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.