The Book as Instrument

Stéphane Mallarmé, the Artist’s Book, and the Transformation of Print Culture

Anna Sigrídur Arnar

The Book as Instrument

Anna Sigrídur Arnar

428 pages | 12 color plates, 112 halftones | 7 x 9 | © 2010
Cloth $58.00 ISBN: 9780226027012 Published May 2011

Stéphane Mallarmé (1842–98) was a French Symbolist poet, theorist, and teacher whose ideas and legendary salons set the stage for twentieth-century experimentation in poetry, music, theater and art. A canonical figure in the legacy of modernism, Mallarmé was also a lifelong champion of the book as both a literary endeavor and a carefully crafted material object.

In The Book as Instrument, Anna Sigrídur Arnar explores how this object functioned for Mallarmé and his artistic circle, arguing that the book became a strategic site for encouraging a modern public to actively partake in the creative act, an idea that informed later twentieth-century developments such as conceptual and performance art. Arnar demonstrates that Mallarmé was invested in creating radically empowering reading experiences, and the diverse modalities he proposed for both reading and looking anticipate interactive media prevalent in today’s culture. In describing the world of books, visual culture, and mass media of the late nineteenth century, Arnar touches upon an array of themes that continues to preoccupy us in our own moment, including speculations on the future of the book. Enhanced by gorgeous illustrations, The Book as Instrument is sure to fascinate anyone interested in the ever-vibrant experiment between word and image that makes the page and the multi-sensory pleasures of reading.


List of Illustrations


Note regarding Translations and References to the Poem Un coup de dés


Part One: Defining the Book

1 Reading Mallarmé

2 The Heroic Legacy of the Book

Part Two: Forging the Livre de Peintre

3 From Illustration to Original Print

4 The Livre de Peintre and Independent Publishing

Part Three: Reading and Designing the Book

5 Paradigms of Reading

6 Designing the Livre Moderne in the International Context: Un coup de dés, Art Nouveau, and Nascent Mass Media

Part Four: Transformations of the Book

7 Design and Mathematical Patterns in Le Livre

8 The Afterlife of the Book




Review Quotes
Willa Z. Silverman, Pennsylvania State University

“This is a highly ambitious, original account of Stéphane Mallarmé’s lifelong engagement with the book and the vast network of forces (cultural, aesthetic, political) that both informed this engagement and were transformed by it. Anna Sigrídur Arnar seamlessly brings together divergent areas of inquiry in order to support the idea that the book was and remains a site of numerous debates about democracy, public and private space, the uses of art and print, and the role of authors and readers. The Book as Instrument is elegantly written, in engaging and highly readable prose. Arnar succeeds in presenting and analyzing with remarkable lucidity ideas that many of us have learned to approach as difficult and thus nearly off-limits. This will be an important work of scholarship for a variety of disciplines.”

Johanna Drucker, University of California, Los Angeles

“This is a significant and substantial book about a figure of major importance in the history of avant-garde poetry, culture, and the arts. Combining substantive research with highly refined and original arguments about Mallarmé’s work and its relationship to mass culture, The Book as Instrument expertly discusses how book culture came into being in fin-de-siècle France. Filled with rock-solid scholarship, Anna Sigrídur Arnar’s analysis uncovers in lucid, descriptive prose a cultural history that has long been bracketed out of most discussions. Delightful, engaging, and impressive, this book will be important to literary scholars, art historians, and students of book history alike.”

Art in Print

“Arnar convincingly argues that [Mallarmé] both informed, and was informed by, the transformation of printmaking and book culture to a much greater extent than has been previously acknowledged. . . . Provides a unified and more authentic view of fin-de-siècle culture.”

Publishing Research Quarterly
“Arnar’s study is exemplary. . . . The clear and engaging prose makes her argument easily accessible to interested readers. In addition the book boasts an impressive unity of content and design. At a time when the ‘death of print’ is postulated with regularly and university presses struggle with funding, Arnar’s book is a sight for sore eyes.”
“Arnar delivers a tour de force focusing on the cultural importance of the book to the development of 19th-century modernism. . . . Highly recommended.”
CAA reviews
 “Bracingly original. . . . . [Anna Sigridur Arnar’s] wide-ranging, lucid analyses illuminate Mallarmé’s poetic practice and offer richly formulated insights into the period’s visual culture. . . . Arnar has succeeded in writing a highly refined intervention in the history of visual culture.”
Bulletin des Bibliotheques de France
 “This masterful book will be a historical milestone not only studies of Mallarmé but also in the history of the book.” 
H-France Review
“As a book which is itself exceptionally well-crafted in its written language and beautifully designed with a rich array of colour and black and white images, Arnar’s study will make a major contribution to the fields of French literary symbolism, art history, and printmaking in the nineteenth century. She brings Mallarmé’s views on the book to life via critically perceptive research and an extremely engaging range of materials so that the supposedly conflicting manifestations of Mallarmé’s ideal Book as at once a work of art, a performance, and a newspaper are resolved through the underlying unifying idea of the democratization and diversification of readership opening up a creative space for interpretation through new forms of publication in the future.”

Berkshire Conference of Women Historians: Berkshire Conference of Women Historians First Book Prize

Dedalus Foundation: Robert Motherwell Book Award

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