les presses du réel

Hypergraphic Novels1950-1984

Rewriting the Bible
Frédéric Acquaviva
(excerpt, p. 16-18)

In the front matter of his third and last hypergraphic novel, Jonas, Isou placed a list of “works by the same author.” As was his usual practice, he limited this list to just one specific area of study, in this case hypergraphology.

This new form of art was invented by Isou in 1950, even though the basic idea of the Lettrist novel was born at an earlier date that Isou indicated precisely: May 25, 1942. This art is in fact the fusion of painting and the novel, or of prose with all the means, mechanics and signs of communication. It is a sort of hyper-writing, which Isou would first call metagraphics before replacing this term with hypergraphics in 1954. Meanwhile Wolman and Debord continued using the term metagraphics, so much so that I have met people who think the term was invented by the successful author of La Société du spectacle.

In an ironic “détournement,” the term hypergraphic, brought into use in 1974 by Stephen Waxman and Norman Geschwind to designate the writing mania and applied after the fact to Dostoevsky, Dante and Petrarch, could naturally relate to the gigantic and uninterrupted body of writing by the whimsical and fantastic author of Romanian origin! Besides, numerous neologisms coined by Isou have entered general usage, such as the term neo-Nazi that Isou claimed to have used first.

The term metagraphics was in fact the name of a system of simplified stenography created by Abbot Duployé in 1867, which led Isou to decide to advantageously replace it with hypergraphics to avoid confusion. Furthermore, this term is better suited to specifying a super‑writing, a post-writing, integrating all alphabets (possible, ancient, current or invented), all codes (morse, braille, musical notes), and even games (rebuses, pictograms), which are used — and this is what makes all the difference — for their creative and artistic aspect, and not simply for functional communication. What immediately distinguishes a urinal installed by a plumber from Duchamp's ready-made urinal is not the object, which is identical, but the meaning and function of the urinal which has become an esthetic object (even non-esthetic or ending up that way, as Duchamp understood so well). Likewise, the Mayan Codices, pictograms on highway signs, musical scores and Sumerian steles do not have the function of operating in the same exact field as hypergraphics, as defined here, in 1950. That is because, for Isou, a novel comes from the field of art, which takes us far away from the kind of book that is a waste of trees and that one reads in order to “sleep better,” as I once heard someone say.

Isou gives a generic title — Les Journaux des Dieux — to the collection which includes Genèse (namely the 50 plates from the book published by Aux Escaliers de Lausanne with the name Les Journaux des Dieux), Initiation à la haute volupté, which was subtitled Cantique des Cantiques (Song of Songs), then Jonas, making up the three far-reaching hypergraphic novels he would conceive. Under this same label we can also group Les nombres, which was his first group of oils on canvas, dating from 1952, as well as Amos, a series of 9 hypergraphic photographs, published in the form of a book, but also to be considered a film. We must note here the hypercontemporary aspect of this choice, given that Les Journaux des Dieux, like Canailles (“Scoundrels”) by Maurice Lemaître (but not like Gabriel Pomerand's Saint-Ghetto des Prêts (“Saint-Ghetto of the Loans”)) are transmedia works, using all the formats: book, drawings, photos, film, painting etc. Isn't this mixture made easier today by centralizing creation through the computer, which makes it simple to move from one format to another, even without realizing it? In this sense, these works and their conception have a striking modernity, like the theories that led up to them and that seem to be 50 years ahead of their time. One only has to see the recent appearance of the term graphic novel or the hybrid form of the vook, a cross between video and book. As for the sound books proposed by Isou in 1950, they would appear 10 years later, before becoming ordinary a decade ago.

However, the goal of this exhibition and its catalog is not hypergraphic painting or photography, but only the novelistic matter. I will thus concentrate on the precise field of the written novel, of which Les Journaux des Dieux, published in 1950 in the form of a revealing and courageous self-publication, would be the next innovative link in a chain, following Joyce, Proust, Gide, Dostoevsky, Zola, Flaubert, Stendhal.

Isidore Isou : autres titres

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