Palace

“What the hell is this,” he snarled, “a Tom show?”

— Nathanael West, The Day of the Locust, chapter 11

When the posters for this Tom show came out of their lithograph press in 1898 they were stacked face to face. The damage to this surviving example has been permanent. It is still marked with the ghost of another face, in reverse. So far, however, damage has made this piece of printed matter more readable, not less. The ghostly countertext makes us work more productively at seeing the survivor, and as the paper has turned brown it has contributed shading after shading of new complexity to the survivor’s spectral record. The parade is more intelligent now.

In 1898, on the street, it was some horses, some mules, some dogs, and a model house made portable on a wagon. In the mind, it was a communication from a text off-poster — a text whose full title was Uncle Tom’s Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly. There, off-poster, the on-poster word “sumptuous” seemed not to refer to anything. But in 2017, with all sense of what “sumptuous” might have meant in 1898 obliterated by what’s called progress, the palace cars can be seen as such, only as elements within a picture. And there, now, solely within the picture, at last! the palace cars have become one with the classical architecture of their mounting: in an ideal approximation of color, their shading completed by the passage of time, no longer on a mere overpass but on a plinth, no longer cramped smelly boring as they would have been in 1898 but, as the poster’s words promise, regal. In 1898 the pageant was a crudely literal play within a play and Al. W. Martin’s employees with their mule-propelled cabin were only rude mechanicals like Bottom and the boys in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. In 2017, surviving through time as a provisionally immortal snapshot, the pageant is seen at last as snapshot sees: mules and dogs and little black actress, stilled in transit toward us, passing just now and forever beneath a palace in the air.

Having become a fossil, the mammoth production invites us to enter its matrix and see it within lithograph stone.

Source: Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2014636392/. Photoshopped.

 

 

1920: the noble spirit of Edward Gorey descends over a Soviet library

“Read one. It is your human responsibility.”

Russian Revolutionary Era Propaganda Posters, Harold M. Fleming Papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-401e-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99. Artist: S. Ivanov. Published 1920. Photoshopped.

http://justseeds.org/wp-content/uploads/old/blog/images/Melville_Redburn_Anchor.jpg

Allegory carved in eternal wood

“The illiterate is as a blind man. Failure and unhappiness await him everywhere.”

Russian Revolutionary Era Propaganda Posters, Harold M. Fleming Papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-4051-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99. Artist: A. A. Radakov. Published 1920. Photoshopped. The big word in the bottom margin translates as “Books,” but I can’t make out the rest of the text.

Under the Trump administration, librarians will get the respect they deserve

Russian Revolutionary Era Propaganda Posters, Harold M. Fleming Papers, Manuscripts and Archives Division, New York Public Library, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47da-4027-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99. Artist: N. Pomansky. Published 1919. Photoshopped.

The headline reads, “Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. Workers of the world, unite. Day of Soviet Propaganda.” The caption reads, “Knowledge for all!” The four books behind the librarian’s peasant-booted right heel are titled History of Bondage (or History of Serfdom), Socialism, Capital, and Class Conflict, and the book behind his left elbow is titled History. The names on the pediments of the buildings are University, Academy, and Library.

Peach with shoulder pads

But no, she isn’t a teacher. The large imperative painted on the foundation of her blocky columnar image translates as “Serve the people!” and the title of the document in her hand is “Deputy’s Report.”

American reader, you probably had two reasons for your vocational mistake. The obvious one was the image’s heavy didactic freight: its books, its colored pencil, its wall poster in simple educational colors. A more specifically American reason may have to do with the woman’s peach-tinted blouse and mannish little bow tie. It evokes apple-for-the-disciplinarian motifs from folk memory. And of course this disciplinarian is a woman, like most American teachers in 1950, when this poster was published.

But in Russian the peach is heavily overlaid with gray. In the gray, shoulder pads are dominant. It is only down beneath the thick layer pad that the peach-tinted body gestures toward something aspirational off to the right. In another art domain, that unseen ideal could conceivably be a body consisting only of flesh or an image consisting only of cloth covered by paint. The peach-colored Russian woman was painted long after Duchamp’s French woman descended her staircase. But unlike Duchamp’s lithe nude, this gray-swaddled body fills the image from side to side, hugely. Crushed to the margin, nothing unpadded could survive that mass. Its report will be an onslaught. Outside the image frame, the unseen idea of an image consisting only of form will shrivel and vanish. Its unseenness will take on the final trait of inconceivability.

Source: http://thesovietbroadcast.tumblr.com/post/156628250604/1950-serve-the-people. Photoshopped.

 

Mercenaries: St. George and his horse enlist on opposite sides of the Great War


Translations:

The text of the Russian poster, created by Georgi Pashkov and published by the provisional government in 1917, reads, “Subscribe to the freedom loan. The old system is defeated. Build a free Russia.” But the loan was a war loan.

The text of the Austrian poster, created by Maximilian Lenz, reads, “1914-1917. Subscribe to the sixth war loan.”

For Joseph Conrad and Andrei Bely, 1918

Put on your suit of Rhodesian wool and costume your senior retainer in her native garb. Then board a vessel flying the burgee of the Korean Mail Steamship Company, hoist anchor, steam toward the Peninsula, and conquer.

Source: http://pinktentacle.com/2010/05/japanese-steamship-travel-posters/ , photoshopped