether Mallarmé ever shared these private graffiti with his disciple Valéry (although we do know he went over the proofs of Un Coup de dés with him), but perhaps only the latter's Cahiers (or some of Hölderlin's late manuscripts or Emily Dickinson's poems on paper bags, insides of envelopes, or discarded bills) give a similarly urgent sense of what Mallarmé called in his preface to Un Coup de dés "les subdivisions prismatiques de l'Idée," that scene of the mind in play, in action on the support of the page, "cet emploi à nu de la pensée avec retraits, prolongements , fuites," in short, a score, "une partition," for some eventual reader's— or translator's—unperformable interpretation. Any printed version of Mallarmé's Livre will inevitably fail to capture the mental and graphological pace of the events enacted on its manuscript sheets (just as any reading—or interpretation—of this text will inevitably fall short of the sheer virtuality of the original). Marchal's diplomatic transcription of these Notes en vue du "Livre," though a model of philological perspicacity, is rather inconsistent (largely, he explained to me, because of the typographical exigencies of the Pléiade page) when it comes to reproducing many of the markings on Mallarmé's manuscript—for example, the various arcs and traits indicating insertion points, or the mysterious diagonals that function almost like Poundian ideograms or Greimasian carrés sémiologiques: Chasse nappe yacht banquet fusil feu d'artif...


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