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  • Le Nombre et la sirène. Un déchiffrage du "Coup de dés" de Mallarmé
Meillassoux, Quentin . Le Nombre et la sirène. Un déchiffrage du "Coup de dés" de Mallarmé. Paris: Fayard, 2011. Pp. 249. ISBN: 978-2-213-66591-7

This is, for me, an odd, beautiful, and challenging book as it combines mathematical insights (which I do not feel competent to judge) and a moving, detailed exegesis of this germinal Mallarmé masterpiece. The author, who teaches philosophy at the École normale supérieure, recognizes basic studies of "Un Coup de dés" by the founding generation of interpreters, Charles Chassé, Charles Mauron, Robert Greer Cohn, Lloyd James Austin, with an emphasis on more recent approaches of Mitsou Ronat, Jacques Roubaud, Nikolaj D'Origny Lübecker, and of course Bertrand Marchal (in addition to Sartre, Blanchot, Jacques Rancière, Alain Badiou, and specialists in French versification). The key premise is that encrypted in the Mallarmé poem is a deliberate numerical code, equal to the number of words, and that this hidden structure confirms [End Page 343] the poet's ambition to create a "Book" (the famous "Grand OEuvre") that would establish a civil religion analogous to, but replacing, the Christian paradigm (see esp. 28-29, 104).

Yet, it would not be fair to limit this brief review to content. The author carefully guides readers on an elegant and meticulous hermeneutical adventure in two stages: Part I, "Crypter le nombre" (19-96), focuses on the numbers, even while admitting "un code, par lui-même, est chose au fond puérile, quelle qu'en soit la complexité" (16). Not to give away the mystery, the number seven (and 707) is the foundation (49), confirmed by analyses of earlier poems, "Salut," "'A la nue accablante . . .,'" and "Sonnet en -x." Astute analyses of "Igitur" fill out the context. Part II, "Fixer l'infini" (97-204), more to my personal taste, applies the principle of performative poetry introduced earlier. The "number" seven has symbolic meaning as metaphor, but the significance of "Un Coup de dés" (99) aims higher: "pourquoi semblait-il persuadé d'accéder à une vérité essentielle?" (99).

This book gratifies a slow, meditative reading. Such intimacy with "Un Coup de dés" is enhanced by the ease of consulting the whole text in an appendix and the author's strategic summaries and reminders. Quentin Meillesoux is a firm but compassionate guide, as we confront the Mallarmé abyss, the abyss of modernity: "Ce double décodage va donc produire un mélange fait d'incertitude et de croyance renforcée, et donc un 'battement' entre des convictions contraires" (179). Or to state the paradox on a more affirmative, even lyrical note: "Et, peut-être était-ce cela, l'ambition secrète du Coup de dés: écrire le plus beau peut-être de la langue française, cause de lui-même en ses lettres de feux" (202). Or even: "Le Coup de dés comme une cristallisation christique du Hasard" (206).

Edward K. Kaplan
Brandeis University

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