Lucia Berlin, A Manual for Cleaning Ladies

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Detail of the Michael Myers linocut for the cover of the first edition of Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Ladies, published by the Zephyrus Image in 1977.

A Manual for Cleaning Ladies, published in 1977, is Lucia Berlin’s debut as a writer, preceding the publication of Angel’s Laundromat by four years. The book came about after Berlin sent the manuscript – originally entitled “Suicide Note, A Manual” to Ed Dorn. Her letter, which is quoted in Johnston, mentions scathing rejection letters, and concludes “P.S. 42 days sober Think I’m going to make it. Hard to write without Jim Beam, on the other hand I can read what I wrote the next day.” [Johnston, p. 126].

It is fortunate, perhaps that the story was rejected elsewhere, for the book that, Holbrook Teter, Michael Myers and Dorn created a striking book in which all the details of the publication resonate intimately with the text of the story, giving it the feel of a truly collaborative artists’ book. One of Myers linocuts painstakingly details the 14 bottles of sesame seeds found in the story.

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Linocut by Michael Myers showing 14 bottles of sesame seeds, from Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Ladies

The most striking illustration in the book shows a linocut of a cleaning lady standing boldly on top of a stove, wiping Coke off of the ceiling; the model pictured was based on a neighbor of the ZI crew in Healdsburg.

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Linocut by Michael Myers of the narrator cleaning Coke stains from the ceiling. From Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Ladies (1977)

Berlin was pleased with the result; in a letter to Teter quoted in Johnston, she writes “Manual is really beautiful. I’m, well, elated, never have had anything printed, (really) before. Thank you.” [Johnston, p. 126].

It would be another four years before Berlin’s work would be printed in book form again, and never as perfectly as it was here –  a fitting tribute to the work of perhaps the best short story writer of her time. Berlin’s work has finally come to a larger audience following the long overdue publication of her collected short stories, A Manual for Cleaning Women by Farrar Straus and Giroux in 2015 (I don’t know why the title was changed for the collected, but I’m sure there is a story there – please get in touch if you know.) 

Berlin, Lucia. A Manual for Cleaning Ladies. Washington DC [Actually Healdsburg, CA]: National Endowment for the Domestic Arts / Zephyrus Image, 1977. First edition. 12mo, [20] pp, shand-sewn in wraps, letterpress printed. Illustrated with four linocuts by Michael Myers. Housed in the original envelope linocut printed in green, as issued. Inquire. 

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Original printed envelope for Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Ladies, with linocut by Michael Myers.

 

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The Octopus with the Look of Silk: Pedro Leandro Ipuche, Isidore Ducasse, and Borges

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Woodcut of Maldoror as an Octopus

 

After a long search I recently tracked down a copy of one of the most obscure studies of Isidore Ducasse, this obscure and exuberant booklet by the Uruguayan poet Pedro Leandro Ipuche in 1926. Ipuche was a friend of Borges during his ultraist period, and around this time collaborated with him on the little magazine Proa. Readers of the fictions of Borges may remember a character of the same name cited in the story ‘Funes, el Memorioso’.

 

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Ipuche appearing in the Borges story “Funes, His Memory” [trans. Andrew Hurley]

The present pamphlet is dedicated to the Guillot Muñoz brothers, “y por cuyo libro fui al Libro del Furioso Desolado” – presumable a reference to their work Lautréamont et Laforgue, which had been published the year prior. It was through the brothers that Ipuche became one of the small handful of people (the others being Jules Supervielle and Mendez Gabariños) to examine the daguerrotype of Isidore Ducasse given to the Guillot Muñoz brothers by Mrs. Jean-Julien Ducasse, before it was seized by the Montevideo police during a raid and disappeared. According to the account by Enrique Pichon-Rivière, Ipuche thought that in the photograph Ducasse had the air of a young Montevideano, and it was perhaps out of this inference that the present work was conceived.

It was from this photograph that Gabariños based his two etchings of Ducasse upon. to Pichon-Rivière’s account suggests that those who were familiar with the photograph thought that there was little similarity between the etchings and the portrait, and suggests somehow that some sort of madness visited Gabariños as a result.

The book is illustrated with a single plate bearing a striking full page woodcut entitled” “Poulpe au regarde du soie”, a reference to the passage in Maldoror in which the protagonist turns into an octopus in order to consume God. The woodcut is unattributed, and we can’t determine whether it was made specifically for this work or appropriated from an existing source. If you know, please get in touch.

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Montevideo, 1926

Ipuche, Pedro Leandro. Isidoro Luciano Ducasse (Conde de Lautréamont). Poeta Uruguayo.

Montevideo: Peña Hnos, 1926.12mo, 16 pp, saddle-stapled wraps. Illustrated with a single woodcut. Previous owner’s signature to the title and dedication pages, and elegant annotations throughout in ink.

Rare. OCLC locates only two holdings, and none in North America.  

Purchase.

 

 

 

 

 

The Strange Geometry of Roberto Bolaño, 2666, and Rafael Dieste

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Reader’s of 2666 will understand

This is the first and only edition of this obscure and beautiful work on geometric theory, written by the Galician poet Rafael Dieste. The book plays a pivotal in Roberto Bolano’s novel 2666, where the character Amalfitano discovers it in his library in Mexico, despite having no memory of ever purchasing it.

Bolaño takes advantage of this absence of memory as to the book’s origins to include a beautiful reminiscence of bookstores in Barcelona where Amalfitano may have accidentally purchased it – perhaps at Laie, or La Central, Amalfitano thinks, with passing reference to the writers Pere Gimferrer, Rodrigo Rey Rosa, and Jaun Villoro. I like to think this reveals that Bolaño was a haunter of bookstores, and that perhaps this passage is a sort of tribute.

Amalfitano becomes obsessed with the book and it’s appearance, and, in an homage to an obscure Latin American readymade by Marcel Duchamp, hangs the book on a clothesline in his backyard so that the the book can be read by the wind and the strange diagrams within be exposed to the elements.

I suspect that the strange diagrams arranging the names of philosophers, which Amalfitano inscribes into the text of 2666, may have been influenced by the diagrams in Testamento Geometrico.

“And then he looked at Dieste’s book, the Testamento Geometrico, hanging impassively from the line, held there by two clothespins, and he felt the urge to take it down and wipe off the ocher dust that had begun to clung to it here and there, but he didn’t dare. . . “ [p. 196]

This book was not the poet’s only foray into geometry. I’ve also come across a much earlier work published in Buenos Aires in 1956, with the suggstive title ‘Nuevo Tratado de Paralelismo’, pictured below.

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Dieste, Rafael. Testamento Geometrico. La Coruña: Ediciones de Castro, 1975. First edition. 8vo, 145 [1] pp. [index], bound in printed French wraps. Text in Spanish.

A near fine copy, which appears to never have been hung from a clothesline.

Dieste, Rafael. Nuevo Tratado del Paralelismo. Buenos Aires: Atlantida, 1956. First edition. 12mo, 186 pp. + index. Bound in illustrated paper over boards. Text in Spanish. Illustrated with diagrams.