Paul Valéry, encountering Un Coup de dés in Mallarmé’s worksheets in 1897, described the text as tracing the pattern of thought itself:

It seemed to me that I was looking at the form and pattern of a thought, placed for the first time in finite space. Here space itself truly spoke, dreamed, and gave birth to temporal forms. Expectancy, doubt, concentration, all were visible things. With my own eye I could see silences that had assumed bodily shapes. Inappreciable instants became clearly visible: the fraction of a second during which an idea flashes into being and dies away; atoms of time that serve as the germs of infinite consequences lasting through psychological centuries—at last these appeared as beings, each surrounded with a palpable emptiness.…there in the same void with them, like some new form of matter arranged in systems or masses or trailing lines, coexisted the Word! (Leonardo 309)

Un Coup de dés revealed to Valéry a reciprocity between the alphabet and the stars: “He has undertaken, I thought, finally to raise a printed page to the power of the midnight sky,” he reflected of Mallarmé. “I was now caught up in the very text of the silent universe” (312, 311). Within the scope of synaesthetic suggestibility, this kind of silence could also evoke music, and Valéry found Un Coup de dés gave “the impression of an orchestral score,” its typographic complexity calculated “to rediscover the mood induced in us by orchestral music” (318-319).

In addition to inciting musical reveries, Un Coup de dés established the criteria for typographic precision as an integral feature of poetic practice, provoking Italian Futurist free-word compositions on one hand, and Stefan George’s orthographic reforms for German typography on the other. More importantly, after Mallarmé poets not only wrote words, they traversed a space. The synaesthetic potential felt by Valéry may be rendered variously: Am I reading a text or looking at the starry constellations? Do my eyes scan lines of verse or do I submit to mental pilgrimage? Does the poem, in the act of reading, achieve its pulmonary destiny in the bloodstream, carving furrows in cerebral matter? To what secret imprint am I subjected by reading for the content, as it were, while the form is smuggled past imperceptibly? By rendering content opaque, the brusque material insinuations of form begin to be felt as phantom sensations of a beguiling undertone. The equivocation between reading and seeing, between semantic comprehension and pathic feeling, attests to the sensation Mallarmé’s poetry imposes on its readers: being held off, resisted, disarmed, or unworked. Such a transposition was applied to Un Coup de dés itself by Ernest Fraenkel in Les Dessins trans-conscients de Stéphane Mallarmé (1960). Fraenkel’s sixty-eight seismographic and astral diagrams (or “stylizations”) practice a truly graphic mode of literary analysis. It was Fraenkel’s conviction that “a plastic text rests hidden in the extra-conscious layers of the poet, paralleling the verbal text of the poem” (9)—a thought not far from Moholy-Nagy’s appraisal of “a new lyric expression” in Dada, “like an x-ray revelation, making transparent that which was previously opaque” (315). In their accentuation of the visual character of Un Coup de dés, Fraenkel’s designs are like watching a movie with the sound turned off, forced to rely on gesture rather than dialogue in order to follow the action.

In Fraenkel’s treatment, Mallarmé’s words are relieved of semantic administration and dispersed into a pure evocation. His method could also pass for a demonstration of Walter Benjamin’s notion of translation as the “removal from one language into another through a continuum of transformations” (Reflections 325). Crossing a linguistic threshold, one becomes a different person as it were, and each checkpoint emits yet another persona. In this garden of forking paths, each border (each word) simultaneously announces and renounces, saying hello and goodbye in a single utterance. From this prospect, words are membersof the broader species of signs, and at some ultimate semiotic portal no two signs are alike, so there can be no repetition. Each use of a word traces a new profile. Benjamin’s conclusion reiterates the linguistic vision of Novalis’s “Monologue”—albeit in a paradigm worthy of Kafka: “The language of nature is comparable to a secret password that each sentry passes to the next in his own language, but the meaning of the password is the sentry’s language itself” (331-332). Benjamin touches (lightly—like the tip of that wing rustling obliquely through so many poems by Mallarmé) on a drama in which one passes through the word rather than by means of it …

-- from Jed Rasula, Modernism and Poetic Inspiration: The Shadow Mouth (Palgrave, 2009)