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.

An Early Description of a Professional Tattoo Kit from the German Underworld

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Near the end of the 19th century a pickpocket was arrested in the German town of Mainz. This was in itself an ordinary occurrence, but in his belongings were discovered a notebook full of drawings, many of them categorized by profession, along with vials of red and black ink and wooden needles, all housed in a spectacle case. The drawings in the album were templates for tattoos, and the man claimed to have purchased this kit from a tattoo artist in the mountains, who specialized in the sale of these kits – perhaps named Joseph Ragozet.

 

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The kit so fascinated judge Fritz Eller that he sent along a description of the kit, along with photographs of the drawings, to the sociologist and criminologist Franz Gross, which is how this early and valuable documentation of a portable tattoo kit in the German underworld came to be published in a periodical devoted to criminal anthropology. Like much of the scarce early modern research into tattoos, it comes from a criminological or medical standpoint. Gross was fascinated enough by the case to contribute a foreward to the article, in which he makes the claim that this may be the first description of such a commercial, portable kit. There must have been earlier descriptions – if you know of any, please get in touch.

 

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Eller fortunately goes into some detail on the method of tattooing. The design is first drawn onto the flesh with the drawing as a template and then the long wooden needles, also dipped in ink, puncture the skin. Smaller tattoos could be done in as little time as a quarter of an hour with this method. According to this account, the wooden needles were very painful, and customers often vomited or passed out from the pain, or interrupted the process, often leaving a partial tattoo.

 

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The drawings are strikingly beautiful, direct in line but finely detailed and very expressive. The division according to occupation is especially fascinating from an anthropological standpoint, indicating the sort of workers who might get a tattoo – there are plenty of designs for seamen, of course, but also portrayed are Seiltänzerin (funambulist or tightrope walker), Kufeltänzerin (juggler), Ballspieler (ball player?), zirkusreiterin (circus rider), Räuberhauptmann (Robber chief), Maurer (bricklayer), Bäcker (baker), Barbier (barber), Metzger (butcher), taubenkönigin, Schlosser (locksmith), Kutscher (coachman), etc.  – all the best occupations, though unfortunately we don’t find one for bookseller.

 

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Eller, Fritz. ‘Ein Vorlagebuch für Tätowierungen’ in Archiv für Kriminal-Anthropologie und Kriminalistik 19. Band, 1. u 2. Heft. Leipzig: Verlag von F. C. W. Vogel, 1905. 8vo, 207 pp, rebound at an early date in brown leatherette over marbled boards, titled in gilt at the spine.

Please visit the Tattooing section of our website to view other rare tattoo books at DL.

The Character of the Tattoo in Modern Europe

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Rudolf Erhard Riecke (1869-1939) was a dermatologist and the first director of the influential department of skin and venereal diseases at the University of Gottingen. In 1925, as an outgrowth of his research he published Das Tatauierungswesen im Heutigen Europa. The book has never been translated into English, or reprinted, as far as I can tell in any language, which is unfortunate as it is one of the most valuable early studies of the early modern European tattoo.

Riecke compared the symbolism of the modern tattoo, especially with regard to erotic and criminal tattoos, as found  on the bodies of circus performers, seamen, criminals and members of the underworld, and concluded that the motivations and symbolism of the modern European tattoo were distinct from the conclusions of anthropological studies of non-Western cultures at the time.

The latter part of the book is taken up with a generous section of b/w photographic plates reproducing 94 photographs of tattoos – certainly one of the most important published photographic records we have of its kind. A number of the tattoos are erotic, and there is one excellent photograph of a full penis tattoo (fig. 80).

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The Tattoo Historian website has a great post on the mystery posed by an excised example of this plate in a library copy of the book.

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Riecke, Erhard. Das Tatauierungswesen im Heutigen Europa. Jena: Gustav Fischer, 1925. 4to, 40 pp. + 24 photographic plates, reproducing 94 photographs.

 Contact us if you’d like to be informed about the availability of this title from Division Leap, or to be notified about future examples we might find in our travels.

What Would Happen If I Were to Stand Up?

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I first encountered the art of James Francis Horrabin in his illustrations for his friend H. G. Well’s The Outline of History, the work for which he is best known. Luckily, that led me to Horrabin’s own work, such as the fascinating The Plebs Atlas (1926) – which along with his other works on mapping, represent one of the most sustained pre-WWII efforts at a radical, socialist cartography.

Before yesterday’s mail, however, I’d never seen his striking cover illustration for the Plebs League pamphlet Do Your Own Thinking, which shows that Horrabin also had an eye for mapping more abstract social spaces as well. A muscular worker – The Man Underneath – kneels on one knee beneath a table on which dance a line of pudgy men and women in evening wear. Our worker casts a grave and thoughtful eye towards the reader, and states, rather than asks, “I’m just thinking what would happen if I were to stand up!”

 

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[Horrabin, J. F.]. Do Your Own Thinking. London: Plebs League, nd [c. 1920’s]. First edition. Small 8vo, 14 pp, saddle-stapled illustrated wraps. Inquire.

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Guido Boggiani and the Indelible Marking of the Skin

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In 1895, the Ethnologist Guido Boggiani read a paper at the Secondo Congresso Geografico Italiano concerning the designs on the skin of two Peruvian mummies in an Italian museum. A pamphlet of the talk was published, entitled Tatuaggio o Pittura? In which Boggiani made the claim that these pictures on the skin were paintings rather then tattoos, as earlier writers such as Joest had asserted. Boggiani made the claim that the indelible quality of the images was achieved by the use of a dye extracted from the plant Genipa Oblongifolia, also known as Genipapo, which had a corrosive effect on the skin, which caused a more lasting effect then other dyes. It was also thought to ward off spirits.

 

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This booklet is illustrated with six drawings which are painstaking reconstructions of the designs found on the mummies, as well as two full page more natural drawings of the limbs of the mummies in a natural posture, as above. In all of these drawings Boggiani’s extreme fascination for this art on the skin is obvious. It is perhaps natural that Boggiani argued for this skin art to be that of painting, because he was first trained as a painter, and a successful one at that. His paintings sold for large sums at an early age.

Boggiani was drawn into ethnology during a votage to exhibit his paintings in Buenos Aires, where he met several expatriate Italians whose accounts of Paraguay led him to embark on a new career as an ethnologist, making return trips to the Americas to collect artifacts.

 

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In the year after this booklet is published, however, Boggiani would return to Asuncion convinced that photography was the best way to capture the indigenous people he chose to study, and the photos he left behind – some of which are now held by the Ethnological Museum of Berlin – are valued as important early work in ethnological photography and the photography of tattoos.

 

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Boggiani’s embrace of the young medium of photography may have led to his death. Though the exact circumstances of his demise are unknown, he was found in a remote area of the Gran Chaco with his skull destroyed and his camera and negatives buried in the ground around him. It was widely believed at the time that these measures were an effort to suppress the threat of photography.

This particular example of the booklet is intriguing as it has a distribution stamp from a bookstore in Asunción, the last city where Boggiani was seen alive. Even at the time this was probably a very academic publication with a limited distribution. It may be irresponsible conjecture, but I wonder if this may have been one of a number of copies Boggiani may have brought to Asunción himself.

Boggiani, Guido. Tatuaggio o Pittura? Studio Intorno ad una Curiosa Usanza Delle Popolazioni Indigene Dell’Antico Peru. Roma: Stabilimento Tipografico G. Civelli, 1895. First edition. Small 4to, 32 [2] pp, printed wraps. Text in Italian. Illustrated with 6 reproductions in the text, and two full page reproductions following the text, all from drawings by Boggiani. Includes bibliographic references. Contemporary bookstore stamp from Libreria y Papeleria Asuncion to cover.

Moderately toned, with some short tears and chipping to margins, and foxing to margins, aforementioned bookstore stamp, but very good. Scarce in the trade. Inquire

 

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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.

Wallace Berman, Billy Jahrmarkt and the Greatest Gallery

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A handmade mail art collage announcement made by Berman for an event at Billy Jahrmarkt’s Batman Gallery, which featured Lew Welch and Kirby Doyle reading, as well as a film or performance by Paul Beattie and Bill Spencer. The postcard is illustrated with a pasted down photograph by Wallace Berman, which features Lew Welch peering out from beneath a hole in a dock or floorboards, with the large leatherbooted foot of Kirby Doyle poised above his fingers. The image appears on p. 61 of Wallace Berman: Photographs.

The event which this commemorates was likely the joint reading of Welch and Doyle’s “Din Poem” in 1961, which is mentioned in the chronology in Ring of Bone. The event was likely held on the opening of George Herms’ show that year at the gallery – a reminiscence by George Herms in Foley notes that Beattie showed a film and Doyle and Welch read at his the opening of his exhibition that year [Foley p. 21]

The Batman Gallery had opened in November of the previous year, and though only active for 5 years, was in retrospect on the most important alternative art galleries of the west coast. The walls had been painted matte black by Bruce Conner, who was the first artist to be shown. Jahrmarkt was a close friend of Berman, whose Verifax collages were created on a machine given to Berman by Jahrmarkt. A very early work by Berman with an excellent assocation, linking him with a close associate and the greatest gallery of the time.  

Berman, Wallace. Mail Art Announcement for an Exhibit at Batman Gallery.

San Francisco: 1961. Collage, silver gelatin print. ink, and postage stamp on card stock [3 5/8 x 6 1/4″]. Addressed in Wallace Berman’s hand to Billy Jahrmarkt and postmarked in May of 1961.

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.

Boy London and Peter Christopherson

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The first advertisement made for the infamous London fashion store, a large format poster designed by Peter Christopherson. Boy was formed in 1977 on King’s Road by John Krivine and Steph Raynor. Christopherson at that time was both a member of Throbbing Gristle, and of the design company Hipgnosis, who had been responsible for some of the most recognizable album covers of the era, including Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. Krivine invited Christopherson to create the initial design for the store after seeing COUM’s poster designs for the Citizen’s Theatre in Glasgow.

Christopherson was responsible for the initial concept and design of the store, including the typography, and also the window displays, which showed an unconscious or dead young man. Genesis P-Orridge described them to Jon Savage as follows: “The idea was that a boy had climbed in to steal stuff, accidentally knocked over an electric fire and set the place on fire and burned to death. And these were the leftovers of the boy. So there was a Doc Marten boot with bits of flesh and there was a bit of his jeans and buttock and a finger with a ring and some mouldy hand. And they were in little forensic dishes in these glass boxes like you would find at the Black Museum. So this was just a parody of a mixture of forensic evidence and vandalism.” – [P-Orridge, quoted in Ford 7.4-7.5]

The window display was provocative enough that the windows were soon vandalized, a problem that would dog the early days of the shop. Boy London would go on to become on the most influential and controversial fashion lines of the 80’s. Christopherson would go on to form Coil with John Balance. A rare example of the early work of the most innovative and provocative designer of the period, or of any period.

Christopherson, Peter. Boy London. The Strength of a Country Lies in Its Youth. London: Boy London, [1977]. 16 1/2 x 23 3/4″, offset litho.

A strong, very good example, never folded, with creasing along the left margin.

The San Francisco Zookeeper Who Let Michael McClure and Bruce Conner in to see the Lions

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The San Francisco Keeper’s Voice, edited by zookeeper Alexander Weiss, was one of the most unusual little magazines of the 60′s. The magazine was actually a zine devoted to the art of being a zookeeper, with contributions from zookeepers, though some issues included poetry, including a contribution from Richard Brautigan in a different issue.

One of the most interesting poetry happenings of the 60′s was when Michael McClure read to the lions in the San Francisco zoo, which was filmed by Bruce Conner – clips can be seen on Youtube. I’ve always wondered how McClure and Conner got into the zoo, and on the back of this copy, which McClure had mailed to Marshall Clements, he lets the cat out of the bag (or the lion out of the cage) –

“Marshall, Alex Weiss the ed. of this paper is the lion keeper who opened up the lion house for Bruce Conner & I… ”

McClure has a poem in this issue, and in the editor’s note to the poem Weiss seems to also obliquely hint at the event – “Michael McClure is a poet of inter-organic importance. His “Beast-Language” Poems have created quite a stir among mammals of all kinds.“

 

 

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Weiss, Alexander, ed. San Francisco Keeper’s Voice, Vol. 1 No. 2. San Francisco: Alexander Weiss, 1965. First edition. 4to, 8 pp, offset printed and stab-stapled. Addressed to Marshall Clements in McClure’s hand, with six line holograph note.  [23978]