Friday, November 26, 2010

ESSENTIAL PUBLISHERS anti-vomiting remedies

---Like many who read, I remember certain publishing houses as being of importance: Scribners, Little Brown, Viking, Coward McCann, Vanguard, Norton, Braziller, Arcade, Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, Bantam, Avon, Harcourt Brace… but while some of these still exist in form, can it be said they are really essential since it is obvious they publish what might be considered of literary interest only by accident

----Other publishers remain of interest: Knopf, Farrar Straus & Giroux, Grove Press, Bloomsbury but even they are incredibly erratic and no longer reliable in terms of what can be thought of as being publishers of books that are meant to be read by those of us who hold to the method of comparison and tradition--- as Eliot and Pound would suggest--- so that when I begin to read a prose book I always ask myself in what way does this nudge against say for sake of argument: Ulysses by James Joyce, Journey to the End of Night by Louis Ferdinand Celine, The Jardin Des Plantes by Claude Simon, Correction or Gathering Evidence by Thomas Bernhard, First Love by Ivan Turgenev, The Dead of the House by Hannah Green, Life A User’s Manual by Georges Perec, Absalom Absalom by William Faulkner, Hopscotch by Julio Cortazar, Paradisio by Jose Lezama Lima, I The Supreme by Augusto Roa Bastos, At Swim Two Birds by Flann O’Brien… I could go on and throw in Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and Petersburg by Andrei Bely and Larva by Julian Rios and Evening Edged with Gold by Arno Schmidt and Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne…

---So, we come to the essential publishers… does anyone remember when bookstores used to display books based upon publishers, so that when you went into the Eighth Street Bookstore in Manhattan or the main Krochs and Brentano’s in Chicago you would find all the New Directions books in one place and nearby the Grove Press books… so I was thinking in my ideal bookstore only five publishers can still be thought of in such terms and have a sufficient number of titles that it is evident that they can be trusted as reliable publishers of what is the very best:

::::New Directions remains still the absolute gold standard of what a publisher is supposed to be doing and in the Spring 2011 catalog the evidence is plain for everyone to see: ANIMALISSIDE by Laszio Krasnahorkai who is it should be said the only writer who can be listed precisely as coming in that list which begins, Samuel Beckett, Thomas Bernhard… and they announce that both Seiobo and the long anticipated SATANTANGO will eventually be published to join his two earlier books WAR & WAR and THE MELANCHOLY OF RESISTANCE

And they are also doing a newly translated Enrique Vila-Matas, NEVER ANY END TO PARIS and Cesaw Aira’s THE SEAMSTRESS AND THE WIND.. and it should be mentioned that ND is also doing a new Susan Howe a new Roberto Bolano…which reminds this reader that ND in addition to introducing the world to Bolano also introduced W.G.Sebald to the world…

And of course the reason for ND doing these books is that the house inspired by the spirit of Ezra Pound who while not telling the founder of the press James Laughlin what to do showed him the necessary method which I echoed in my first sentences: the method of comparison and tradition…

::::I do not have to discuss DALKEY PRESS again but it is simply a truism: they continue and more rigorously follow in the steps of New Directions and my own GOING TO PATCHOGUE, finally in paper from DA is clinching evidence and I would suggest three books in their Spring catalogue which would indicate the tradition into which my little book falls: EXILED FROM ALMOST EVERYWHERE by Juan Goytisolo, WERT AND THE LIFE WITHOUT END by Claude Ollier and IMPRESSIONS OF AFRICA by Raymond Roussel

:::: then there is NEW YORK REVIEW BOOKS, a sort of spinoff from the New York Review of Books which while once upon a time of interest now seems more like a corpse wrapper in the guise of a book review in which the same boring professors are still going on about the same “relevant” books as 40 years ago , edited by a man who seems like the little guy you meet in derelict cemeteries down South, who for a dollar will show you around…

HOWEVER, the book publisher New York Review Books can be seen as an equal partner with the other four publishers and they seem to hold that their job is to return to print the necessary background to understanding where we are in the present: I value in particular: THE GLASS BEES by ERNST JUNGER, MAWRDEW CZGOWCHWZ , SHORT LETTER, LONG FAREWEELL by PETERHANKDE, PRISONER OF LOVE by JEAN GENET, WITCH GRASS BY RAYMOND QUENEAU, THAT AWFUL MESS ON THE VIA MERULANA by Carlo EMILIO GADDA

And they have been bringing back into print and newly publishing the work of VASILY GROSSMAN and in particular his EVERYTHING FLOWS which is the most revelatory book about the Gulag, at least for me, as it talks about what happens when a victim of the Gulag comes back and confronts the man who sent him to the Gulag. This book encapsulated the sheer awfulness of the moral life of recent times in what was once the Soviet Union and how that awfulness remains that defining characteristic of lfe in Russia today.

The most recent book I have read from NYRB is THE ROAD by VASSILY GROSSMAN and it is the last selection, ETERNAL REST, a meditation on cemeteries in Russia… do I need to write more: Russia, the Soviet Union that vast cemetery and the question is always: how do we treat the dead… which an astute reader would recognize as the theme of ERNST JUNGER’S ALADDIN’S PROBLEM…

And I shouldn’t forget that NYRB in the summer brought out ALBERT COSSERY’s THE JOKERS which might have reminded people of an earlier books by COSSERY MEN GOD FORGOT and THE HOUSE OF CERTAIN DEATH… and which at least for me competed with Lawrence Durrell in forming my imaginary Egypt.

AND NOT TO FORGET two smaller houses, delicate essential flowers:

::::ARCHIPELAGO BOOKS does translations mostly and I will be eternally grateful to them for having done CORTAZAR’s last boo AUTONAUTS OF THE COSMOROUTE which is JC’s report of his journey down a toll road to the south of France from Paris, or never leaving the highway, eating and sleeping in the various rest areas.. I love the use of drawing, photographs and of course the words… such an obvious book and such a critique of all such travel… much as HOPSCOTCH remains ever young, ever the subversive book for those tempted by the autobiographical impulse.

And ARCHIPELAGO also revealed GEORGE LETHAM PYSICIAN AND MURDERER by ERNST WEISS, this is a book I am really afraid of.. I have dipped into it, I am scared of what I am going to find… never have I felt like this except when reading the chapters devoted to Moosbrugger who stalks Robert Musil’s A MAN WITHOUT QUALITIES in the same way that Charles Manson continues to stalk the American imagination

Finally, from England: Pushkin Press is now the only English publisher readers have to give any thought to. There are no other publishers, really, in England which are neither clones of their dreary American/German owners nor perpetuaters of the English novel that has been asleep for hundreds of years ago with the bright exceptions of B. S. Johnson, Ivy Compton Burnett and the example of Anthony Burgess.

Pushkin Press brought to the world Julian Green’s THE OTHER SLEEP, a new translation of Julien Gracq’s A DARK STRANGER and finally we are reading again in English PAUL MORAND via his VENICES and HECATE AND HER DOGS… also they have surely supplied the other Hungarian writer to join Sandor Marai when we try to imagine that country: ANTAL SZERB whose JOURNEY BY MOONLIGHT: “In the deepest stupidity there is a king of dizzying, whirlpool attractions, like death: the pull of the vacuum.”

And Pushkin Press had been faithful to SZERB and three further books have appeared and they are all now joined by LOVE IN A BOTTLE.. a collection of stories and short novels, including the one he was writing in 1943 as the net which would sweep him up to be killed in a Nazi labor camp, but this story, The Duke, An Imaginary Portrait, set in the 16th Century is not escapism but the pitting of the author’s imagination against what of course was death but to which the imagination cannot capitulate… an uneasy consolation which allowed for instance the far more famous Nabokov to survive as a writer: imagination rooted in experience but not beholding to it explains a little why Nabokov did not cease to be a writer when living in exile and SZERB is as alive today as he was then and maybe even more so given the pathetic nature of what passes for literature in the US…

the other day I had the awful experience in the subway of seeing someone reading a novel by Franzen… I wished I could have been transformed into a six foot six Black alcoholic reeking derelict who had just eaten a plate of rice and beans and finding the meal had not agreed with his stomach deposited the masticated mess in the lap of this “reader.”

9 comments:

whh said...

Twisted Spoon Press, also.

TSB are "focused on translating into English a variety of writing from Central & Eastern Europe."

list of authors: http://www.twistedspoon.com/authors.html

Connecticut Yankee said...

Bravo, Tom! Apropos your take on a commuter reading Franzen, I am relieved to report that I would not pick up a book of his with tongs...

d said...

New Directions has done a great job publishing contemporary Latin American literature lately: Bolano (of course), Aira, and Moya.

Other presses:

Melville House (Kertesz, Ballestrini, etcetera)
Open Letter (new translated fiction)
Europa Editions (new translated fiction)

Thomas McGonigle said...

My problem with Twisted Spoon, Open Letter, Melville House is that they are still really untested with only a small number of books..Melville is very very uneven but they have Tao Lin and Kertesz.. but I doubt they will do anymore of Kertesz...
Europa has been able to find the most conventional, most boring selection of novels to translate..they did one by Christa Wolf, that Stasi rat, which was interesting... but really dreary realistic, relevant books and increasing that is the case: I have started to be wary of what gets translated as it seems all too often pale imitations of either American originals or books to fill a quota of curiosity or correct politics...in fact I wish publishers would start filling in the great gaps of untranslated work starting with Ernst Junger's Journal, his essays and novels that remain to be translated.. and there is still untranslated Georgi Ivanov, the darkest and nastiest Russian classic, just read Nina Berberova's desc of him and I remember her telling me how he was simply unique, the dark dark nightmare of the emigre world

Anonymous said...

Re Ivanov: I haven't read all of it, but what I've read of Ivanov's _Peterburgskie zimy_ (St. Petersburg Winters) reminds me of a sharper-tongued version of Viktor Shklovskii's _Sentimental Journey_: it's bricolage, and affecting, especially the glancing references to the hunger and suffering of the Civil War period.

Thomas McGonigle said...

How jealous I am of the person who can read Ivanov in Russian... There are little bits in Triquarterly years ago and in that strange journal Russian Literature Triquarterly...a disturbing sexual story...Splitting the Atom...someone should put together a selection of the best books etc.. The preface could have an extensive quotation from Nina Berberova... Even Nabokov who didn't like aspects of GI still knew that he was the real thing

d said...

re: Melville House and Kertesz

They have a new Kertesz coming out early next year - 'The Fiasco'.

Thomas McGonigle said...

I want to thank d for the good news about a new Kertesz... there are still so many of his unpublished books available.. i see at a site attached to d that he has tried to have dealing with JOhn Zerzan... I once knew a woman here in NYC who had a crush on him whne they all lived in SF...have not heard his name in years... at one time he did have rather wonderful egoist thoughts but they might have... I wish more people knew the writings of Sid Parker or wrote about him or remembered him from London days...

Lee Titus Elliott said...

Along with the other great books you mention (ULYSSES, ABSALOM! ABSALOM!JOURNEY TO THE END OF NIGHT, and more), include the best "novel" of the 20th century, IN SEARCH OF LOST TIME. Proust kept me (reading it in summer 1987-- my 40th year on Earth)in suspense--really--until the very last word of the very last sentence of the thousands of glorious sentences, that word (I'll let you read it) where I finally grasped his novel's arrival. Lesson: You can't read just SWANN'S WAY--you must read all the way to the final word, like the "yes" in ULYSSES.