Great Bear Pamphlet

Title Great Bear Pamphlets
Location New York
Publisher Something Else Press
Periodicity Irregular
ISSN ISBN 0978869710
URL Primary Information: Great Bear Pamphlets
Published Since 1966-1967
Indexed Holdings 1966-1967


ccindex office

Periodical's Overview

“During the life of the [Something Else] Press, Higgins established sub-categories and imprints in order to publish material that, in format or in content, was not appropriate to the Press’ own formats. Most important of these spin-offs were the Great Bear Pamphlets. Named in Higgins’ epiphany-of-the-mundane manner after the distilled-water company that supplied the Press office with its water cooler, the Great Bear series resembles earlier art and political booklets and handouts of the Dadaists, Surrealists, and Futurists. The pamphlet format allowed Higgins to supplement the intimate and informal publications and editions issued by George Maciunas unter the Fluxus rubric.

The Pamphlets break down into two series, each of which appeared in two stages. The first series, which was numbered, began with booklets by Knowles and Higgins, issued in 1965, and was completed with the appearance of eight other issues the next year. The second series commenced with John Cage’s pamphlet in early 1967, the other nine pamphlets appearing later that same year. The second series was unnumbered; the listing of the entire Great Bear line on the back of the books in the second series--as well as on reprints of those in the first--presented all twenty pamphlets in alphabetical order, disregarding the first series’ original numeration. The format was maintained from the first series to the second, however, indicating that Higgins regarded the pamphlets as the “new sensibility” equivalent of the literary press chapbook. Material was chosen, or edited, for this uniform format: sixteen pages stapled, without covers, eight by five inches. Great liberties were taken to model format to content in the Something Else Press books, but in the Pamphlets the reverse was the rule. Only Cage’s booklet provided an exception with its extraordinary manipulation of multicolored typography. The Pamphlets were set in traditional, highly readable typefaces, and were handsomely printed. The paper stock of the first series was slightly heavier than that of the second (or of the reprints from the first). Each book was printed on a different color paper.”[1]

Selected Subject Headings

  • Deterministic chaos
  • Fluxus (group of artists)
  • Folklore - Scandinavia
  • Happening (art)
  • Literature, Experimental - United States
  • Manifestoes
  • Musicians’ writings
  • Noise
  • Performance art - instructions
  • Rites and ceremonies
  • Something Else Press
  • Stochastic processes
  • Zaj (group of artists)


“A poor man’s keys to the new art” is how Barbara Moore recalls Dick Higgins recalling the Great Bear Pamphlet series. Moore’s words and recollections are now available in Primary Information’s website, perhaps giving an indication of the resilience of this format, a pamphlet, but also of the need to sustain as well as to invent new sets of keys to access ephemeral art, fragile publications; these pamphlets originally published in the 1960s by Something Else Press were ephemeral as a gesture or a thought can be, all colorfully rendered in paper.

For those not familiar with their original publishing house, “[t]he Something Else Press was founded by Richard C. (Dick) Higgins in 1964 and lasted for a decade. It was the first publishing house in the United States to devote itself to what are now called ‘artists’ books’--integral artworks designed for publication and distribution in traditional book formats--and the scope and importance of its activities have not been equalled since. In the history of small presses, especially in America, the Something Else Press remains extraordinary, if not unique, in its combination of high-quality trade formats, well-crafted printing and assembling, and broad distribution methods.”[2]

And for those not familiar with Dick Higgins, he was a prominent member of the Fluxus group in New York, meaning a whole network of artists, writers and musicians who were to redefine what avant-garde art, literature and music could mean 50 years after the Dadaist or Futurist iterations. An internationalist assortment of artists, Fluxus anarchic strands “plait into a thick braid entwining amazing brainstorms, a politic of liberation, parareligious asceticism as well as the pratfall of the burlesque stooge who slips on the banana peel of life, an elliptical humor much in debt to Marcel Duchamp, the jokey side of Dadaism traceable to the music hall of Alfred Jarry’s Pataphysics. Last, Fluxus’ political bias is strongly primitive-Christian and pro worker.”[3]

All of these seemingly disparate interests coalesce in the Great Bear Pamphlet series, where some of New York’s 1960s experimental participants revolving around the Fluxus flux were given 16 pages in which to present their work, be that a poem titled “The last french-fried potato” by Emmett William, a seminal essay by George Brecht on chance, or theater plays and happenings by Claes Oldenburg or Allan Kaprow.

True to that particular internationalist networking movement, European participants like Diter Rot, Wolf Vostell and Robert Filliou had their own pamphlet, and two of them as well as other international artists had an opportunity to be present in the biggest pamphlet produced, the one dedicated to Manifestos. It is exciting to see in this pamphlet positivistic salvos from the W.E.B. DuBois Clubs' Peace, Love, and Freedom or Öyvind Fahlström’s Take care of the world being placed alongside Phillip Corner’s initial statement Western civilization is done with, or Diter Rot’s elaborations on the word Shit.

What interests us is the dialectical frisson that emerges from the documents stemming from a movement that embraced spontaneity, levity, ephemerality and transience, but that at the same time has one of its publishing organs state that “[w]e are not interested in built-in obsolescence. We want our books to be as fresh ten years from now as they are today, and as much of a joy to behold.”[4]

Now, 40 years plus after their appearance, and thanks to yet another beautiful facsimile by Primary Information, we can rejoice as we behold Nam June Paik’s Great Bear metempsychotic statement We are in open circuits join the endless chain of relays that configure our reality. Say, a chronics of things.

To peruse the indexed contents of Great Bear Pamphlet, please log into the database.


[1]Frank, Peter. “The Great Bear Pamphlets.” In: Something Else Press: an annotated bibliography. New Paltz, NY: McPherson, 1983: 65.

[2]”Introduction.” Ibid., 1.

[3]Pincus-Witten, Robert. “Fluxus and the Silvermans: an introduction.” In: Jon Hendricks. Fluxus codex. Detroit: Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection in association with H.N. Abrams, New York, 1988: 15.

[4]What to look for in a book--physically & catalogue 1965-66. New York: Something Else Press, [1966]: 8.