History of
The Poster

Josef Müller-Brockmann
The History of the Poster was originally published in 1971 to much acclaim. The judges at the Leipzig Book Fair, in an all-encumbering claim to universality, gave it the award of "The Most Beautiful Book in the World." It is nice, but let's not get carried away.

This facsimile reprint reproduces all 250 posters from the original --- most in color --- along with text in German, French, and English. History of the Poster is divided into an introduction and five distinct sections:

  • Illustrative
  • Objective-Informative
  • Constructive
  • Experimental
  • Series

These arbitrary divisions are pretty silly: Some of the Series posters are Constructive (if not Deconstructive), some of the Objective-Informative posters are Illustrative, and some of the early Illustrative posters are Experimental.

The body of the collection begins with early French works of the perennially happy Jules Cléret, the perennially sullen colors and designs of Henri Toulouse-Latrec, and the romantic visions of Eugène Grasset.

The artist Pierre Bonnard shows his scrawly side on La Revue Blanche and L'Affiche Revue D'Art, and Théophile Alexandre Steinlen sports a monster rooster (with the unusual rosecomb crest) in a poster of an exhibition that included Francoise Villon and fifteen other artists of the times.

Müller-Brockmann claims that the earliest posters were made of stone, bore Hammurabi's Code and were published --- if that is the right word --- 4,000 years ago. By this logic, every tombstone ever pounded out is also a poster, an idea we find not without merit. "What are you doing all day in the Happy Valley Cemetery?" "Why I am reading the posters."

§     §     §

The first printed posters came out of 1556 Wittenberg, says the author, but one could point out that gold-and-red hand-lettered illuminated manuscripts were posters for the divine as produced by medieval monks. There is a small reproduction here of Toshusai Sharaku's famous woodcut representation of a Japanese actor from 1784. It is said that this was the style that attracted the French Impressionists, reflected in the works of Chéret, Toulouse-Lautrec, et al.

The section "Objective-Informative" contains ads for Opel cars (1911!), Kaiser coal brickettes, Stiller shoes (a wonderful rendition), Manoli cigars, and a very ugly poster for Vasily Kandinsky's 60th Birthday exhibition when he was part of the Weimar Bauhaus school.

The posters in the "Objective-Informative" section after the 30s are pretty dull, especially a 1951 tic-tac-toe job on the New York Times by Kenneth D. Haak. Of Constructive posters, whatever that means, we have the lovely 1932 "Wagon-Bar" tourist poster by A. M. Cassandre [Fig. 2 above] which, if you think about it is positively deconstructive, uniting wheel and seltzer water into a pleasant mix. Most of the Constructives are stark, tacky, and less interesting.

The final Experimental posters are not so different from all the others, only a little less pleasing to the eye, a little more brutish. Our favorite of them all is Ludwig Hohlwein's lithograph of a Wiesbaden arts and crafts shop [Fig 3], where the skirt threatens to envelope everything, even the poster, much less the inhabitants, in its lovely crosshatching.

--- Jill Wimmers, PhD

Hey Rube
Blood Sport,
The Bush Doctrine, and
The Downward Spiral of Dumbness

Hunter S. Thompson
(Simon & Schuster)
Remember when we first read Hunter Thompson in Esquire so many years ago? It was that time of the Hell's Angels, but also love beads, smoking dope, spare change on the street, fondling each other in a six-room walk-up in the Haight ($50 a month!) There came these madmen who could write circles around all the old dull bulbs in journalism --- fresh people like Thompson, Tom Wolfe, John Gregory Dunne, Truman Capote, Joan Didion: those cynics who knew no bounds. You remember those days, no?

How soft they have turned now, and how soft and pasty the words of the once fearsomely loathsome Thompson. But since he was always writing about Hunter Thompson writing about things, it got dicey after The Great Shark Hunt.

Now comes Volume 14, Hey Rube, which, he explains, is a carney term for the next sucker. He's suckering us, and telling us that he is suckering us. But he may be doing it to himself. He goes on and on --- on the NFL and NBA playoffs and the "XFL game in New Jersey" and the Lakers and pro-football on TV --- as if they were all quite meaningful, rather than the pre-packaged potted meat product that bears so little relation to football and basketball and baseball and serious sports life of yore.

Karl Marx famously wrote that religion was the opiate for the masses. Now the Rams and the Packers and the NCAA, NFC, NBA and the Broncos and the Colts do the job: go through the motions, fill the hours, do their acts designed to keep the yahoos at bay, off in their dreams, out of the way.

Those who run the opiate biz have thus turned Thompson into a toothless old hag. He peppers his prose with the usual insults: "egg-sucking," "greed-blind," "whoreface," "suckfish." But the insults are empty, the prose is lethargic, the man who forty years ago introduced us to the bile of the gods --- to the very concept of "Fear and Loathing" --- has lost it. At the races. In the dope dens. Under the bars. Or, worst of all, in the all too rich condos of Aspen, Colorado, where he bides his time, safely out to pasture.

There are still moments. Like bitching about the fact that it's hard to watch sports on TV because "the Wars kept getting in the way." Calling Dan Rather "the resident peacock." Reporting that a certain ex-president's wife "gave the best head in Hollywood." Telling us that

    You can get anywhere from 250,000 to a million commercially grown breeding fleas --- or ladybugs or chiggers or moles or even Black Widow spiders --- for what might seem like a generous price, but your purchase will definitely Not be the end of it.

There's still spice in this kind of prose, giving a flashback to his literary predecessors --- Wilde, Shaw, Mencken et al --- but still, Thompson himself has turned soft around the ages, producing, for example, an awkward tribute to George Plimpton, or an even more schmaltzy tribute to his new wife. Where have the acid-dripping fangs gone?

One of the funniest passages in the whole of Hey Rube is not Thompson, but John Walsh's memory of an afternoon with him at the Hyatt Regency in which the one-time gonzo journalist ordered from room-service a "fifth of Chivas Regal, three six-packs of Heineken, a half dozen bloody marys, and everything chocolate on the menu."

    One hour later, two waiters delivered the order with looks only cameras could capture. The chocolate tray included a German chocolate cake, a vat of Breyer's chocolate ice cream, a half dozen chocolate cupcakes, a plate of chocolate cookies, one chocolate sundae, two chocolate cream pies, and a buffet of various chocolate pastries.

It's a bad sign, a very bad sign, when a fan of the master comes off as more the master.

Lest we forget: Thompson still has the touch when he gets on current affairs. He can stuff into two sentences many of the wrongs of the present administration, the "gang of kids on a looting spree:"

    The U. S. Treasury is empty, we are losing that stupid, fraudulent, chicken-shit war in Iraq, and every country in the world except a handful of Corrupt Brits despises us. We are losers, and that is the one unforgivable sin in America.

--- L. B. L. Smith

The Great Fire
Shirley Hazzard
Aldred Leith has arrived in Japan in 1947. He's some sort of military Orientalist. His father is a famous novelist. He bears the medals and the scars of war.

He's been sent to the island of Ita Jima in the Inland Sea of Japan. He is to investigate nearby Hiroshima (he made a complete report on the flattened French town of Caen a year before; it was so good they wanted another).

Meanwhile, he is set up to live with an Australian military grouch by the name of Driscoll, who, we are told, "Drinks a good bit, blusters." Driscoll has a son, with some sort of disease that incapacitates him, and a daughter who reads to him. Gibbon, Carlyle --- that sort of light evening reading.

§     §     §

Picador has sent The Great Fire out into the world with a veritable swarm of publicity. "Winner of the National Book Award," we are told. "A Today Show Book Club Pick." Reviewed with love by The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post blah-blah-blah. So what happened to me? Am I, as the juveniles say, a retard or something?

Possibly. Or perhaps it is that sometimes I get swept up in these waves of nausea. When the boat fails to rock. Or when I think I am being tampered with.

Not by the flak. That goes with the book-pub territory. News and Record Best Book of 2003, People magazine Top 10 Pick, Joan Didion testimonial. (Joan --- what's wrong, love? Were you feeling peckish? Another migraine coming on?)

It seems Ms. Hazzard can't deal with experience, or sex, or the future, or even getting on a train, without yanking on the bell-chain of Truth. To wit [italics mine]:

  • "And there they were at the barracks, he and Rysom, two years into peace and bored to death by it. Each must scratch around now for some kind of compromise and call it destiny."
  • [To the two Driscoll children about "large" subjects]: "... there can be many kinds of books, playing on our sympathies or alienating them. Truth can be a synthesis, or an impression."
  • "He wanted, now, discoveries to which he sensed himself accessible; that would alter him, as one is altered, involuntarily, by a great work of art or an effusion of silent knowledge."
  • On his travels: "It was the large idea, though ... Which is perhaps necessarily formless, except in the traveller's mind."
  • "The helmsman said, 'Minesweeping.' He added a comment that blew away, so that the soldier heard only 'Weeping.'"
  • "Earlier in the day, in the swaying train, Leith had written to a wartime comrade: 'Peace forces us to invent our future selves.'"
  • "They glanced at the new arrival climbing among them, and women noted a durable man."
  • "The lawyers were paid. The true marriage, indissoluble, was simply the moment when they sat on the rented bed and grieved for a fatality older than love."
  • "'You can't close them [old loves] down, as one closes the compartment of a damaged ship, just to keep the vessel going, or at least afloat.' He said, 'This difficulty of being.'"
  • "One reason men go on fighting is that it seems to simplify."
  • "'I myself would not judge people by their knowledge of Erasmus; but have possibly earned the right to do so...'" 'Erasmus?' The boy's bright eyes resting on Calder. People were listening. 'Erasmus of Rotterdam was born in 1466, not at Rotterdam as one might suppose, but at Gouda. Real name possibly Geert. Studied at Paris, and entered the priesthood with reluctance in the momentous year 1492. In 1499, was welcomed at Oxford. Taught Greek at Cambridge, but wrote mainly in Latin. Died at Basel in 1536, unattended by any priest. Is paradoxically remembered for his translation of the New Testament.'"

Thus literary chit-chat on the island of Ita Jita in 1947 between a tired but true decorated military type and a fourteen-year-old lad filled up to here with the verbiage of Gibbon.

I ask: What have the literary gods wrought? Is it possible that such an effusion of silent knowledge once again forces us to invent our future selves, to simplify this difficulty of being, all the while, knowing that truth can be not a thesis, not an antithesis, but a synthesis, or even an impression, playing on our sympathies or even, yea, alienating them; one that, in the end, gets blown into the dying of the storm so that all you hear, there at the very last, as all disappears into the darkness, into the void ... is ... "Weeping."

--- Lolita Lark
Send us e-mail


Go Up     Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH