A prodigy from a petit-bourgeois family in Romania, Jean-Isidore Goldstein came to Paris at the age of twenty in 1945, promptly changing his name to Isidore Isou, and beseiging the publishing house of Gaston Gallimard with the manuscript for his book Introduction à une Nouvelle Poésie et à une Nouvelle Musique and fictional claims that he was a journalist. The book was a work of inspired gobbledegook, expressing Isou's theory of culture, namely that the most basic instinct of society was not survival but creativity, an artist was God and God was merely the ultimate artist, and after the initial period of society's "amplification", there began a stage of "decomposition" back into primordial slime, during which period any new aesthetic form would work as a metaphor for life itself.

Charismatic and impossibly sexy- in pictures he looks like Elvis with much better fasion sense, with big, pouty lips and determined eyes- Isou still couldn't get his book published. But he attracted young disciples within Paris to his new cult of Lettrism. On 1946, the Lettrists attended a play by Dadaist Tristan Tzara, and proving their filial relationship to that earlier doctrine, they interrupted the lecture by Michel Leiris, preceeding the play, with cries of "We know about dada, M. Leiris- tell us about something new! For example- Lettrism!", "Dada is dead! Lettrism has taken its place!", "Long live Lettrism!", "You're kidding! You've never head of Lettrism?", etc.

The resulting publicity, as well as threats of arson on his offices, led Gaston Gallimard to publish Introduction à une Nouvelle Poésie et à une Nouvelle Musique.

Isou explicitly stated his aims of godhood, and many of his followers- there were over two dozen by 1946- took him as such. Under his direction the lettrists published reviews, including The Lettrist Dictatorship and Ion, both of which ran for only one issue. They made letter and sound poetry, a technique for negating language in favor of its components which Isou claimed to have invented, accusing the Dadaist Raoul Hausmann, its true originator, of plagarism. Intent on destroying every art form, Lettrism produced works of deconstruction, such as Gabriel Pomerand's gibbering book Saint Ghetto de Prêts. But its work was political and militant as much as artistic. Organising the lettrists as the Youth Front, an extensive radical movement with chapters and membership cards, Isou led publicity stunts including a raid of the notoriously brutal Auteuil Catholic orphanage. His appeal to youth, whom he defined as people of any age who did not yet coincide with their socioeconomic function, was as revolutionary in 1950 and it was clichéd by the time Robert F. Kennedy spoke of youth as a state of mind in 1968.

In 1952, the Lettrists Serge Berna, Guy-Ernest Debord, Jean-L. Brau and Gil J Wolman published a pamphlet denouncing Charlie Chaplin for preaching passivity. When Isou dissociated himself from their action, they declared themselves to be the Lettrist International, and expelled him from that organization, a movement that he had effectively founded. This is where the naming gets complicated, though, because Isou's Lettrist group continued to operate, in fact its members are still making sound poetry in Paris today. After breaking off, the Lettrist International went underground, publishing the journal Potlatch and codifying their philosophy, which departed from Isou's in that they effectively rejected art altogether, stating that the beauty of the future would be "provisional, and lived." The Lettrist International reemerged in 1957 when it fused with the International Movement for an Imaginist Bauhaus. to form the Situationist International.

Works by Isidore Isou:

Source: Lipstick Traces, by Greil Marcus, pp. 245-358

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