Ilya Zdanevich (Iliazd): Lidantiu faram (1923) [Russian]

10 February 2014, dusan

Lidantiu faram [Le-Dantyu as a Beacon] is a play typed in zaum language by the Georgian-French artist-typographer Ilya Zdanevich. It remains an unsurpassed example of visually fascinating typographical contrivances and was to exert a decisive influence on the typographical component of international dadaist poetry.

“The book is preceded by a table of symbols which indicate how the sounds they stand for, such as a click of the tongue, are to be pronounced. The stressed symbol is given a capital letter, often large and bold, in the middle of the word, while unstressed vowels are written as pronounced, not necessarily as normally spelt.

The plot, in a parodic inversion of Gogol’s short story ‘The Portrait’, investigates the nature of reality in its relation to art. It begins with the Spirit [Zaperedukhyai] muttering a soliloquy over the body of a dead woman. The Spirit’s words do not contain vowels, an omission suggesting firmness. The villain of the piece, the realist painter [peredvizhnik] who is presented as a lisping phoney, paints a lifelike portrait of the dead woman. Then comes an obscure avant-garde artist, Mikhail Ledentu, who represents genuine liberated art and he paints an unlike portrait of the same lady. Both portraits come alive during the play, with Unlike killing Lifelike. The Spirit also dies but the forces of life are resurrected. The play ends with an ensemble superimposed on each other: the harmonious trio of the living is echoed by the dissonant octet of the dead. The forces of death include a Greek chorus of five ugly realism-loving women, usually singing in quintet. They are defined as truperdy (this combines death and decay with scatology) and their individual names are mostly rare Russian folk words with sexual anatomical meanings. The quintets show strong individualisation of each part: one of them speaks in vowels only; another hissing and lisping; another in abrupt and primitive tones adding clicks of her tongue to her words; the other two speak in a coarse and unpleasant idiom.

Le-Dantyu as a Beacon is an astonishing tour-de-force. Every page number, for instance, is created in a different and inventive manner (and there are sixty-one of them), and the variety of typeforms used must surely have entailed ransacking the typecases of several printers.” (from Alan Bartram’s Futurist Typography and the Liberated Text, 2005, altered)

Lidantiu faram (Лидантю фарам; Ledentu le Phare: poème dramatique en zaoum)
Preface by Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes, in French (attached at the end)
Cover by N. Granowsky
Typography by Ilya Zdanevich
Publisher Éditions du 41º, Paris, 1923
61 pages, 8-page prospectus
via Iowa Digital Library

Commentary: Lewis Blackwell (20th-century Type, 2004: 35), Alan Bartram (Futurist Typography, 2005: 50-69).

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