You may have asked the same question to yourself before or are asking it to yourself right now or been asked by someone in the past or the present or will be asked by someone in the future: what is lettrism ?
Lettrism is a French avant-garde movement, established in Paris in the mid-1940s by Romanian immigrant Isidore Isou. In a body of work totaling 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'.
- Take this:
The Lettrist Manifesto
Lettrist provocation always serves to pass the time. Revolutionary thought is not elsewhere. We pursue our little uproar in the limited beyond of literature, and it is necessary to do better. Naturally it is to reveal ourselves that we write manifestos. Impertinence is a quite beautiful thing. But our desires are perishable and disappointing. Youth is systematic, as one says. The weeks spread themselves out in straight lines. Our encounters are by chance and our precarious contacts lose themselves behind the fragile defense of words. The earth turns as if nothing exists. To say it all, the human condition doesn't please us. We have dismissed Isou, who believes in the utility of leaving traces. All that maintains something contributes to the work of the police. Because we know that all the ideas and behaviors that already exist are insufficient. Thus, current society divides itself into lettrists and informers, of whom Andre Breton is the most notorious. There are no nihilists, there are only powerless people. Almost everything is off limits to us. The abuse [detournement] of minors and the usage of narcotics, like all of our gestures generally speaking, are pursued to surpass the void. Many of our comrades are in prison for theft. We stand against the pains inflicted upon the people who have become aware that it isn't absolutely necessary to work. We refuse discussion. Human relations must have passion, if not terror, as their foundation.
- Now take Isodore Isou's film "Venom and Eternity"
the film constitutes the Letterist manifesto of film. Rejecting film conventions by 'chiseling' away at them, Isou introduced several new concepts, including discrepancy cinema where the sound track has nothing to do with the visual track. In addition, the celluloid itself was attacked with destructive techniques such as scratches and washing it in bleach. Causing a scandal at the 1951 Cannes Film Festival, this film was later introduced in the United States where it influenced avant-garde film makers such as Stan Brakhage.
- Also take an excerpt of the Excerpts from Introduction à une Nouvelle Poésie et une Nouvelle Musique. Paris: Gallimard, 1947.
MANIFESTO OF LETTERIST POETRY
A Commonplaces about Words
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
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.
The translated word does not express.
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 (firing blanks).
No word is capable of carrying the impulses one
wants to send with it.
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.
If one economizes on the riches of the soul, one dries
up the left-over along with the words.
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.
Every victory of the young has been a victory over words.
Every victory over words has been a fresh, young victory.
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.
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
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."
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.
Words are the great levellers.
Notions limit opening onto depths by merely standing
Words are family garments.
Poets enlarge words every year.
Words already have been mended so much they are in stitches.
People think it is impossible to break words.
Unique feelings are so unique that they can not be
popularized. Feelings without words in the dictionary
Every year thousands of feelings disappear for lack
of a concrete form.
Feelings demand living space.
How remarkable the poet's disheartened absorption in words.
Things and nothings to communicate become daily more
Efforts at destruction witness to the need to
How long will people hold out in the shrunken domain of
The poet suffers indirectly:
Words remain the work of the poet, his existence, his job.
read the rest HERE
and to finish (just with this post. more lettrism related post to come) some samples of Isodore Isou works: