Friday, March 30, 2012

All Traffic Lights Are Yellow

There is only one book about Peter-Ernst Eiffe, who is often referred to as the first graffiti artist in Germany. Eiffe's ludic and surrealist slogans were visible all over Hamburg during the tumultuous year of 1968, and became perhaps the most visible public texts of the German student uprisings. Eiffe frequently dressed in a suit and tie, and would often leave his business card near the site of his work; when a building used the contact information to issue him an invoice for damages to their property, he responded by sending them an invoice to pay for the artwork.

What station were you listening to, Eiffe?

Eiffe's culminating action occured in May of 1968, when he drove his Fiat into Hamburg Central Station and began to write on the tiles until cops dragged him away. He was subsequently interred into a psychiatric ward. This book was published by his friend Uwe Wandrey in order to raise money for his cause. [Here is a profile I wrote about another great book published by Wandrey].

Eiffe was released from the ward later in the year, but in 1970 was interred into Rickling Psychiatric Hospital for depression. In 1982 he escaped, but died of exposure during the attempt. 

Eiffe's life and work was the subject of a 1995 documentary film by Christian Bau.

This book is not only one of the most interesting publications of the German Student Movement, but is also an important and criminally overlooked artifact in the history of graffiti art. OCLC locates only the Deutsch Bibliothek copy. 

Eiffe, Peter-Ernst. Eiffe for President: Fruhling Fur Europe. Surrealismen Zum Mai 1968. Hamburg: Quer-Verlag, 1968. Oblong 16mo. Stab-stapled in in cardboard covers, with a photographically illustrated pastedown to front panel. Illustrated with three black and white photographs. Text in German. Some expected toning to covers, as expected, with a light vertical crease to front and back panel, still a near fine copy of a very fragile book. According to some reports, as many as 3000 copies were sold, but it is likely that far fewer copies survive; the cardboard covers and fragile staple job make it almost impossible to open without breaking the binding. Inquire

From our upcoming lucky catalog #13, out sometime next week. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Object is Exorcism

The first and last issue of one of the most important little magazines of the sixties, edited and published by Ira Cohen from Tangiers. In Cohen's brief editorial statement he notes that the magazine is named for the ecstatic dancing and possession trances of the North African sect of the same name, and concludes that "The object is exorcism." 

Reading Gnaoua almost fifty years later, it is striking how the work in these pages, produced by a number of hands, forms an almost seamless whole. Whether it be via cut-up or drugs or possession or linguistic manipulation, the writers in Gnaoua share a preoccupation with purposeful derangement to exorcise assumed literary forms. In his autobiography Harold Norse would say of his first cut-up piece included here, Sniffing Keyholes, that "I felt like I had broken through semantic and psychological barriers." The assembled magazine becomes a talisman of literary and social exorcism, and as such it makes a surprising appearance in one of the most iconic photographs of the sixties. 

What magazine would you take with you to the fallout shelter?

Each item in the Daniel Kane photograph of Dylan which graces the cover of Bringing it All Back Home appears to be carefully curated, and the symbolism of each has been obsessively debated by record junkies in the years since. Gnaoua seems to have a place of prominence. It presides over the the scene from the mantelpiece, and, along with Sally Grossman's red dress is the focal point of color for the composition. It is a powerful symbol for an album in which Dylan would distance himself from the folk scene and the protest songs of yore and strike out in a new and more personal direction.

The writing in Gnaoua is uniformly strong. As well as excellent work by William S. Burroughs and Michael McClure it also prints for the first time Brion Gysin's essay "The Pipes of Pan", about the Master Musicians of Jajouka- an essay that would lead to the 1968 recordings of the group by Brian Jones. But the highlight for me is J. Sheeper's strange and beautiful manifesto Style - a work that demands to be reprinted. (I am indebted to David Abel for tipping me off that J. Sheeper is Irving Rosenthal). In this piece Rosenthal states that "The feelings books contain are real. Books should be covered in skin if you don't believe me." Gnaoua inaugurated a tendency to create the the printed object as a shamanistic talisman, and laid the groundwork for the beautiful experiments with woodblocks and handmade paper which Cohen would later undertake with Angus Maclise in Nepal under the Bardo Matrix and related imprints.

Cohen, Ira, ed.  Gnaoua No. 1 [All Published]. Tangier: Gnaoua, 1964. First edition. 8vo. 103 pp. Offset printed and perfect bound in fuschia wraps illustrated by Rosalind. William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Michael McClure, Jack Smith, J. Sheeper, Marc Schleifer, Mohammed Ben Abdullah Yussufi, J. Weir, Stuart Gordon, Tatiana, and Alfred Jarry. Wraps faded, heavily at the spine, which shows some old tidemarking; corner crease to one internal page; very good. SOLD.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"Anything That Happens In the Life of a Poet Is Interesting"

I spent a large part of the day cataloging a stash of John Wilcock's Other Scenes. It was a trip in every sense of the word. Other Scenes was probably the most paripatetic of all the underground newspapers associated with the Underground Press Syndicate. It was published from so many different cities and countries that at times its itinerary and erratic numbering seems like a deliberate provocation. From how many different countries, and in how many different formats can you published the same paper?
The subject matter of Other Scenes was as varied as its itinerary. As its name suggests, it touches upon many scenes, and there are some interesting ties to the worlds of Fluxus, the Mimeograph Revolution, and the New York School. 
In vol. 3, no. 3 I was astonished to find something I'd never seen before - a column by Ted Berrigan entitled "Under Shelley's Poet's Tree."

The page reproduces a drawing by George Schneeman and Ted Berrigan, and begins with something called Berrigan's Law, that 'anything that happens in the life of a poet is interesting." The column goes on to dish out gossip about many of the poets associated with the second wave of the New York School.
There's also this great, full page ad for the Something Else Press, which seems to appropriate an airplane ad. The text which overlays the airplane lists titles in print. The artist is unattributed - I'd love to know who designed it. 

Wilcock, John, ed. Other Scenes: The International Newspaper. Third Battling Year, No. 3 March 1969. New York: Other Scenes, 1969. Folio, tabloid format. Offset printed on newsprint in color. Old fold line as usual, some minor toning, still a remarkably well-preserved, near fine copy.  SOLD

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Book is the Weapon

I've often been told that the pen (and by extension, the book) is mightier than the sword. But what if the book is the sword? 

Uwe Wandrey's Kampfreime is a collection of rhymed chants meant for use during the German Student Movement. As far as my research can tell, it is also the first book to be designed as a weapon, and as such is a landmark in book design.

The book is small. It can be easily slipped into a protestor's pocket. The chants are arranged thematically. The red card section dividers make it easy, presumably, to flip to the right chant even under the duress of a violent protest. The book takes full advantage of secrecy and random access - perhaps the two most historically useful aspects of the codex form.

The sharp fore edge of both of the the aluminum boards extend about a quarter of an inch past the fore edge of the text. The book elegantly solves the structural problems inherent in a metal binding in that the upper board is curved at a 90 degree angle at the spine, while the lower board lies flat and is buttressed against the inward curve of the upper. Thus the book lies flat, yet is easily opened. 

What is less obvious, but perhaps even more brilliant about this design is that the curve of the upper board rests sturdily on the palm, and the lower board - which juts further out - is buttressed against the metal base. My theory is that this was done so that the metal boards can't recoil backwards and cut into one's palm if the book is used to strike an attacker.

Kampfreime had another use as well. 

The business end of a book was also intended to tear away posters, flyers, advertisements - to clear an open space in an encroaching universe of bourgeoisie paper. After all, one of the main targets of the student protest was the Axel Springer publishing house. It belongs in the same lineage as another brilliantly designed book which in many ways laid a framework for the '68 protests - Guy Debord, Asger Jorn, and V.O. Permild's psychogeographical masterpiece Memoires, which featured a sandpaper dust jacket to destroy any book it was shelved against.

The protests of '68 escalated because of attacks upon, and killings of protesting students, beginning with the killing of Benno Ohnesorg by a policeman in '67. Students held that Ohnesorg had been murdered. His name was recently in the news when a study by the German government discovered that the killing was probably premeditated. The cover-up extended as far as the hospital, where a doctor, acting on instructions from a superior, sewed Ohnesorg's skin shut over the bullet hole in his head and ruled that the death was caused by blunt force.

As elegant as the design of Kampfreime is, it is difficult to imagine that it was ever of much practical use against a baton, or a gun.  The lasting power of Kampfreime is as a metaphor. A talisman to protect the bearer and a text designed to destroy other texts. As such it is one of the most provocative and overlooked artist's books of protest in the 20th century.

Wandrey, Uwe. Kampfreime. Handliche, Mit Scharfen Kanten Ausgestattete Kampfausgaube Fuer Die Phase Des Revolutionaueren Widerstands. Hamburg: Quer-Verlag, 1968. First edition. Oblong 16mo. Mimeographed in black on white paper, with red card section dividers. Stapled into red wraps, which are tipped into aluminum boards with red tape. Illustrated title pastedown to front panel. Binding slightly shaky, with some minor discoloration to the title pastedown and metal, but still near fine. No bloodstains to boards or text of this copy. Rare. OCLC locates but two holdings. SOLD.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Jackson Mac Low & Reader's Digest

A couple of years back we had the opportunity to deal with a small part of the estate of Jackson Mac Low. I never had the honor of meeting Jackson, but he has always fascinated me. His work unites a number of seemingly disparate movements – experimental poetry, anarchism, pacifism, avant-garde music, and the Mimeograph Revolution - and somehow shows them to be different facets of the same creative struggle. His audience was always small, but a staggering proportion of those who came into contact with his work went on to create work of their own. He was the Velvet Underground of chance operations.

His library was as vast as his interests. It was full of association and dedication copies which bore testament to his influence. Yet my favorite artifact in the library is this form letter from Reader’s Digest. It haunts my problem pile – that mysterious stack of items on every bookseller’s desk which resist being catalogued, and where the most interesting things always reside.

To me, this paper gets to the heart of Jackson’s relationship to his library.

No library I’ve ever dealt with felt so lived in as Mac Low’s. No page was unread, and he read hard. He annotated. He argued with texts. In some cases it appears as if he did physical battle with them. An astonishing number are stained with what I assume was strong tea (one of the joys of bookselling is developing a taxonomy of the tidemarks liquids leave). His library was a living, breathing thing that he tussled with for a good stretch of the 20th century.

Mac Low had the habit of marking a place in a book or magazine by inserting a nearby slip of paper into it, be it a note or a list – or in this case a form letter. His library devoured other pieces of paper, so that the traces of his reading became a palimpsest of bills and announcements and letters and advertisements upon the original text.
This form letter brings the following scene to mind. Somewhere, in a warehouse belonging to the best-selling magazine in the world – a magazine that in it’s reach and outlook is the very antithesis of the Mimeograph Revolution – an early computer, in one of those mysterious and inexorable movements of capitalism, finds Jackson’s name and prints it out on this slip of paper and addresses it to a loft in lower Manhattan. When the form letter arrives, America’s poet of chance operations doesn’t throw the slip away unthinkingly, as I would have done. He keeps it nearby while he reads, and when he is done reading for the moment – perhaps because he needs to go to another proof reading gig to pay the bills - he slips it into the pages of this book to keep his place.

The aura of ephemera allows us to have an individual and unmediated experience of history. It allows us to tell our own stories of the past, and by doing so develop an enthusiasm for it. I’m reminded of Johnson’s accurate and devastating definition of enthusiasm as the “vain belief of private revelation.” It may well be a folly, but without that sense of private revelation history is a dead account.

Perhaps the job of a curator is not to assemble material in order to impose a single story onto it, but rather to discover and preserve and present material in such a way that a multitude of stories can be told, as many stories as there are readers.