Tatlin doesn’t live here anymore


Rick Poynor on Raoul Hausmann, collage (‘the most important innovation in the art of the twentieth century’) and Pinterest.

But Tatlin at Home is a historical artifact, not a throwaway image, so which pin was the most accurate as a representation? There were large differences in color and small but nagging variations at the edges of the image. The right-hand edge seemed particularly unlikely in all the pins I looked at. Having cut out the dressmakers’ dummy containing body organs and the fire extinguisher underneath, why would Hausmann then choose to slice and crop them so awkwardly? On the other side of the collage, the man’s hand and foot comes and goes and the crop on the ship’s propeller at the top also varies. Not for the first time it seemed I would have to leave Pinterest to find the most reliable online source and with art, as a rule, this tends to be the museum that owns the piece. Before doing that, I consulted some books, seven in all, that reproduce Tatlin at Home. From William S. Rubin’s Dada & Surrealist Art (1968) to Dawn Ades’ Photomontage (revised ed. 1986), it became clear that in the original the complete edge of the dressmakers’ dummy could be seen, as well as most of the fire extinguisher (though both of these older reproductions are in black and white).

Dada serious


Brian Dillon on Hannah Höch, ‘art’s original punk.’

Cut With the Kitchen Knife is Höch’s best-known work, though it’s something of an anomaly – not least in its scale – and it does not appear in the Whitechapel Gallery‘s new exhibition. Höch claimed she had hit on the technique of photomontage while on a Baltic holiday with the married Hausmann in 1918; having come across mocked-up photos sent home by German soldiers, in which the young men’s heads were superimposed on pictures of musketeers, they realised the power of cut-and-paste to “alienate” images. This origin tale is slightly misleading, however, because since 1916 Höch had been working for the Berlin publisher Ullstein, producing embroidery and lace designs for such periodicals as Die Dame and Die Praktische Berlinerin. She was probably already familiar with the kinds of collage that an expanding print media practised with photographs. Höch worked on these handicraft magazines for a decade, and even wrote a manifesto of sorts for modern embroidery, in which she enjoined Weimar-era women to “develop a feeling for abstract forms”.

A lost soul


Arthur Cravan writes to Mina Loy from Mexico City, December 10, 1917:

Since leaving I have become tremendously pure, and if I manage to survive I’m thinking of becoming a saint. But I don’t think I will survive. If you don’t get any more letters you’ll know that I’m dead or else that I’ve gone mad. If you can’t console me I’d rather disappear from the world of the senses or at least of the intelligence. I can no longer see a star or read a book without being filled with horror. I have almost no strength left for writing to you. and if I knew I was doing it in vain, I would kill myself in five minutes. All I do is think about suicide. As you have probably never been in this state, you can’t understand. If you had suffered half as much as I do, you would fly to my side. Listen, Mona, I would almost ask you to lie. The idea of death fills me with horror, so even if you couldn’t come, could you give me the sweet illusion that I will see you again? I could never bear the truth. Madness terrifies me more than death. My brain can’t manage to repair the losses, and the only thing I really grasp is that I am lost. Wire me for God’s sake. This is the Christmas of a lost soul. It will be the New Year of a man who is condemned to death…. Mina, I can’t believe, I don’t dare believe, that you will abandon me. If you come, I swear to you on my eternal soul that I will never cause you pain and that your life will be sweeter than that of any other woman. Forget the past. I was full of lies, but now I only want to live for the truth.

From the New Yorker.

No style is a style


S.J. Fowler, author of Enemies, vanguardist and bright spark behind 3:AM Magazine‘s Maintenant! poetry series, is delivering a series of short lectures at the Rest is Noise Festival. So far, B.S. Johnson, Thomas Bernhard, and New York Dada and ethics. All great audio essays, but we want to give particular mention to ‘The occluded: British avant garde poetry in the era of Britten’ [below], which discusses David Gascoyne, Michael Horovitz, Bill Griffiths, Iain Sinclair, Allen Fisher and Bob Cobbing, amongst others. S.J. Fowler contributes six new poems to gorse #1.

The potential of literature in translation


The Stinging Fly have posted my essay from their summer translation issue (June 2013). Using Dalkey Archive’s Best European Fiction series as a starting point, the essay takes in the recently translated Georges Perec‘s La boutique obscure as well as the 65th anniversary edition of Raymond Queneau‘s Exercises in Style, and also Lauren Elkin and Scott Esposito’s excellent The End of Oulipo? (the title of my essay is a play on Ouvroir de littérature potentielle, workshop of potential literature). One of the most exciting translation projects this year had to be Adam Thirlwell‘s Multiples project:

According to Paul Klee genius is the error in the system, a sentiment Adam Thirlwell shares. ‘There are no perfect translations, just as there are no perfect styles,’ he says. ‘Something is still translatable, even if its translation is not perfect.’ The first imperfect French translation of Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman was made by Joseph Pierre Frénais in 1776. Imperfect, for not only did Frénais omit Sterne’s stylistic tricks (looped lines, diagrams, blank pages, and so on) he left out sentences that bored him, restructured paragraphs and tampered with Sterne’s ‘impolite’ jokes. The translation was not without its merit. In it, Frénais invented the word dada as an equivalent to Sterne’s word ‘hobby-horse’, later plucked from the dictionary by Hugo Ball and Tristan Tzara in search of a name for their anti-art movement of assemblage and readymades.