LSU Special Collections recently acquired two unusual bilingual texts. The first is a so-called “artist’s book” — a work of art that is bound like a book and in which text and image are merged. Designed by the French artist Bertrand Dorny, the book contains a short poem, Bilingue, written in French and English by the experimental writer Michel Butor. The poem and images describe a flight across the Atlantic during which travelers’ conversations blend together, “a spiral up the wand of Mercury” (the Roman god famous for flying from place to place in the blink of an eye). Although artists’ books (or livres d’artistes) are primarily a twentieth-century innovation, the form is often said to have originated with the English poet and artist William Blake (1757-1827). Artists’ books are typically produced in very small editions. Only ten copies of Bilingue, for example, were produced.
A related acquisition that also merges text, image, and mythology is Les Traits de l’Histoire Universelle (1761) by Jean-Louis Aubert, an eighteenth-century French dramatist, poet and essayist. The work contains selections from Ovid’s Metamorphoses in French and Latin and over 120 engravings illustrating the verses. An outstanding example of an early educational text illustrated for children, this book was also intended “for the instruction or amusement of persons of all ages and of all sexes.” The Grimm brothers, however, didn’t think the stories would be of much interest to adults; Voltaire, on the other hand, supposedly enjoyed them.
– Michael Taylor, Assistant Curator of Books