Typography of Knowledge

Typography of Knowledge. The Layout-Politics of the Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag (1919-1938)

Christof Windgätter

In our culture the production, distribution, and evaluation of printed texts is still a central aspect of science. Despite new printing technologies, a major part of our scientific memory is archived, managed, reworked, and handed down in the form of printed matter.

Against this background, the project focused on layout-strategies as a missing subject in the history of science and media theories. In other words: the graphic reality of printed texts (from letterform to page design) is examined in its epistemic impact. The initial argument was that the content of monographs, journals, manuals etc., are importantly determined by their exterior. Thus typefaces are regulations; the figurative appearance of texts influences whatever can be understood through the act of reading. That is: next to the gestures and the implements of writing as well as the literacy institutions letterforms are formats of knowledge.

The particular perspective of this project was directed towards the Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag: founded in 1919 in Vienna by a group around Sigmund Freud, shut down in 1938 by the Gestapo.

The Verlag published all the titles of the psychoanalytical movement at that time; for example each of Freud’s first editions since 1920 (i.e., from “Jenseits des Lustprinzips“ to "Totem und Tabu" up to the second edition of the “Selbstdarstellung“), the first psychoanalytical dictionaries (1937 from Richard Sterba), as a yearbook the so-called “Almanach,” the four leading Journals ("Imago," "Internationale Zeitschrift für Psychoanalyse," "Zeitschrift für Psychoanalytische Pädagogik," "Die Psychoanalytische Bewegung") as well as the first complete edition of Freud’s 12 luxurious volumes.

Until now the history of the Verlag was scrutinized insufficiently and above all from a hagiographic, sociological, or institutional perspective. Therefore, personnel problems, legal arrangements, or financial questions were pushed to the fore.

No attention was paid to the layout-politics of the Verlag, which not only was a subordinate or exclusive instrument for psychoanalytical authors but also must be recognized as a constitutive factor for the development of psychoanalysis itself. Consequently, in this project the Verlag was explored as an agency of difference: it transforms internal matters into public papers, opinions into thesis, Viennese idiosyncrasies into worldwide circulating theories. Because of its products, ideas, and assertions, not less than correspondences and records of the first, psychoanalysts were enabled to become elements of scientific debates. Following Michel Serres one can say that the Verlag, through setting the threshold of imprimatur, generates the persistence of documents out of the vicissitude of random noise.

Thus, psychoanalysis emerges from the background to the center stage of history, or as Freud put it: The Verlag was supposed to be an ”official calibration […] for psychoanalytical literature”—a confession that surely refers to the disciplining of deviants and dissidents, but also confirms what Ernest Jones called the formation of Psychoanalysis as a “mark” (a kind of theory-label) in the scientific field.

The medium of this mark is the concrete output of the Verlag, which therefore was a matter of layout strategies. Besides the company name (whose attribute "International" was even defended against objections from the Austrian chamber of commerce) there is to be emphasized the company logo (i.e., Oedipus vignette) just as the preference of yellow for the cover-presentation and the use of the types Cochin- and Tiemann-Antiqua for the headings and the settings of their books, journals etc. Accordingly for the first time in science the Verlag established means that were developed for industrial promotion and since then called corporate design.

By investigating the material products of the Internationaler Psychoanalytischer Verlag this project demonstrated the link between print and knowledge design. Insofar as books can be regarded the body of theories, it was employed with a physioanalysis of the nascent psychoanalysis.