‘Our time demands designs that have their origin in elementary forms (geometry).’ was written on the wall of the Van Abbemuseum. It is a quote by El Lissitzky. This need for basic shapes can be retrieved throughout his entire oeuvre. But personally this idea manifested itself mostly in a children’s book by his doing, named: ‘Story of Two Squares’
With this first Suprematist book, Lissitzky created a story about two squares that – with the help of a circle – transform the world. When first published in 1922, it brought about a radical change of the established idea about what a book is. It showed a new way to organize typography, and how to relate text with elementary shapes.
Inventing a fresh literary language is a rare phenomenon, but it happens. The German creative centipede Dieter Roth (Diter Rot) would be a good example. His experimental books had a great influence on the art world in the ’60 & ‘70s. Roth considered grammar to be restricting the freedom. Therefore he created his own rules; he used letters independently, or placed them upside-down. Letters were given sound, or the power to fly over the pages. Also, Roth attacks the paper – cuts, destroys, rebuilds – while reacting on his impulses.
In 1957 he created a children’s book – Kinderbuch – that is full of colors and shapes that blend and dance. Roth only suggests through form & color what it is about, leaving everything to the imagination.
We haven’t seen this kind of radical reaction against the general perception of what books should look like in a long time. The only name that occurs is that of the young American writer Jonathan Safran Foer. One could say about the texts of JSF that they have ‘their origin in elementary forms.’ Not specifically in geometrical shapes, but in the typography through which he builds shapes. Foer allows dots and commas to speak. For example in Everything is Illuminated; when words fall short he does not force himself to go look for the right ones, but instead creates a graphical field of dots that speak for themselves.
Or – as in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close – he turns the end of his novel into a flipbook (see bottom). Sometimes the letters go crazy and become unreadable.
Furthermore, JSF combines all these forms and images with virtuous prose.