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Let’s go back in 1897, when Mallarmé published "A throw of the dice will never abolish chance". A nonstandard poem of 707 words spanning 12 pages, making light of traditional typographic grids, using sizes of characters worthy of advertising posters, sets of empty and full, a structure as chaotic as ordered.
It is a graphic revolution, just like what the "free verse" is for "the alexandrine" in poetry. Here Mallarmé explodes the page, explores the interstices of the words and transcribes the breaths of the voice in the language of the eyes. With Mallarmé, the page is an area of freedom that shall inspire generations of graphic designers (we immediately think about Robert Massin).
But the plot of the text is stranger still. It is about a shipwreck, and a Master, soon drowned too, who holds dice in his closed hand. He hesitates to throw them to the furious waves and feels that the result, if it should be given, should be extraordinarily important. It would provide a Number that is said to be "unique" and "that can not be another".
For 120 years, all theorists of poetry have been striving to shed light on the meaning of the text. Commented by Sartre, Blanchot, Deleuze or Rancière, the poem feeds an esoteric fantasy. What if Mallarmé had slipped in an hidden code?
Quentin Meillassoux, professor of philosophy at ENS, offers in his book Le Nombre et la sirène ("The Number and the Mermaid") a clever deciphering of the poem. We spare you the demonstration but it appears that the Number is none other than the number "7", which is encrypted in many details, beginning with the sum of the words of the poem. This idea, apparently fanciful, would have been at the source, for Mallarmé, of a revolutionary poetic gesture and unparalleled rigor.
Above: Mallarmé by Manet, 1876.
To go deeper into the subject:
A very detailed and easy-to-read article about this theory (in French):
Motion: Philip de Canaga