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terremotosLhasa             : : Lakshmi


(Loss Pequeno Glazier, “Io Sono At Swoons”)

Interested in breaking down with traditional syntax and in abandoning punctuation and linear arrangement of words, in “A Throw of the Dice” Mallarme invites the reader to follow the poetic text in a nonconventional format, which, at first sight, reveals itself as being devised under the sign of chance or random because words are left free on the page, verbs and adverbs, nouns and articles are no longer bound to each other, capital letters follow no orthographic rules, punctuation marks are almost absent, and sentences can be barely read and identified. The feeling of incidental organization is caused by the very first visual impact of each page that Mallarme had skillfully manipulated in an attempt to escape “the four extremities of the page by jumping the boundary of the spine to tie two conventional pages into one,” as Dorothy M. Betz beautifully describes the poet’s intention and writing strategy. In Betz’s opinion, “the generally-falling movement of the text across each page depicts the fall of the dice; the ship on page three, the hat on page six, and the constellation on page eleven depict objects named at those points” whereas the arbitrary position of the words translates the poet’s playfulness and intent to mock the limits of the book and to express his frustration in writing.   Continue reading Chance=Random

The Imago&Logos Duality of the Context

“Writing’s visual forms possess an irresolvably dual identity in their material existence as images and their function as elements of language. Because of this fundamental dualism, writing is charged with binary qualities. It manifests itself with the phenomenal presence of the imago and yet performs the signifying operations of the logos” (Johanna Drucker, “The Art of the Written Image,” Figuring the Word, 57)


While analysing the visual properties of writing in a captivating essay on “The Art of the Written Image,” Johanna Drucker perceives writing as encompassing two layers of signification: the visual and the linguistic codes, or, what she labels, the imago&logos duality. And the author goes on conceiving a definition that translates writing’s visual/verbal substance as she explains “it [writing] is both an object and an act, a sign and a basis for signification, a thing in itself and something coming into being, a production and a process, an inscription and the activity of inscribing” (57). To decipher writing’s dual nature requires to identify and interpret the meaning located at the intersection where the two binary qualities manifest themselves for the logos of writing ( the text’s linguistic content) intermingle with the imago of writing (the shape of the letter, the space between words and sentences, the arrangement of the text as a whole on a page). Thus, writing’s discourse gains complexity and, consequently, not only the text is necessary for its understanding, instead this newly-formed textual system in which the richness of signification broguht by the imago of writing comes into play as well. In this light, the context displayed by Mallarme’s “A Throw of the Dice”can be identified with the text and its placement on the page, or as Drucker says, “the space of the page as a space and his careful measure of the relative weight of words as forms on the page” (115).

Page three of the poem, the one brought into discussion for the theme on temporality, starts on the left page with “BE that the ABYSS whitened slack maddened on the slope slides desperately a wing its own al-” (each word on a single line with the exception of “slides desperately” placed one near the other) and continues on the right page adding to the last word “al-“ its last letters “-ready fallen because the flight was badly planned.” The ending lines on this page “its gaping deep so much that the shell of a ship pitched from side to side . . . “ foresees a “shipwreck” both by means of the linguistic and visual codes in the sense that the single sentence of the poem stretched on these two pages lacks any punctuation marks as there isn’t a full stop to signal a definite end, instead the poet prefers the use of the ellipsis signaling a suspension point, an endless abyss, which can be visually associated with something that is floating until is dissolved into nothingness or even an unfinished thought. In other words, the context can be located in the poem’s imago& logos duality, which conveys the generally-falling movement of the text. As Mallarme himself confesses in a letter to Andre Gide with regard to the intended effect through his free positioning of words in“A Throw of the Dice,” “Thus this attempt, a first, this groping did not shock you; it is still presented badly. . . . The poem is being printed, now, as I conceive it; regarding the pagination, where all the effect lies . . . The constellation will stand out there, accurately and as much as a printed text can convey, inevitably the appearance of a constellation. The ship passes from the top of one page to the bottom of the other, etc.”



Temporality in Mallarme’s “A Throw of the Dice”

What is fascinating about the presence of the temporal component in Mallarme’s “A Throw of the Dice” is the way in which the poet alludes to the notion of time/life verbally that is at its lexical level and simultaneously renders it visible in the particular arrangement of its words, lines, stanzas on the page(s). In some regards, the temporal and spacial elements intermingle in an harmoniuos and unique way showing that there isn’t quite an accidental “throw of the dice,” as words are not simply thrown on the paper, instead there is a foreseen arrangement, in which the space becomes essential in an interesting interconnection with time.


The first word on the left page of the poem on which it starts is “BE,” which, temporally speaking, signals the beginning of something/life that is followed by there is “the ABYSS,” which refers to a endless hole, or even to emptiness. Semantically, these two words, the only ones written in capital letters in the whole poem, are in a clear opposition and may send to the momentary nature of time in general in between two inevitable stages: life and death as well as to the shape of the poem: half a page populated by words (life) the other part left empty because the rest of the poem continues on the right page. This movement of the text on the next page is expressed through the separation of the word “al-ready” into two syllabuses in order to keep the words and the poems connected and indirectly to maintain a certain feeling of duration.


What also contributes to the feeling of death, of falling down is the stairlike configuration of the placement of the words on this page while the selection of several words such as “maddened”and “slides desperately”sends to the image of endless deepness and a slow loss of temporality. Suddently, and, more precisely, right in the middle of the poem, the text from the right page“ends” leaving a large space under the last word “al-ready”and marks the space of an absence, of an empitiness, which comes to be continued on the right page. In this respect, “A Throw of the Dice” tends to be more than one poem, as it may very well be viewed as two poems, as two finished entities.

 Moving on the middle of the right page, the text gets density and the feeling of decay becomes predominant as the word-populated space abounds in verbs as “fallen,” “covering,” “buried,” which foresee an end/death. It is the end of everything that only seems to last as it is just temporary. In other words, now, time is not longer patient or passive in the same way in which it left the impression at the very beginning of the poem. Time governs the abyss and is ready to annihilate the space, words are everywhere and a claustrophobic feeling is floating in the air. At the very end of the left page, temporality has found its end and place and rests silently, “BE that the ABYSS.”