New Project Lets You Reenact Einstein and Freud’s Remarkable Correspondence

Typographer Harald Geisler's latest Kickstarter project will let you mail Einstein and Freud's pacifist letters to a friend...or your oppressors.

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Jul 21 2017, 3:51pm

Images courtesy of the artists. 

Typography meets historical reenactment in Harald Geisler's latest Kickstarter pitch for the recreation of a letter exchange between Einstein and Freud that occurred 85 years ago. The project is part of the crowdfunding platform's ongoing Gold series, which invited several creators to offer funders a new take on previously successful projects. Geisler secured funding in the past to reproduce both Freud and Einstein's handwriting as fonts, and will use those typefaces to replicate a written conversation the two men had in 1932, tackling war and politics.

"It would almost appear that the very domain of human activity most crucial to the fate of nations is inescapably in the hands of wholly irresponsible political rulers," wrote Einstein from Potsdam, Germany. "Everything that promotes the development of culture also works against war," responded the psychoanalyst from Vienna.

Photograph of Freud's letters in the Sigmund Freud Archive Vienna, taken by Harald Geisler during research for the creation of the Sigmund Freud Typeface, 2013

Anyone who contributes over $10 will get a physical reproduction of Einstein's letter sent from Potsdam on July 30, the 85th anniversary of its original mailing (to the day). In September, Geisler will travel to Vienna and send out the copies of Freud's letter, also coinciding with the exact place and time of year that the original was dropped in the mail. For the sake of historical accuracy, Geisler paid close attention to the format of the originals.

"When I studied Freud's original letters, I noticed the odd sizes of the paper. I talked with the archivist about it and she confirmed that Freud actually ordered his papers from a print shop and had it cut up in specific sizes. In 2013, I even found a reference to one of his paper merchants, and the company is still family operated. I'm thinking about trying to use paper that is made from the same resources," writes the typographer in an email to Creators.

Backers can choose to receive the letters themselves, or send them to someone else—friends, family, or even, as Einstein put it, those irresponsible political rulers. To Geisler, the reenactment is an opportunity to learn from history. "I like the idea of sending letters to politicians, because these are the people that urgently should reflect on these matters. Maybe a perspective from 1932 can change the views of some," he tells us.

Geisler's fonts are unique in that the appearance of the letters varies throughout a single sentence, essentially creating a "living" font that better mimics the movement of actual handwriting. "I remember that I was thinking a lot about how variation and improvisation in dance works—one kind of does the same thing over and over again along given patterns, but sprinkles in a variation here and there," he recalls.

In order to produce the fonts, he spent a considerable amount of time studying primary sources, and this project sent him back to the archives. He writes, "In the back of my mind I knew that there were meetings between the two and some correspondence. When I started my research about their communication I was surprised to find out that they not only wrote letters to each other, but also published their writings. They created a book together called Why War? It was published in 1933, one year after the letters were sent."

The original print run for Einstein and Freud's Why War? only totaled 2,000 copies, and Geisler is secretly hoping to match that number with his mailings. Most of all, he hopes the project will inspire people to think further on these matters.

To contribute to Harald Geisler's reenactment project, go here by July 23. To learn more about his other work, visit his website.

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