Wednesday, November 17, 2010

James Laughlin

I recently discovered that the entire archive of the Paris Review [link] is available online. Since then, I have become almost addicted to reading the interviews. One of the best I have come across is with James Laughlin [link], the famous American publisher who founded New Directions [link]. Reading the interview, which acts as something as an early history of New Directions, I couldn't help wondering how  the list of authors  (recently, for instance: W. G. Sebald, Roberto Bolaño, Javier Marías, Anne Carson, Robert Walser, Enrique Vila-Matas, Laszlo Krasznahorkai, and so on) who have been published with New Directions, might compare the list those who have won the Nobel Prize (or any other prize for that matter).

 
[...]
INTERVIEWER:
What were your impressions of Stein?
LAUGHLIN:
She had great natural charm, tremendous charisma. Marvelous head. Those wonderful flashing eyes. A deep, firm voice. So I couldn't help but be very much impressed by her at times, except that often she'd erupt with crazy ideas. She thought Hitler was a great man . . . this before the war, of course, but how a Jewess could be attracted to such a notion at any time is difficult to understand. She was certainly a woman of strong opinions—indeed to the point of megalomania. She felt she had influenced everyone. We had a big fight one day when I mentioned I was reading Proust. She said, “How can you read junk like that? Don't you know, J., that Proust and Joyce both copied their work from The Making of Americans?” She finally cooled on me. I simply didn't accept everything she said. That was disrespectful.

INTERVIEWER:
And then you met Pound that same year?

LAUGHLIN:
Dudley Fitts, my old teacher at Choate, who had been corresponding with Pound for a number of years, gave me a letter of introduction to him. Fitts was a great linguist; he'd read everyone. He was a wonderful letter writer—his letters entranced Pound because here was someone who'd read in all the languages. Pound must have remembered. Because that fall, after my experience with Gertrude Stein, I went up to Paris, lived in a tiny room in an insurance office which I rented for seven dollars a month, and after a while, I wrote to Ezra, not expecting a reply, really, just asking if I could come down to Rapallo to see him . . . and to my astonishment he sent me a telegram: “Visibility high.” So I went down then to Rapallo. Ezra and I hit it off immediately. He found me an eager student, and certainly he was the thwarted professor. He found a room for me in the flat of an old German lady and I was enrolled in what he called the “Ezuversity.” No tuition.

[...]
LAUGHLIN:
I think that perhaps in earlier interviews or talks I may not have sufficiently stressed the way that Ezra completely changed, to use one of his phrases, my forma mentis, my way of looking at the world. I went to him with fairly conventional views about almost everything, and I left him with either very eccentric or radical views about everything— views which have persisted with me to the present day.

INTERVIEWER:
Social Credit?

LAUGHLIN:
Social Credit, political things, literary concepts. Poets whom I still like to read for my own pleasure are the ones he told me I should, the Pound canon as you find it in the ABC of Reading. Pound pushed me away from the kind of literature which was embalmed in the “beaneries” to a much more interlingual, international literature. That has persisted to this day. A great deal of what we do now at New Directions is still translations of foreign books. Last winter we did a Swedish novel, a Hungarian novel, and a Brazilian novel. And if you look at our annual anthology you'll find that often a third of it is made up of translations of foreign poets from all over the world. That concept came largely from Ezra, who in his critical writings was always saying that you could not understand poetry if you only worked with one language. He was a comparatist in the good sense of actually looking at texts in different languages and seeing what the writers were doing with them and comparing them one with another. He loved to compare Flaubert with Henry James, for example. He made judgments of that kind. To him it was all one world literature, even including the Chinese.
[...]

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