Sunday, October 11, 2015

SEAGULL BOOKS: The Best Publisher in English

         Seagull Books is now the publisher to go to for what is the best in world literature.  About the only other publisher of its authority is Robert Calasso’s Adelphi Editions in Italy.  Seagull’s seasonal catalogues are the first I look forward to. Of course there are other publishers, Archipelago, Open Letter, Dalkey Archive, New Directions and Two Lines  but for the breadth of their interests and the actual shape and feel of the books Seagull is in another class. 
         Of course one is curious about FSG but they seem to do fewer and fewer real books--- though in the immediate moment SUBMISSION by Michel Houellebecq and recently the ZIBALDONE by Leopardi as well as PARALLEL LIVES by Peter Nadas--- mitigate that reservation to be sure but as far as I can tell at the moment there is nothing very much to expect of  poor Alfred Knopf at 100 years with a picture of the aged Sunny Mehta posing with another relic Patti Smith in the Wall Street Journal society page--- such is the fate…
         Seagull Books originating in India is distributed by the University of Chicago Press---  they have German, Italian, French lists as well as books in many other fields beyond what I am mostly interested in, literature…  My shelves are filling with their books.  It is as if they have opened a delightful river of non traditional books dominated by the fragment and obsessive narrators, remembering suddenly Nicanor Parra saying to me sometime in the early 70s in  The Only Child  a bar on West 79th Street NYC:  “to echo him: the I is always another.”  Parra did not have to mention Rimbaud and it is this sort of intelligence and understanding at work in the selecting of books and authors by Seagull and here I will list some--- and you can see by the list why--- Peter Handke, Thomas Bernhard, Elfriede Jelinek, Laszlo Kraznahorkai, Alexander Kluge, Pascal Quignard, Yves Bonnefoy, Hans Magus Enzenberger, Jorge Luis Borges, Ingeborg Bachmann, Max Frisch… and in the mail yesterday: PAPER COLLAGE (Selected Aphorisms and Short Prose)  by Georges Perros, drawn from three books originally in French (1960-78) from Gallimard of this recluse’s thoughts…: at random:  It’s wrong to complain. If we knew where we came from, where we are and where we are going, it would be absolute hell.
         Pascal Quignard is a re-discovery for me as I had read now too long ago THE SALON IN WURTTEMBERG (Published when Grove Press was owned by a Getty woman and George Weidenfeld) and ALL THE WORLD’S MORNINGS… those were relatively traditional novels as Quignard at least based on the five books that Seagull has published: THE ROVING SHADOWS, THE SILENT CROSSING, ABYSSES, SEX AND TERROR, THE SEXUAL NIGHT. 
         What I treasure in Quignard is his ability to reveal my absolute ignorance and illiteracy when I attempt to compare my own memory and learning of what is in reality world literature.  His books rely upon the suggestive fragment, brief prose passages sometimes connected, often times not, ranging across the whole of world literature with a wonderfully sensuous understanding of the ancient world and in this he can only be compared to Roberto Calasso in their shared understanding that the---  like Krapp I now slam the tape machine off so as to avoid revealing my own pathetic attempt to understand either of these writers.
Of course Quignard is not much reviewed in the US---where if you are praised by the NY Times it is a form of abuse, such is the state of newspaper reviewing--- and the same went for Ingeborg Bachmann’s WAR DIARY written as an 18 rear old as WW2 comes to an end and her affair with a British soldier who turns out to be an exile Austrian Jewish guy who eventually leaves for what will be Israel… another text adding to our understanding of the only woman one really knows from the German language as it were… and there was Max Frisch’s DRAFTS FOR A THIRD SKETCHBOOK :  “what our American friends expect: a miracle!... they want to be feared and loved at the same time.  If we don’t manage that, they see it as anti-American”… to add to the long ago published notebooks from the 70s another writer who disappeared for the most part from America…
Here are two passages from ABYSSES  by Quignard and allow them to stand in for all the books by all the authors I have both  listed and not listed as being published by Seagull Books:
Libraries and museums took over from churches and palaces.  Sacred places where all the members of a group began to worship, gathering in silence around something neither-found- nor-lost (the fascinus of Osiris).  Societies that were increasingly religious and mythologizing, adoring themselves in the reflection of their past.  Flocks of sheep, horned animals and dreams circulating endlessly around the empty, trans-temporal envelope 
In the great age of exploration, the whole of the known world become drenched in ecclesiastical Latin---a fact we might well find astonishing.  All the more astonishing, indeed, as Aramaic, Hebrew and Greek were all more likely to have been spoken in the houses of Yeshua than the tongue of the Romans, which was merely the persecutory language of the triumphal arches and crucifixion.
          But I can not stop in the past--- if there is such a thing--- as Seagull has also published two books of conversations  with Jorge Luis Borges conducted by Osvaldo Ferrari in Borges 84th year:  and the most startling in ways that seem obvious in our moment of typing and reading…  Ferrari mentions that the American landing on the moon was welcomed by Borges but the rest of the world seems to have quickly forgotten it….  This leads to a discussion that in recounting sounds pretentious  in our dumbed down times but to just list some of the proper names:  Jules Verne, H. G. Wells, Eric the Red, Melville, Whitman, Berkeley, Plato, Seneca, Saint Brendan, Denis de Rougemont, Columbus…...  of course it is not… but Ferrari and Borges tease the landing out and finally Borges is asked why this great adventure is now not talked about, marveled over:  “No, one doesn’t talk about it because one talks about elections, one talks about the saddest subject of all which  is politics. It is not for the first time that I’m the enemy of the State and of States and of nationalism which is one of the blemishes of our time.  The fact that each person insists on the privilege of having been born in one or another point or corner of the planet, no?  And that we’re so far from the ancient dream of the Stoic, that time when people were defined by their city--- Thales of Miletus, Zeno of Elea, Heraclitus of Ephesus, etc, who would say that they were citizens of the world.  It would have been a scandalous paradox for the Greeks..
       Later there is an aside, “the moon of Virgil and the moon of Shakespeare were already before the discovery, no? … There’s something so intimate about the moon…There’s a line in Virgil which talks about ‘amica silentia lunae’, which refers to the brief period of darkness which allow the Greek to get down from the wooden horse and invade Troy.  But Wilde, who doubtless knew about this, prefers to talk about “the friendly silence of the moon’.  And in a line of my own, I’ve said:  “the silent friendliness of the moon/ I quote Virgil badly) accompanies you.’
         That seems a good place to stop as you search out the Seagull books catalogue at University of Chicago Press.
         But come to think of it there is a better place—last week I read with my students in Freshman Composition 2 at BMCC  Peter Handke’s TILL DAY YOU DO PART OR A QUEST OF LIGHT (Seagull Books) in which a woman from what seems to be a Roman tombstone begins to speak and we realize it is the voice of the women mentioned in Krapp’s Last Tape… the only possible response to this great work of art where she takes issue with Krapp and what I have always enjoyed about the play when Krapp concludes:   “I can feel the fire in me now…”
         And I could even go on to Ralf Rothmann or Patrick Roth or Annemarie Schwarzenbach--- whose life and literary works trace out the sexual frontiers that are coming to be taken for granted in the US:… 

         Yet… it is a struggle to disbelieve that  it is now really all too late for such a publisher… I hope I am wrong since Seagull originating in India…maybe still has the ancient optimism from before KA---to echo Calasso...
AND A PS PS  when I went to fix some typos:  APOSTOLOFF  by Sibyl Lewitscharoff...caught my eyes across from where I am sitting--- a going to Bulgaria... and I have only scratched the surface!!!!