Hamburg: [Quer-Verlag], 1968. First edition. Oblong 16mo. Mimeographed on white paper, with red card section dividers. Stapled into red wraps, which are tipped into aluminium boards with red tape. Illustrated title pastedown to front panel.
Perhaps the first book ever to be designed as a weapon. Kampfreime is a collection of rhymed chants meant for use during the 1968 protests of the German Student Movement. The book is small. It can be easily slipped into a protestor’s pocket. The chants are arranged thematically. The red card section dividers make it easy, presumably, to flip to the right chant even under the duress of a violent protest. The book takes full advantage of secrecy and random access - perhaps the two most historically useful aspects of the codex form.
The sharp fore edge of both of the the aluminum boards extend about a quarter of an inch past the fore edge of the text. The book elegantly solves the structural problems inherent in a metal binding in that the upper board is curved at a 90 degree angle at the spine, while the lower board lies flat and is buttressed against the inward curve of the upper. Thus the book lies flat, yet is easily opened.
What is less obvious, but perhaps even more brilliant about this design is that the curve of the upper board rests sturdily on the palm, and the lower board - which juts further out - is buttressed against the metal base. My theory is that this was done so that the metal boards can’t recoil backwards and cut into one’s palm if the book is used to strike an attacker.
Kampfreime had another use as well. The business end of the book was also intended to tear away posters, flyers, advertisements - to clear an open space in an encroaching universe of bourgeoisie paper. After all, one of the main targets of the student protest was the Axel Springer publishing house. It belongs in the same lineage as another brilliantly designed book which in many ways laid a framework for the ‘68 protests - Guy Debord, Asger Jorn, and V.O. Permild’s psychogeographical masterpiece Memoires, which featured a sandpaper dust jacket to destroy any book it was shelved against.
As elegant as the design of Kampfreime is, it is difficult to imagine that it was ever of much practical use against a baton, or a gun. The lasting power of Kampfreime is as a metaphor. A talisman to protect the bearer and a text designed to destroy other texts. As such it is one of the most provocative and overlooked artist’s books of protest in the 20th century.
Binding a bit shaken, but holding; some scratching to the aluminum boards; very good. Item #28004