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This item is taken from PN Review 24, Volume 8 Number 4, March - April 1982.News & Notes
The death of the Italian Nobel Prize winning poet Eugenio Montale occurred in Milan on 12 September. An account of his career is included in the 'Reports' pages of this issue. PNR is much in the debt of Eugenio Montale: in our fourth issue we included fifteen of his poems in translations by Jonathan Galassi; in our fifth and sixth issues we published his essays on Dante and Croce in G. Singh's translations. The most recent British edition of his work is available from Agenda Editions: Xenia & Motets.
Walter Mehring, the German-born writer who became an American and is best known for his satirical ballads which infuriated the Nazi authorities, died in Zurich. He was 85. He reached the peak of his popularity in the 1920s in his native Berlin where his caustic talents found expression in songs, poems and plays. His books were burned and in 1935 he was stripped of his German citizenship and dubbed a 'Jewish subversionist'. German security police captured him in 1940 when-on foot-he was making his way across France in advance of the Wehrmacht troops. A year later, with the help of American friends, he escaped from internment camp.
He never wrote in English. Most of his manuscripts were lost in his odyssey- including his Hollische Komodie, a bitter denunciation of the Nazis. In 1953 Mehring returned to Europe and lived quietly in West Germany and Switzerland.
The death of the poet Molly Holden went almost unnoticed earlier this year. Molly Holden published some fine collections of poetry, but her quiet voice and the unfashionable rigour of her work did not find much favour in the 1960s or early 1970s. Her Chatto collections-To Make Me Grieve (1968), Air and Chill Earth (1971) and The Country Over (1975)- give in their titles a clue to her antecedents: Hardy and the rural writers, though her work is not 'Georgian' in any sense except subject-matter. Simon Curtis -who championed Mrs Holden's work- has written of the quality of her 'tact'- not discretion or under-statement but 'levelness'. 'Green and differences of green/and distances and depths of green/ crowd the cool garden. . .'
The Pushkin expert and philologist Mikhail Alexeyev died in Leningrad at the age of 85, Tass reported. Alexeyev was instrumental in developing international interest in Russian literature- especially that of the nineteenth century -and he wrote on Turgenev as well as Pushkin. He was also the historian of Anglo-Russian Literary Relations 11th-17th Centuries (1937), a book on the Russian language in England and the English language in Russia, and was co-author of a study of Shakespeare and Russian Literature.
Jacques Lacan, the controversial French writer, died in September at the age of 80. Born in Paris in 1901, Lacan began his long dialogue with psychoanalysis in 1932 with a book which suggested the themes and concerns and some of the strategies of his later writing. In 1964 he founded the Freudian school in Paris -and disolved it in 1980. He was the informing spirit of a group of younger men who have teased out and developed his ideas. His remains a discipline for the initiate, hermetic in terminology and condensed in expression. Stephen Bann's useful review of Ecrits: a selection in PNR 6 suggests the place of Lacan in the English context. Much of Lacan's work remains to be published in France, and of course a great deal of the basic work of Lacan remains to be translated into English.
Jorge Luis Borges received the biggest literary award offered in Latin America -the Ollin Yoliztli prize-at the international poetry festival in Morelia, Michoacan (Mexico) on his 82nd birthday. The award is worth about £38,000 and was presented to Borges by the Mexican president. Borges read from his work to an appreciative audience and, in his statement of acceptance, declared: 'My literary work isn't really a work but a simulation. I published my books so I wouldn't have to spend my life correcting the manuscripts.' The festival as a whole -drawing writers (though no dissidents) from various lands, was a remarkable success, in one of the most attractive provincial capitals of Mexico. Some criticism was expressed at the paucity of Latin American writers invited.
On 6 September a meeting of writers in Havana, Intellectuals for the Sovereignty of the Lands of our America, firmly endorsed a document addressed to scientists and technicians working on weaponry urging them to put their creative talents to 'the service of life and culture'. The ex-chancellor of Guatemala, who is now exiled in Mexico, was the moving force. Adherents to the document included Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ernesto Cardenal, Wilfredo Lam and several others. Nicolas Guillen, the Cuban poet and now minister of culture, a couple of days later gave a fighting speech about the irreversibility of revolution. What may be true of the state of revolution has not proven true-in Cuba or, latterly, in Nicaragua-of the objective of revolution. Guillen was reluctant to address himself to that question. Developments in Nicaragua, El Salvador and- increasingly-in Guatemala have now focused the attention of radical writers even more vividly than the sad developments in the cone of South America. The Cuban conference of writers pointedly omitted to invite Octavio Paz, Borges and Mario Vargas Llosa, declaring them of the doubtful ideological affiliation. Increasingly in Latin America the dissident among writers is dissident against the rigorous ideological left-a position hard to maintain because such a stance can easily be presented, using the dialectical toy, as adherence to the forces of reaction-as though elements on the left in Latin America, still essentially Stalinist in orientation, did not themselves represent, from the perspective of the new left, an equally perilous reaction.
In Caracas, Venezuela, during October, the Second Congress of Writers in the Spanish Language took place. 120 writers and critics-among them the ubiquitous Marquez, Julio Cortazar, Juan Rulfo and Mario Vargas Llosa were invited. The dominant theme was inevitably political: 'hispanic-american identity'. Venezuela is good neutral ground for such a meeting, including as it did writers of left, right and center; exiles and non-exiles. Also publishers and editors participated. Other themes for discussion were: the writer and the electronic media, the writer and his social responsibilities, and the place of the writer in relation to cultural institutions (universities, workshops, etc.). Representatives of 23 countries, all with different problems and aspirations: it was feared, not without some justice, that a new Tower of Babel was rising within the Spanish language itself.
The French literary world was startled to learn that Emile Ajar, the pseudonymous winner of the 1975 Prix Goncourt for his novel La Vie devant soi (published in England as Momo) was not, as had been thought, Paul Pavlowitch. Unknown to Mercure de France, his publishers, Ajar was really the novelist Romain Gary, Pavlowitch's first cousin once removed, who had already won the coveted prize in 1956 for Les Racines du Ciel (The Roots of Heaven). Gary, a Lithuanian-born Free-French pilot and later diplomat, who translated some of his own books into English, committed suicide in 1980.
Initial rumours suggesting that 'Ajar' was Gary were stifled when Gary signed a statement saying that he had had nothing to do with the novels, and it was generally accepted that the retiring Pavlowitch was the author. Now a book by Pavlowitch has revealed that the whole 'Ajar' episode was a brilliant hoax, and that he was commissioned by Gary to assume the role. The revelation has caused indignation at the Académie Goncourt. The rules do not allow a writer to be awarded the prize twice, and inevitably heated legal and tax arguments concerning royalties, foreign and film rights have resulted. Also, it has had the effect of turning Pavlowitch's book, L'Homme que l'on croyait and Gary's booklet Vie et mort d'Emile Ajar (or is it Gary's?) into bestsellers. Both volumes raise interesting questions about the desperate need felt by a successful novelist to escape from his literary persona. (Vivienne Menkes)
Fiction is settling down comfortably in the nest of fact in Paris: in the new Socialist team fielded by M. Mitterrand there were on a first count four novelists: Régis Debray (La Neige brûle), Paul Guimard (Le Mauvais temps), Erik Orsenna (Une Comédie française) and Pascal Sevran (Vichy-Dancing). As for poets-there were too many to count. . . .
Vladimir Dimitrijevic-a publishing name to conjure with in Europe today. He is director of Editions L'Age d'Homme, Lausanne. Of Yugoslav extraction, 'Dimitri' has an increasingly rare motive among publishers: he loves French literature. That is why, from his base in Lausanne, he dares to publish major books which the Paris publishers won't go near. Even the prestigious Pléiade have been pipped at the post by 'Dimitri'. He has done it again in the case of the Collected Works of Jules Laforgue, a three-volume edition of which the first volume is announced for April 1982. Covering the poet's work from 1877 to 1883, this first volume will contain half a million words at a cost-not to omit the sordid details-of 25,000 Swiss francs for the composition alone. But 'Dimitri' knows what he's up to: though neglected in France, Laforgue is a perennial rising star in England and America. Laforgue's most recent biographer, the English writer David Arkell, collaborated in the new project with the French editors J.-L. Debauve, D. Grojnowski, P. Pia and P.-O. Walzer. During his lifetime Laforgue had little luck with his publishers (readers will remember Arkell's essay on 'Leon Vanier: Publisher of Poets' in PNR 14). At last the poet begins to have some luck in the field. . . .
When William Faulkner was a poor aspiring writer, he composed several sonnets-amorous in character-to a rich lady he hoped to marry. The poems have been published for the first time-there is quite a rash of publications of 'poems' by novelists and dramatists, among them O'Neill and Fitzgerald. These Faulkner poems have as little merit as can be, their interest is biographical if that. But they are presented in Helen: A Courtship as partaking of the essential genius of the writer. They were published in New Orleans to mark what would have been Faulkner's 84th birthday. Helen rejected Faulkner's proposals-which is hardly surprising on the evidence of the poems-but remained a friend of the writer, and his disappointment, the editors of the booklet maintain, nourished in a bitter sort of way his fiction.
Straight Lines (50p from 78 Harbut Rd., London SW11) has assembled an interesting issue, with work by and an interview with Anthony Hecht, new poems by Michael Hofmann, and other work -verse and prose. The magazine is published in a handsome plain format and receives no subsidy-yet. It has been going for four years, and this is its sixth issue.
The American magazine TriQuarterly (Northwestern University, 1735 Benson Avenue, Evanston, Illinois 60201) has a new editor in Reginald Gibbons. His appointment means that TriQuarterly will be publishing poetry once more, and reviews of collections of poems as well as of fiction. Fiction and essays will still be welcome-essays of a non-academic nature, that is. Graphic work and reviews will have their place as well. English writers will not be excluded, as they are from some American journals. In fact Gibbons is keen to 'open up the channels a bit more'. (Subscriptions are $14.00 a year.)
The British Comparative Literature Association has announced a new Translation Competition, to be held annually. The first prize will be £100, the second prize £50, and both will carry the chance of publication in Comparative Criticism-a yearbook published for the Association by Cambridge University Press. From its inception in 1979 the yearbook has regularly carried translations of poetry, fiction and drama alongside critical essays and scholarly articles, past and present. The deadline for the first annual competition is 1 October 1982, and the winning entries will appear in a special number of Comparative Criticism on Translation, vol. 6 (1983). For details please write to Professor Arthur Terry, Secretary of the British Comparative Association, or to Elinor Shaffer, Editor of Comparative Criticism, PO Box 110, Cambridge CB2 3RL.
The 1981 Commonwealth Poetry Prize has been awarded to the Australian Philip Salom for his collection The Silent Piano, published by Fremantle Arts Centre Press (1 Finnerty Street, Fremantle, Western Australia 6160). Salom is 31 years of age. At present he is a project officer with the Western Australian Department of Agriculture and lives on a small orchard property at Wungong with his wife. He is working on a second book of poems. Salom is the second Australian to win the prize (Timoshenko Aslanides won it in 1978).
Samuel Beckett's 75th birthday was celebrated by the Festival d'Automne with productions of all he has written for the stage, televised film adaptations, and discussions of his work at the Centre Pompidou. A recent fifteen minute play -Come and Go- had its English premiere at the Theatre du Rond-Point this week. In it, three women in Edwardian costume reflect upon their schooldays and the ritual of holding hands and touching one another's rings. The lighting gives the effect of a faded photograph. For all its brevity, the play underlines Beckett's abiding affinity with Proust in his exploration of the theme of time.
In New York the exhibition called Kafka-Prague has been on at the Jewish Museum. It is not exactly an art exhibition, nor is it a public photograph album. It is a visual biography in which pictures, first editions, corrected proofs and other matter reveal the connections between Kafka and Prague, his native city, at a certain point in history. The exhibition is far more than a mere documentary description of the great writer. Prague and its haunting Jewish quarter which -Kafka said-survived in everyone who experienced it even after it was cleared comes alive in the remarkable photographs. "We walk through the broad streets of the newly-built city. But inside we still tremble in the centuries-old streets of our misery. Our hearts know nothing of the slum clearance around us.' The exhibition is on till January 10.
PN Review is now included on the Modern Language Association (MLA) Master List of Periodicals. Beginning with the 1981 MLA Bibliography, a more detailed classification system will operate-or, in the words of the letter of notification, the MLA 'will implement the Contextual Indexing and Faceted Taxonomic Access System (CIFT)'.
A sketch by Laforgue
This item is taken from PN Review 24, Volume 8 Number 4, March - April 1982.