Do 08.06.2023 - 19 Uhr
ACC Galerie Weimar (Burgplatz 1+2)
The poet, film-maker and artist Isidore Isou (1925-2007) believed something which was absurd and impossible. He was a fanatic who believed that he was the Jewish Messiah sent to lead all humanity to redemption. He claims that he received this ‘illlumination’ in Bucharest in 1942, having just survived a deadly pogrom in that city. He gives a vivid and intense account of this early period in his life in his first book L’Agrégation d’un nom et d’un messie (“The Making of a Name, a Messiah”) – a powerful and precise eyewitness account of the destruction of the Jewish world of Romania; a coming of age in a place that was once paradise but has now become hell on earth.
In Paris in 1947 Isou founded the avant-garde movement called lettrisme which is often cited as the missing link between dada, surrealism and situationism and a key influence on the revolutionary ideology of May ‘68. One of the central tenets of lettrisme is that societies develop not because of the human instinct for survival but because of the desire to create. More than this, if creativity is the highest form of action, and art its most visible form, then humanity is in charge of history. In this way, the artist takes the place of God, the first creator or artist. Revolution for the lettristes is thus both religious and political.
The aim of this talk is to explain this philosophy. Its argument is that lettrisme was not founded in Western Rationalism, but rather the Kabalistic tradition of the Jewish Orient where Isou - like his near-contemporary Marc Chagall - had his roots. Again like Chagall, Isou saw colour as as a dream language; most importantly this is how Isou and brought the culture of Jewish mysticism to the Western avant-gardes, an argument which fundamentally changes our understanding of movements such as situationism which was in fact directly founded in lettrisme. Most importantly, the aim of this talk is to resurrect Isou not as a would-be Messiah but instead a survivor, an exile and a Jew.
Andrew Hussey is Professor of Cultural History at the School of Advanced, University of London. He was formerly Dean of the University of London Institute in Paris (2006—2014). He was awarded an OBE (Officer of the British Empire) in 2011 for services to Anglo-French Cultural Relations. He is the author of many articles and books, including The Game of War, The Life and Death of Guy Debord which was international book of the year in the Times Literary Supplement. His latest book, Speaking East, The Strange and Enchanted Life of Isidore Isou was published in 2021. He lives in Paris.