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This item is taken from PN Review 65, Volume 15 Number 3, January - February 1989.

News & Notes
When I first met Stefan Themerson at his flat in Maida Vale in 1952, my impression was at once of a man curiously remote and curiously accessible. His remoteness was due less to the fact that, as I afterwards learned, he had been born in Plock, in Poland, educated in Warsaw at the university and the Ecole Polytechnique, and had already had a distinguished international career as a maker of experimental films, than to the peculiar poise of his incurably analytical mind. Yet it was this analytical habit which brought him close to his interlocutor. He was far from being the sort of analyst who is lost in his abstractions. He was interested in all the minutiae of the world immediately about him, and endlessly interested by what logic could or could not make of them, and in this way one was, with him, drawn into a world both familiar and novel. He remained a friend for the next 36 years, and I cannot remember an occasion on which we met which was not illuminated by some new foray into the unexpected. He had only to puff at his pipe for a moment to emerge with some new reflection at once profoundly gentle and profoundly humorous.

His own writings never fail to exhibit the peculiarities of his conversation. Whether in children's books such as Mr Rouse Builds His House (1950) or Peddy Bottom (1951), novels such as Professor Mmaa's Lecture (1953), Tom Harris (1967), or The Mystery of the Sardine (1985), or in his more overtly theoretical writings such as On Semantic Poetry (1975), the same improbable mind was at work, always presenting its case with modesty as well as wit. The title of his Janker Adler or an artist seen from one of many possible angles, is characteristic. He observed and reasoned; he did not pretend to sweep the board. It was no doubt this which attracted Bertrand Russell (himself perhaps not always so diffident); Themerson was in close touch with Russell throughout the fifties, and when I first visited the flat in Randolph Avenue the noble lord had recently been there for Franciszka to do a drawing of him.

My first meeting is in some sort recorded in a small poem called 'In London', which ends with the line 'I do not know the answer in the end.' The answer I did not know was whether Stefan, who in 1948 had founded the Gaberbocchus Press, would be publishing An Asiatic Romance, and there were some delicate questions to be resolved-on my side only whether I could afford the modest contribution the Press needed towards the cost of publication. Stefan liked the satirical element in my book and it was followed in 1955 by my Versions & Perversions of Heine, as part of the Gaberbocchus Black Series and without subsidy. There must have been elements in my work that did not appeal to Stefan, and he hesitated over Christopher Homm which had to wait a dozen years for publication by Methuen. But the breadth of his sympathies was never in doubt, in a list which included the first English translations of Grabbe, Jarry, Queneau and Pol-Dives, as well as Adler, Apollinaire, Haussmann and Schwitters, Russell and Stevie Smith. In our various meetings over the years there was no faltering in his sympathy, and we both tacitly recognised that we had to go different ways. All except one of his early experimental films are unfortunately lost, but of his strange analytical talent with words plentiful evidence remains, and is about to be added to by his posthumous novel, Hobson's Island, to be published at the end of October, when new readers will find, what old ones have long known, that his talent was the vehicle of an ever-present humour and a wide humanity. Why did he write in English, rather than in Polish or in French? His own answer to this question was, that the language chose him, and that should suffice for the future. C.H. SISSON

Following the sale of some thirty years of its archives to the British Library the Poetry Book Society is organizing a series of poetry events to take place regularly at the South Bank Centre in London. It will bring to Britain eminent poets rarely heard here. It is reminiscent of the famous 'Poetry Internationals' of the sixties and seventies which were organized by the PBS and featured readings by W.H. Auden, Yves Bonnefoy, Allen Ginsberg, Pablo Neruda and many others. The archive includes original manuscripts and letters from T.S. Eliot, Ted Hughes and Philip Larkin, who were all concerned with the PBS at various stages of its development. The British Library plans an exhibition of the archive material early in 1989.

Peter Stein has been awarded Frankfurt's 1988 Goethe Prize, the first time a theatre director has been honoured with the award. Born in 1937, Stein made his name in 1969 with his production of Goethe's Torquato Tasso, with a cast including Bruno Ganz, Jutta Lampe and Edith Clever - actors he continued to work with throughout his period as artistic director at the Berlin Schaubühne from 1970 to 1985. Stein, who continues to live and work in West Berlin, is widely recognised as West Germany's foremost contemporary director. For the English speaker, the best introduction to his work remains Michael Patterson's monograph, published by Cambridge University Press.

The John Florio prize - named after the Elizabethan translator and lexicographer - is awarded every two years for the best translation from the Italian published in the UK. Under the auspices of the Italian Institute, the British-Italian Society and the Translators Association the prize was awarded this October to John Gordon Nicholls for his translation of Guido Gozzano: The Colloquies and selected letters, published by Carcanet Press.

It may not be a surprise that the state apparatus in South Africa has banned Karl Marx (in Wayland's 'Great Lives' series). A subtler touch on the ideological tiller is that Lenin on Literature and Art may be held or lent only by approved legal deposit and university libraries. In Malawi the works of Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe are banned for offending the 'political, cultural and religious tastes' of the state. Anatomized in the same issue of Index (volume 17, number 8) is the ill condition of liberty in Britain, diagnosed by Stephen Spender, Richard Hoggart, John Mortimer, Ronald Dworkin and others.

The expected visit to Britain of Alain Robbe-Grillet, whose autobiography Ghosts in the Mirror has recently been published by John Calder, appears to be jeopardised by fears about the size of his expenses bill. Eyebrows may be raised at the book's claim (written in 1977, as a reaction to new-critical 'dogma') that he has 'never spoken of anything but myself'. Cynics suspecting the conversion of enfant terrible into grand old homme de lettres should, however, beware. The more recent preface argues for a return to the 'terrorist tactics' of the nouveau roman to counteract the reactionary ideologies of the 80s. Here is one writer at least who is approaching next year's bicentennial in the proper revolutionary spirit. (D.W.)

Heavy industry in the UK may be declining but the cottage industry of literary magazines thrives. Tracing the cottages is made easier by Light's List of Literary Magazines now in its new edition, listing nearly 200 publications. It costs 30p, from John Light, The Lighthouse, 29 Longfield Road, Tring, Herts.

Elinor Shaffer's pioneering and extensively illustrated study, Erewhons of the Eye (Reaktion Books), reveals Samuel Butler as a talented painter, exceptional photographer, an art historian and an accomplished writer of travel books.

Butler quarrelled with his family over his refusal to enter the church, and instead studied at art school in London, following this by becoming a regular exhibitor at the Royal Academy. Nevertheless, his gradual disillusionment with academic training and his conviction that art was in decline, kept him creatively at odds with almost the whole of the Victorian establishment.

Increasingly, this led him to the journeys to Northern Italy which are described in Alps and Sanctuaries and Ex Voto, and here he found a new focus for his critical writings, through which he championed the unexplored Renaissance art of the region. In these books, Butler's contribution to the shaping of a distinctive English art criticism was equal to that of John Ruskin or Walter Pater.

The wonders of computer memory were obviously unavailable to Marcel Proust. Scholar's of the writer's work, however, will be able to benefit from a computerised data base set up under the auspices of the newly formed Marcel Proust International Institute. The association is looking for any offers of material, incorporating bibliography, seminar documents, theses etc. Further details are available from: Mrs Cécile Pozzo di Borgo, DGRCST, Ministère des Affaires Etrangères, 23 rue Laperousse, 75116 Paris. (D.W.)

The quest to produce a creative writing computer has been tracked in these pages before (most recently in PNR 64). Interest has been aroused by a new fiction-writing programme, known as 'Ecriteque', developed by the University of St Etienne. Structuralists will note the use of narratological models in establishing basic 'matrices', though the programme primarily employs a 'transformational' method derived from Chomskian linguistics. Though eager not to overstate his case, the project's director Geoffroy Guichard is nevertheless satisfied by some 'interesting results' which raise questions concerning the 'interface of creative originality and artificial text generation'. Claims that a collection of 'Ecriteque'-authored stories under a human pen-name have been accepted by a leading French publisher have been categorically dismissed as a hoax. (D.W.)

The Menard Press customarily produces engagingly unusual books. It has now published a new translation of Balzac's short story Gillette (or The Unknown Masterpiece) with a long essay by the translator, Anthony Rudolf, and a comprehensive bibliography. The essay points to the interest that painters, including Van Gogh, Cézanne, Picasso and de Kooning took in the story and proposes its importance as a foreshadowing of much in modern art as well as its importance as reflexive metafiction. (Menard Press, 8 The Oaks, Woodside Avenue, London N12 8AR).

From Belfast a new magazine is about to appear, edited by Martin Mooney. 'Rhinoceros' will concentrate on long poems and sequences, and the first issue will include work by Fleur Adcock, D.J. Enright and Medbh McGuckian as well as new poets. 120 Soudan Street is the magazine's Belfast address.

This item is taken from PN Review 65, Volume 15 Number 3, January - February 1989.

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