SCRAPS FROM MITTELEUROPA
A family vacation spent among the ruined castles and pebbly beaches of the Old World didn't offer as many opportunities for book-scouting as one might have hoped; but happily, a few precious moments at flea markets and "antiquariats" did yield a handful of treasures. Fresh from the suitcase:
DAS FEILE WEIB
["The Venal Female"]
Verlag für Kulturforschung, Wien, 1929.
An ostensibly serious study of the female role in the psycho-social economy of sex, with a prurient emphasis on prostitution. The German text may or may not constitute genuine scholarship, but the numerous illustrations -- hundreds of provocative paintings and drawings, and a few photos -- leave no doubt that its male author suffered (or enjoyed!) very complicated feelings of fear and desire toward the ladies. Fittingly, his work was published as the fifth volume of a stereotypically Viennese series entitled "Allmacht Weib: Erotische Typologie der Frau" ("Female Omnipotence: Erotic Typology of Women").
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von Eschstruth, Nataly; Adolph Schöttner (transcription):
Verlag von Wilhem Marnet, Neustadt, [ca. 1900].
As literature, this romance (by a popular Prussian author of 19th century "women's stories") is probably quite forgettable. But as a printed artifact, it's altogether novel, and as lovely as it is baffling: the entire work has been transcribed and printed in shorthand. There must have been a time when stenographers around Europe could have made sense of these cryptic squiggles, but today, their apparent meaninglessness is the source of their beauty. Is this even a language? (A bright 5-year-old will tell you it looks suspiciously like Elvish…)
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Hoss, Gerd; Elspeth Weiser (illus.):
EINMAL SO, EINMAL SO
["Even So, Even So"]
Humboldt-Verlag, Wien, 1946.
Apparently an heir to the "Struwwelpeter" genre of scary cautionary verses, this exceedingly uncommon little book matches cheerful illustrations with cruel German rhymes in which greedy, thoughtless, and impulsive children get their comeuppances. Its real charm, however, is a die-cut gimmick: the kids' faces are cut away to reveal a happy grin on the recto (while playing with matches, poking a beehive, tormenting a puppy, etc.), and a resulting terrified grimace on the verso (burned, stung, bitten, etc.). Hard to describe, but trust us -- it's memorably cute and weird.
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Stvarnost, Zagreb, 1963.
For gallant communists in Tito's Yugoslavia, there was clearly more to life than toiling at the tractor factory and planting cabbages -- as this guide to modern manners demonstrates. In addition to basic sections on hygiene, clothing, and home decor, it offers advanced advice on how to make a good impression at restaurants, in elevators, on airplanes, etc… and the etiquette of tobacco-smoking merits an entire chapter. The text is Croatian, but the enthusiastic illustrations (by a beloved Zagreb caricaturist) wouldn't look out of place in Mad Magazine.
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DUDEN FRANÇAIS, DICTIONNAIRE ILLUSTRÉ DE LA LANGUE FRANÇAIS
["Illustrated Dictionary of the French Language"]
Bibliographisches Institut AG, Leipzig, 1938.
The objective world and its names, catalogued visually. Here are over 10,000 French nouns, depicted as numbered details on 348 full-page illustrations: urban scenes, natural phenomena, material culture, work practices, entertainments, etc. It's an epic accomplishment in scope and clarity, as well as a revealing window into the organization of concrete reality in 'tween-wars Europe. Definitions in French, with bilingual introduction and index (French/German).
[-- end of Microcatalogue #15, "Scraps from Mitteleuropa" -- ]
August 30, 2011