David Byrne’s playfully illustrated book presents a history of the world (in dingbats)

What David Byrne knows about world history in his new book A history of the world (in dingbats)? As far as he knows about psychopathic killers, burning houses and “unrational logic,” the subject of an exhibit at New York’s Pace Gallery last February featuring elaborate doodles that Byrne calls “dingbats.” That is to say, he knows a lot about the history of the world. Or maybe it doesn’t really matter. “Burning Down the House” isn’t really arson.

The new book presents us, instead of the story, with a “cross between Codex Seraphinianus and the little-known philosophical line drawings of EE Cumming,” writes Maria Popova in The Marginalian. It is a work of the hope of the imagination; a statement about how “unrational logic” can shape reality.

“The way things were”, writes Byrne, “the way we did things, it turns out that none of it was inevitable – none of it is the way things should be.” Popova calls the project “an illustrated history of the possible future”.

“Created during quarantine,” notes editor Phaidon – the designs “span the dingbat, a typographical ornament used to illuminate or break up blocks of text.” Byrne says he was inspired by the small illustrations of the new yorker, although he took the concept much further. He writes a text in each thematic section that echoes the anxiety, contemplation and strange excitement of life in confinement: reflections on what has been lost to us and on the life that could emerge in a remade world. by a virus.

Byrne reminds us that history is “a story we tell ourselves…. These stories that we tell ourselves about the world are not fixed. Nor are the stories we tell ourselves about who we are as individuals. These are ideas the artist has explored in projects ranging from his first book, 1995 strange ritual, to his work with Luaka Bop, his world music label, to the album/Broadway show/feature film/picture book American Utopia — all projects concerned with expanding the boundaries of our common human narrative.

Stories are lessons we send to ourselves – some stay dynamic and relevant while others are only useful for a moment. They serve a myriad of purposes that are often beyond our reach, for better or for worse, and sometimes both.

How do you know when it’s time to let go, to enter into a story of the future rather than the past? “Only you can find the way,” he wrote, “through the city in your head.” It is our duty to sift through the stories that serve us from those that do not, through critical reflection, imaginative play, and by creating new connections between our minds and bodies:

In the new world, the rules have changed – or at least there is a possibility of change.

We can be different.

Ordered A history of the world (in dingbats) here and see more of Byrne’s drawings at The Marginalian.

Related content:

David Byrne turns his acclaimed musical American Utopia into a picture book for adults, with vibrant illustrations by Maira Kalman

Watch Very Nervous 23-Year-Old David Byrne and Talking Heads Perform Live in New York (1976)

David Byrne Answers the Internet’s Burning Questions About David Byrne

David Byrne launches Reasons to Be Cheerful, an online magazine featuring articles by Byrne, Brian Eno and more

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, North Carolina. Follow him on @jdmagness

Leave a Comment