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This report is taken from PN Review 53, Volume 13 Number 3, January - February 1987.

Frankfurt Book Fair Iain Galbraith
Die neue Unübersichtlichkeit is the title Jürgen Habermas gave to a recent publication. What will his English translator find for that word? It literally means something like 'unsurvey-ability' - the 'new confusion' perhaps? Already a much borrowed epithet, it is certainly applicable to most visitors' experiences of the Book Fair. It would be an advantage to be doing business at this Fair. At least then one's stand becomes home for a week, a point of departure for brief sorties to map out the terrain; five enormous pavilions, each with several floors packed with publishers' stands, exhibitions, conference rooms, restaurants. Nor is one left to one's own devices. Thinking the Fair is a sort of grandiose bookshop, the unsuspecting book-fan out for an afternoon's browse is exposed to both extreme visual irritation and a constant dressage by the elbows and sudden impulses of fellow-consumers. Design and styling seemed to me to have taken a leap this year, whether forwards or backwards is difficult to say. The dust-jackets seemed more gaudy than ever, but also shriller. A sense of disarray prevailed, as if the books on a publisher's stand were competing with one another and the confidence to present an ordered programme had got lost somewhere on the way. In this arena the visual sense is synonymous with vulnerability, an inroad for subliminal impressions, for potential business. Presumably this is a current front in the battle with the visual media. 'We do not wish to overload the mind with the gravity of the ...

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