“You might not know what’s going to fly into your web, but you put it where you think there might be flies. If you leave your web out long enough, you might have the option to pick only those flies that please you, and eventually you can discern a pattern or similarity in the flies that you choose, and finally you accidently learn to choose wisely.”
– Barney Rosset, Tin House interview
In these last four days on Kickstarter, we continue to profile some of our exceptional cast members who have helped us to learn more about Barney Rosset and our favorite writers
“Without Rosset, contemporary literature as we know it would simply not exist.” –L.A. Times
In this update: Excerpts from a fascinating interview between Barney Rosset and Tin House publisher and editor-in-chief, Win McCormack, originally published in 2012, Issue #8
(images and captions are ours)
Read the full interview at http://www.tinhouse.com/blog/13599/an-interview-with-barney-rosset.html
WM: What was the web that you put out, and where did you put it? And who were the first to fly into it?
BR: Many people whom you admire are published by somebody else—for example, Hemingway, or Faulkner, or Malraux. Your web can’t catch them, they’re caught. So if you, let’s say, find that somebody like Miller, whom you liked, is available, you start doing something about it.
WM: Henry James was one of the first authors you published.
BR: That happened through my first wife, Joan Mitchell, later a very famous artist. Joan was a very astute person, with a very good taste for writing, just as good as for painting. She was the one who really directed me into Grove.
BR: The Golden Bowl was a novel by Henry James that Joan particularly liked, and she asked me to do that.
WM: Was he out of print at the time?
BR: Not everything of his, but most. We did about eight volumes.
WM: So you were responsible for reviving the great traditionalist Henry James.
WM: You famously published Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
BR: Yes. The only book of D. H. Lawrence we did.
WM: All of us who were boys in the fifties owe you a great deal of gratitude for that.
BR: Personally, I didn’t like it that much at first. As time went on I got to like it more. I had a lot of feeling about Lawrence—to me he was, no matter what he claimed to be, a rather aristocratic Englishman, and my Irish background made me rebel against him, even though he was doing exactly what he should have been doing—trying to prevail against the industrialization of society and the sterilization of modern life. I thought he was very heavy-handed.
WM: He did not have a light touch.
BR: He didn’t have a light touch at all. His descriptions of sex, I think, were ridiculous.
WM: You had a great deal of trouble getting Miller to let you publish Tropic of Cancer in America.
BR: I did for a long time have trouble. I went to Big Sur to try to convince him. I was terrified by the place. He had a couch on the edge of a cliff. I got vertigo when I looked over the side. He was living like somebody in the Albanian mountains. It was very hard to get to him. A dirt road up a steep hill, with somebody at the bottom of the hill checking you in.
WM: What was his reluctance?
BR: I don’t know. I can only surmise. I have the feeling he was enjoying his lifestyle. He was quite famous in certain quite large circles, among people who might read New Directions books or books from the Olympia Press in Paris. He said if this book were published in the United States, the next thing you know, it would be read in colleges as a textbook.
WM: He didn’t want to be mainstream.
BR: He liked being an outlaw, is my strong feeling. We were trying to take away his right to be an outlaw. And we did: Tropic of Cancer became accepted.
WM: How did Beckett fly into your web?
BR: I had actually read a little bit of Beckett in Transition magazine and a couple of other places. Waiting for Godot just hit something in me. I got what Beckett was available and published it. He flew into the web and got trapped. He had been turned down by Simon and Schuster. I found out, much earlier, on an earlier novel.
WM: Did your publishing Beckett lead the Beats to your door?
BR: No, not to my door, to Beckett’s door. I thought American Beat writers were very, very good in one sense: they were much more outgoing toward other cultures, towards French, Italian, and German literature. Whereas the Europeans were not very outgoing toward Americans at that particular time. People like Ginsberg and Burroughs recognized Beckett early on. They really did, and they wanted him to accept them.
WM: But Beckett was not a Beat.
BR: He was not a Beat! I think he was particularly disturbed by Burroughs’ cut-up theory. He did not like to do things by accident. If there was going to be an accident, it was going to be one that he planned. To take a text and cut things out and put them next to each other, that was not his idea of how to write.
WM: Did you bring any of the Beats together with Beckett?
BR: I did once. I had a dinner at Maurice Girodias’s restaurant in Paris with Beckett and Burroughs. I’ve told the story so many times I’m beginning to wonder if it was real or if I made it up or somebody else did, but my memory is that Burroughs tried to get Beckett interested in cut-up. And Beckett, who was extremely polite, really polite, said, “That’s not writing; that’s plumbing.” That’s my memory.
WM: In designating you a Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters, the French Ministry of Culture referred to your “conception of publishing as an art.” Do you have any final words for us on the practice of that art, on the spinning of your web?
BR: Why do you like one girl better than another? You can make up reasons, you know. You can make them up. But ultimately, you had the answer before you made up the reason.These things are not done by the numbers.
BR: You won’t find her, or the great author, or the secrets of a painting, in a mathematical equation or a sociological treatise—but when it happens, you can sometimes say, “Ah, sweet mystery of life at last I’ve found you.” Then go with it. Don’t ask the whys and hows of it. Just go with it. Your very own mystery.
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