Something Else Press: Great Bear Pamphlets
(title descriptions are from the original 1960s Great Bear catalogue)
Bengt af Klintberg The Cursive Scandinavian Salve. Short, lyric Happenings by the brilliant Swedish anthropologist/poet. Published in 1967. [PDF, 536k]
David Antin, Autobiography. As the title suggests, these are informal recollections and collages by the well-known Brooklyn poet. Published in 1967. [PDF, 580]
George Brecht, Chance-Imagery. This 1957 article remains the basic one for the techniques and philosophy of chance in the arts. Published in 1966. [PDF, 676k]
Philip Corner, Popular Entertainments. The largest collage composition by the brilliant young composer. Published in 1967. [HTML]
Robert Filliou, A Filliou Sampler. Typical short works by the only poet among France's nouveaux realistes. Published in 1966. [PDF, 628k]
Al Hansen, Incomplete Requiem for W. C. Fields. The gorgeous poem read by the artist in an early (1958) Happening while Fields' movies were projected on his bare chest. Published in 1966. [PDF, 556k]
Dick Higgins, A Book About Love & War & Death, Canto One. The earliest (1960-1962) section of Higgins' largest work, designed to be read only aloud. Published in 1965. [PDF, 660k]
Allan Kaprow, Some Recent Happenings. Typical scenarios by the father of the Happening. Published in 1966. [PDF, 592k]
Allan Kaprow, Untitled Essay and Other Works. The historic statement which accompanied the text of the first published Happening (1958) with a sampling of characteristic scenarios. Published in 1967. [PDF, 796k]
Alison Knowles, By Alison Knowles. All the early performance pieces and events by the pioneering printer/artist of Four Suits fame. Published in 1965. [PDF, 492k]
Jackson Mac Low, The Twin Plays. Two of this most inventive poet's most exciting experimental dramas, using identical linguistic formal structures but in different versions of English. Published in 1966. [PDF, 588k]
Manifestos. Calls-to-arms by Ay-o, Philip Corner, the W. E. B. Dubois Clubs, Öyvind Fahlström, Robert Filliou, John Giorno, Al Hansen, Dick Higgins, Allan Kaprow, Alison Knowles, Nam June Paik, Diter Rot, Jerome Rothenberg, Wolf Vostell, Robert Watts and Emmett Williams. A double pamphlet. Published in 1966. [PDF, 844k]
Claes Oldenburg, Injun and Other Histories Two very early scenarios (1958) from before Pop-art. Published in 1967. [PDF, 536k]
Dieter Rot, a LOOK into the blue tide, part 2. die blaue flut ("the blue tide") is this Icelandic innovator's hugest work, and part 1 is a book in itself. These are selected pages from part 2. Heavily illustrated. Published in 1967. [HTML]
Jerome Rothenberg, Ritual: A Book of Primitive Rites and Events. A delightful anthology of Polynesian, Melanesian and American Indian events and performance pieces selected and adapted by the well-known poet, translator and editor. Published in 1966. [PDF, 568k]
Luigi Russolo, The Art of Noise. (Futurist Manifesto, 1913) This Futurist is generally credited with being the father of noise music, and his classic 1913 manifesto, L'Arte dei Rumori, has till now been difficult to obtain. Published in 1967. [PDF, 1.7mb]
Wolf Vostell, Berlin and Phenomena. Two characteristic Décollage-Happening scenarios by Europe's best-known Happener. Published in 1966. [PDF, 824k]
Emmett Williams, the last french-fried potato and other poems. A small bouquet of typical recent works by one of the founders of Concrete Poetry. Published in 1967. [PDF, 684k]
A Zaj Sampler. Examples of the highly original and inventive concept performances and non-performances by Spain's first avant-garde group of international importance since the Spanish Civil War. Works by Jose-Luis Castillejo, Ramiro Caries, Javier Martines Cuodrado, Joan Hidalgo, Walter Marchetti, Tomas Marco, and Eugenio de Vicente. Published in 1967. [PDF,688k]
John Cage, Diary: Change the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse) Part 3 (1967). The latest in a series of essays in which Cage reflects lyrically on social questions. Printed in two colors structured by chance by the author. [FORTHCOMING]
UbuWeb Great Bear Series Editor: Michael H. Tencer
Special thanks to Steve Clay of Granary Books for loaning UbuWeb the original pamphlets.
"Dick Higgins and Something Else Press: Exploring the Ways and Means of Communication"by Steve Clay
Published by Dick Higgins, Something Else Press books contain offbeat and avant-garde material in a neat and tidy, yet quirky form. In 1962 Fluxus founder George Maciunas proposed to publish Higgins's first major collection--a cross-section of his writing for a year following April 13, 1962, the date Higgins had composed one of his favorite works from the "Danger Music" series and, coincidently, the birthday of Thomas Jefferson. Maciunas's notion of publishing revolved around the hand-assembled small-edition art multiple that proved an impossible format for Higgins's four hundred-page manuscript. Maciunas informed Dick that he couldn't have the book ready until "a year from next spring" at which point he retrieved the scripts, had a few drinks--and, in Higgins's own words "went reeling home to Alison Knowles, with whom I was living at the time. I said we'd founded a press and she said, 'Really? What's it called?' 'Shirtsleeves Press.' 'That's no good. Why don't you call it something else?'" And so he did. Higgins's editorial idea was innovative, pragmatic and utopian all at once--the plan was to compose a series of "Variations on a Theme of Book." He described this project as the opportunity "to publish source materials in a format which could encourage their distribution through traditional channels, however untraditional their contents or implications&to introduce European materials and always to have a balance between European/American, famous, infamous and unfamous, past and present." He wanted to present the work in a trade book format rather than in the small press style per se (often strange and beautiful rough-hewn miracles). This idea was picked up by a great many small press editors fifteen years later in an attempt to make the books look more like "real books" and therefore to function more efficiently within the real world. (The downside of this move for so many once-interesting presses was to make parallel concessions to the mainstream in regard to the material published in stark contrast to Higgins's approach which was always, by definition, something else.) The first title from the Press was Jefferson's Birthday/Postface (1964) -- the jacket copy of the book reads:
Jefferson's Birthday consists of all the things Dick Higgins wrote, composed, or invented between April 13th, 1962 and April 13th, 1963, inclusive, on the assumption that the bad work that one does is just as valid as the interesting work. So some is lousy. So? Some is terrific. Hurrah for the Irish! And hurrah for Thomas Jefferson! And Daniel Webster too!
Jefferson's Birthday was published back to back with Postface, Higgins's account of the background and beginning of the "new art" (circa 1963) providing a context for his own work and in the process linking theory to practice, a defining theme pursued and enacted throughout his career.
Another early Something Else publication was The Paper Snake by New York Correspondence School of Art pioneer Ray Johnson (1965). Here is a bit of Higgins's somewhat polemical jacket copy description: "The meaning in Ray Johnson's work is not logical, like an Aristotelian syllogism, but counterlogical, like a psalm. All art represents reality, there is no non-representational art." Al Hansen's A Primer of Happenings & Time/Space Art (1965) is a straightforward elaboration of the Happenings phenomena and includes an account of John Cage's seminal New School for Social Research class of 1958. Rumanian-born nouveau raliste artist Daniel Spoerri's 1966 classic, An Anecdoted Topography of Chance, "Done with the help of his very dear friend Robert Filliou and Translated from the French, and further anecdoted at random by their very dear friend Emmett Williams With One Hundred Reflective Illustrations by Topor" is a sort of verbal "snare picture" which "documents in loving, indulgent, but never boring detail the history of every morsel of detritus situated on a table in Spoerri's Paris flat." In 1970 Something Else published Spoerri's The Mythological Travels of a Modern Sir John Mandeville, being an account of the Magic, Meatballs and other Monkey Business Peculiar to the Sojourn of Daniel Spoerri on the Isle of Symi, together with divers speculations thereon.
Higgins's 1969 collection foew&ombwhnw (disguised as a prayer book) contains his crucial essay "Intermedia," in which he first described and elaborated artworks which "fall between media," arguing that the social conditions of the time (early to mid 1960s) no longer allowed for a "compartmentalized approach" to either art or life. Indeed, the range of work produced by Something Else reveals a curatorial approach; that of the "artist publisher" to borrow a term from Simon Cutts of the Coracle Press. Throughout it's brief history Something Else identified, invited, recovered, and elaborated upon a diverse, but internally related body of work which provided a paradigmatic syllabus for study and supplies a constellation of influences and possibilities which form an important context for how publishing can work. This has had an enormous influence on my work at Granary Books.
Something Else Press books include the first American editions of several works by Gertrude Stein, including The Making of Americans (1966); a reprint of composer, performer and musical innovator Henry Cowell's New Musical Resources (1969); Merce Cunningham's graphically rich and challenging Changes: Notes on Choreography (1968); John Cage's anthology of radical musical scores Notations, compiled and produced with Alison Knowles (1969); A Sailor's Calendar by concrete poet and sculptor Ian Hamilton Finlay in collaboration with Gordon Huntley (1971); Jackson Mac Low's aleatoric and systematic composition Stanzas for Iris Lezak (1971); R[ichard] Meltzer's serious analytic study of rock 'n' roll The Aesthetics of Rock (1970); a reprint of the 1902 mycological bible One Thousand American Fungi by Charles McIlvaine and Robert K. MacAdam (1973); and Emmett Williams's Anthology of Concrete Poetry (1967)--which still stands as one of the defining gatherings of the subject. Other artists and writers represented include Claes Oldenberg, George Brecht, Marhall McLuhan, Wolf Vostell, Robert Filliou, Alison Knowles, Dieter Roth, Bern Porter, Emmett Williams, Richard Kostelanetz, Eugen Gomringer, Jerome Rothenberg among many others. Through the use of conventional production, distribution and marketing strategies Higgins was able to place often unconventional works--artists' books, critical theory, early Modernism, concrete poetry, amusement, Fluxus, back-to-the-land hippie culture--into the hands of new and often unsuspecting readers.
In "Two Sides of a Coin: Fluxus and Something Else Press" Higgins distinguished his style of publishing (large edition books in a "trade" format) in contrast to that of Maciunas, who stressed the original, the hand-made, or hand-assembled book/object necessarily produced in relatively small editions. Both Maciunas and Higgins rejected the "Helvetica look" which dominated commercial design during the early-to-mid sixties; Maciunas, in Higgins's words, "favored a tight energetic look, which he achieved by using sans serif types, especially News Gothic, which he then juxtaposed with old-fashioned and florid display faces." Higgins described some of his own ways around the "Helvetica look" in this way:
I set poems and short chapters flush bottom on the type pages (usually they are set in the middle). I used larger and bolder running heads at the tops of pages than is customary in order to tie the page together and because I liked the legibility it gave to a sometimes rather scattered or unorthodox page. Since I did not wish to develop favoritism among typefaces, I used whatever faces a particular supplier had, often making my selections by means of chance operations, using dice... [this] gave the Something Else Press books their look of old-but-new.
In addition to pamphlets, newsletters, cards, posters, ephemera and other projects (for example the Something Else Gallery), the Press had produced over sixty book titles when it stopped publishing in 1974. Peter Frank's Something Else Press An Annotated Bibliography (McPherson & Co., 1983) is an excellent source of information about the publications and the aesthetic and intellectual curiosity that shaped them. Other useful sources include Higgins's "The Something Else Press--notes for a history to be written some day," published in The New Lazarus Review as well as his Modernism Since Postmodernism: Essays on Intermedia (SDSU Press, 1997)--the final volume in Higgins's critical trilogy which also includes A Dialectic of Centuries: Notes Towards a Theory of the New Arts (Printed Editions, 1979) and Horizons: The Poetics and Theory of the Intermedia (Southern Illinois University Press, 1984). ]
Although Higgins accomplished many
other scholarly projects--toward the end of his career, for example,
he voraciously collected the works of American commercial trade book
designer Merle Armitage (1893-1975) and authored the yet-to-be-published
Merle Armitage and the Modern Book--one of the projects sadly
left unfinished at the time of his early death was
A Theory of the Book which was tentatively planned as a Granary
publication. This concept had been developing in Higgins's mind for
years; he'd even compiled an extensive bibliography, which was later
found in his computer files. A lovely obituary for Dick Higgins (1938-1998),
written by Ken Friedman, appeared in Judith Hoffberg's magazine
Umbrella and is reprinted in
Umbrella: The Anthology (Umbrella Editions, 1999).
Steve Clay is the publisher of Granary Books and is the co-author of A Secret Location on the Lower East Side and co-editor of A Book of the Book: Some Works & Projections on the Book & Writing.