Posts Tagged ‘“James joyce”’

Here’s something you didn’t know about Ezra Pound

Sunday, December 15th, 2013
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Pound

The soul of charity?

Ezra Pound ranks among the finest poets of his generation, but his greatest trait may have been his eye for talent in others.” That’s the opinion of Ted Gioia in The Daily Beast today, on the 100th anniversary of an unsolicited letter that changed the course of modern fiction.  The object of Pound’s benevolent eye was the unsuccessful young writer James Joyce.

Ted writes:

James Joyce, thirty years old, had faced rejection after rejection during the previous decade. He had completed his collection of short stories, Dubliners, eight years before Pound contacted him—but Joyce still hadn’t found a publisher willing to issue the book. Every time he came close to seeing this work in print, new objections and obstacles arose, and even Joyce’s offer to make changes and censor controversial passages failed to remove the roadblocks.

Joyce had even fewer prospects to publish his novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In 1911, his frustration had grown so intense, Joyce threw the manuscript into a fire, and only the quick intervention of his sister Eileen, who pulled the pages out of the flames, prevented the loss of the novel. Joyce had made even less headway with Ulysses, a work he had been planning since 1906. His constant financial pressures and despair over his inability to publish his fiction sapped his determination to push ahead with the future masterpiece.

joyce

S.O.S.

During his late twenties, Joyce explored other ways of earning a living. He tried his hand at setting up a chain of movie theaters in Ireland, and worked at importing Irish tweed to Italy. His opportunities to write for hire declined, and most of his income came from teaching English at Berlitz schools. Joyce worked tirelessly at this humble job, but still needed to rely on constant financial support from his brother to pay his bills.

At this low point, James Joyce received a letter from a total stranger.

“Dear Sir,” it began, “Mr. Yeats has been speaking to me of your writing.” Ezra Pound offered to make useful connections for Joyce, and find places where he could publish his writings. “This is the first time I have written to any one outside of my own circle of acquaintance (save in the case of French authors),” Pound admitted, but he was quick to add: “[I] don’t in the least know that I can be of any use to you—or use to me.”

And then Pound performed miracles.  “Ezra was the most generous writer I have ever known,” Ernest Hemingway said. He estimated that Pound devoted about a fifth of his time on his own writing, and the rest to advancing the careers of other artists. Who knew?

Read the whole thing here.  And it’s nice to know something nice about Ezra Pound among all the nasty things that get said, because, well, it’s Christmas.

The word has a life of its own – “it lives in the kingdom of the mouth and the mind.”

Saturday, February 25th, 2012
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The author

When I visited Ann Pasternak Slater last fall, I asked if her husband, the writer Craig Raine, might have a copy of the famously blistering review he wrote of Joseph Brodsky‘s poetry. I say “famous,” but my efforts had failed to uncover any copy of the review in any library. He hadn’t, but some weeks later she wrote that he had suggested I look up the review in his 500+ page book of essays, In Defense of T.S. Eliot.  Feeling a little rebuffed, I nevertheless found a copy of the book in Stanford’s Green Library, and I must say that he’s rather won me over, on every subject except Brodsky.

This paragraph, in particular, from the essay “A Book that Changed My Life,” about finding Vladimir Nabokov‘s Lolita as a 14-year-old boarding school student in 1959:

“I settled to read this dirty book – undeceived by the international tributes to Nabokov’s art which were anthologized at the back – and was at once bouleversé by the first paragraph, which had, as it turned out, a particular personal message from Nabokov to me. It was this: the word has a life of its own, a sound of its own and a shape of its own. It isn’t simply a harmless drudge, it is also a monarch with a retinue of associations. It lives in the kingdom of the mouth and the mind. If it is to obey you, you must cherish it as an individual and respect its unique powers and properties. Every word is irreplaceable, as Roget paradoxically but invariably demonstrates.”

Coincidentally, today’s Washington Post announced the death of 77-year-old Dmitri Nabokov, the author’s son, whose position as heir inevitably meant much of his life was spent protecting his father’s literary legacy and translating and editing his father’s plays, poems, stories, including the novella The Enchanter and the Selected Letters.

“My father is gradually marching — with his two favorite writers, Pushkin and Joyce — arm in arm into the pantheon to join the greatest of all, Shakespeare, who is waiting for them,” Nabokov told The Associated Press in a 2009 interview. “I like to think that I did my bit to keep things on track.”

 

Antoine Jaccottet’s Le Bruit du Temps: Fresh air for French readers

Monday, February 13th, 2012
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Translation is the poor stepchild of literature – academics get more applause for producing their own books, not for translating the writing of others; for writers, it’s a distraction from their own work and not terribly well remunerated. Hence, a welter of books never appear on the international stage the way they deserve.

So it’s cheering to see a venture like the Paris-based Le Bruit du Temps, a publishing house crowded in one large room in one of the more picturesque neighborhoods in a city that has plenty of them.  Founder and director Antoine Jaccottet has a desk in one corner; his collaborator, Cécile Meissonnier, has a desk on the other side.  Pictures of Osip Mandelstam, Isaac Babel, and others are stuffed into the edges of a large mirror – they are the real masters here. The window next to it gives a clear view on a plaque indicates that James Joyce finished Ulysses across the street here, on rue du Cardinal Lemoine in the Latin Quarter.

Antoine Jaccottet, son of the poet and translator Philippe Jaccottet (who translated Goethe, Hölderlin, Mann, Mandelstam, Góngora, Leopardi, Musil, Rilke,  Ungaretti, and Homer into French), worked for 15 years at the famous French publisher Gallimard, publishing classics, before he broke out on his own for a shoestring enterprise in 2008. The tight-budge endeavor, however, produces elegantly designed, finely crafted volumes.

Masterpieces don’t die, he says, but they can get lost in the noise of time.  It’s the job of publishers to rediscover them for the public, and what better place than the small adventurous publishers who have a freedom and esprit not usually tapped by large publishing houses.

As I gaze over the offices teeming bookshelves, I notice an entire shelf of W.H. Auden in English.  He’s one of the house’s authors.  Le Mer et le Miroir … Auden in French? How does he come across?  It’s difficult, Antoine admits, for the French to “get” Auden’s sensibility.

He’s also published  Zbigniew Herbert in French, Lev Shestov‘s Athens and Jerusalem, the complete works of Isaac Babel, and Henry James‘s The Ambassadors.  Even Shakespeare‘s (cough, cough) Henry VIII.

Mandelstam is, in a sense, the reason for the place.  The title of the publishing house itself – “the noise of time” – is taken from the title of Mandelstam’s prose collection, which includes perhaps his most autobiographical writing.  Antoine had been taken with the Russian poet in the 90s, and the translations and biography by the eminent scholar Clarence Brown.  One of the first books the house published was Le Timbre égyptien (The Egyptian Stamp).  The Ralph Dutli biography will be published this month.  (The house published Dutli’s poems in 2009).

A piece of old France

Le Bruit du Temps’ books by and about Mandelstam illustrate an underlying principle at the house:  Antoine publishes works that develop and deepen recurrent themes like a symphony.  In 2009, he published published Browning’s L’Anneau et le Livre, republished G.K. Chesterton‘s out-of-print 1903 Robert Browning (Chesterton’s first book), Elizabeth Barrett Browning‘s Sonnets from the Portuguese and Henry James‘s Sur Robert Browning. That’s probably more Browning than Elizabeth Barrett ever saw.

Literary journalism, apparently, is as much in a crisis in France as it is here – the media often publishes book blurbs intact, and critics are famous for not reading the books they review.  So how do people hear about books?  Often, they don’t, he says.

As I leave, Antoine gives me a little souvenir of my visit, the publishing house’s brand new Le Bruit du Temps, a slim and elegant volume, fresh from the press.  What could be more fitting?

He also shows me a rarely seen landmark as he shows me the door – at the back of the courtyard, between the buildings, in the soft sunlight of the late afternoon, the ancient Paris city walls of  Philippe Auguste, the oldest surviving city walls, about the time of the poet Marie de France.

Postscript on 3/16:  Nice mention on the University of Rochester’s “Three Percent” blog over here.

 

What’s the worst great book you ever read?

Saturday, August 13th, 2011
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Stick to "The Dubliners"

A cadre of leading authors and critics are on a roll over at Slate, dissing the great classics.  It’s over here.

Disses are always fun to read, so here’s a potpourri:

Poet and Yale Review editor J.D. McClatchy says he would put himself first on the list, if he were rated at all, but then he characterizes Virginia Woolf as “noxious smoke and dusty mirrors.”

“Not far behind, and for completely different reasons, William Carlos Williams: So little depends on stuff lying around. The absolute worst, the gassiest, most morally and aesthetically bankrupt, the most earnestly and emptily studied and worshipped … that’s an easy one. Ezra Pound.”

James Joyce takes a drubbing more than once.

Author Lee Siegel confesses “I just can’t do Finnegans Wake”:

“As a graduate student in literature, I was surrounded by people who claimed not just to have read Finnegans Wake but to have understood it and I took another futile stab at it. I realize now that they were all frauds who later went to work in the subprime mortgage industry.” He concludes: The adult realization that whatever sublime beauties of language and idea are in Joyce’s novel, I have to let them go. Just as there are sublime places—Antarctica—that I will never visit. As I learned from Joyce’s Ulysses, the mystery of everyday life is fathomless enough. There is still a world in a grain of sand.”

"Lame" himself

Daniel Mendelsohn, frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books, adds to the pile-on: “what spoils Ulysses for me, each time, is the oppressive allusiveness, the wearyingly overdetermined referentiality, the heavy constructedness of it all…it’s more like being on one of those Easter egg hunts you went on as a child—you constantly feel yourself being managed, being carefully steered in the direction of effortfully planted treats.”

J.D. Salinger?  Forget it.  Author Tom Perrotta recalls:

“On a recent episode of South Park, the kids got all excited about reading The Catcher in the Rye, the supposedly scandalous novel that’s been offending teachers and parents for generations. They were, of course, horribly disappointed: As Kyle says, it’s ‘just some whiny annoying teenager talking about how lame he is.’”

Not unsurprisingly, the most generous words come from Elif Batuman:

Generous spirit

Like many people, I enjoy learning which canonical books are unbeloved by which contemporary writers. However, I don’t think participants in such surveys ought to blame either themselves (“I’m so lazy/uneducated”) or the canonical books (“Ulysses is so overrated”). My view is that the right book has to reach you at the right time, and no person can be reached by every book. Literature is supposed to be beautiful and/or necessary—so if at a given time you don’t either enjoy or need a certain book, then you should read something else, and not feel guilty about it.

FYI on Elif:  Her The Possessed: Adventures With Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, was plugged by Imitatio here. (hat tip, Dave Lull). Why the a surprise?  Imitatio is the organization founded to study the ideas of René Girard, and some consider her book to be a spoof of those same ideas, with an obsessed  and charismatic graduate student so unable to break the chain of mimetic desire that he finds peace and happiness only in a monastery.  My own opinion:  she has done a lot to revive an interest in his ideas for a new generation.  The site links to the glowing Guardian review that notes the hit memoir’s “detailed engagement with René Girard’s theory of the novel and mimetic desire.”

René told me he hadn’t read it, but when I explained the plot story about the graduate student, he chuckled sagely.

The “Great Minds Think Alike” Dept.:  Patrick Kurp over at Anecdotal Evidence has written about the same Slate piece today, with his own nominations for the overrated – it’s here.

Meanwhile, in the comments section at Slate, Terrence Wentworth offered this: “Cool idea, but reading author after author being bashed got depressing by the end. It was surprising how many respondents were willing to pass judgment on books they hadn’t finished. Saying “I couldn’t finish it” is not a very powerful argument for a book’s inferiority. And I thought being well read entailed knowledge of books one didn’t like or find agreeable. I think a call for praise of un-PC works would have been much more daring. But how many contemporary critics are even willing to look for beauty in, say, Ezra Pound?

The world celebrates Bloomsday

Thursday, June 16th, 2011
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Coming soon: Public domain for writings

Happy Bloomsday, the day set aside to celebrate the life of James Joyce and relive the events in his novel Ulysses, all of which take place on June 16, 1904, “a day which for some of us is far, far more important than Midsummer,” says author John Naughton.

Time magazine offers five ways to celebrate.  The easiest?  “Drink up!”  Complimentary drinks at the Ulysses’ pub in downtown New York, but for those of you who can’t make it, you can probably track down a Guinness at the local Safeway.

Not to be outdone, the Los Angeles Times offers eight ways to celebrate – but here’s the funnest:  a rare recording of James Joyce reading from his own writing, pointed out by Boing Boing in 2009. The James Joyce Centre says that he was recorded reading from his work in 1924 and 1929 at the urging of Sylvia Beach, publisher of Ulysses.

Naughton notes, “When I first heard it I was astonished to find that he had a broad Irish-country accent. I had always imagined him speaking as a ‘Dub’ — i.e. with the accent of most of the street characters in Ulysses.”

There’s even a blog to commemorate the whole occasion:  Ulysses Meets Twitter 2011.

Still not enough?  Think of this:  James Joyce’s work begin migrating into public domain in January.  That’s enough to bring a smile to this lady’s face.

Meanwhile, a different kind of celebration below:

Postscript: Dave Lull pointed out a Wall Street Journal article recounting celebrations in Croatia, Australia, Shanghai, Norway and Argentina. (And Dublin, of course.) It’s here.

Kate Bush gets permission to cite James Joyce — 20 years later

Tuesday, April 5th, 2011
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Congratulations ... kind of...

Bookslut asks, “Is Stephen Joyce softening?”  The copyright tyrant who destroyed a generation of James Joyce scholarship by threatening lawsuits and refusing permissions, and whose legal antics tormented Carol Loeb Shloss for two decades before she finally got a verdict in her favor (I wrote about it here), gave permission for singer-songwriter Kate Bush to use his grandfather’s words in a song. The original request was made 20 years ago.  According to The Telegraph:

Reclusive singer Kate Bush has been given the go-ahead to use the text of James Joyce’s Ulysses for a song, more than 20 years after asking.

The singer, who next month returns with her first album for six years, was originally prevented from using the Irish writer’s words, causing her to write a new lyric to the track.

But now she has been able to rework the song after finally being granted permission.

A sudden spurt of generosity?  A change of heart?  Not likely.  James Joyce’s works finally begin migrating into public domain in January 2012.

Meanwhile, Carol is busy editing The Collected Unpublished Letters of James Joyce for Oxford University Press.  We wrote about it here.

Wonder why art books cost so much lately?

Saturday, December 4th, 2010
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How much for the lady in the window?

I hold in my hands  a slim, attractive book of a little over 100 pages.  The well- (but not lavishly) illustrated paperback costs 50 bucks.

The reason:  it includes art reproductions. No, I’m not talking about the cost of 4-color reproduction, special shiny paper, et cetera.  These images are reproduced on regular paper stock.

Over a quick dinner at the Stanford Faculty Club, the author told me that his small publisher had to fork out $25,000 in royalties to secure 30 images for a press run of 1,000 books.  That’s $25 per book for artwork, before you even factor in the costs of reproduction.  Nearly $1,000 per image.

Nor are we talking about spanking new artwork, fresh from SF-MOMA, or the need of starving artists to buy kitty litter for their cats.  These are all old paintings — some several thousand years old.  They are all in the public domain.

Basically, it’s the photo rights monopolies like Bridgman Art Library and the museums who own the paintings and charge though the nose. These controlling entities make using full color photos in books prohibitively expensive. Especially for books put out by the shoestring academic presses. You are paying for their images of the images — and no, you can’t go to the museum and take your own snap.

Our current copyright mess is not, of course, confined to images.  Words get pretty messy too.  For my own book, An Invisible Rope, which should be out within days, I had to pony up to more than four different organizations for rights to republish a small handful of poems, poems excerpts, and a few chunks of letters:  HarperCollins in the U.S., Penguin in the U.K., the Andrew Wylie Agency in New York, the Andrew Wylie Agency in London, and as a few others as well.  Andrew Wylie (nicknamed “the Jackal”) is, of course, notorious for his tough dealings and arrogance (no, I don’t know much about his latest electronic deals and can’t comment).  I have to say my dealings with the Wylie Agency — for three books now — have been unfailingly cordial, professional, and fair.  I have nothing but good things to say about Wylie.  Nevertheless, I was in some cases paying for translators to cite poems they themselves had translated.  In other cases, I was paying to cite iconic poems that are already all over the internet.

Ouch!

Our whole copyright law is screwy, and my own book (as well as my friend’s) demonstrates it.  (See Carol Shloss of James Joyce lawsuit saga fame for a true horror story — copyrights controlled by one whack job destroyed a generation of Joyce scholarship.) Copyright is not designed for heirs to control what scholars say about an artist or author — even though that’s how it’s been used by the Joyce Estate and the Ted Hughes/Sylvia Plath Estate, and others.  Nor should it be legalized extortion.  Rather, it is to protect the financial interest in an artists’ works.  So, say, on a Lescaux cave drawing or an Ptolemaic mural — whose interests are being protected?  My own limited use of poems will not damage anyone’s pockets — in fact, I sincerely hope it will increase interest in Czesław Miłosz‘s oeuvre.

However, this impoverished writer is feeling lucky, after a dinner with the author, that she only had to shell out several hundred bucks for permissions (though it came out of my own pocket, not my hardscrabble publisher’s).

Postscript on 12/5: More thoughts from the worldwide web:

The incomparable jazz scholar Ted Gioia wrote at Facebook:

Yes, this is all too true. In many instances, the person who has the rights to the images included in a book makes more money than the author.

And Blogger Art Durkee wrote over at Books Inq., where this post was linked:

I’ve been to several museums lately, and mostly they let you make non-flash photographs of their permanent collections, for personal or scholarly use. But they make you pay through the nose for any commercial use. It’s partly about control, yes, but it’s also partly about making money from their collection. It’s an interesting conundrum. The copyright control of the aspect is actually fairly open-ended, and perhaps more open to question than they would lead us to believe.

Why is this woman smiling? Carol Shloss, a year after the James Joyce lawsuit

Friday, October 29th, 2010
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Why is this woman smiling? Click last year’s video to find out.

There is indeed life after lawsuit – although you may not believe it while the ordeal staggers on,  sucking the life out of everything around you.  Carol Shloss successfully slayed the notorious James Joyce Estate dragon last year.  So I had dinner with her last week to learn her latest ventures in her post-lawsuit life, and they are legion.

At the California Café, over gnocchi (for me), crab (for her), and a nice Ravenswood Zinfadel for both of us,  she told me she is negotiating a contract to edit The Collected Unpublished Letters of James Joyce for Oxford University Press. Asking for trouble?  Not likely.  The Joyce oeuvre at last lurches into public domain next year.

Carol is also busily working on Treason’s Child: Mary de Rachewiltz and the Real Estate of Ezra Pound The book will be the second volume of a projected trilogy.  (The first was the disputed 2003 Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake about James Joyce’s daughter; the third will consider Anna Freud.)

Still smiling ... (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

That’s not all.  She’s also heading “The Stanford Finnegans Wake Visualization Project,” which involves computer graphing of 62 languages in the Wake.  She laid the groundwork for the project with a Modern Language Association presentation two years ago, and also spoke on “Geological Computer Tools in the Mapping of Joyce’s Texts” in Tours, France, about the same time.  With the project, she’s treating the layers of language in the book as if they were layers of the earth and its atmosphere.  I don’t quite understand  it … maybe it was the wine…

Meanwhile, at the Addison, Maine, cottage where she spent the summer and early fall, she also launched a project to teach some of the local disadvantaged kids via graphic novels.  We outline a little about how that works here. “In the university, graphic novels are trendy,” she said.  “In rural Maine, they help to overcome resistance to literacy for kids who can’t or don’t like to read.”

Worthwhile ventures, wonderful dinner. Life is good.  Especially over Zinfandel.

“I’m a detective. That’s what a biographer is.”

Thursday, March 18th, 2010
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The San Francisco Chronicle has a short Q&A with biographer Carol Shloss here.  Carol recently settled a groundbreaking lawsuit against the James Joyce estate, which had been persecuting her for some years (see New Yorker article here).

Not much new in today’s article — but we do learn about her current work-in-progress, Modernism’s Daughters, a trilogy that includes the daughters of James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Sigmund Freud.

We also learn that she’s a dachshund lover and a detective novel fan, currently reading Elizabeth George’s Careless in Red.