ISIDORE ISOU / LETTRISME
Lettrism is a French avant-garde movement, established in Paris in the mid-1940s by Romanian immigrant Isidore Isou. In a body of work totalling hundreds of volumes, Isou and the Lettrists have applied their theories to all areas of art and culture, most notably in poetry, film, painting and political theory. The movement has its theoretical roots in Dada and Surrealism. Isou viewed his fellow countryman, Tristan Tzara, as the greatest creator and rightful leader of the Dada movement, and dismissed most of the others as plagiarists and falsifiers. Among the Surrealists, André Breton was a significant influence, but Isou was dissatisfied by what he saw as the stagnation and theoretical bankruptcy of the movement as it stood in the 1940s.
In French, the movement is called Lettrisme, from the French word for letter, arising from the fact that many of their early works centred around letters and other visual or spoken symbols. The Lettristes themselves prefer the spelling 'Letterism' for the Anglicised term, and this is the form that is used on those rare occasions when they produce or supervise English translations of their writings: however, 'Lettrism' is at least as common in English usage. The term, having been the original name that was first given to the group, has lingered as a blanket term to cover all of their activities, even as many of these have moved away from any connection to letters. But other names have also been introduced, either for the group as a whole or for its activities in specific domains, such as 'the Isouian movement', 'youth uprising', 'hypergraphics', 'creatics', 'infinitesimal art' and 'excoördism'.
Manifesto of Letterist Poetry, Isidore Isou
MANIFESTO OF LETTERIST POETRY
A Commonplaces about Words
by Isidore Isou, 1942
Pathetic I The flourishing of bursts of energy dies beyond us.
All delirium is expansive.
All impulses escape stereotyping.
Still I An intimate experience maintains curious specifics.
Pathetic II Discharges are transmitted by notions.
What a difference between our fluctuations and the
brutality of words.
Transitions always arise between feeling and speech.
Still II The word is the first stereotype.
Pathetic III What a difference between the organism and the sources.
Notions - what an inherited dictionary. Tarzan learns
in his father's book to call tigers cats.
Naming the Unknown by the Forever.
Still III The translated word does not express.
Pathetic IV The rigidity of forms impedes their transmission.
These words are so heavy that the flow fails to carry
them. Temperaments die before arriving at the goal
No word is capable of carrying the impulses one
wants to send with it.
Still IV WORDS allow psychic alterations to disappear.
Speech resists effervescence.
Notions require expansion to equivalent formulas.
WORDS Fracture our rhythm.
by their Assassinate sensitivity.
mechanism, Thoughtlessly uniform
fossilization, tortured inspiration.
stability Twist tensions.
and aging Reveal poetic exaltations as useless.
Promote the use of analogies
Substitute for true emissions.
Pathetic V If one economizes on the riches of the soul, one dries
up the left-over along with the words.
Still V Prevent the flow from molding itself on the cosmos.
Form species in sentiments.
WORDS Destroy sinuosities.
Result from the need to determine things.
Help the elderly remember by forcing the young to forget.
Pathetic VI Every victory of the young has been a victory over words.
Every victory over words has been a fresh, young victory.
Still VI Summarize without knowing how to receive.
It is the tyranny of the simple over the long-winded.
WORDS Discern too concretely to leave room for the mind.
Forget the true measures of expression: suggestions.
Let infrarealities disappear.
Sift without restoring.
Pathetic VII One learns words as one learns good manners.
Without words and manners it is impossible to appear in
It is by making progress in words that one makes progress
Still VII Kill fleeting evocations.
Slow down short-cuts and approximations.
SPEECH Is always vice-versa for not being identical.
Eliminates solitary individuals who would like to
Forces men who would like to say "Otherwise" to say "Thus."
Pathetic VIII The carpentry of the word built to last forever obliges men
to construct according to patterns, like children.
There is no appreciation of value in a word.
Still VIII Words are the great levellers.
Pathetic IX Notions limit opening onto depths by merely standing ajar.
Still IX Words are family garments.
Poets enlarge words every year.
Words already have been mended so much they are in stitches.
Pathetic X People think it is impossible to break words.
Still X Unique feelings are so unique that they can not be
popularized. Feelings without words in the dictionary disappear.
Pathetic XI Every year thousands of feelings disappear for lack
of a concrete form.
Still XI Feelings demand living space.
How remarkable the poet's disheartened absorption in words.
Things and nothings to communicate become daily more imperious.
Pathetic XII Efforts at destruction witness to the need to rebuild.
Still XII How long will people hold out in the shrunken domain of
Pathetic XIII The poet suffers indirectly:
Words remain the work of the poet, his existence, his job.
B Innovation I
Destruction of WORDS for LETTERS
ISIDORE ISOU Believes in the potential elevation beyond WORDS; wants
the development of transmissions where nothing is
lost in the process; offers a verb equal to a shock. By
the overload of expansion the forms leap up by themselves.
ISIDORE ISOU Begins the destruction of words for letters.
ISIDORE ISOU Wants letters to pull in among themselves all desires.
ISIDORE ISOU Makes people stop using foregone conclusions, words.
ISIDORE ISOU Shows another way out between WORDS and RENUNCIATION:
LETTERS. He will create emotions against language, for the
pleasure of the tongue.
It consists of teaching that letters have a destination
other than words.
ISOU Will unmake words into their letters.
Each poet will integrate everything into Everything
Everything must be revealed by letters.
POETRY CAN NO LONGER BE REMADE.
ISIDORE ISOU IS STARTING
A NEW VEIN OF LYRICISM.
Anyone who can not leave words behind can stay back with them!
C Innovation II: The Order of Letters
This does not mean destroying words for other words.
Nor forging notions to specify their nuances.
Nor mixing terms to make them hold more meaning.
But it does mean TAKING ALL LETTERS AS A WHOLE; UNFOLDING BEFORE DAZZLED
SPECTATORS MARVELS CREATED FROM LETTERS (DEBRIS FROM
CREATING AN ARCHITECTURE OF LETTRIC RHYTHMS;
ACCUMULATING FLUCTUATING LETTERS IN A PRECISE FRAME;
ELABORATING SPLENDIDLY THE CUSTOMARY COOING;
COAGULATING THE CRUMBS OF LETTERS FOR A REAL MEAL;
RESUSCITATING THE JUMBLE IN A DENSER ORDER;
MAKING UNDERSTANDABLE AND TANGIBLE THE INCOMPREHENSIBLE
AND VAGUE; CONCRETIZING SILENCE;
WRITING THE NOTHINGNESS.
It is the role of the poet to advance toward subversive sources.
the obligation of the poet to advance in the black and
burdened depths of the unknown.
the craft of the poet to open one more treasure-room
door for the common man.
There will be a poet's message in new signs. The ordering of letters is called:
It is not a poetic school, but a solitary attitude.
AT THIS MOMENT: LETTERISM = ISIDORE ISOU.
Isou is awaiting his successors in poetry!
(Do they already exist somewhere, ready to burst forth
into history through books?)
EXCUSES FOR WORDS INTRODUCED INTO LITERATURE
There are things which are existent only in the strength of their name.
there are others which exist, but lacking a name are unacknowledged.
Every idea needs a calling card to make itself known.
Ideas are known by the name of their creator.
It is more objective to name them after themselves.
LETTERISM IS AN IDEA THAT
WILL BE LAMENTED BY ITS REPUTATION
Letterics is a material that can always be demonstrated.
Letterics seeds already existing:
WORDS WITH HIDDEN MEANINGS IN THEIR LETTERS;
If this material existed before, it didn't have a name to recognize it by.
Letterics works will be those made entirely out of this element, but with
suitable rules and genres!
The word exists and has the right to perpetuate itself.
ISOU IS CALLING ATTENTION TO ITS EXISTENCE.
It is up to the Letterist to develop Letterism.
Letterism is offering a DIFFERENT poetry.
LETTERISM imposes a NEW POETRY.
THE LETTERIC AVALANCHE IS ANNOUNCED.