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This is the first in a series of stories on the 2,000-page, two-volume annotated critical edition of Mein Kampf that went on sale on January 9. After three years of work by scholars at Munich’s Institute for Contemporary History, it is a tour de force of analysis and critique. It sold out immediately. I asked Prof. Dr. René Spitz, a German scholar and author, to tell me about the design challenges faced by Rudolf Paulus Gorbach (who I’ve interviewed for a later post) involved in republishing Hitler’s blueprint for the Holocaust.
This critical edition is an outstanding example of successful design.
The object with which the designer Rudolf Paulus Gorbach had to cope is extreme in every respect. Everyone has already heard of this book. Few alive have ever set eyes on a copy. Hardly anyone has actually read it. But the judgment of condemnation which must be made about it is already clear. There is no such book which deserves all qualities of design, and these must be developed with utmost care.
Hitler’s text is a historical source of great importance. Andreas Wirsching explained this fact: “In a mixture of ideological delusion, perverted-criminal rationality and brutal ruthlessness he [Hitler; R.S.] developed a ‘program’ and held it firmly to its end. The main source of the origin of this war obsession is Mein Kampf.“
From the very beginning an enlightening, humanistic tendency is inherent in design as a phenomenon of modern Western industrial societies. Certainly there are many examples in design history which show us the complete opposite: lies, distraction, darkening and slander. But there are also the lighthouses which illuminate the swamp of inhumanity with brilliant clarity.
Rudolf Paulus Gorbach’s work is one of these lighthouses. His task was terrifying. A design was needed which works as a translation, making the scientific meticulousness legible and aesthetically bearable. Not to mention the pressure by the international attention and morally motivated apprehensions.
The editors concept was to surround Hitler’s text by more than 3,500 comments. Hitler’s propaganda had to be slowed down. Every lie, every insult and every allusion was precisely corrected, unmasked and dissolved by the historians. In addition, they also refer to larger contexts and consequences. The reader needs time for all of these informations.
Gorbach had to transform highly complex, scientific accuracy into double pages which support the reading process. The different information levels stay in the background and serve their purpose. At the same time the layout is visible as a structure-forming element. The reader keeps orientated. He is not overwhelmed, but stays in a distance. The self-confident white space is an important contribution to this effect of rationality.
Gorbach developed an appropriately differentiated page grid which refers to historical examples: A Jewish Bible of Venice, 1546, or the Basel edition of Erasmus of Rotterdam‘s “Praise of Folly,” 1515. Gorbach opted for the type “Scala” of Dutchman Martin Majoor (1993) and selected three typefaces with and without serifs. Majoor‘s type alludes to Renaissance humanists’ typefaces, and so Scala fits perfectly with the editorial concept: “ad fontes!“
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