What is it about?

This paper revisits the English translation of Q. Meillassoux's The Number and the Siren, a numerological take on Mallarmé's groundbreaking last poem: "Un Coup de dés" ("A throw of the dice will never abolish Fate"). My approach uses an expanded version of Michael Riffaterre's semiotic theory of the structure of modern poetry, showing that Meillassoux's approach is inadequate, resulting in a serious misinterpretation of this landmark work. An alternative interpretation is offered, providing complete coverage of the symbolism in this poem. This turns out to be deeply concerned with the shift from traditional poetic forms to modern free verse, which is not based on a linear narrative-like format, but instead on 'vertical' paradigms of symbols..

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Why is it important?

My approach shows that philosophers should not feel free to reinterpret modernist poems without having recourse to a semiotic theory of the structure of modern poetry.


Mallarmé's groundbreaking poem, "Un Coup de dés", is a pioneering work of worldwide aesthetic modernism. My interpretation of it is soundly based on a semiotic theory which I have used, in a forthcoming book, to describe the 'deep structure' of modern poetry, from the mid 19th century to the present. I believe this theory is essential in order to describe adequately the signifying mechanisms of 200 years of poetry, not only in English, but probably in a range of major languages. My examples include poetry in French and Japanese – languages of widely differing structure – demonstrating that the theory probably is universally applicable.

Dr John A F Hopkins

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This page is a summary of: From shipwreck to constellation: Rethinking Meillassoux on Mallarmé from a semiotic perspective, Semiotica, November 2019, De Gruyter,
DOI: 10.1515/sem-2018-0054.
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