David Markson, Women and Vodka

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The first edition of this unusual anthology, in which short stories and excerpts from larger works (including a piece by Isaac Babel) are collaged together and commercially packaged into a convenient narrative of female decline. The cover features an illustration by the illustrator Lou Marchetti, who lent his distinctive style to many crime fiction and western pulps of the era.  Mark Merrill was a pseudonym of David Markson, and this is his first published book. The anthology was re-released in 1963 under the less titillating, but perhaps equally convenient title Great Tales of Old Russia.

While the primary motive behind the book may have been financial, as with his other early detective novels, the collage aspect of the book and the excellent selection of Russian works are the beginning of a trajectory that would culminate in Markson’s great, last collage novels.

I never knew Markson well, but when I worked at the Strand in the early aughts I sometimes used to talk to him about books in the evenings when he would come in and make his rounds. This wasn’t unusual; Markson’s well-known affection for the bookstore extended to many of the employees. I remember that he was the first person to mention the works of Isaac Babel to me. I was foolish enough to wait a few years to read Babel, just as I foolishly delayed reading Markson’s own work until after my acquaintance with him . Seeing Babel’s work here reinforces that particular regret of reading a book later then one would like.

The cover art of this book has a resonance to me that goes back even further. My first foray into bookselling was at the age of 9. I specialized in Louis L’amour books, a natural decision because at the time he was my favorite author. I discovered I could buy them at garage sales for 10 cents and sell them for 25 to 50 cents – a significant amount of money in rural Oregon during the decline of the timber industry in the 1980’s. I judged the salability of a western largely on the cover art. Marchetti’s work on the cover of a L’Amour made it eminently saleable. Seeing his work more than a quarter century later, on the cover of a work by somebody who has since become one of the my favorite writers, gives me that particular sense of vertigo one feels when disparate strands of time suddenly elide. This feeling is so often caused by the physical fact of books, and is one of the great pleasures of reading that I don’t think will ever transfer to their electronic counterparts. -Adam Davis

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Merrill, Mark, ed. [pseudonym of David Markson]. Women and Vodka. New York: Pyramid Books, 1956. First edition. 12mo, 190 [2] pp, wraps [illustrated by Lou Marchetti].

OCLC locates only five holdings of the first edition.

A square, near fine copy with some light creasing and toning to the wraps. 

Purchase.

More books by David Markson.

Ray Johnson Dreams of Marcel Duchamp

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Johnson, Ray. Untitled Collage “Duchamp had also painted an overdoor in the drawing room. . .”.

np: [1958]. 8 1/2 x 11″, collage with graphite holograph on white paper. Folded twice and housed in the original mailing envelope, postmarked in 1958.

The publication last year of Not Nothing: Selected Writings, 1954-1994, by the excellent people at Siglio Press was one of my favorite books of the year. It brought much needed attention to Johnson’s work as writer, and he was one of the most consistently fascinating writers of his time, though his strange texts are often overshadowed by the emphasis on the visual element of his work.

This is my work by Johnson – a simple collage consisting of an engraving of men working on roofs, from an unknown source, matched with a handwritten text by Johnson recounting a dream visit to the Duchamp residence. An early tribute to an artist that would arguably influence Johnson’s body of work more than any other, as references to Duchamp abound throughout Johnson’s oeuvre.

Ray Johnson wasn’t the only artist to dream about Duchamp – the matter of fact quality of his account is similar to Joseph Cornell’s transcriptions of dreams he had about Duchamp in the late 60’s, or even the gangster in the fourth case of the film Dreams That Money Can Buy – the Duchamp scene -in which the gangster wants a dream that will help him win horse races – all three scenes installments in a hypnagogic, alternate dream history of influence in conceptual art.

The work was included in Not Nothing: The Selected Writings of Ray Johnson, as plate no. 8.

The 1968 Columbia Strike at the Speed of Mimeograph

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Up Against the Wall / Mother Fucker, 1968

By the 1960’s, the Mimeograph was not a new technology, having been in widespread use for decades. Towards the end of the decade, however, something novel happens – various social movements began to use the cheap and easily available technology of the Mimeograph to respond to events with increasing speed, sometimes even during the event itself. In San Francisco, Com/Co and the Diggers begin use their Gestetner’s to respond to current events. At the Invisible Circus event at Glide Church, Brautigan and Com/Co set up the John Dillinger Computer Complex to print “news” leaflets covering the celebration. In New York, the Motherfuckers lug a mimeograph machine to community meetings with Bill Graham about the Fillmore East and issue leaflets denouncing his speaking points while he is still addressing the crowd. But no event embodies this tendency more than the occupation of Columbia University in 1968, when a network of groups issued an avalanche of mimeographed leaflets from occupied classrooms and off campus apartments in order to comment on the events and urge the participation of others.

It was a watershed moment in print culture that has interesting parallels to the use of social media during protests in recent years. Cataloguing a recently acquired collection of flyers from the strike has given us opportunity to examine this relationship between print technology and activism.

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Division Leap offers a collection of more than 150 pamphlets, leaflets, circulars, minutes, manifestos and communiques related to the 1968 Strike and Occupation of Columbia. Please inquire for more details.

Marianne Fritz and the Weight of Things

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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.

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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 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?

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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