Design

Who was Édouard Drumont?

 
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When it came to designing our next book, Antisemitism by Hermann Bahr (originally published in 1894), finding an appropriate image proved challenging. How best to depict this utterly ground-breaking set of interviews concerning anti-Jewish sentiment of the 1890s that encompassed much of western Europe in its scope? One alternative might have been to explore the grotesque antisemitic caricatures that appeared in a number of publications of the time, particularly in Germany and France. Parisian newspaper La Libre Parole, for instance, popularised the kind of imagery seen in the worst antisemitic propaganda to this day – big-nosed Jews grasping, pulling strings, bleeding nations dry.

But rather than perpetuating these images, wouldn’t it be better to put the focus on those who were actually peddling these tropes? French writer Édouard Drumont, for instance. Born in 1844, he was perhaps the most prominent antisemite of his time in Europe. In fact it was he who founded La Libre Parole, in 1892. This followed the ‘Antisemitic League’ which he established in 1889, and his most lasting contribution to the cause, the extensive and popular book La France Juive (Jewish France), which appeared in 1886. One of his numerous targets in that book was the French-Jewish journalist and newspaper proprietor Arthur Meyer – one of Bahr’s interviewees – who challenged him to a duel.

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Drumont was instrumental in arousing public outrage during the Panama Scandal that followed the first, failed attempt to build a canal through Panama in which France lost huge amounts of money, sometimes in deals of questionable legality. Drumont believed that Jewish conspirators were behind the whole affair, recklessly accusing public figures of underhand dealings for which he received a three-month prison sentence in 1892. The story was still dragging on as Bahr conducted his interviews, and while Drumont himself wasn’t among the 38 respondents, he was frequently cited by those who were, including French journalist Francis Magnard:

Antisemitism is an invention of Mr Édouard Drumont – by which I mean, of course there has always been anti-Jewish sentiment, prejudice and hatred, but it was only ever a purely personal matter. You liked the Jews, or you did not, as you saw fit – it had nothing to do with politics. It was Drumont who first created, discovered political antisemitism, and it was only with La France Juive that it came to life. Drumont turned his individual antipathy into a general principle …

 
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But elsewhere Magnard describes Drumont as ‘passionate, immoderate, yet gallant and honourable’, consistent with others who found admirable qualities in him even while deploring his monomaniacal hatred of Jews. They included another interviewee, French journalist Séverine, who described him as ‘brave, passionate, strong and chivalrous’.

So: back to the cover. We wanted the artwork to match our previous books, for which the imagery was largely drawn from postcards of the era (incidentally today marks 150 years since the first postcard was sent, in Bahr’s native Austria). And then we stumbled upon an extraordinary, deceptively playful postcard that depicts Drumont, which we presume to have been produced around 1890. The illustrator is Philippe Norwins, of whom little information survives, except that he worked for a number of journals around the beginning of the 20th century and seemed to specialise in caricatures of prominent French figures of the day.

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The caption for his image of the French writer reads ‘Drumont anéantit ses mites’, a play on ‘Drumont, un antisémite’ which literally translates as ‘Drumont annihilates his moths’. We see the writer with an outsized pen in one hand, dripping black ink, and in the other an implement with which he sprays what we can presume is a deadly chemical agent, targeted at conspicuously big-nosed insects, one of whom has fallen dead at his feet. The victims are depicted as dehumanised, as vermin, and decades before the gas chambers this single illustration takes us from word to deed, from the polemics of hatred to the obscenity of genocide. And it is this image of shocking if accidental prescience that now adorns our translation of Antisemitism, designed by Svenja Prigge (like the cover for our recent edition of The Nights of Tino of Baghdad by Else Lasker-Schüler).

The Dreyfus Affair erupted in 1894, just as Bahr’s 1893 interviews were being published in book form. It was a scandal tailor-made for Drumont, and in fact it was his Libre Parole that broke the original story which would come to engulf French society in a bitterly rancorous dispute for years. Drumont was the most vocal and fanatical of the numerous French public figures decrying Jewish ‘treachery’ following the (false) accusations against Captain Dreyfus. Drumont was later elected to the Chamber of Deputies as a representative of Algiers, and tried (unsuccessfully) to repeal the law that had conferred French citizenship on Jewish Algerians. Failing to be re-elected in 1902 Drumont returned to his writing, and narrowly missed out on a seat on the august Académie française.

Édouard Drumont died in 1917; among the mourners at his funeral was Arthur Meyer.

Antisemitism by Hermann Bahr, originally published in German in 1894, is appearing in English for the first time on 21 October 2019 (translated by James J. Conway), Rixdorf Editions

Wish you were hier

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As well as using old postcards in our artwork, we have recently started using postcards to make... postcards. Specifically, a series of art cards offering variations on original motifs of German postcards from around the beginning of the 20th century.

Why?

Well, one of our central aims with the whole Rixdorf Editions project is to introduce a combination of time and place largely unfamiliar in the English speaking world (Wilhelmine Germany) and show how it was actually a crucible for progressive thought that exerted an unacknowledged influence on later eras from the Weimar Republic to the present day.

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Taking original imagery from the time and cropping, blowing up and amplifying the colour symbolises this process by liberating the latent Modernism of the age. There are the dots seen in close up which foretell everything from Pointillism to Pop Art. There are the mismatched colour registrations and their evocative suggestion of new and dynamic graphic realms. And even when (actually especially when) catering to mass market tastes, there are surreal juxtapositions of imagery.

The first series of eight cards is called 'Landscape', referring to both the format and the subject matter, with the source material depicting scenic splendour throughout Germany from Heligoland to the Bavarian Alps. Some of the original cards were photographs, some illustrations, some a strange amalgam of the two.

Anyway, it's just an experiment for now. We'll be including a selection of postcards with each online order until we run out.

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Back in black

We've had some highly gratifying feedback since the first two Rixdorf titles were released to the world in November 2017, but one thing that people never fail to mention is the artwork by designer Cara Schwartz. So with our next two titles imminent we thought we'd give you an insight into how these designs came about, what we're aiming for, what we're drawing from.

Publisher/translator James J. Conway and designer Cara Schwartz at the Rixdorf Editions launch, Berlin, November 2017 (photo: Hilmar Schmundt)

Publisher/translator James J. Conway and designer Cara Schwartz at the Rixdorf Editions launch, Berlin, November 2017 (photo: Hilmar Schmundt)

Let's start with our logo. The basic shape is a hexagon or – perhaps – a cube awaiting illumination to reveal its depth. The 'R', in the old German Fraktur script, is taken from the original first edition of one of our first titles, The Guesthouse at the Sign of the Teetering Globe (Das Logierhaus zur schwankenden Weltkugel, 1917), specifically the surname of the author, Franziska zu Reventlow, rendered here as F. Gräfin (Countess) zu Reventlow. Introducing Reventlow to an English-speaking readership is one of our proudest achievements, and we're just as pleased to have her as a guiding presence in our identity.

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For the book covers, the idea was for the imagery to reflect the times in which the original books emerged (approx. 1890-1918) while avoiding pastiche. Series identity was key; it had to be readily apparent when looking at any two Rixdorf titles that they belonged together. And we wanted to have black backgrounds, partly because they look awesome, partly to reflect the idea of things appearing out of the dim past, much like the books they adorned were emerging from ill-deserved obscurity. The era in question was also the first golden age of postcards, and it is largely to this form that we turned for our graphic elements, having gathered hundred of examples from Berlin fleamarkets.

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Our English edition of Reventlow's book is a good example of how we incorporate postcard art. One of the most arresting sequences in the collection comes from the title story, in which a reform-minded German eccentric leads a crocodile about on a leash. To represent this we found an old postcard from an establishment called the 'Restaurant zum Neuen Krokodil', which was a stone's throw from Frankfurt's main station, and bagged its scaly mascot for ourselves (incidentally, Google Street View reveals that the building is still standing although the ground floor is now occupied by a branch of the drugstore chain DM). Curiously, the name also echoes the guesthouse of the original German title. For the arm reaching in enigmatically from the side we used a New Year's greeting postcard; Cara diligently removed the snowflakes from the original. And she also suggested that – just this once – we break our self-imposed right-hand margin for the cover text; the word 'teetering' is teetering over the edge. The 'stamp' seen on each cover, another allusion to postcards, record the time and place that the original was written and/or published, in this case 1917 in the Swiss town of Ascona where Reventlow lived for the last eight years of her life.

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Berlin's Third Sex by Magnus Hirschfeld was a far more challenging work to represent graphically. It covers so much ground – gay men, lesbians, transvestites, transsexuals, prostitution, the demi-monde, high society, nightlife, domestic harmony, law enforcement, blackmail, moral codes. How to get all that in one image? The short answer is you can't, so we decided to lightly recontextualise an example of the era's incredibly extensive and diverse courting imagery. For one half of our happy couple we simply substituted the head of a soldier in the emblematic 'Pickelhaube' helmet. This might seem glib, but in fact Hirschfeld's text reveals that incidents of gay men taking up with obliging soldiers were far from unknown in the era (although full disclosure: they were generally not in drag).

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For our forthcoming translation of August Endell's The Beauty of the Metropolis, we tried something a little different. Picking up on the text's reference to 'the street as living entity' we turned this around to make a living entity composed of streets. The connection between the human body and the urban environment is hardly unprecedented ('heart/lungs of the city', 'arterial road'). The body in this instance is an anatomical diagram from a handbook of medical remedies entitled Pfarrer Heumann's Heilmittel, while the streets, parks and waterways are taken from a 1900 map of Berlin, the city referenced throughout Endell's book. Visible in this section are the Tiergarten, the River Spree and the Landwehr Canal, all of which find mention in the text.

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Finally, for Anna Croissant-Rust's Death we returned to our postcard collection. As with the other examples here, the original artist is sadly uncredited. We changed the orientation of the postcard image, but decided it was strong enough not to need any additional elements. As well as the obvious association of death and flowers, and the trope of death as a romantic partner, the image also recalls the motif of joined hands sometimes seen in old mourning jewellery. But which is Death? Is the deceased being pulled up or down? You decide...

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