In this highly original and provocative study, Bersani takes us away from the interpretative questions which the competing critics of Mallarmé familiarly raise, and explores a fundamental paradox within his work as a whole. On the one hand Mallarmé can be taken as a prime example of textual imperialism in modern literature: his hermetic poems seem to demand ever more interpretative ingenuity from his readers and to provide a foretaste of the supreme Book which he dreamed of - 'the Orphic explanation of the Earth'. On the other hand he mounted an extraordinary assault on literature's claims to importance. He went so far as to propose a view of literature as an essentially wordless fiction incapable both of communicating the nature of reality and of producing knowledge of reality. He comes to be engaged in the somewhat eerie strategy of celebrating literature as a way of burying it. He does not, however, give up writing; in fact, he begins what Leo Bersani considers to be his revolutionary subversion of literature at the very moment when he becomes a man of letters. In tracing this paradox, Bersani brings fresh insights to much of Mallarmé's work and suggests a unique way of understanding Mallarmé's place in modern literature.