Elisabeth Tonnard

A Dialogue in Useful Phrases

 A Dialogue in Useful Phrases

“They had no conversation properly speaking. They made use of the spoken word in much the same way as the guard of a train makes use of his flags, or of his lantern.” Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

A Dialogue in Useful Phrases is a book based on “conversational phrases” that were found in Grenville Kleiser’s Fifteen Thousand Useful Phrases, an optimistic handbook from 1917 providing “felicitous expressions for enriching the vocabulary.”

Kleiser’s conversational phrases starting with ‘I’ were taken and placed opposite those starting with ‘you’. The ‘I’ phrases are running in alphabetical order down the verso pages, the ‘you’ phrases down the recto pages. A dialogue is formed from the random meetings of these phrases. It is a dialogue in the purest sense, a dialogue that expresses nothing other than itself. The book has a square format to indicate the empty room where such communications might be taking place.

The edition consists of 250 numbered copies. Acquoy, The Netherlands, 2010.

Softcover with blind embossing, 7.25 x 7.25 inch, digital print, 178 pages. See more images.

The book was awarded the Special Jury Prize of the Sheffield International Artist’s Book Prize, 2011. Jurors were Maria White (Tate Library), Sarah Bodman (The Centre for Fine Print Research at UWE) and John Clark (Bank Street Arts). It was also shortlisted for the 2011 Artists’ Book of the Moment Award, Art Gallery of York University, Canada.

Priced at 40 euro, plus shipping. Order through webshop.  Order through email.

The book is included in the collections of the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Bibliothèque Kandinsky (Centre Pompidou), Bodleian Library (special collections at Weston Library), Columbia University, Jan Michalski Foundation for Writing and Literature, John M. Flaxman Library at School of The Art Institute of Chicago (Joan Flasch collection), Kunstbibliothek (Berlin), MoMA Library, Mumok library, Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, National Library of The Netherlands (Koninklijke Bibliotheek), Saison Poetry Library, Tate Library and Archive, The New York Public Library, Thomas J. Watson library at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte (Munich).

In May 2012 an audio version of this book was released, based on sound files found on Project Gutenberg of a small army of volunteers reading Grenville Kleiser’s Fifteen Thousand Useful Phrases — including the familiar ‘you’ and ‘I’ phrases. By mixing the recordings of both the ‘you’ and the ‘I’ phrases an unexpected dialogue is revealed.

Published as a cd by Elisabeth Tonnard in 2012. Length 8:33. Listen to a sample here.


A Dialogue in Useful Phrases

Written by Elisabeth Tonnard

May 20, 2010 at 4:15 pm