The Number and the Siren

Quentin Meillassoux
May 2012
Translated by Robin Mackay
Paperback 115x175mm, 306pp.
ISBN 978-0-9832169-2-6

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Who would have thought that a book on Mallarmé's Un Coup de dés, one of the austere peaks of modernist poetics, would be a page-turner? But that is precisely what Quentin Meillassoux's remarkable study turns out to be. I haven't read a critical book with such eagerness to find out what happens next for a very long time. Beautifully produced and translated, this is a book every poetry lover will want to have in his pocket to read on bus, train and plane
- Gabriel Josipovici, Times Literary Supplement.

Meillasoux...has added a crucial dimension nobody ever noticed despite innumerable 'close readings'
- Daniel Birnbaum, ArtForum

Whether or not one accepts Meillassoux's central contention, The Number and the Siren makes for the best overview of Mallarmé's poetics that I know ... To one of the world's strangest and most enigmatic poetic texts he adds a most astounding exegesis. Meillassoux makes us see Mallarmé as a different kind of author than we might have imagined he was - shows us a madness in him that we might not have expected.
- Barry Schwab, Hyperallergic.

A meticulous literary study, a detective story à la Edgar Allan Poe, a treasure-hunt worthy of an adventure novel - such is the register in which can be deciphered the hidden secrets of a poem like no other. Quentin Meillassoux, author of After Finitude, continues his philosophical interrogation of the concepts of chance, contingency, infinity and eternity through a concentrated study of Mallarmé's poem Un Coup de Dés, patiently deciphering its enigmatic meaning on the basis of a dazzlingly simple and lucid insight with regard to that 'unique Number that cannot be another'.

Un Coup de Dés jamais n'abolira le Hasard constitutes perhaps the most radical break in the history of modern poetry: the fractured lines spanning the double page, the typographical play borrowed from the poster form, the multiplication of interpolations disrupting reading. But the intrigue of this poem is still stranger, always resistant to full elucidation. We encounter a shipwreck, and a Master, himself almost submerged, who clasps in his hand the dice that, confronted by the furious waves, he hesitates to throw. The hero expects this throw, if it takes place, to be extraordinarily important: a Number said to be 'unique' and which 'can be no other'.

The decisive point of the investigation proposed by Meillassoux comes with a discovery, unsettling and yet as simple as a child's game. All the dimensions of the Number, understood progressively, articulate between them but one sole condition: that this Number should ultimately be delivered to us by a secret code, hidden in the Coup de dés like a key that finally unlocks every one of its poetic devices. Thus is also unveiled the meaning of that siren, emerging for a lightning-flash amongst the debris of the shipwreck: as the living heart of a drama that is still unfolding.

With this bold new interpretation of Mallarmé's work, The Number and the Siren offers brilliant insights into modernity, poetics, secularism and religion, and opens a new chapter in Meillassoux's philosophy of radical contingency.

The volume contains the entire text of the Coup de dés and three other poems, with new English translations.


Part One: Encrypting the Number
The Poem; The Unique Number; The Aporia of Igitur; The Incomparable Meter; The Vortex of the Code; 707; In Sum; Cosmopolis; Provisional Conclusion

Part Two: Fixing the Infinite
An Idle Chance?; Presentation, Representation, Diffusion; Message in a Bottle; To Be Chance; A Quavering Number?; Clues; The Veiled Letter; The Siren; At a Stroke; Final Remarks


Appendix 1: The Poems
A Throw of Dice; Toast/Salvation; 'Beneath the Oppressive Cloud Stilled...'; Sonnet in -x

Appendix 2: The Count
Translator's Note

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