The Poetry of Everyday Life

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The Wolfsonian–Florida International University presents Rewriting the World: Primers and Poetry in the Age of Confusion. The exhibition surveys the ways in which such agendas are inscribed in the rudiments of language—set into speech and written into thought. The selection of materials represents a range of attempts to define the contours of everyday life through renovations of language. Whether a motorcar marketing booklet, a literacy manual for non-native speakers, or a poem comprised of innovative typography and non-sense sounds, these works emerged from certain social and political agendas.

“For the writers, designers, and even corporations behind these works, the transformation of everyday life was something to be achieved by linguistic means, and especially by the transformation of language itself,” notes Matthew Abess. “At their most effective, these efforts to initiate readers into certain visions of the present and future are well concealed. This exhibition aims to make them manifest.”

The exhibit will be on view April 7 through June 5, 2011 and includes evangelical alphabet primers, National Socialist toothpaste pamphlets, Czech photo-texts, typographic fairy tales, and end-of-the-world scenarios filmed by the angel of Notre Dame. Rewriting the World is organized by Matthew Abess, curatorial research assistant at The Wolfsonian.

[Captions from Top]

Book, La fin du monde, filmée par l’ange N.-D. [The End of the World, Filmed by the Angel N.-D.] by Blaise Cendrars, 1919. Illustrated by Fernand Léger (French, 1881–1955). Published by Éditions de la Sirène, Paris . The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Francis Xavier Luca and Clara Helena, 84.2.615. La fin du monde, filmée par l’ange N.-D., written by Blaise Cendrars and illustrated by Fernand Leger shortly after each returned to France wounded from war, invokes the total destruction at the end of days that makes way for the moment when the word will be redeemed. The story begins on the final day of the calendar year, where it finds language fractured in part; at the millennial moment, it ruptures fully. Cendrars’ apocalypse unfolds like a film, to which the reader is a spectator awaiting absolution. Yet redemption retreats in this cynical book: its final chapter runs the story in reverse, returning the tale to its threatening start.

Advertising booklet, ABC, c. 1915. Published by Oakland Motor Car Company, Pontiac. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, 86.19.483. The Oakland Motor Car Company’s pocket-sized primer finds the alphabet attached to capital and commerce. The verses encourage thrift and hard-going—characteristics of the so-called “spirit of capitalism”—alongside dedicated spending. Conservation and consumption cohabit the page in passages like “N is for Numbers,” which has “buyers” saving on “gas and tires.” The final verse relieves these competing pressures with “Y is for Yearning / An Oakland to own;” a desire that need not discourage the chaste consumer, for “As thousands have had it, You are not alone.” The Oakland alphabet not only markets motorcars, but moreover fosters social cohesion: communion in consumerism.

Advertisement, Das Odol-Büchlein: für artige Kinder [The Odol-Booklet: For Well-Behaved Children], c.1930. Published by Odol, Dresden. The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, XC1994.315.130. In Das Odol-Büchlein, type is set to task bearing the imprint of ideology. Part toothpaste advertisement and part tutorial in oral hygiene, this pamphlet for “well behaved children” is printed in Sütterlin script, one of a handful of scripts the National Socialist’s would soon authorize as sufficiently Aryan for use in schools. Ludwig Sütterlin created the script in 1911 as a modern form of the blackletter fonts long used in German printing. As a cursive script, Sütterlin emulates the free flow of speech, minimizing the intrusion of print mechanics to foreground voice and hand. In a flick of the wrist, the body materializes—in this case, a body that is disciplined, hygienic, and altogether Aryan.

Pamphlet, Modern Reklameschriften [Modern Calligraphy in Advertising] by Gerhard Hantzsch, c. 1935. Published by Hachmeister & Thal, Leipzig. The Wolfsonian–FIU, Gift of Steven Heller, XC2008.07.17.110. Consider the student of Modern Reklameschriften, bent over a desk below handwritten letters, copying out the object lesson of typographical persuasiveness. Inseparable from the content it delivers, type effectively frames and modulates, and moreover is expressive. Though typography claims an especially prominent place in the reserve of print design strategies, in the printed art of persuasion, no element is neutral or transparent. Whether cover or binding, paper or ink, every property of printed matter carries its own message.