For here we see a designer for whom Surrealism, the fantastic and the ludic are never far away … and for whom the letterform is just one vital element (or set of elements) and not necessarily always the most important, in a field of communicative resources that includes every kind of made, found or photographic pictorial device.
An appreciation of the work of influential French book designer Pierre Faucheux.
(Source: Design Observer)
So long, Leonora. RIP.
Leonora Carrington, Litany of the Philosophers, 1953
With the exception of dimly lit, curiously decorated dive bars, there is perhaps no better place for me than a finely curated museum bookstore. I spent my last day in Los Angeles at the sprawling LACMA campus, moving with ease (thanks to Sierra Nevada Pale Ales) between the cafe, the splendid breezeway bar, the many galleries, and finally, the art catalogue bookstore.
I was first drawn to the long table collecting a variety of recent arrivals and books of note. I love the way a random assortment of books can lead to unique juxtapositions, synchronicities, and unexpected connections, particularly when books are not segregated by their subject matters. This pleasure was further stoked when I moved to the stacks, and quickly realized that the store had abandoned categorization altogether, merging fiction, poetry, artists’ books, architecture, urban planning, photography, monographs, and other curiosities.
At LACMA, rare art books sit in the stacks with their contemporaries. Though most were well out of my league, it was nice to investigate small run monographs, and rare editions of more well known works on folks like Le Corbusier.
Though I was tempted by MIT Press’s Leave Any Information At The Signal, I surprised the manager of the bookstore by selecting a new edition of Benjamin Peret’s The Leg of Lamb from Wakefield Press (she had ordered it on a whim, thinking it would sit on the shelves—alas it had only been there two days!). Peret’s work is incredibly under-represented, and any new edition entering the commercial sphere is cause for celebration. I was first introduced to him by poet James Tate, who generously shepherded my reading of proto-surrealist, surrealist, and other wonderfully odd works in an independent study many years ago. The only Peret texts I could track down at the time were the University of Nebraska’s French Modernist Library edition of Death to the Pigs, and the sublime collections issued by @las press, which are rather scarce.
Wakefield’s edition of The Leg of Lamb, translated by Marc Lowenthal, is very nice specimen of current trade paperback book design, with a pleasingly minimal cover, endflaps, textured endpapers, and crisp typography. I realized after returning home that I had recently acquired another Wakefield title, Georges Perec’s An Attempt At Exhausting A Place In Paris (a valentine from my lovely partner!), which is just as sensuous, though smaller in size, but with endflaps still intact. They currently have three series:
“Wakefield Handbooks series (the guidebook as imagined through literature) and the Imagining Science series (science as imagined through literature), as well as forays into classic experimental fiction (literature as imagined through literature)”.
As for the qualities of Peret’s work, and The Leg of Lamb in particular, well, I’ll save that for another post; but, in short, he’s a master of the automatic impulse, filling his fantastic narratives with an amazing imagistic capability, and a wondrous sense of humor. A scene, a sentence, may begin sensibly enough, undertake an unforeseen turn, and end with a surprise. Por ejemplo (taken at random), “And to punish him, each one of his toes gives birth to a tiny jasmine whose flowers are so many butterflies that go nest in his ears” (from “The Bridge of Sighs”).
For my coin, Peret’s work is one of the best examples of surrealist literature. Do the world a favor, and support Wakefield Press! I’m gonna order up the rest, especially excited for Paul Scheerbart’s works!
Artaud, Antonin. “All Writing Is Pigshit…” Artaud Anthology. San Francisco: City Lights Publishers, 2001. Tras. David Rattray. 20 Apr. 2011. <http://endingthealphabet.org/019valentines.html>.
— Pierre Reverdy, Haunted House.
Opium den : photo by Brassaï
— Pierre Reverdy, Haunted House.
It aspires to a spontaneous reclassification of things according to an order that is more profound and more subtle, and impossible to elucidate by the methods of ordinary reason, but an order all the same, and one that is perceptible to some unknown sense…but perceptible all the same, and an order which does not belong entirely to death.
Between the world and ourselves the rupture is complete. We do not speak to make ourselves understood, but only inside ourselves, with the plowshares of anguish, with the cutting edge of a fierce obstinacy, we turn thought over, we make thought uneven."
— Antonin Artaud, “The Activity of the Surrealist Research Bureau,” 1925.