Lettrism in the UL

Library holdings related to Lettrisme have been growing recently. Like Dadaism, this avant-garde movement was created by one of these Romanian francophone émigrés that had a decisive influence on 20th century art and writing, Isidore Isou (1925-2007). Isou arrived in Paris in 1945 and immediately persuaded Raymond Queneau and then Gaston Gallimard to publish his Introduction à une nouvelle poésie et à une nouvelle musique (1947) as well as a 450 pages autobiographical novel, L’Agrégation d’un nom et d’un messie. His conception of poetry, which anticipated what was to become “concrete poetry”, and in a way systematised and expanded dadaist poetry was soon noticed and in 1955 Orson Welles documented it in a famous interview at Librairie Fischbacher. Isou and his followers also produced an astonishing array of visual works, using the plasticity of invented alphabets to produce ‘hypergraphic’ works, half-way between figuration and abstraction (see: Lettrisme : vue d’ensemble sur quelques dépassements précis / commissaire de l’exposition, Roland SabatierS950.c.201.106, and Lemaître : une vie lettriste / par Frédéric Acquaviva2014.10.1191).

Isou’s influence on film was also significant. His Traité de bave et d’éternité anticipated on many of the avant-gardes that were to follow: Situationism of course, Guy Debord, the founder of this movement having been one of his disciples (the UL holds many titles by and on Debord), and Jean-Luc Godard’s experiments in decoupling sound and image, or using text within the screen (Off-screen cinema : Isidore Isou and the Lettrist avant-garde / Kaira M. Cabañas415:3.b.201.129). Over the years the Lettrists produced thousands of books, treatises, pamphlets, brochures of all sorts, and visual works, very few of which have been easily available until recently.

The UL has acquired a number of of rare Lettrist works published by Editons AcquAvivA. Created in 2009 by the composer Frédéric Acquaviva, and based in Berlin, this small press publishes facsimile reprints as well as original works. Acquaviva describes his collection thus: “En général, cette collection s’intéresse aux œuvres radicales d’artistes peu ‘fréquentés’ par les autres éditeurs”. We hold, for instance:

  • Six fois Aude : poèmes by the poet and painter Jacques Spacagna – 2014.10.392
  • Le cahier de dessin – Gérard-Philippe Broutin’s first sketchbook, recently acquired by the MoMa – 2014.9.629
  • Hypergraphic novels such as the astonishing Et les hommes by Gil Joseph Wolman – F201.a.1.22
  • Reproductions of documents linked to lettrist events including Photos des portraits et autres by Roland Sabatier – 2014.10.391

The UL also holds various lettrist works previously published by Acquaviva with another interesting small press Editions Derrière La Salle de Bains. The full list of our holdings is available on our catalogue here.


A selection of works published by Editions Derrière La Salle de Bains (classmarks F201.a.1.9-20)

The role of Romanian avant-garde artists such as Tristan Tzara and Gherasim Luca is reflected in the University Library’s holdings of works by these two poets. As well as published works in the University Library, the Trinity College Library also has a number of works by these two, as well as video recordings of Luca performing his works (many of these are now available on Youtube). A new book including Deleuze’s letters to Luca (Lettres et autres textes) is currently on order at the UL. In addition, the UL has been working to improve its holdings of Romanian language works by writers and artists which were linked to these avant-garde movements, particularly between the two world wars as well as many critical works on the topic, in several languages. Examples include:

  • Infra-noir”, un et multiple : un groupe surréaliste entre Bucarest et Paris / sous la direction de Monique Yaari (C209.c.8369)
  • De Tristan Tzara à Ghérasim Luca : impulsions des modernités roumaines au sein de l’avant-garde européenne / Nicole Manucu (736:47.c.201.101)
  • The Vanguard Messiah : Lettrism between Jewish Mysticism and the Avant-Garde / Sami Sjöberg (click to view ebook)
  • Avangarda românească / antologie, studiu introductiv, cronologie, referințe critice și note de Ion Pop ; postfață de Eugen Simion (C204.d.3439)
  • La réhabilitation du rêve : une anthologie de l’avant-garde roumaine / étude critique, choix de textes & notes, Ion Pop (C204.d.29)

Guest author: Jean Khalfa


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