Camille Pageard

To Cease or Continue

for love
Frank spoke softly
into envelopes
instead of
CAConrad, The Book of Frank

In 1966, the 24-year-old writer Samuel R. Delany published Babel-17. Along with The Einstein Intersection, written one year later, the novel is considered as the origin of the particular style that formulated a series of questions the novelist would develop throughout his career. The plot revolves around poet, linguist and telepath Rydra Wong, who manages to prevent an interstellar war by deciphering a language so powerful it may be used as a weapon. In approaching this subject, Delany was addressing a major theme of the war and spy novels and films that thrived during the Cold War, inserting it in a science-fiction context by giving this fictional language the power of turning humans and machines alike into traitors. This artificial form of communication, elaborated by enemies of Rydra Wong’s world, is transmitted to machines through waves, and to humans through telepathy. Targeting both machines and human beings, Babel-17 was designed to infiltrate and destroy a society in which, among other characteristics, men and women operate starships by engaging in three-way relationships. The world described by Delany is indeed characterized by a strong sense of attachment in the operation of machines as well as a constant dialogue between usually distinct linguistic categories that we still strive to make coexist today: verbal and body languages, as well as affective and technical ones. We should add that the previously mentioned triangle involves a recently resuscitated woman, as is the case with one of the pilots under Rydra Wong’s command, definitely underlining the significant mediating role, in Delany’s book, of human, non-living and technical communication between heterogeneous beings and entities, as it is sanctioned, encouraged, and constantly debated.

More specifically, the threat of danger in Delany’s invented language stems from the absence of the “I” and “you” pronouns—preventing any form of subjectivity.1 This futuristic linguistic projection therefore lacks the basic elements needed for defining the speaker and the recipient, or that could at least allow for the assimilation of one of them. As she deciphers Babel-17, Rydra Wong’s identity and will gradually merge with those of the message senders. While the very possibility of such a language remains to be ascertained (how are we to apprehend a language devoid of personal pronouns?), we will follow Samuel R. Delany’s fictional logic, even though he never depicts the language in detail, underlining the fact that he seemingly uses a set of archaic linguistic motifs establishing the conditions of address, of the emanation of speech from an object that was granted the ability to speak.2

Certain kinds of artefacts from Ancient Greece have indeed been qualified as “speaking objects” by archaeologists, historians and linguists, insofar as they carried inscribed sentences that gave them a voice.3 Thus, a sword bore the inscription “I cut;” funerary or votive objects displayed engravings and paintings declared “I belong to Apollo,” “Charophnes devoted me to Apollo,” or “I was offered by…” An established interpretation regarding objects of this type states that inscribed sentences or epigrams are traces of oral utterances related to funeral rites.4 The object is a substitute for the donor, allowing the latter to speak to God eternally. The “I” is conceived as an autonomous utterance that is spoken by the object. However, as far as archaic languages, especially ancient Greek, are concerned, these inscribed “I” pronouns do not seem to refer to a single form of utterance (the donor’s), but to multiple ones. In other words, they refer to the donor as well as to future readers, and even to the object itself. In that sense, Jesper Svenbro, among others, considers this type of utterance as a fundamentally literary, almost fictional element: “It is hard to imagine a situation in which anyone would make such pronouncements with himself in mind. In fact, quite the opposite seems to be the case. Assertions such as these are, in a sense, peculiar to writing.”5 By surmising that these dedicatory sentences should be read aloud, as the development of silent reading as a common practice would come much later, such an interpretation leads us to imagine that the one who transmits the sound is different from the author of the signifying verbal structure. Émile Benveniste wrote in addition that “the indicators I and you […] exist only insofar as they are actualized in the instance of discourse, in which, by each of their own instances, they mark the process of appropriation by the speaker.”6 In contrast to the first movement, in which the object speaks for the donor, reading aloud requires that the human body lend its voice to the object, so that it unceasingly addresses the god it was dedicated to.

While taking other religious, social, and psychological implications into account is certainly necessary, we need to stress the fact that despite their fundamental differences, these two examples—Delany and the “speaking objects”—allow the building of a bridge between two practices that are historically remote but raise a question that still challenges us today. For they indeed produced a host of questions centered around the origin, address and reception of oral and written assertions, through the agency of tools sometimes technical in nature, but also and more broadly through all types of supposedly inert objects that are granted a voice. These questions have punctuated the entire modern era on both technical and artistic levels, and inevitably raise the issue of the (transmitting and receiving) subject(s)’s place within a constant play on the determination of the implications of verbal, scriptural, and vocal pronouncements produced in the field of art.

In order to enlarge upon the literary and linguistic arc initiated by the comparison between Delany and speaking funerary objects, we will consider what Lisa Robertson writes about Mallarmé in her essay on Karl Larsson’s visual and poetic work: “Mallarmé composed tombs for his deceased son Anatole and for Wagner, as well as for Poe, Baudelaire, and Verlaine, the writers he considered to be his closest spiritual allies. Although its Classical origin is linked to ancient inscribed epitaphs, the tomb is a poem that does not pertain to a history of literary form, but to an intensity of address.”7

The tension described by Lisa Robertson does seem to appear in several texts by the poet, a typically modernist tension that seems to be at the core of Mallarmean thought: that of the intense private and literary address passing through a public and collective space of reception—its publication—that is, by exploring a broad range of possible availabilities to the public. Within this relational constellation, Mallarmé could be said to have been attempting to reach an audience outside the realm of literary commoditisation, as in “Hérésies artistiques. L’art pour tous,”8 “Étalage,”9 or the further restricted space he constantly questioned in the unfinished project Le Livre. The composition and structure of the latter are indeed as calculated as its twofold distribution, that is, its limited print run and its performance during carefully orchestrated readings.10 The constellation of addresses stemming from the entire set of forms experimented with by the author depends on the circumstances from which the texts result in view of the reception by a reader whose definition Mallarmé elaborated as much as—if not simultaneously with—his own writing.

While the aptly titled Occasional Verses11 belong to a different category than Mallarmé’s usual verses and poems by virtue of their naming, they have nevertheless the advantage of being entirely determined by the occasion, or at least by an occasion that differs from the rest of his writings, specific to a determined condition of writing, transmission and reception. Through this title, Mallarmé insists on a particular textual specificity playing on the meaning of the stages of life of the poem.


Stéphane Mallarmé, Éventail de Geneviève Mallarmé, © Collection de Mme E. Bonniot 12

More specifically, the short poems that compose Mallarmé’s Occasional Verses were written in the context of the sending of a letter, a gift, the transmission of an object, according to a mode of distribution seemingly alien to the usual function and site of poetic production. Here, the audience is more restricted, a direct communication takes place between two people, and the objects are everything but printed books—except for a number of handwritten dedications inscribed on a few copies of the Faun or other albums. For the most part, the Occasional Verses operate within a private sphere of destination. The objects are dedicated to specific individuals, sometimes mentioned by name, and are not meant to reach another audience. With the possible exception of a curious inscription written on an empty public announcement panel: “Hail to you, passer-by who doesn’t care about / reading posters in the summertime!” This early contradiction to our argument paradoxically brings us closer to the passers-by who strolled in the ancient public space and read inscriptions on speaking statues and monuments.

In the introduction to an early edition of these verses, we learn that “the author […] wished [his poems] lost.”13 While such a wish needs to be re-evaluated—as Mallarmé meticulously kept these texts in his notebooks—we will bear in mind the efficient fictional frame of an “elsewhere” toward which the words are directed, possibly lost to the author, received by the addressee, and kept from subsequent public representations. The poem acts in that sense within the material framework of a direct exchange between the sender and the receiver of the message, yet the inscribed text carries the hope of not being returned to the author, and even not ever being found again. Therefore, the poem would certainly never have existed outside of this gesture and this occasion.

We shall say no more on the occasion and on fiction as the site for the apparition of the poetic text.14 However, and more precisely, the poems written on fans develop a specific form of address and reflect on a possible “power” of writing, an “intensity” that, despite being circumstantial, seems to lose its materiality or seems to show that while we may wish the text or the object lost, it is also because the text may spring out of the page by itself, dissociating from the object it was attached to:

Wing, sing what paradise to choose
If the touch of your sheer madness
Causes me to cease or continue
Madame Madier de Montjau15


Formerly brushing vibrantly
across your unicorn’s or fairy’s
back, O ancient wing, grant me
whole vistas in one gust of air.16

More than the poems, the object itself, along with its function and poetics, is attached to them and expresses the idea of a message released through thin air. When shaking the fan, the poem takes flight to reach its addressee. Yet, while being a common poetic trope, the figure the fan takes becomes extremely complex in two other poems written by Mallarmé on the same subject. Here are the first lines:

(Belonging to Madame Mallarmé)
With no language but a trace
just a beating in the skies
so the future verse will rise
from its precious dwelling-place
Another Fan
(Belonging to Mademoiselle Mallarmé)
Dizziness! space is quivering, see!
like one immense kiss which, insane
at being born for nobody,
can neither spurt up nor abstain.

The first poem is closely related to a proposition featured in the opening of “The Book, Spiritual Instrument:”

On a garden bench such a new publication lies; I rejoice if the passing wind half opens and unintentionally animates aspects of the book’s exterior—several of which, because of the flood of things perceived, maybe nobody has thought of since reading existed. The opportunity to do it is when, liberated, the newspaper dominates, even my own, which I put aside, and it takes flight near the roses, anxious to smother their fervent and proud assembly—spread out amidst the clump, I shall abandon it, and the flowering words, to their silence, and, in a technical way, propose to note how such a tattered sheet differs from the book, itself pre-eminent.19

Initiating a discussion on the differences between the book (“itself pre-eminent”) and the press, poetry, and journalism, Mallarmé portrays a newspaper taking flight and a book half opened by the wind, conveying the notion of an indeterminate form of communication. Of course, the space of reception has yet to be defined, however it is already proposed as open to “several” definitions. Written and published in La Revue Critique in 1884, the second poem is somewhat different. Besides, the poetical function of the fan relating to the definition of a mode of dissemination of thought is made more complex, as shown by a later publication in Le Décadent in 1886, for which Mallarmé displaced the meaning of the poem through a homophonic play, resulting in the following modified stanza:

This is play! space is quivering, see!
like one immense kiss which, proud
at not being
for anyone,
knows neither spurt up nor abstain.20

While the verb “naître” from the 1884 version—a homophonic play on “naître” [to be born] and “n’être” [not being]—already seemed ambiguous at first reading, its subsequent alteration further underlines a sonorous and signifying complexity that densifies the question of a possible textual transmission through an object. The message circulated by the fan cannot be born for anyone, neither for the poet, nor for the recipient. Concerning this aspect, we once again join Jacques Rancière, who, in The Politics of the Siren, states that for Mallarmé, “the page is not only the material support of the poem, or the allegory of its obligation. It belongs to the very movement and texture of the poem. The surface of writing is the place of a taking-place. The poem’s concluding white marks the return of the poem to the silence whence it emerged, but no longer is it the same white or the same silence.”21 According to Mallarmé, the space of poetical transmission resides in the space of the page, where the text is born and asserts itself. A message described as being “proud at not being for anyone” is an entirely different matter, as it is meant to not be for anyone, and is consequently readily disseminated in the air by any user of the object even though it is simultaneously addressed to no-one in particular and to every potential passer-by capable of translating its vibration. Here, the address of the poetical message is clearly attuned to Mallarmé’s response to Tolstoy, an attempt by the French poet at defining artistic communication, as the modern work of art is not addressed to everyone but to “whom it may concern,” as noted by Jean-François Chevrier:

To whom it may concern puts forward the indeterminate subject. But the risk of such a formula is to confirm the social status quo. In 1898, Mallarmé’s republicanism came together with a denial of the social idea (and of socialism). Favouring as he does the intersubjective relationship established by the work amounts to linking modern art—whose recent landmarks had been systematically rejected by Tolstoy—to the liberal idea. The modern audience does not define itself otherwise than through a freely chosen relation of experience.22

In that respect, Jean-François Chevrier’s reflections agree with Lisa Roberston’s demonstration, except for the fact that to this political vision of the address, Robertson adjoins an economic dimension as well as a kind of “strange” materiality pertaining to speech’s “non-substantive medium:” the voice that circulates in “the agora […] the ancient site of collective subjectivity—a spatial condition for producing and sharing, where exchange is multi-directional, unlimited, and language is not contained as a commodity, but opened to a commodiousness of collective meaning and uncontained linguistic renewal.”23

Mallarmé’s previously quoted poems seem to yearn to reach the same space, while belonging, through their very semantic field, to a quivering space, thus adding on a new layer to the representation of this non-substantive medium. The image therefore first refers to the contemporary representation of linguistic research and circulation through the use of waves. Here, Mallarmé appropriates a technical image pertaining to the reception of sound waves, allowing them to be implanted on material supports or broadcast through radio waves. However, and without delving into the history of techniques and their relations to the supernatural,24 it seems fairer to connect the mode of address of Mallarmé’s occasional verses to the long literary history of dedications and speaking objects, a more scriptural than vocal history that nevertheless pertains to a mode of address drawing its power from its emanation from inert objects that, through the agency of writing and a process of linguistic transfer, take on a life of their own, defining variously individualized communities of receivers-readers.

This Mallarmean form of address would find a symptomatically depoliticized demarcation in a work by another upholder of Modernism: Duchamp’s Unhappy Ready-Made, created in 1919. A speaking object in its own right, this work seems to be the very image of a manipulated puppet talking to an undetermined audience. But only at first glance, for Duchamp proposes a seemingly aestheticized form of address, elaborating a receptivity strongly disengaged from Mallarmé’s fin-de-siècle approach to writing, yet deeply embedded in the process of confining the receptivity of his artistic objects.


Marcel Duchamp, Ready-made malheureux, photographie, 1919-1920

From the position of the audience, the work consists in a photograph taken by Suzanne Duchamp, followed by a painting she did from the same photograph, shown in reverse, and the reproduction of the photograph in the Boîte-en-valise (1934-1941), with geometric diagrams added by Duchamp.25 The grey and black tones of the original photograph are of such a mediocre quality that it’s hard to make out what it is: a book suspended on an outdoor porch, subjected to the whims of the weather. Robert Lebel thus describes the circumstances that led to the creation of this work:

In New York, as early as 1915, Marcel had met Jean Crotti, who had just arrived from Europe with his first wife Yvonne […] He came back to Paris in 1916, carrying messages given to him by Marcel for his family, notably Suzanne, then a nurse in a military hospital. The consequences of their meeting are well known: Crotti went back to New York to be divorced, and from there he wrote Suzanne a series of love letters in the Dada style. The wedding took place in Paris in April 1919, and, while staying in Buenos-Aires, Marcel sent Suzanne instructions regarding a geometry manual she had to hang on her balcony on rue La Condamine, letting the wind inspect the book, choosing the problems and exposing them to the rain, plucking its pages off like the petals of a daisy. This is how the Ready-made malheureux found its end, albeit survived by a painting by Suzanne Duchamp.26

If a linguistic transfer was to be found in Mallarmé’s fans, this readymade first attracts our attention because it specifically translates a feeling, that is a linguistic transfer belonging to a different operational order than the usual ready-made typology (assisted, reciprocal, and so on). The notes from the Boîte verte already contained propositions such as “Make a painting: of happy or unhappy chance (luck or unluck);”27 or “Make a sick painting or a sick Readymade.”28 The second proposition may be an allusion to Pharmacie (1914). However, if the idea was to make the geometry manual catch a cold and become sick, this endeavour greatly benefits from the time frame of the apparatus, as it remained hanging on the balcony from its creation in the spring of 1919 until the couple moved out in the autumn of 1920. Besides, Duchamp would write to them that he “really like[d] the photo of the ready-made getting bored on the balcony,”29 which still indicates a certain desire to mistreat his ready-made, punished for some reason by remaining on the balcony, and forced to be consulted by the natural elements.

These facts already appear to provide an answer to one of the first impressions one has upon looking at the work, namely why—or to what extent—this ready-made is unhappy. Is it because Crotti and the artist’s sister, with whom he allegedly had an incestuous relationship, got married?30 Is it because of the end of celibacy, a notion praised by a libertine Duchamp?31 The answer probably lies in the object itself, as its fate was to remain on a balcony, tied down until it fell to pieces. One should note that we may already ascribe a fate and concerns of this type, for beyond the mere act of classifying the book-object as a ready-made, marking an initial linguistic appropriation of the object,32 Duchamp provides it with a name (the social category of art objects called ready-made), but also affixes it with a temperament through a process of “adjectivation.”33 By ascribing a feeling to his ready-made, Duchamp created a character.

Once personified, the ready-made has all the reasons to be unhappy, for it has never been seen and has never been perceived as a ready-made—that is, it has never been perceived through its constituting object and situation. But also, it has never been able to choose its specific form of address. It was imposed upon it, while its understanding and demarcation were modified through the various visual narratives created around it.

In order to apprehend the implications of Duchamp’s physical and linguistic diversion, we may associate our unfortunate ready-made with others that also led initially private lives, such as Sculpture de voyage (1918) or Porte chapeau (1917). They indeed share a photographic existence with the Unhappy Ready-Made, in addition to having been suspended from the ceiling of the artist’s studio, subjected to variations of light projecting their shadows on the walls. Along with 16 Miles of String (1942) after them, these works are deployed in space, in a similar way to the projected shadow “that becomes an instrument for measuring and arranging the works between themselves.” Just like the shadows in Tu m’ (1918), what matters is their trace, a perfect illustration of the extension of Duchamp’s note: “Take these ‘become-to-be’ objects, and from them make a tracing, without of course changing their positions in relation to each other in the original projection”34 Whether it is related or not to his research on non-Euclidian geometry, projections, and radiation, Duchamp’s linguistic and formal vocabulary as deployed here entirely pertains to the conquest of a fourth dimension and of the possible radiation of an object in a space with a different dimension than the three-dimensional fixity of objects.

The Unhappy Ready-Made contains the same essential idea: that of its possible expansion, or at least the expression of a metaphor of the projection of speech contained in the book within an indeterminable because un-demarcated space, or operating through a process of demultiplication. Thus, one may find, for example, the following note in the Boîte verte:

From more or less far; on a target. This target in short corresponds to the vanishing point (in perspective). The figure thus obtained will be the projection (through skill) of the principal points of a three-dimensional body. With maximum skill, this projection would be reduced to a point (the target).
With ordinary skill this projection will be a demultiplication of the target.35

Bearing direct implications on Duchamp’s mathematical research into visual elements in The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even, this note engages in a semantic game around the various meanings of the French term “adresse” [translated as “shots” in English]: it refers both to the ability needed to shoot at a target, to the address one writes on an envelope, as well as to what the work is addressed. Upon a closer scrutiny of all the instances of the Unhappy Ready-Made, we notice that a kind of “demultiplication of the target” is indeed at work. The object—that is, the book suspended outdoors—is always the same, yet it is reconfigured according to the address of a new work. Here, the famous four conditions for the “existence of art” and for artistic utterance as defined by Thierry de Duve (one object, one author, one audience, and one institution), allows us to accurately mark the specific relations at play between the work and the audience.36 Constantly re-evaluated by the multiplication of reproductions of Duchamp’s work, each one of these relations has a specific demarcation.

The object is a book; a book that is not meant to be read and that is not a specific book, even though it is defined by geometry as its subject matter. There is an author—Duchamp, first of all, but also his sister, who chooses by delegation one of the possible books according to the artist’s epistolary proposition. And an institution ready to record this object changing at each occurrence: first the photograph, then Suzanne’s painting, then the replica, itself altered, from the Boîte verte. The destination too changes at each occurrence: Suzanne (and Jean Crotti) in the initial work; Duchamp in the first photograph; the viewers of Suzanne’s painting; the audience for the Boîte-en-valise. However, a central problem remains: beyond the private sphere, these various audiences receive reproductions of a ready-made, mere “become-to-be” objects, instances of the recognition of its existence, as opposed to the ready-made itself.

These categorisations indeed answer to the addressees of the various reproductions of an “institutionalisation” in the first place, as opposed to those of this unfortunate book. Do they reply to the wind, as Duchamp himself proposed? This would make it a demonstrative and somewhat transparent object of the confrontation opposing art and science to life. One certainly needs to approach this problem backwards and begin from the starting point of: how can a book address any audience by itself, even if the audience is the republican, intersubjective space of the Mallarmean agora? If we cannot precisely define what the address and the audience of the Unhappy Ready-Made are, we may ask ourselves how. How, as users of book-objects, are we supposed to receive and to “read” it? For if Duchamp’s nominal operation is indeed to subject it to the natural elements, it also constitutes a radical change of readership.

One assertion made by Paul Ricœur allows us to observe ultimately simple relations between address and reception. According to Ricœur, a book is an object of mediation between the author’s, the text’s and the reader’s “worlds,” a mediation made out of successive constructions and of reconstructions of the discourse, related to the transformation of meaning at each stage of its chain of production (the elaboration of thought, the written formulation, the editorial process, the act of reading and of cognitive reception). But this takes a particularly interesting turn when Ricœur, instead on merely asking what we read, reflects on the implications of the mediation of reading:

At that time I said that the world of the text marked the opening of the text to its “outside,” to its “other,” in that the world of the text constitutes an absolutely original intentional object in relation to its “internal” structure […] Its ontological status remains in suspension—an excess in relation to structure, an anticipation in relation to reading. It is only in reading that the dynamism of configuration completes its course. And it is beyond reading, in effective action, instructed by the works handed down, that the configuration of the text is transformed into refiguration […] The significance of the work of fiction stems from this intersection.37

By granting the text and the book a life of their own, the Unhappy Ready-Made could be seen as the manifestation of a potentiality—that of the expression and address of a discourse on geometry. The ready-made, or rather the book itself, is waiting for the afterlife of its condition. It is unhappy because of its awareness of its condition as a median intersection between two of the worlds related to its social existence. It somehow signals a later stance in the context of the modernist problematisation of receptivity sparked by Mallarmé. That is, if the latter takes up the potentiality of its emancipation from the support toward an intersubjective reception rooted in the reader’s willful involvement, the reception proposed by Duchamp incorporates the same kinds of involvement while proposing that it may be entirely lost and residing only in the trace of its potentiality. The geometry manual does not fulfil its initial role. The Unhappy Ready-Made’s replicas and images function as memory-based depictions of the defunct ready-made that has disappeared because the potentiality of its condition was exploited for him. It was subjected to a forced exposure, tied down so that, without waiting for the process of its recognition through writing, its excess propagated itself in the physical space in which the natural elements have passed through and will pass through.

  1. See section V, “Man and Language,” in Émile Benveniste’s Problems in General Linguistics (Miami, FL: The University of Miami Press, 1971), especially “The Nature of Pronouns” (1956), in which one finds the following lines: “The reference to the ‘speaker’ implicit in this whole group of expressions has been treated too lightly and as being self-evident. We rob this reference of its inherent meaning if we do not see the feature by which it is distinguished from other linguistic signs. Yet it is a fact both original and fundamental that these ‘pronominal’ forms do not refer to ‘reality’ or to ‘objective’ positions in space or time but to the utterance, unique each time, that contains them, and thus they reflect their proper use.” (119) 

  2. Delany declares the language he created was based on his reading of Mario Pei and on the language he and Marilyn Hacker had invented on their way to Detroit, where the were going to get married. Besides, Rydra Wong is a fictionalized portrait of his wife. See Samuel R. Delany, The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), 23, 413, 442. 

  3. One should note that Greece was one stage along Delany’s progress from Babel-17 to The Einstein Intersection, in both literary and physical terms, as is shown by the author’s travel journal punctuating the narrative in The Einstein Intersection (Venice, the Gulf of Corinth, Athens, Mykonos, then Istanbul during Autumn/Winter 1965-1966). 

  4. This writing practice is widespread and goes beyond this sole category of objects. It had been present in Western Europe until the eleventh century. For late examples, see Paul Zumthor, La Lettre et la voix. De la littérature médiévale (Paris: Seuil, 1987), 126. 

  5. Jesper Svenbro, Phrasikleia. An Anthropology of Reading in Ancient Greece, trans. Janet Lloyd (Ithaca, NY—London: Cornell University Press, 1993), 30. 

  6. Benveniste, “The Nature of Pronouns,” in Problems in General Linguistics, 220. 

  7. Lisa Robertson, “Songbody,” in Bettina Steinbrügge (ed.), Karl Larsson. Strange (Milan: Mousse Publishing, 2014), 167-8. 

  8. Stéphane Mallarmé, “Hérésies artistiques. L’art pour tous,” in Œuvres complètes, vol. II (Paris: Gallimard, 2003), 360-4. 

  9. “Étalage” (Mallarmé, 2003, 218-23).  

  10. Mallarmé, “Notes en vue du ‘Livre’,” in Œuvres complètes, vol. I (Paris: Gallimard, 1998), 945-1060. In order to fully grasp the research undertaken by Mallarmé on the various possible addresses of his writings, the reader may refer to the writings of Jacques Scherer (Le “Livre” de Mallarmé [1957]. Paris: Gallimard, 1978), and of Patrick Besnier (Mallarmé, le théâtre de la rue de Rome. Paris: Éditions du Limon, 1998), among others. 

  11. Under this title, Mallarmé gathers quatrains forming the addresses of the recipients of his correspondence—Postal Recreations—or of the writings written or embroidered on fans, candy apples, fish nets, handkerchiefs, and so on). Occasional Verses, in Collected Poems and Other Verse, trans. E.H. & A.M. Blackmore (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 216-31. 

  12. Image taken from Mallarmé. Documents iconographiques, Introduction by Henri de Mondor (Vésenaz—Geneva: Pierre Cailler Éditeur, 1947), LXXXIV. 

  13. Mallarmé, Vers de circonstance, in Œuvres complètes, vol.I, 273.  

  14. This expression is borrowed from Jacques Rancière. Writing about Mallarmé’s “Considérations sur l’art du ballet et la Loïe Fuller” (1903), Rancière states that “Mallarmé attempted to formulate this new aesthetic around three notions: figure, site and fiction. The figure is the potential that isolates a site and builds this site as a proper place for supporting apparitions, their metamorphoses, and their evaporation. Fiction is the regulated display of these apparitions.” Jacques Rancière, “The Dance of Light,” in Aisthesis: Scenes from the Æsthetic Regime of Art, trans. Paul Zakir (London: Verso, 2013), 94. 

  15. Mallarmé, Vers de circonstance, 273. The English translation is taken from Marian Zwerling Sugano, Mallarmé and the Poetry of Circumstance (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1992), 163. 

  16. Mallarmé, Collected Poems, 225. 

  17. Ibid., 57. 

  18. Ibid. 

  19. Stéphane Mallarmé, The Book, Spiritual Instrument, ed. Jerome Rothenberg & David Guss, trans. Michael Gibbs (New York: Granary Books, 2001), 1. 

  20. Italics indicate the alterations made to the previous publication. 

  21. Jacques Rancière, Mallarmé: The Politics of the Siren, trans. Steven Corcoran (London—New York: Continuum, 2011 [1996]), 43. 

  22. Jean-François Chevrier, Œuvre et activité. La question de l’art (Paris: L’Arachnéen, 2015), 17. 

  23. Robertson, “Songbody,” 177-8. 

  24. See for instance Thomas A. Edison, Le Royaume de l’au-delà (Paris: Jérôme Millon, 2015), as well as the exhibition catalogue for Cosa Mentale at the Centre Pompidou-Metz: Pascale Rousseau, Cosa Mentale, Art et Télépathie au XXe siècle (Paris—Metz: Centre Pompidou-Metz—Gallimard, 2015). 

  25. David Joselit, “Dada’s Diagrams,” in Leah Dickerman, Matthew S. Witkovsky (eds.), The Dada Seminars (Washington, DC—New York, NY: The National Gallery of Art—D.A.P., 2005), 221-39. 

  26. Robert Lebel, Sur Duchamp [1959] (Geneva: Mamco, 2015), 45. 

  27. Marcel Duchamp, Salt Seller: The Writings of Marcel Duchamp, ed. Michel Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1973), 22-23. 

  28. Ibid., 32. 

  29. Letter from Marcel Duchamp to the couple, dated October 20th, 1920, reprinted in Francis M. Naumann, “Affectueusement, Marcel: Ten Letters from Marcel Duchamp to Suzanne Duchamp and Jean Crotti,” Archives in American Art Journal, 22:4 (1982): 14. 

  30. The existence of incestuous relationships between Duchamp and one of his sisters has been suggested by several authors (Ulfe Linde or Thierry de Duve, to mention just a few), to the point of becoming clichés in the interpretation of Duchamp’s work, in a similarly to a large number of analyses. 

  31. See Bernard Marcadé, Marcel Duchamp (Paris: Flammarion, 2007). 

  32. See also Catherine Perret’s analysis in the chapter “Titre, inscription, projet,” in Les Porteurs d’ombre. Mimésis et modernité (Paris: Belin, 2001), 147-223. 

  33. It is probably useful to remind that “adjectivation” belongs to Duchamp’s list of standard signs that were supposed, according to him, to modify grammatical forms. See Duchamp, Duchamp du signe, 48. 

  34. Ibid., 50; English translation in John Moffitt, Alchemist of the Avant-Garde. The Case of Marcel Duchamp (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2003), 292. 

  35. Ibid., 54. 

  36. “Thus, there are conditions for the existence of art in a given cultural formation. They are: given (1) an object, (2) an author, (3) a public, and (4) an institutional place ready to record this object, to attribute an author to it, and to communicate it to the public, the entity this formation calls work of art is possible, a priori.” Thierry de Duve, “Echoes of the Readymade: Critique of Pure Modernism,” trans. Rosalind Krauss, October 70 (Fall 1994): 101-2. See also, by the same author, Au nom de l’art. Pour une archéologie de la modernité (Paris: Minuit, 1989). 

  37. Paul Ricœur, Time and Narrative, vol.3, trans. Kathleen Blamey & David Pellauer (Chicago—London: The University of Chicago Press, 1988 [1985]), 158-9. 

Published on <o> future <o>, April 14, 2016.

[CC BY-ND 4.0](, except illustrations

This text is part of The Protagonists a series of new contributions and translations edited by François Aubart, to accompany two recent projects: a series of talks entitled Laissez-vous séduire par le Sex Appeal de l’inorganique (September 26, 2015—February 25, 2016) at centre d'art Passerelle, in Brest, and the exhibition Surfaces of You (January 21—April 10, 2016) at Le Plateau—Frac Île-de-France in Paris.