Aussi / Or: Un Coup de dés and Mistranslation in the Antipodes

By | 1 May 2019

‘Shipwrecked on the shoals of contingency’, Australian poetry is haunted by Stéphane Mallarmé’s poem Un Coup de Dés. Its publication in Cosmopolis in Paris in 1897 struck a nerve or, rather, a vessel within Australian poetry bloodlines, starting with Christopher Brennan. Un Coup de dés was the score that inspired him to compose ‘Musicopoematographoscope’, also in 1897, a large handwritten mimique manuscript, or pastiche, that transposed the more extreme aesthetics of an avant-garde French Symbolism into the Australian poetic psyche. Now well into the twenty-first century, Un Coup de dés is still a blueprint for experimentation in Australian poetry, spawning a number of versions, two of which are homophonic mistranslations – ‘A Fluke’ by Chris Edwards and ‘Desmond’s Coupé’ by John Tranter – both published in 2006, and both revelling / rebelling in the abject, and in “errors and wrecks’. This essay/assay provides a comparative reading of these homophonic bedfellows, traces their relation(ship)s to their antecedents, to various theories of translation and punning, and begins an enquiry into the significant influence of Mallarmé’s great ‘vessel’ on Australian poetry and poetics.

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