Another Thread of the Avant-Garde: Letters as Art

Hypergraphic paintingThe Sheridan Libraries' significant avant-garde collections hold some real gems: many publications from the mid-20th century French movement of Lettrisme. We have been adding to our lettriste holdings over the past several months, and now have an important collection, including the movement's periodicals and books. Interestingly, the basis of our Lettrism holding is in the Goulemot collection. Many of our early lettrist titles come from this collection.

The essence of lettrisme is, well, the letter. Its founder, Isidore Isou, believed that poetry must be deconstructed, down to its most basic element, a single letter. Letters, as mere visual symbols, would be the basis of a new poetics and art. Isou's ideas and influence spilled over into the visual arts, film, architecture, even mathematics, psychiatry and politics.

The collections here at the Sheridan Libraries include books by Isou and his colleague Maurice Lemaître, periodicals put out by the lettrists, as well as works by their once-collaborators and later rivals - the Situationist International , led by Guy Debord.

The artistic and literary avant-gardes of the 20th century form a confusing mix of manifestos, publication, collaboration, changing loyalties, and fertile explorations of new forms. Try exploring our collections of these fascinating movements. Here are a few searches to get you started:

About Sue Waterman

Librarian for German and Romance Languages and Literature, the Humanities Center, and the Program in Jewish Studies. Curator for Modern European Literature

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