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Be Here Now by Ram Dass

Contributed by Nick Sherman on Sep 19th, 2016. Artwork published in .
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    Be Here Now (or Remember, Be Here Now) is a 1971 book on spirituality, yoga, meditation, etc. It was written by Ram Dass (a.k.a. Dr. Richard Alpert) a spiritual teacher known for his 1960s collaborations with Timothy Leary in the study of psychedelic drugs, particularly LSD.

    The book is a feat of non-mechanical text arrangement, composed almost entirely with hand-stamped rubber type, often intertwined with elaborate illustrations to create a unique style of concrete literature. It was originally published as a box set containing several separate items in a limited edition, but has sold more than 2 million copies in a paperback format that combines all the content in one binding.

    As Michael Cunningham describes the original book:

    From Bindu to Ojas (the core book) was created in a New Mexico ashram (Lama Foundation) founded by artists and friends of Ram Dass. The founders of the ashram, Steve and Barbara Durkee, along with two other artists collaborated on illustrating Ram Dass’ teachings from India, which would ultimately result in Be Here Now.

    Ram Daas explained the production process in a 1970 lecture at the Menninger Foundation that was later published in the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology:

    They start with these four-foot pieces of cardboard and this book is 108 pages and each day they meditate from five to eight in the morning – there’s a group of five of them – and then all in silence … they hand rubber-stamp each page, all the letters of the page, and then the artists do all the sketching around the thing. Then the whole thing is photo-reduced and shipped to Japan where it’s printed on rice paper and hand stitched because it’s an experiential-type document.

    Most of the rubber-stamp type used for of the book is one of many existing interpretations of De Vinne. The cover of the book uses what is possibly a dry-transfer version of Caslon 540 or similar (it seems a bit too clean to be rubber type, though it’s not impossible). A few other rubber type faces make occasional appearances throughout the book, including something similar to Miller & Richard’s Sans-Serif No. 6, but the De Vinne face is by far the dominant style throughout.

    An online version of the book transcribes the illustrative compositions with accompanying scans.

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    The rare, original box set edition.

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    Cover of one of the hand-bound books in the original box set edition.

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    Interior spread from a book in the original box set edition.

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    Cover of the paperback edition.

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    Another spread from the original hand-bound box set edition.

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    5 Comments on “Be Here Now by Ram Dass”

    1. Nick Sherman says:
      Sep 19th, 2016  4:53 am

      Incidentally, my family had a set of rubber type in a very similar style when I was growing up that probably had some influence on my eventual interest in typography.

    2. Sep 20th, 2016  5:15 pm

      I’ve seen this book (paperback edition) in bookstores often over the years, but it seemed a bit to out there to interest me that much.

      It strikes me in looking at it here that it must have influenced some other authors whose books I own. Two guys, Don Koberg and Jim Bragnall, did a series of books, starting in 1972 with The Universal Traveler, which even used DeVinne rubber stamps in a superficially similar way. The layout is more conventional and is mostly set in typewriter type, with the rubber stamps used for display purposes.

      The books are about problem solving and creativity rather than spirituality. The later two books they did in the same vein were Values Tech and Design Yourself, which were increasingly less hand-made looking.

      The other thing it may have influenced was Ted Nelson’s Computer Lib/Dream Machines, from 1974. It doesn’t use rubber stamps, but the hand-made aesthetic feels similar to me. Or maybe it’s just how self-published books looked back then.

      (This was the book that got me interested in computers when I saw it around 1980.)

    3. Nick Sherman says:
      Dec 14th, 2016  3:10 pm

      Those samples are cool, Mark! I’ve also noticed this type style as stamps a lot. This whole era of DIY publishing had a very particular look to it, most of which seems almost incidental from the technology, perhaps more than it was a conscious stylistic choice. The Ted Nelson book you showed also reminds me of some of Victor Papanek’s books that were hand-written in his cool handwriting style (the inspiration for a typeface I made a while back), with elaborate diagrams about society, culture, etc.

      Did you see the Hippie Modernism show at the Walker when it was there? I unfortunately didn’t get to see it, but I imagine there may have been some similar-looking publications in the show.

    4. Dec 17th, 2016  9:40 pm

      Here’s The Universal Traveler first edition cover:

      The Universal Traveler cover, photo by Sean Flannagan

    5. Feb 4th, 2017  4:09 am

      Jeff Levine’s Hand Stamped is based on these stamp sets.

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