‘Lettrism [or Letterism], founded in 1946 by Isidore Isou and Gabriel Pomerand, uses letters as “sounds” and then as “images”. Poetry turns into music and writing becomes painting. The letterists extend these changing relationships to film, culture and society. In 1952 the movement divides because of diverging objectives: living art or the art of living. Jean-Louis Brau, Guy Debord and Gil Wolman founded the Lettrist International to “transcend art”. Marc’O set up the group “Externalists” to encourage the uprising of youth. The Isouists asserted that their only doctrine came from a single creator.’ — monoskop
‘As a Lettrist of the first hours, Maurice Lemaître is the only one, with exception of Isou, who contributed major creative works to the whole spectrum not only of art but in many of the fields of knowledge, while at the same time throughout his life challenging us with his intellectual writings to transform humanity into a people of conscious creators – making him a major figure in the history of art and ideas of the 20th century.
‘From the moment he met Isou in December of 1949, Maurice Lemaître became both the greatest propagandist of the movement (whose name is sometimes confused with his!), and also one of the major artists of Lettrism, to which he has been contributing ideas continuously for over sixty years.
‘When one examines the year 1950, for instance, one becomes aware of his extraordinary odyssey, starting with publishing the first articles on Isou’s economic theory, Le soulèvement de la jeunesse /Youth Uprising, then helping Isou bring out a book of poetry, Précisions sur ma poésie et moi / Details about Me and My Poetry, helping design the illustrations in his hypergraphic novel Les Journaux des Dieux / The Gods’ Diaries as well as helping edit his film, Le Traité de bave et d’éternité / Treatise on Drool and Eternity. In 1950 Lemaître also published Isou’s first theoretical text on art, and the first writings of Wolman and Brau, and founded two legendary journals: a political one, Front de la Jeunesse / Youth Front and the other devoted to esthetics and becoming the emblematic journal of the Lettrist Movement – Ur. And while doing all this, Lemaître carried on a correspondence with the novelist Céline and published articles on the French concentration camps!
‘But the energy he exhibits does not flow in just one direction, because unlike other members of the Lettrist movement, he responded to Isou’s ideas with his own creations and contributions in all the disciplines taken up by Isou (such as law, economics, psychology…). Thus, still in this year of 1950, he published his first poems (which he would perform at the end of the year at the Club Tabou and the Rose Rouge) and he drew the first ten illustrations for Canailles / Scoundrels a hypergraphic novel that has become a classic.
‘This activity, both furious and joyful, is consistent with how Lemaître has worked throughout his life, despite severe hearing loss in the 1970s, which constitutes a major handicap in his life but never drove him into isolation.
‘In 1951, only 25 years old, Lemaître directed the ingenious film, Le film est déjà commencé?/ Has the Film Started Yet?, which overturns the concepts of cinema by creating a total performance, called “syncinema,” involving the spectators and advocating the destruction and renewal of the screen, which had become conventional, and replacing it with different projection materials.
‘Starting in 1952, he took on photography, which would become, along with cinema, one of his favorite fields. Indeed, Lemaître is the major photographer of the movement, with series like Canailles IV / Scoundrels IV (1952), Un soir au Cinéma / A Night at the Movies (1962), Au-delà du déclic / Beyond the Click (1964), Les Diapos du Colbert / Slides of the Colbert (1967), Chronique d’un amour / Chronicles of a Love (1971), Photos banales et photos ratées / Banal Photos and Failed Photos (1971), 24 photos refuses /24 Rejected Photos (1984), Mon Egypte / My Egypt (1984) … as well as making the largest collection of infinitesimal or supertemporal photos.
‘But it is cinema, a field in which he made more than 100 films, that would finally allow him to have a retrospective at the Pompidou Center in 1995, where Lemaître demonstrated numerous ideas that would be picked up by experimental filmmakers. Lemaître is one of the true pioneers of experimental cinema, with films as varied as Le film est déjà commencé? / Has the Film Started Yet? (1951), Un soir au cinéma / A Night at the Movies (1962), Pour faire un film / How to Make a Movie (1963), Chantal D. Star / Chantal D. Star (1968), Le Soulèvement de la jeunesse / Youth Uprising (1968), Positif-négatif, notre film / Positive-Negative, Our Film (1970), Montage / Editing (1976), Tous derrière Suzanne pure et dure / All Behind Pure and Hard Suzanne (1978), 4 films anti-supertemporels / 4 Anti-supertemporal Films (1978) up to the ultra-contemporary Résilience / Resilience (2005-2007).
Lemaître has also produced an impressive number of paintings, drawings and sculptures, where he developed his hypergraphic or imaginary theories and styles. First, in an avalanche of styles, paired with a multitude of techniques, as the new movement allowed, but with certain constant features that give a stamp to his style. Lemaître paints with an esthetic and technical mastery that is often absent from the works of many of his Lettrist comrades, achieving works that are at the level of the Surrealist painters for instance, and at the same time he produces very rarefied radical and innovative works. Hardly a day goes by without my seeing a graffiti tag in the street that reminds me of numerous works of his from long ago, where he made use of all kinds of found objects to superimpose his signature-writing that is distinct from all the others.
‘Among the numerous shows that he organized let us note the Lettrist Room at the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris in 1968; or the very first International Symposium on this movement at the Lewis & Clark University, Portland, Oregon, USA, in 1975; or the founding three salons to exhibit Lettrist painting, including the salon “Ecritures” / “Writings”. And of course, through the Centre de Créativité, which he founded in 1956, Lemaître published beyond the editions of books by Isou and a considerable number of journals, his own self-published books and brochures, probably close to 500 publications today. Many of his own editions reveal his originality as a writer, especially his novels such as Les Existentialistes / The Existentialists or Canailles / Scoundrels, up to Roman Futur / Future Novel in a hypergraphic style tying notions and materials together – the way the internet does – but with a constant effort to maintain legibility and clarity, for anyone who takes the time to decode his messages. Lemaître’s style is self-quotation, continuous self-consumption, permanently mixing up story lines, in works which are both contradictory and carefully leave numerous obvious shared meanings.
‘Lemaître put a lot of effort into Lettrist theatre and dance, fields where he did choreography and works such as Chorées surprenantes / Surprising Palsies, Kreach / Kreach, L’Ascension du Phénix M.B / The Rise of the Phoenix M.B, Le Ballet du cerveau /Brain Ballet.
‘But Lemaître’s force lies in the strength of his conviction that makes him engage in Lettrist political creation. Lettrism was the only avant-garde movement that did not join a political party, preferring to create their own, and thus Lemaître was a candidate for the French Legislative elections of 1967. The nuclear economic theories of Isou and Lemaître favor the youth movement, seen as a class, beyond the Marxist-Capitalist dialectic, with numerous new ideas, some of which have since passed into our modern systems (e.g. micro-loans). But these partial gains were nothing for someone who wanted a total and concrete paradise, for himself and for others. And that is why, as a good polemicist, he continues ceaselessly to this day, scolding the least little wayward act or thought of politicians or artists, probably up to the day you read these lines.
‘The incessant back-and-forth with Isou would finally, by the end of an infamous “Isou-Lemaître dialogue,” distance them from each other on several occasions and in various ways, leading Lemaître to create “Lemaître circles” within the Lettrist group and endlessly promote the supporters of his philosophy of Lettrism, such as still recently in the preface of the exhibition, Trois Lettristes / Three Lettrists at the Satellite Gallery, with Christiane Guymer, Marie-Thérèse Richol-Müller and Hélène Richol.
‘Today in 2012, Maurice Lemaître is the only living member from historical Lettrism, the memory of Lettrism: an artist that cannot be bypassed and a ceaseless creator with a thousand facets.’ — Frédéric Acquaviva
Maurice Lemaitre Website
Maurice Lemaitre @ IMDb
Podcast: Maurice Lemaître, l’enragé du lettrisme
Audio: Enregistrement sonoreMaurice Lemaître présente le Lettrisme
Maurice Lemaitre @ Light Cone
Maurice Lemaitre @ Re-Voir
Maurice Lemaitre @ Collectif Jeune Cinéma
Hypergraphy: A Note on Maurice Lemaitre’s Roman Hypergraphique
Maurice Lemaitre “La danse et le mime ciselants …
Maurice Lemaître – Lettre Rock
Lettrisme, letterism, letrismo, poesia sonora
La Création et Germaine Dulac (fin) (2006)
ML: Maurice Lemaitre, you were part of the anarchist movement. You are now one of the most active members of the Lettrist movement. Can you tell us which reality corresponds to Lettrism?
Maurice Lemaitre: I have a lot of sympathy, friendship, and even respect for the anarchist movement, in which, as soon as I joined in 1950, I launched myself fully. I also made my debut as a journalist and politician. I kept, on a personal level, of my passage in the Federation, a strong distrust towards the authority, the State, as well as a constant will of freedom and individual life. I even suspect that I am sometimes an anarchist in the bad sense of the word.
I first supported the Lettrist movement because of the economic ideas it presented. Then I accepted and enriched myself all the paths it offered in the field of art, philosophy, etc … Lettrism, in its broadest sense, should satisfy every anar, for it posits as its primary goal the real and personal fulfillment of every individual. For this, it first requires to consider precisely the area where it wants to act and indicate a concrete direction to its action.
ML: Every creative artistic group has to take a political position. The surrealists did it, what about you?
Maurice Lemaitre: The surrealists have only adhered to economic solutions invented by others and naturally they have suffered the consequences and avatars of the mistakes of others. But we want, at the beginning, especially not to mix anything. There is art that has its own evolution and in the various branches from which we create our own wealth, and there is the economic realm in which we bring our own doctrines, the nuclear economy or the youth uprising. The sectors of activity are distinct and never, unlike the surrealists, we do not crush each other. With regard to the uprising of the youth who wants to definitively close the problem of the circuit by the discovery of a factor ignored by all economists, including Marx, a factor which is as much among the capitalists as the proletarians, I I had an open action in the 1950s, which I temporarily put to sleep to complete some aesthetic creations. I propose to resume this year the fight for a better economic resolution. I hope the libertarians will help me. In any case, I will call on them on a specific program.
ML: Given what literalism is, it is obvious that all current forms of expression different from yours can not be attached to your school. What is your attitude towards your contemporaries? Do you think of them as delayed insignia, or, on the contrary, do you think that it was from modern thought that literalism came?
Maurice Lemaitre: All the creators for whom we once gambled against all the critics and the whole sheep public have now defeated. We bet for Joyce and Céline against Sagan and Hervé Bazin. For Breton and Perret against Prévert, Minou Drouet, Pichette and Aragon. For Picabia and Kandinsky against Buffet. For Bunuel, Clair, Cocteau, Stroheim, etc … against Berthomieux, Daquin. This is pretty infuriating, I concede, but in art time has always proved us right. Besides today our generation has followed us. Joyce’s followers with the new novel; the new wave was created by us but unfortunately diluted our contribution to the cinema; in poetry, there was no other avant-garde school between the dadas-surrealists and us, nor after us. In painting, the school of the letter and the sign won over abstract firefighters, whether geometric or lyrical like Mathieu.
ML: In the particular case of painting, do you think that a Lettrist painting could have been generated by abstract art, or simply that it flows from your artistic theories without taking its roots elsewhere?
Maurice Lemaitre: Lettrist painting aims to go beyond the abstract towards a new creation. We have considered that there was figurative painting in Western painting, from Giotto to Picasso, who broke the object, and then after Picasso to Kandinsky there was a liquidation of the object, the second sector, which is non-figurative painting. Non-figurative painting has also been exhausted, now we think to bring a third sector, lettrist plastic, that is to say that we will try to find the common origin of painting and writing and to do with all the means of communication a new cathedral of communication.
ML: How can a Lettrist cinema be of interest to the public, how can it evolve, what can it achieve?
Maurice Lemaitre: We are very careful to separate values. There are domains, philosophy, novel, poetry, in these fields there are creations, for example the abstract in painting, the accelerated editing and the introduction of the revolutionary anecdote in the cinema by Eisenstein, in music there is the dodecaphonism … We take a domain, and in this area, any creator to advance must first recognize the previous domain, suitably. There is a certain wild and primitive step in the creator, it relies on an absolutely necessary culture, in the same way that Jarry who trampled certain theatrical rules, in fact knew very well these rules, and his hoax was the result of some knowledge. When we talk about Lettrist cinema, we mean the own creation of the Lettrist movement within the cinema. In fact, this creation is not called lettriste, it’s called what we called, we, cinemas chiselling and discreet. Why shitty, because we think that all art has two periods, which we call amplic, which goes from the creation of its material until its classical period, and then a shining period: the art comes back on itself and begins to think about his own matrices and then get to the Dadaist liquidation phase. We thought that the cinema so far had arrived at its classical period, that it had to be turned on its own subjects and techniques, in the same way that the impressionists had brought back the painting on itself, Baudelaire poetry, Debussy and Satie the music. We want to start a new phase for cinema, which is this chilling period. That is to say, the film will be worked in itself, and no longer focus on a certain anecdote that is usually his backbone.
In the 50s, all critics said that cinema is an industry, and even today some types of the new wave say that cinema is an industry, and you can not make movies. We were the only ones to rise up against the cinema industry, for the cinema art, and finally, we had the pleasure to see that all that we bet has won and that the cinema “disgusting”, that is to say to say cinema art, has conquered the cinema industry.
ML: You said earlier that after the shining period, art destroys itself according to the Dadaist formula. In the case of the cinema, when it will be destroyed itself, what will come behind?
Maurice Lemaitre: After cinema without image, there is what we call, we, the supertemporal cinema, the infinitesimal cinema, that is to say the new subjects … One can never stop. As long as man is alive, he will want to create, and he will never stop. We will invent other areas. The cinema was invented at a certain moment, one can invent another art.
ML: What are your immediate goals?
Maurice Lemaitre: We must start to get people to have fun with Lettrism, so we have to record, we have to publish literary anthologies, everyone starts to make literacy, then there is in the ballet, in the mime … We will make the film commercial lettrist, then we will go further still … As we never gave in to the aesthetic reaction of the post-war, we do not will yield neither before the new wave, nor before its after-effects. It will be they who will move, since we are right. Whenever there is a reactionary thing somewhere, we will rise up against it.
Anarchists are concerned to the extent that anarchists are interested in art, because literacy is at the forefront of pleasure in art, in fact at the forefront of culture. In terms of political economy, lettrists offer solutions, and I believe anarchists should consider these solutions, and perhaps even act with us if these solutions seem valid to them.
9 of Maurice Lemaitre’s 106 films
Le film est déjà commencé? (1951)
‘One of the major works of letterist cinema, LE FILM EST DEJA COMMENCE? had as much of a direct or hidden influence on the New Wave as it does on today’s Avant-Garde. Its first screenings in Paris in 1951 became major events. The critics despised it, but this work is and will remain a landmark in film History.’ — Experimental Cinema
‘This film must be projected under special conditions: on a screen of new shapes and material and with spectacular goings-on in the cinema lobby and theatre (disruptions, forced jostling, dialogues spoken aloud, confetti and gunshots aimed at the screen…). This is not just a projection, but a true film performance, the style of which Maurice Lemaitre is the creator..’ — Maurice Lemaitre, 1951
Chantal D. Star (1968)
‘The attached text should be read by a presenter before the meeting: “In March 1967, Maurice Lemaitre published in the magazine Cinémonde an ad reproducing the famous painting by Théodore Chassériau, The toilet of Esther. This painting particularly fascinated him and he wanted to take it as a starting point for a film, looking for an actress who looked like a painting. His idea was first to film in film-truth, without the knowledge of the filmed person, the classic and odious interview of the Starlette by the producer. The story would then have continued, still in the style of the “camera-eye”, by building all the work on this young girl eager to make cinema. This theme was to bring new reflections on love, cinema and creation in women. But for various practical and ethical reasons, the director’s project took an unexpected turn: first, he could record only the sound, then he found himself involved at a cruel level, in the meeting, because of the the exceptional human quality of the young person interviewed, that he could not bring himself to sing until the end. Wanting to turn this adventure into a work of art, he resolved to upset his initial project and to produce a film of a mono-image, infinitely tortured, as the so-called starlet had been, and whose sound would be the sound interview herself. He then added cartons, which are not just comments, as in the silent films, but a rewarding dimension of the work.’ — Maurice Lemaitre
the entire film
Une Oeuvre (1968)
1968 / color / sound / single screen / 15 ’00
Toujours à l’Avant-Garde de l’Avant-Garde, Jusqu’au Paradis et Au-Delà! (1970)
‘This film is a supertemporal work. The support for public participation consists of an image, which has varied several times during the various screenings. A screening of Maurice Lemaître, himself, in the soundtrack, sheds light on how the session works, ending with a challenge to the audience.’ — Light Cone
L’Amour Réinventé (1979)
‘If, as Rimbaud asked, love must be reinvented, it can only be by poets, to whom it owes its birth. And the forms it will take then can be described – filmed – only by poets, and in particular poets of the screen. Images and sounds never seen, never heard, was still possible today, such was the challenge that this film had to face. Erotic? Certainly. But then… also a stage of deepening of the photogrammatic particle, anterior to the series of all different images of the film is already started?, but really all visible, enchanting. The chiseling stage in this area had not been fully explored and Maurice Lemaître cleared the ground here. The sound, composed of Lettrist poems, adds its strange variety to the splendor of the work.’ — Light Cone
the entire film
KAMI E NO MICHI (2000)
‘The «Second World Premiere” of his films took place on the 28th of September 2001 at the Cinematheque Française, at the Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle theatre, as part of a syncinematographical representation, organised by the Braquage organization, as well as the support of spectators. A sort of «Monsieur Loyal” of my proper synfilm, I animated this presentation and had it filmed by 3 different crews each with different points of view. From the original film, as well as the 3 videos made during that very evening, I then created an original video with sounds that I had at my disposal: music used during the evening, from the «first wordl premiere” (already published in Volume 1), sound from the séance itself, and even some old tapes, whether it be a song by my mother, or a text that i read during my retrospective show at the Pompidou Center in Paris during the 1980s. Constantly enriched by new elements, chemical film treatments, photographs, as well as videoediting techniques, this video was subjected to a number of successive publications, progressively complex, and given the possibility to continue being, by me or by others. We find here the sounds of my presentation during the «Second World Premiere”, that sheds more light on the profound direction of my work, from ludic presentations to political manifests and even theology.’ — Maurice Lemaitre
Nos Stars (2002)
‘A chronicle of the fantasies and dream of women in avant-garde contemporary cinema The faces and bodies of new women haunt the paths and alleyways of avant-garde cinema.’ — Re-Voir
the entire film
Le Retour (1998 – 2003)
‘It’s known, that since 1951, the film going public, place themselves in front of a screen, not only to digest, to burp, but also to participate, in order that art and life can come together and meld. But as I’m an old hand at public participation in art, I know that not all the spectators have talent, even if «anyone can write poetry” and some confuse the feast of the gods with the orgy of hogs. The film viewers, like their ancestor the pithecanthrope, have to learn to stand up on their own creative feet.’ — Maurice Lemaitre
Resilliance (2005 – 2007)
‘At the end of 2004, I read in the newspapers that Japan was saddened by a wave of collective suicides which were being organized through the internet. Despite the specifically Japanese cultural aspect of voluntary death, I wanted to link these particular adolescent suicides to those affecting every other country, including France, where the number of suicides is growing among adolescents and even among children. I asked my videographer friends in Tokyo to send me images concerning these collective suicides, images which I proposed to insert into my film on the subject and which I would combine with other images which, to me, seemed pertinent to this massacre of youth, a historical Cancer which I have always denounced and to which we have always proposed radically new solutions. It was necessary for me to approach the project with all the formal audacity of which I was capable, out of respect for the vital audacity of my young comrades and also out of respect for those who had committed suicide. If the mechanical term “resilience” – the capacity of a particular metal to resist shock – sprang immediately to mind, as the title of the piece, it’s because I would like to call upon all children and adolescents (who are tempted by suicide) to resist the chaos of the infernal world in which they find themselves, in order to build a better humanity – where the idea of destroying oneself would become absurd.’ — Maurice Lemaitre
p.s. Hey. ** JM, Hey there. My ranking … you mean my fave to least fave Pynchon books in list form? If, so, as of this morning, from fave to least (I haven’t read ‘Bleeding Edge’): ‘Against the Day’, ‘Mason & Dixon’, ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’, ‘The Crying of Lot 49’, ‘V’, ‘Inherent Vice’, ‘Slow Learner’, ‘Vineland’. And yours? Jesus, that Sade mash could been one hell of an opera, but, yeah, I don’t envy you figuring out how to stage that. Great news about ‘Moonfleece’s’ nearness and your seeming lack of panic thereof. Oh, yeah, hm, about that ‘love’. That happened with two performers one of Gisele’s pieces except it ended up being mutual. It was fine and even interesting — from the outside and within the work — until they consummated it. Then it was melodramatic mess every performance. Good luck. ** David S. Estornell, Hi, David! And such a good name! How are you? ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Unless I’m wrong, the only death in that scene is by imaginative leap. Gotta see ‘SDS’. A friend of mine, the writer Bruce Hainley, intended to, and started working on, a book about Tom Hompertz. Kind of a bio meets homage meets poetic related reverie, but I think there wasn’t enough ‘there’ there ultimately. I know he found out that Hompertz died of a drug overdose in San Diego in, I think, the early 80s. Thanks a lot for the link to the George Sterling story. That looks fascinating indeed. ** Steve Erickson, I do like lists. Everyone, Mr. Erickson’s field trip for you today is a direct line to his ‘ongoing list of 2018 music favorites with my picks from February’. Hence. Being drugged can be good for ideas-generating, not so much for typing them up. I do want to see ‘Black Panther’ in the theater, a big one. Oh, ‘Les Garçons sauvages’ just opened here in Paris yesterday for a weeklong theater run, and I’m going to see it for sure. ** Dóra Grőber, Hi! Yes milk it … I was going to say dry, but hopefully it’ll never dry up. I really hope to go to Budapest one of these days. Maybe our film will play there. Or one of the Gisele works. Yeah, the windows of my apartment are like the cold version of heating pads or something. Parisian windows aren’t made for this kind of chilliness. Apparently it snowed like crazy in Paris while I was asleep last night because everything’s white, which is cool except that the falling is the best part, and I guess I was zzzz when that happened. Yesterday I worked, uh, reasonably hard if not quite hard enough. Then I had a nice dinner with an American writer currently in residence here and his friend who works at an art gallery here, which was very fun. That was it. And I guess I was getting ill too because I’ve woken up with a seriously runny nose and unsharpened brain, so that’s not good. Today I’ll be trying to make that not progress any further. How did you use the material entitled today? ** Jamie, High five, Jamie. Thanks for prying apart the slaves and ferreting out goodies from therein. A man after my own … heart? Sure, why not, heart. Paris is very cold with a light but pretty covering of snow that apparently dropped out of the sky while I was asleep. Me, I think I’m coming down with a crappy cold this morning as my nose is a faucet and my brain seems to have some new kind of filter between it and my perception. Paris is having it easy compared to you guys there, it seems like. The Eastern Beat is wussing out over Paris. Or is in awe of Paris. Like Hitler intended to bomb the shit out Paris until he came here and realised, ‘I can’t bomb this incredibly beautiful city’. Maybe Paris immune to beasts. Anyway, enjoy the onslaught as best you can. And I have not the slightest doubt that The Fall made that possible. It’s more than going through the motions because I do like the assigned script. It’s just … due to what it is going to be, it needs to be kind of plot-y, and I really don’t like plot. I think that’s the interference for me. Anyway, it’s proceeding. I’m so glad that your script is exuding happiness or making you exude. Onwards! Web series, that’s cool, that’s interesting. Say more when more is appropriate. Did the world allow Hannah’s parents to shimmy into town? I just worked and had a nice dinner with some people. That was kind of all of yesterday. Today … I fear my cold is going to make today bleah. We’ll see. May your today turn water into liquid Ecstasy. Prison break love, Dennis. ** James Nulick, How did she age-regress is the bigger question. I don’t think a fiery gut and a fully employed cerebrum are oppositional. They can be soulmates. I used to be able to occasionally write good stuff on coke or speed, but not always by any means. Let me know how it goes with your ancient buddy. Love, me. ** Misanthrope, Sounds like you speak from experience. I rarely feel regret for things I did in the past. There’s one thing that I don’t want to talk about, but generally I find in retrospect that I was a surprisingly decent fella. I mean considering. Shit, how did the meeting go? My fingers are crossed all hither and thither. ** Right. You guys know about Lettrism? Anyone into it? Today I present to you the films of one of the major figures in the Lettrism movement. I hope you find interest therein. See you tomorrow.