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Tag Archives: William Burroughs

Barney Rosset – Rosset: My Life In Publishing and How I Fought Censorship (OR Books)

Barney Rosset – Rosset: My Life In Publishing and How I Fought Censorship (OR Books)

Barney Rosset, born in Chicago in 1922 to a Russian Jewish father and Irish Catholic mother, bought Grove Press in 1951 and became America’s most significant avant-garde publisher in the second half of the twentieth century displaying a determined independent streak.

Grove Press, and its seminal literary magazine, Evergreen Review, helped shape modern culture through its catalogue and legal challenges to publish banned literary works. Rosset’s ethos that a publisher should be free to publish anything drew upon his rebellious Irish ancestry and a progressive education at Parker High School. My Life In Publishing shows that Rosset was interested in radical politics as much as sex and that he had an inquisitive mind. His War years were spent in India and Shanghai with the Field Photographic Unit, and he later made films, inspired by the French New Wave, with his Evergreen Theater. He commissioned scripts by Beckett, Ionesco, Pinter, Robbe-Grillet and Duras, making films with Beckett and Norman Mailer, and got into trouble with US Customs by importing and showing the Swedish film, I Am Curious (Yellow), eventually winning several court cases and grossing a foreign film profit second only to La Dolce Vita in 1969. Evergreen published translations from Cahiers du Cinéma and Grove published a cultural history of underground film by Parker Tyler.

Returning to Chicago in 1947 he fell in with abstract expressionist and former Parker student, Joan Mitchell. Together they went to New York and Paris, and became integral parts of the Cedar Tavern scene in Greenwich Village with Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock and Frank O’Hara, a future Grove author. Mitchell emerges as a fascinating figure in her own right enlarging the range of abstract expressionism. She was a life long friend and contributor providing cover art to many books before moving to Paris in 1959, where she became a close friend of Beckett.

Rosset’s approach was to obtain critical support for each of his books. This began with John Berryman supporting his first book, Matthew Lewis’ gothic novel, The Monk. Rosset fearlessly published three banned books, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Tropic of Cancer and The Autobiography of Malcolm X with extensive critical and legal support. The legal successes were major victories against censorship and very much part of the counterculture of the Sixties and Seventies. He was adept at finding fellow editors and allowing them to develop. A good example is Donald Allen who edited Evergreen Review 2, San Francisco Scene in 1957, featuring Ferlinghetti, Robert Duncan, McClure, Spicer, Snyder, Kerouac and Whalen, and the all-embracing New American Poetry anthology in 1960. Rosset published Burroughs’ The Naked Lunch, seeing the Dr. Benway character as comic genius and reading the book as an abstract painting, after several others had declined. When Chicago Review banned an excerpt he mounted a legal challenge getting Norman Mailer and a host of critics to appear for the defence case. He was also prepared to enter dangerous situations, such as his attempt to locate Che Guevara’s diaries in Bolivia, which led to his offices being bombed by Cuban exiles in July 1968.

Rosset worked closely with international publishers, such as John Calder in London and Maurice Girodias in Paris. Sylvia Beach, owner of Shakespeare and Co., introduced him to Samuel Beckett. His unswerving dedication to publishing what he wanted combined with great critical awareness and a wide internationalism saw him publish Artaud, Behan, Genet, Ionesco, Lorca, Neruda, Paz, Pinter in the early years, and subsequently Brecht, Orton, Borges, Stoppard, Kenaburō Ōe, Havel, Mamet, and much more Beckett. He emerges as an impatient, unpredictable, passionate, spiky and intractable figure with a feverish desire to challenge accepted views and authorises. This is an inspiring account of a difficult figure, shows the importance of alternative publishing, and will surely be the basis for subsequent biographies and feature in critical studies of those he published.

More book details here:
http://www.orbooks.com/catalog/rosset/?utm_source=Tears%20in%20the%20Fence&utm_campaign=Rosset&utm_medium=Review

David Caddy 12th December 2016

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Richard Makin’s Mourning (Equus Press, 2015)

Richard Makin’s Mourning (Equus Press, 2015)

This third part of a trilogy, including Work (Great Works, 2009) and Dwelling (Reality Street, 2011), is formally more approachable than its immediate predecessor yet still commanding a rich tapestry of language use and imaginative construction. It is no coincidence that Equus Press have reissued Philippe Soller’s H (1973, 2001) at the same time. Makin’s trilogy has some lineage with the Nouveau Roman, offering a similar antidote to the constraints and requirements of the bourgeois novel, as well as early Modernist poetry and fiction in terms of its use of fragmentary material.

Mourning, and the trilogy as a whole, is an extraordinary and distinct achievement. It is a demanding and enriching read characterized by highly wrought sentences, which cover a range of discourses and fictional events. It is not a conventional novel. There is minimal characterisation with no discernible plot other than recurring thematic issue. There is instead a succession of linked or partially connected beginnings, which echo and take the reader on endless journeys. ‘Noun a neuron. No index of terminations at the gallows gate.’ The writing is, to use Ken Edwards’s words on the back cover, a ‘non-narrative, never-ending coherence.’ It is also deeply poetic and might well be linked to such Late Modernist poets, such as J.H. Prynne and Iain Sinclair in the way that it will severely pursues a theme for a few lines and then veers off into another discourse. The pleasure of the text is that the reader is confronted with several possible reading strategies. It is a joy to dip in and out of the novel as well as to read it in order. Mourning is perhaps less fragmentary than Dwelling and has more voices off. There is also more comedy. Those readers perhaps daunted by the thought of reading a non-narrative novel can perhaps view the work more like an epic Poundian poem with some added diversions, verve and comedy.

A reading (sitting or séance). An abandoned operating theatre, saint hospital. His party has eluded capture; those who survive will be reimbursed.
Also dream: crime, accused of – wrenching up the bolts, the tubers, the mandrake by its ear. Green shoots burst through the concrete, the shattered asphalt. I don’t know how I wrote that when I was asleep: not affliction, affection, in the archaic sense of disposition, i.e. to be drawn from something, from the thin air. A white feather quivers, balanced on her breath.

There is a video of Makin reading from this chapter at the 2014 Tears in the Fence Festival on the magazine’s website: https://tearsinthefence.com/festival

A number of chapters are devoted to comments of and around definitions. There is a probing and recording of a narrative self in endless movement and commentary at work.

Locomotor ataxia
Upper mandible of earth, shell lying below, palate soft, yielding to persistent stress.
‘Let’s turn around: on your knees.’
There were pressure ulcers, degeneration of the nerve fibres – stun-grenades, phosgene bombs.
Third: the demoralized, the ragged, those without names and unwilling to work or partake of compulsory leisure (the loudest scream, that’s all I can remember). Most often, the procedure is one of blundering mediations. And that, in short, is how the epoch names what we are.

There is an echo of William Burroughs’ Dr. Benway in lines such as, ‘The patient was hung up by the jaw and left alone for several minutes’ and those dark figures with their use of drug control, biological experimentation, and so on. This sinister narrative background is played out within a kind of subverted science fiction. It is easy to miss the tongue in cheek lines in Mourning as Makin doesn’t over signal his intentions, and is quickly onto some new line or direction. The sheer narrative force and distinct use of the English language connects him in this regard to Prynne, Sinclair and a few others. Makin is the real thing. There were many notable and cracking readings at last year’s Tears in the Fence Festival, Makin’s reading generated the most extensive discussions.

Mourning is available from Equus Press, Birkbeck College (William Rowe) 43 Gordon Square, London WC1 HOPD and https://equuspress.wordpress.com/mourning/

David Caddy 24th June 2015

Rebels, Beats And Poets by Jim Burns (Penniless Press Publications, 2015)

Rebels, Beats And Poets by Jim Burns (Penniless Press Publications, 2015)

This sixth collection of informative essays and reviews showcasing Jim Burns’ encyclopedic knowledge of twentieth century bohemianism contains thoughtful insights into the current scene and is by no means set in the past.

His first substantial point is that literary criticism by highlighting a few writers and poets from the Fifties and early Sixties overlook the wider social and cultural circumstances and sheer excitement of the period through an excess of analysis. Burns opens out the artificial boundaries and distinct categories of official criticism to reveal a more confused, floating world of writers and poets, little magazines, small presses and the ephemera of bohemia. Here we glimpse through essays on political rebels, beats, jazz musicians, poets, writers, filmmakers, artists and photographers a somewhat looser field of connection and relationship as well as a deep enthusiasm to move forward to a better place. Underlining this is the contention that minor figures may well yield as much social, cultural and literary insight as some of the major figures. Burns is quite clear in understanding that, for example William Burroughs, whilst linked with Allen Ginsberg through friendship, is clearly drawing upon very different sources and techniques. His essay on Cities Of The Red Night portrays Burroughs as a moralist with the power to shock, provoke and disturb, employing humour, visual effects and shifting action from within the American tradition of outlaws and pirates.

His second provocation concerns the role of the little magazine. He echoes Samuel Beckett’s publisher, John Calder’s point that the Fifties sowed the seeds that sprouted in the much vaunted Sixties, and examines the world of Merlin, a short-lived little magazine in the Parisian bohemian world of the Fifties, which drew attention to Beckett’s writing. Merlin subsequently spawned a publishing house, which published editions of Watt and Molloy. In the essay, ‘What Will You Read Tomorrow?’ he laments the passing of the ‘alternative’ bookshops, which grew out of Sixties unrest and offered reading matter far removed from the big publishers and distributors. Given the decline of the independent and second hand bookshops, the narrowing range of Waterstones and Borders, and the fact that the Internet cannot always supply writing that is beyond the ordinary and fashionable, Burns sees a vital role for the little magazine as an outlet and resource. He writes:

And it seems to me that little magazines, for all their problems,
are a way of providing us with a system of exchanging ideas and information about the overlooked and the unusual. Isaac Rosenfeld once said of little magazines that they were outlets for ‘a small but vigorous and very vital, active and conscious group which knew fairly well the sort of thing it stood for even if it had no specific programme and whether or not it had any political allegiance.’ He also
said that one of the characteristics of a conservative age is ‘the shrinkage of extremes’ and he added: ‘I am used to thinking, because of my upbringing, of the writer standing at one extreme from society; I mean, of course, the serious writer, the conscious writer, then, as a man who stands at a certain extreme, at a certain remove from society.’
He asserts that the little magazine could provide the variety missing elsewhere, and the reassurance that there are other dissidents who don’t believe the big publishers and mass markets can supply everything that the imagination needs to keep it alive and alert to the world.

His essay on David Gascoyne’s life reminds the reader of the importance of the Parton Street Bookshop in Bloomsbury as a gathering place for young poets and their readers. It was there that Gascoyne met George Barker, Norman Cameron, Geoffrey Grigson, Roger Roughton and others, as well as where he bought imported surrealist publications. From there he would walk to Zwemmers Bookshop in Charing Cross Road to chat with Ruthven Todd and compare their imported stock. The key is that Gascoyne had a range of places to increase his reading and knowledge.

There are other fascinating essays on a range of subjects from the Paris-Amsterdam underground, Surrealistic Prague, to Henry Miller, B. Traven, and the Edward Dorn / LeRoi Jones correspondence, as well as the extensive Beat Scene interview with Burns by Kevin Ring from Spring 2014. This compelling volume of essays is a joy to read and contains much information and material that is hard to find.

David Caddy 13th April 2015

Iain Sinclair’s 70 X 70 Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked in 70 films

Iain Sinclair’s 70 X 70 Unlicensed Preaching: A Life Unpacked in 70 films

(King Mob, 2014) http://king-mob.net/

Ian Sinclair’s selection of 70 films in celebration of his 70th birthday, based on films related to the locations and enthusiasms of his life, constitutes a kind of accidental novel in its autobiographical journey. Screened in unusual venues across London in the build up towards his birthday they include rare and less well known European art cinema and British films. There are films related to his time at Trinity College, Dublin 1960-1962, film school at Brixton, films that he has made, including those related to his books, and films connected to those parts of London, which have fuelled his obsessions. His sense of London’s geography was constructed through finding cinemas, and there are extracts from the most recent films shot outside London.

The book’s format consists of Sinclair’s introductory notes to each film, which contextualise its impact on and connections to his life and writing. Orson Welles, Hitchcock, Luis Buñuel, Jean-Luc Godard, Herzog, Fassbinder, Rosselini, Antonioni, Michael Reeves, Patrick Keiller, William Burroughs, the Beats, J.G. Ballard are well featured. There are substantial and illuminating interviews with his collaborators Chris Petit, Susan Stenger, Stanley Schtinter, Andrew Kötting, as well as critic Colin MacCabe, on Godard’s Le Mépris (1963) and the writer of The Long Good Friday (1980), Barrie Keeffe. The Whitechapel Gallery film curator, Gareth Evans, director John Smith and others provide introductory notes to specific films, which with the pages of still photographs enhance the impact of the whole.

The book’s strength lies in the stories behind the films, the quirky manner in which they came to be the way they are as well as the ways the selection adds to the contextualization and interaction with Sinclair’s writing. For example, Muriel Walker, who was part of the crew that made William Dieterle’s Vulcano (1950) and became actress Anna Magnani’s secretary, provides a fascinating insight into Rosselini’s lover and the film’s production. Her photographs and diary from the shoot were featured in Sinclair’s American Smoke.

Of John Brahm’s Hangover Square (1945), loosely based on Patrick Hamilton’s 1941 novel and subtitled a tale of Darkest Earl’s Court, he writes:

‘Brahm’s film is a minor classic, a shotgun wedding of
expressionism and surrealism: barrel organs, leering
pawnbrokers, cor-blimey-guv urchins. Linda Darnell
enthusiastically impersonates a knicker-flashing singer
with flea-comb eyelashes and hair in which you could lose a
nest of squirrels. There are two mind-blowing sequences:
the bonfire on which the faithless Netta is incinerated,
while a mob of Ensor devils howl and chant – and the
concerto, when a raving Bone hammers away at a blazing
grand piano.’

As ever, the reader wishes to see the film.

Sinclair refers to Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz (1979/80), based on Alfred Döblin’s novel, as the pivotal film in the curation, as it is ‘the physical object with the most mystery.’ He writes: ‘For me going to Berlin, quite late on, was an expedition made through the filter of, initially, Döblin’s book and then the film. When I wrote about the labyrinth of memory that is Berlin, in a book called Ghost Milk, it was a tribute to both those works and a way of seeing this city.’

Gareth Evans’ closes the book with an essay ‘On the Act of Seeing with One’s Own Eyes’ and notes that whilst the curated films map ‘the road taken with wit, idiosyncrasy, combative, collaborative flair and no end of passionate poetry’ they also offer ‘a way forward, posting a typology of possible futures – of multiple spaces, found or made, for the public gaze – for how and why film is seen’. He concludes with a line from Theodore Roethke ‘In a dark time the eye begins to see’.

There is much more to this wonderfully spirited book, not least a description of actor, Toby Jones, possessing the figure of John Clare, and I urge readers of Iain Sinclair and lovers of the possibilities of film to engage with this joyous celebration.

David Caddy 7th December 2014

Amiri Baraka (Le Roi Jones 1934-2014)

Amiri Baraka (Le Roi Jones 1934-2014)

When Le Roi Jones’s volume of poems, Preface to a Twenty Volume Suicide Note, appeared from Totem / Corinth in 1961 it had a Basil King drawing on the cover and it had a poem titled ‘Way Out West’ half way through it.

 

As simple an act

as opening the eyes. Merely

coming into things by degrees.

 

Basil King was over here in England at the end of last year and he talked and read, along with his wife Martha, at Kent University amongst many other places. Basil had also worked alongside Le Roi Jones in the late 1950s when he provided the covers for the magazine which Le Roi edited along with Hettie Cohen, Yugen. Yugen closed down in 1962 after number 8 but not before the starting up of The Floating Bear, a newsletter, edited by Jones and Diane di Prima.  The Addenda to that issue number 8 of Yugen gives its readers the following information:

 

The newsletter, The Floating Bear, and its editors, Le Roi Jones and Diane di Prima, were cleared in April of obscenity charges stemming from their publication of a section of Jones’ System of Dante’s Hell and William Burroughs’ satire, The Routine.

 

That little note at the end also gives an update on what Le Roi Jones was up to, including editing Corinth’s fiction anthology, Avant Garde American Fiction, ‘which will include such prose writers as Fielding Dawson, Burroughs, Kerouac, Rumaker, Selby, Creeley, Douglas Woolf, Irving Rosenthal, Herbert Huncke, Paul Metcalfe, Diane Di Prima, and others’.

Had he had lived Amiri Baraka was due to come over to London this year to attend the University of Canterbury’s one-day conference, Baraka at 80, to be held at the ICA on 12th April.

 

The very last sentence in that last Yugen issue is:

 

‘At all other places they cremate them; Here we bury them alive’.

Farewell to a most important poet, dramatist, short-story writer, editor and major figure throughout the past fifty years.

 

Ian Brinton January 10th 2014

 

 

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