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This report is taken from PN Review 34, Volume 10 Number 2, November - December 1983.

Benjamin in Paris Robert Julian

What has happened to the myth of the universal author? One rarely hears talk any more of the major novel which no sooner appears in its native country than it is translated in the same impulse and acclaimed in a group of others. Poetry today seems even less inclined to the transplant-though it was once a characteristic of the modern 'Olympian', such as Goethe or Hugo, and the Olympian work, such as 'Ossian'. Today, an author widely known and received in many countries at once seems to us a product of 'public relations' or else vitiated by being spokesman for a 'cause'. In high literature, it would even seem that the closer one comes to universality, which means speaking in several tongues at once-witness Joyce or Pound-the longer one is likely to wait for the work to be transmitted overseas or even perused at home. And we have yet to hear that Finnegans Wake, for instance, is better in its French or German version than in the original.

The French equivalent to the universal author is the collection of Pléiade editions, the thick leatherbound volumes which are meant to be 'tasted' in the salon rather than transported and read anywhere, even in nature, as one may do with an Oxford 'World Classic'. The Pléiade is one edition in which poetry still 'sells'. Among the most sought-after volumes in the entire collection are the poetry of Baudelaire and Rimbaud, and one also finds good editions of Ronsard, Hölderlin ...


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