Friday, May 11, 2012

Process: The Tongue Rug, the Jukebox and the Wishing-Table

Reading Peter Handke’s Essai sur le juke-box (Gallimard, 1992; VERSUCH ÜBER DIE JUKEBOX, 1990), this passage struck me:

Ces boîtes à musique-là étaient reconnaissables rien qu’à leurs programmes; avec ce méli-mélo d’écriture à la machine et à la main et surtout la diversité des écritures, souvent différentes de touché en touché, l’une en capitals à l’encre, l’autre presque sténographiée, à la façon relâchée des secretaires, mais la plupart, et cela quels que soient les paraphes ou les inclinaisons des caractères, tracées, apparemment avec un soin et une application tout particuliers, certaines comme peintes, telles des écritures d’enfants et parmi toutes les fautes, toujours ces titres de melodies écrits de façon parfaitement correcte (accents et titres compris) qui devaient avoir eu une consonance fort étrangère pour la serveuse qui en avait été chargée; le papier, ça et là déjà jauni, les écritures pâlies et difficiles à déchiffrer parfois recouvertes d’autres plaquettes avec un autre titre, mais qu’on devinait à travers celles-ci. (123-124)

I thought of the passage of time and music as a marker of memory: the machine covered with handwritten and typed song titles, the different styles revealing the trace of the hand and the machine; how each tune can evoke specific memories long buried, how melodies can unlock thought.


Wurlitzer jukebox
A mid-20th-century 24-disc Wurlitzer jukebox. Photographed at "The Stables" behind Full Throttle Bottles, Georgetown, Seattle, Washington on March 8, 2008. Photo by Joe Mabel


Handke wrote an essay on a loosely focused theme – the jukebox – but this music-machine was just the metastructure to map out a larger reflection on many other, sometimes unrelated, subjects. Le fil conducteur. In a similar fashion, I chose the tongue rug to “store” and structure my reflections. Like the jukebox the rug is made up of ce méli-mélo d’écriture à la machine et à la main with its mish-mash of writing all assembled in the blog structure. The individual tongues — each touching on different themes through key words or tags – are loosely assembled into the larger form.

This exploratory process lasted for a long period of time as I drew my pathmap in space — cycling to the genealogical and geographic waypoints. It was also time to flesh out ideas, to “craft” the tongue rug. I had come to the conclusion that I needed “objectness” after working virtually for so long. Concretization that would help bring the project to a close.

I may have found that very object: a pamphlet from early 20th century America. I had come across a copyright entry under the name of Joseph Angerbauer in the US Library of Congress. Since Joseph’s son, Joseph Henry, ran a coffee and tea company with his own son Joseph Junior, I thought at first that they had patented some sort of coffee brewing method.

Turns out the copyrighted material was actually a publication. I stumbled upon the title in a collection of Socialist Labour pamphlets on the Florida Atlantic University website: “1,700 items including trade union recruitment pamphlets, war effort pamphlets from both World Wars, economic analysis and commentary from late 19th through mid-20th century U.S. and Europe.” The International Institute of Social History in the Netherlands also referenced the pamphlet. The IISH conducts research and collects data on the global history of labour, workers, and labour relations.

In 1908, my great great grandfather, Joseph Angerbauer, published the pamphlet Tischlein, Deck Dich für Alle! Eine Betrachtung with Selbstverlage Press. I managed to find a badly battered copy online; within a week I was holding the weathered publication in my hands. The brown pages literally crumbled at the touch so I ordered archival sleeves to store them safely. I scanned each delicate page, putting them all up online in Pinterest in the hopes that someone might have information on the content. The problem is, I don’t speak or read German.

I believe Tischlein, Deck Dich für Alle! Eine Betrachtung can be translated as “Wishing-Table, for you all! A consideration” or “Ritual of Refreshment for all! An examination.” At first, “Wishing-Table” seemed like an odd choice of words? Until I came across one of the Brothers Grimm tales: Tischchendeckdich, Goldesel und Knüppel aus dem Sack or “The Wishing-Table, the Gold-Ass, and the Cudgel in the Sack” (translated by Margaret Hunt, Grimm's Household Tales, 1884. Volume 1. No. 36). In the story, the wishing-table is a magic object. When the owner of the table says “Little table, cover thyself”, the table sets itself, its surface covered with the most exquisite dishes.

I will attempt to transcribe the text myself though eventually I will need to consult a native German speaker. Apart from my linguistic deficiencies, the text was printed in Gothic script, whose origins can be traced back to 11th century France. I was surprised to learn that it was not a simple decorative element, but more of a “graphic accident” due to the rising cost of parchment. The unique styling of the letter was an economical way to squish the letters together and use less pages.


Gothique ancienne
Modèles d’alphabets. Gothique (2011), René H. Munsch


Most of the letters look familiar safe for a few variations. The long s is very similar to the f, while the round r is confusing. The decorative upper case letters are often so ornate that they are unrecognizable as actual letters. It will be a long process but I am excited to start deciphering the words. I like mysteries.

I started with the Tongue Rug (as a means for reflection on place and origins) only to end up with a 104-year old pamphlet whose meaning is as of yet unclear. Is it the object that I was looking for that has signaled the end of the project – the end of the search?

Or am I met with even more questions? Joseph Angerbauer was listed as a labourer in census records and city directories. What compelled him to publish this work let alone write it? Selbstverlage Press was situated in West Norwood, New Jersey, less than an hour’s drive away from Plainfield, his residence. West Norwood is also in close proximity to Englewood, which was the site of the Helicon Home colony, an experimental socialist commune established by Upton Sinclair and others in 1906. Lawrence Kaplan's article, A utopia during the progressive era: the helicon home colony 1906-1907 (American Studies, Vol 25, No. 2: Fall 1984), is a fascinating portrayal of the Progressive era intellectuals and their utopic ideals on child care, homemaking and women's rights of that time. Was Joseph in any way aware of this commune? Was he associated with any socialist parties in New Jersey?

It is through the transcribing and translating process that I might uncover answers.

In terms of genealogy, it is incredibly satisfying (and moving) to hold something in my hands that dates from four generations back. It is like a line tracing back through my past, a connection to an ancestor. Thinking about the Tongue Rug project, I was trying to emulate this process conceptually by tracing my passage in the Québec landscape to various bodies of water with my family names...




Angerbauer, J. (1908). Tischlein, deck dich für alle! Eine Betrachtung. West Norwood: Selbstverlag.


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