Marianne Fritz and the Weight of Things

23879_a

Photograph of Marianne Fritz, from the dust jacket flap of her second novel.

Last month I heard that Dorothy, A Publishing Project was publishing the first English translation, by Adrian Nathan West, of the Austrian writer Marianne Fritz’s debut novel, The Weight of Things – originally published in 1978 as Die Schwerkraft der Verhaltnisse. The publisher and the translator should be commended for bringing the work of such a criminally neglected writer to English readers. I have only a neophyte grasp of German, and had previously only been able to stumble through pieces of Fritz’s work sentence by sentence with dictionary in hand. This translation seems to ably capture the irony and horror of Fritz’s novel. I think it would be of interest to anybody with an interest in experimental literature, and hopefully it will gain Fritz the readership which has largely eluded her work, even in her original language, and lead to the translation of her later works. It has been perfect late November reading on bus rides home through the rain and the dark.

22860

The first edition in German, with the band announcing the Robert Walser prize.

I first heard of the work of Marianne Fritz chasing footnote to Sebald’s haunting poem In Alfermee, in his selected poems, Across the Land and the Water. The poem begins, in English translation by Iain Galbraith –

“Threading sleep

letter by letter

comes a language

you don’t understand

The exhausted eyes

of the writer the fingers

of one hand on the

keys of her machine”

The translator’s footnote suggests that the reference is to Fritz, and probably came out of discussions between Sebald and the German critic Heinz Schafroth in 1997, whom Sebald visited around the time that he was delivering the lectures which became On the Natural History of Destruction. Schafroth was one of the few critics to pay attention to Fritz’s work with anything other than derision, and he wrote the foreward to her Was Soll Man da Machen.

The brevity of The Weight of Things does little to prepare the reader for what follows. Fritz would subsequently embark on an extended literary project she called “The Fortress”, replete with numerous diagrams, which ran to more than 10,000 pages, and which withstood all attempts at proofreading, typesetting, casual reading or tidy critical summaries. Her third novel, entitled Dessen Sprache du nicht verstehst (Whose Language You Don’t Understand) is 3387 pages long in my 12 volume Suhrkamp edition. Naturgemass I and II would follow, each of which was published in 5 volume sets.

I don’t know if Sebald read Fritz. The aforementioned Was Soll Man de Machen, which was sort of an advance installment and cast listing of Dessen Sprache. . . was at one point in his library, but is listed in the short list of books he had once possessed but had disposed of. This didn’t necessarily indicate displeasure on Sebald’s part – according to Jo Catling, in chapter 11 of Saturn’s Rings, Sebald often sold or otherwise disposed of books in his library.  The title of Dessen Sprache. . . is certainly evocative of the sense of  dislocation which Sebald’s narrators sometimes seem to feel when listening language and not being able to comprehend it, especially while traveling.

The Weight of Things can be purchased at better bookstores, or from the publisher. We have a number of first editions and signed books by Fritz here, and in the shop.

For further reading – there is a German language website devoted to Fritz, which includes some unpublished pages from the third installment of Naturgemäß. Adrian Nathan West has written a blog post on Fritz and translating Die Schwerkraft. . on the Paris Review website, and another piece here.  There is also the text of a discussion between West and Kate Zambreno over at the Believer.

The Archive of Camofleur

22991_b

 

16. Ellison, J. Milford [1909-1993]. Archive of Photographs Relating to a Camoufleur

Np: c. 1930’2-1940’s. Approximately 143 photographs, most mounted onto black paper- a few with captions – along with 15 other items of ephemera, including announcements for exhibitions, news articles, three items of correspondence and restricted army orders, all housed in four manila folders. A number of the photographs have fallen from their mounts, and the black paper the remainder are mounted onto is chipped and creased at extremities, but condition is otherwise generally very good.

 

22991

 

 

In a 1980 interview by Paul and Rita Kress which is hosted on the San Diego State University website, Ellison detailed his career as an artist. Ellison was born in Sioux City, Iowa, in 1909. He studied at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and the Chouinard Art School, and afterwards moved to California where he taught and exhibited in the seceding decades.

During WWII Ellison was drafted, but was excused as he was overweight. He saw an ad for a meeting about becoming a Camofleur in Los Angeles. In 1944 Ellison went over to England to do camouflage work in the field, including camouflaging eight fields in southern England prior to D Day. Subsequently Ellison was sent back to London where he was an an instructor in the mines and booby traps school. After four weeks Ellison was sent to France and Belgium, where he worked to camouflage fields and worked on paintings in his spare time, which culminated in a 1945 exhibition at the La Jolla Fine Arts Gallery and the La Jolla Museum of Art.

This collection consists of four folders, the bulk of which are taken up with photographs tipped onto blank album paper.  along with assorted ephemera from Ellison’s career, including orders. Approximately half the photographs pertain to the camouflage work, including photographs of camouflage in the field and the designing and manufacturing of camouflage, aerial views, photographs of restricted camouflage test areas.

The nature of camouflage is to elude recognition, making photography of them a paradoxical act. The photographs derive an odd and lasting power from the degree to which they deceive the viewer or not, or in the manner in which the facade of invisibility is constructed. The most confusing of the photographs are of a camouflage testing area, in which no camouflage seems apparent, even on close gaze, and the power resides in knowing the context –  that there is a camouflaged object within view.  To confuse the gaze further, some of the photographs are obviously model constructions, perhaps test dioramas which are eerily similar to doll houses.

An interesting chapter of the longer story of fine artists working in the field of Camouflage beginning with WWI – a distinguished lineage which included the surrealist Roland Penrose and numerous Australian artists. $2500

 

22991_a

 

22991_d

 

22991_f

 

22991_g

22991_h

22991_i

22991_j

22991_k

22991_l

22991_m

22991_n

B. Traven and the Flight of the Buchergilde Gutenberg from Germany

 

22664_b

20. Traven, B. Der Marsch ins Reich der Caoba. Zurich, Vienna, Prague: Buchergilde Gutenberg, 1933. First edition. 8vo, 254 pp, bound in full slate blue cloth with red blind-stamped titles. Printed dust jacket.

The first edition of the third book in the Mahogany series, and the first book published by the Buchergilde Gutenberg in exile following the seizure of the Berlin Press by the Nazis earlier in that year. This was the first Traven title from the press to bear a dust jacket, and it was a striking one, reproducing a chalk drawing attributed to “FUCK.”

This wasn’t necessarily a middle finger extended to the Nazi’s, but rather the name of the artist, Bruno Fuck – a pseudonym of Boris Angelushev, a Bulgarian artist whose work is featured on a number of socialist publications of the 30’s.

The book didn’t appear in English until the 1961 British edition, under the title March to Coabaland, reprinted in 1964 by Dell as March to Monteria. Treverton 705.

A fine copy in a striking, near fine example of the dust jacket, with several short marginal tears which have been neatly repaired at verso. Sold.

22664

The Book is the Weapon

[On the occasion of the launching of our new blog, we’re going to be reposting some essays from our old Spineless & Stapled blog. The following was originally published in March of 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?

 

17564

 

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.

 

kampfreimetopview

 

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.

 

kampfreimepaper