Samuel Beckett and the POUM

Sometimes the excitement of cataloging books is in the serendipitous, tangential journeys that lead into unexpected worlds.

I recently found myself cataloging a March 1957 issue of the French literary journal, Les lettres nouvelles for the predictable reason that the French translation of Samuel Beckett’s one-act radio play, All That Fall, was first published here as Tous ceux qui tombent. I like Beckett, I think, and enjoyed the theatrical production of Waiting for Godot that I didn’t sleep through, but it wasn’t until I was nearly done with my research that I stumbled upon something far more interesting to me than Mr. Beckett’s fine play.

When I began to analyze the journal’s condition, I quickly spotted a tiny red ‘Bryn-Mawr’ stamp in the upper left hand corner and the words ‘Maurin no. 2’ directly underneath it. I didn’t pay much attention to it at first surmising that the journal must have been in the Bryn Mawr College library at one time, but after seeing the name ‘Maurin’ again in the list of contributors, I began to do a little research.

In the late 1940s Mario Maurin had just begun his undergraduate studies at Yale and as a French speaker didn’t see much point in taking any French classes. But, based on the stellar reputation of the French scholar and professor, Henri Peyre, Maurin signed up for his class on the modern French novel and unknowingly determined his future. Under Peyre’s direction Mario completed his M.A. at nineteen and his Ph.D. at twenty-two, a remarkable accomplishment; and after two years in the Marines Peyre again assisted the young Maurin by recommending him for a teaching position at Bryn Mawr College where he’d begun his American career in 1925. Mario Maurin retired from Bryn Mawr nearly fifty years later as an Emeritus Professor of French. Toward the end of his career he began to collect the prodigious correspondence of Peyre, and under the editorship of John Kneller Yale University Press published this correspondence in 2005. It would have been near the beginning of his distinguished career at Bryn Mawr that Maurin published the review of Zola’s La république en marche in Les lettres nouvelles.

When I delved a little further into Maurin’s background I discovered that he’d been born in Paris in 1928 to Joaquín and Jeanne Maurín and that mother and son had emigrated to New York City in 1941. It would take Joaquín five years to join them. I wondered why.

Joaquín Maurín Juliá was born in 1896 in Bonansa, in the Huesca province of Spain. During the winter of 1917-1918, he established his first links with the organized labor movement and became a militant syndicalist joining the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) in 1920. He would leave the organization in 1922 after a fallout with the anarchist-influenced leadership who were suspicious of Leninist policies. He was imprisoned for nearly three years under Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship and fled to Paris in 1927.

He returned to Spain after the dictatorship’s collapse and in 1931 became general secretary of the newly established Bloque obrero y Campesino (BOC), a communist amalgamation of Maurín’s Federación Comunista Catalano-Balear and the Partit Comunista Catalá. The BOC never attracted more than a few thousand members and when the Troskyist-oriented Izquierda Comunista (IC) led by Andrés Nin decided to break from Trotsky they joined forces with Maurín and the BOC to establish the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM).

The POUM quickly gained support due to their adept propagandizing and their friendly relationship with anarchists. They attracted international supporters such as George Orwell who fought alongside them and later memorialized them in his Homage to Catalania.  But they also attracted the ire of the Stalinist leadership who backed the Spanish communists and by 1937 an all out attack on the POUM had commenced. Forty of the organization’s leaders were arrested and Nin was executed in June of that year.

Maurín was not arrested because in July of 1936, he was attending a POUM meeting in Galicia when the military, under Franco’s leadership, began their coup against the Second Spanish Republic. After attempting to make his way back to Republican strongholds he was arrested and quickly disappeared.  Many POUMists believed him dead and Nin assumed sole leadership of the party. In the meantime, Jeanne and Mario had returned to Paris and Jeanne, once she discovered that her husband was still alive, worked tirelessly for his release.

In 1937 after being imprisoned for a year, Maurín wrote and dedicated two children’s stories to Mario. ¡Miau! Historia del Gatito Misceláneo and El Misterio del Museo del Prado contained beautiful watercolor illustrations executed by a prisoner simply known as ‘Jules’ and now reside in the manuscripts collection at Bryn Mawr. It wasn’t until 1946 that Maurín was freed from Francoist Spain and was able to emigrate to NYC where his wife and child had been living for five years. Joaquín Maurín would go on to found the American Literary Agency (ALA) promoting the works of Latin American authors and Mario would soon step into Henri Peyre’s classroom for the first time at Yale and have his life altered forever.

Who wrote ‘Maurin no. 2’ on the top of Les lettres nouvelles? A librarian? A student? Mario himself? Unfortunately Mr. Maurin is currently quite ill, so if he holds any insight into the provenance of the journal we may never become privy to such insight. Regardless of whether the mystery is ever solved though, the mystery is there because the physical object is there, because Les lettres nouvelles existed as a physical object and was not relegated to the dust bin of digital detritus. Re-contextualizing rare books, creating new narratives, and ascribing cultural or historical value to what may appear relatively valueless are just some of the ways that we rare book dealers transcend the simple commodification or fetishization of books and attempt to both preserve the stories within the book and to weave the stories of the book itself.

(Please ignore the segue into the market-dictated cataloging spiel.)

[BECKETT, SAMUEL] [LITERARY JOURNALS] NADEAU, MAURICE (ED.)

Les lettres nouvelles. Mars 1957 n°47

Paris: René Julliard, 1957. Octavo (23cm). 321-480 pp; ill. Original wraps lettered in red and black. Wraps are slightly soiled; chipping to extremities with half inch loss to tail of spine; 1″ closed tear to back cover. Miniscule Bryn Mawr stamp to top left corner of cover along with “Maurin no. 2” written in pen. Pages are browned, otherwise unblemished. $200

Beckett first wrote this one-act radio play at the suggestion of the BBC in 1956. It was produced in January of 1957 and was quickly followed by English (Faber & Faber) and American (Grove Press) editions. It’s hard to believe that either of these editions were published between the January production and March publication in Les lettres nouvellesOther contributors to this issue were Léon Pierre-Quint, Miorslave Kerléja, Robert Marteau, Iganzio Silone, Olivier de Magny, Ado Kyrou and Jean Selz.

Bibliography

Cortada, James W. (edited by). Historical Dictionary of the Spanish Civil War. Westport,  CT: Greenwood Press, 1982.

Dolenski, Leo M. “The Unpublished Writings of Joaquin Maurin, 1896-1973.” Accessed at http://www.brynmawr.edu/library/mirabile/mirabile1/maurin.html

Kneller, John W. Henri Peyre: His Life in Letters. Yale, CT: Yale University Press, 2005. Accessed at http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/excerpts/maurin_henri.pdf

Register of the Juaquin Maurin Papers, 1870-1976. Accessed at http://www.scribd.com/doc/18030109/Joaquin-Maurin-Papers

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Anarchism, Surrealism, and Some Cherry Trees

"It was in the black mirror of anarchism that surrealism first recognised itself." - Breton

Since we anarchists are able to safely claim him as one of our own, André Breton’s (1896-1966) book of poetry, Young Cherry Trees Secured Against Hares / Jeunes Cerisiers Garantis Contre les Lievres (1946), allows me to discuss the two things that occupy my mind the most these days: anarchism and rare books. Though the book itself is not explicitly anarchist – Breton would not identify with anarchism until he’d returned to France a year after the book’s publication – as a surrealist text, it provides a portal into the historically tenuous relationship between the two ideas.

2nd printing of Breton's What Is Surrealism? published in 1936. In wraps.

In 1947, Breton returned to France from the U.S. where he’d been living after the Vichy government banned his writings in 1941. He and other notable surrealists began collaborating with the Fédération Anarchiste, which had been founded in 1945, publishing articles in Le Libertaire. Disagreements around the legitimacy of trade unions and the role of surrealists as the intellectual vanguard of the movement led to a schism and the collaboration ended in 1953. Breton did not take sides during the split in the French anarchist movement and remained supportive of both the FA, which later became the Federation Communiste Libertaire, and other anarchist groups who were organizing during this time. See Nick Heath’s informative historical essay, “1919-1950: The Politics of Surrealism” for   more about the collaboration between surrealists and anarchists in France.

Around the time of Breton’s death in 1966, a group of young surrealist revolutionaries in the U.S. led by Wobbly poet/artist/historian, Franklin Rosemont, and his wife Penelope organized the Chicago Surrealist Group. They had met with Breton in France in 1965 and with both his support and that of the French Surrealist Group, they quickly established themselves as revolutionary artists and strident anti-authoritarians. The group would go on to operate Solidarity Bookshop, publish intermittent issues of their journal Arsenal: Surrealist Subversions, and contribute many more books, manifestos, and art to the ongoing struggle for human freedom. In 1970, a special issue of SDS’ Radical America was published by the group under the title, “Surrealism in the Service of the Revolution.” In the introduction, and in a hyperbolic Marxist-Leninist vernacular characteristic of the time, Rosemont boldly asserted:

“Let me emphasize, meanwhile, that we do not claim for ourselves any ‘artistic’ privileges: we contribute to the best of our abilities to current political struggles and are prepared at any and all times to act decisively on the side of the proletariat, even to take up arms, to serve in the Red Army in order to destroy once and for all the loathesome (sic) reign of the bourgeoisie.”

1970 issue of Radical America written by the Chicago Surrealist Group.

Fortunately, Rosemont would veer increasingly toward anarchism and later help revive Charles H. Kerr, one of the longest operating radical book publishers in the world, by contributing many important works on anarchist and labor history. (AK Press has most recently re-published a previous Kerr publication, Haymarket Scrapbook: 25th Anniversary Edition edited by Franklin Rosemont and Dave Roediger.) Although Rosemont died in 2009, the Chicago Surrealists, now known as The Surrealist Movement in the United States, are active, both artistically and politically, and many of them contributed to the recent surrealist exhibition held at GoggleWorks in Harrisburg, PA.

There have been many debates since Breton’s death over the relevance, importance, and life of the surrealist movement, but I’ll leave the squabbling over its continued existence to the art critics and social historians. In his 2005 essay, “Surrealism USA: Shocking Images Haven’t Aged Well,” Hilton Kramer cites Breton’s Young Cherry Trees Secured Against Hares as a prime example of the innocuous nature of once controversial surrealist works, which have been predictably co-opted by institutionalization. And let’s face it, those who would still be shocked by Breton’s face in place of lady liberty’s are probably too busy celebrating Rick Santorum’s deep south victories to even care.

So although Marcel Duchamp’s famously designed cover may no longer scandalize, it’s still an imaginative and inventive piece of book art that is becoming increasingly scarce on copies of the first edition. Besides employing Duchamp, Breton enlisted a second collaborator, Armenian born, Arshile Gorky, who would hang himself only two years after the book’s publication. His abstract scribbles don’t really augment the text in any profound way, but Breton became excited by his work in the 1940s and declared him a surrealist. The title was alleged to have come from a horticulture book that Breton was perusing, but some critics maintain it was also an allusion to the playwright and director, David Hare, who had an affair with Breton’s former wife, Jacqueline Lamba, who later became Hare’s second wife.

The book was limited to 1,000 copies printed by Van Vechten Press, Metuchen, New Jersey, of which twenty-five copies included two original drawings in color by Arshile Gorky and were hand-numbered 1 to xxv and signed by the author and artist. There don’t appear to be any copies of this edition on the (Internet) marketplace currently.

First edition in dust jacket.

[SURREALISM] BRETON, André [Marcel Duchamp] [Arshile Gorky]. Young Cherry Trees Secured Against Hares. FIRST EDITION. Limited to 1,000 copies. New York: View Editions, 1946. 8vo., [unpaginated]. VG/VG. White boards have some spotting and minor chipping to extremities. Deckle edges. Slight toning to pages. Die-cut, illustrated dust jacket is browned, esp. to spine, which is slightly chipped at head. Protected by mylar. In both French and English. $400  

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Charles Bukowski and the Loujon Press

In 1940, Jon Edgar Webb, anxious to escape an unfaithful, alcoholic wife, and Louise Webb, née Madaio, anxious to see the world, used their last $17 to elope on a bus to New Orleans. As self-acknowledged outsiders, their bohemian lifestyle would later inspire Louise to adopt the affectionate nickname ‘Gypsy Lou’ and as a simple, yet appropriate name for their magazine. For sixteen years, Gypsy Lou sold rather tepid artwork of street scenes and clowns to tourists who happened down Pirate’s Alley so that Jon could follow his dream of printing what would become one of the most important literary magazines of the 1960s. Jon in turn lovingly decorated the cover of the first three issues with Louise’s picture. The first issue of The Outsider was published in 1961 and featured the poetry of Charles Bukowski, William Burroughs and other established or newly emerging Beat poets and writers.

The Outsider issues 1, 2 and 4-5 (double issue). See below for issue 3.

Across the country in Los Angeles, ol’ Hank Bukowski had taken a new job as a letter filing clerk, a position he’d hold for the next decade, after a disillusioning, alcohol-soaked, ulcer-forming 1950s. Two years after the Webbs published his poems in The Outsider, they collaborated with Bukowski on his first major book of poetry, It Catches My Heart in Its Hands (1963). He also graced the cover of  The Outsider # 3 and was declared “outsider of the year.”

Bukowski on the cover of The Outsider #3 w/ a painting of Gypsy Lou in the background.

In 1965, Crucifix in a Deathhand: New Poems 1963-1965 became the second Loujon Press publication. For this book, the Webbs enlisted the help of their new friend, Noel Rockmore, an established painter from NYC who had relocated to New Orleans, changed his name, and begun documenting the largely black population of the French Quarter and many of the old jazz legends of Preservation Hall. Rockmore’s involvement likely stemmed from the Webbs’ desire to collaborate with a small group of friends coupled with the need to sell books by attaching a nationally recognized artist to the project. But unlike the Bukowski sketches that complemented his poems in It Catches My Heart, Rockmore’s etchings of bizarre, surrealistic characters populating a post-industrial landscape created a striking dissonance with the blue collar, down-and-out denizens typified in Bukowski’s poems and stories.

In part one his two-part essay entitled “The Artistry of Loujon Press: Triumphs and Shortcomings,” Nathan Martin contends, “Unfortunately, the unsubtle aesthetics of the Webbs’ book compete with Bukowski’s poetry to such a degree that the artistry and effort devoted to both are diminished.” It may be true that the fastidiously designed effort of Bukowski’s publication diminishes the author’s poetry, but who cares? As a work of art, with its fully-illustrated wrap-around flaps, multi-colored, stepped, deckle-edged leaves, and tissue-protected Rockmore etchings, the content, to this Bukowski naysayer, becomes largely irrelevant.

Bukowski’s relationship with Loujon Press ended with Deathhand, and he was soon to accept Black Sparrow Press founder, John Martin’s, offer to quit his post office job and write full-time; but it was the Webbs’ artistic and visionary resilience, a commitment to aesthetic and stylistic perfection that left them penurious, that first exposed the drunken, hedonistic ramblings of Bukowski through their redoubtable publications.

After 1965, only one issue (a double issue) of The Outsider was published (1968-69) and two more books: Henry Miller’s Order and Chaos Chez Hans Reichel (1966) and Insomnia, or the Devil at Large (1970), the latter a “a multifaceted object consisting of a book, a dozen of Henry Miller’s watercolors, and the 19×24” handmade wooden box that contains them.” Jon died in 1971, while Gypsy Lou, who was interviewed in 2008 at 91-years-old, is still ostensibly roaming the streets of Slidell, LA, where she lives on a $208-a-month social security check in a tiny room in her sister’s house. But Loujon Press lives on in the beautiful objects that this outsider couple created for the poets and writers of their generation.

[BUKOWSKI], Charles. Crucifix in a Deathhand: New Poems 1963-1965. New York: Lyle Stuart Inc., 1965. 4to., 101 p., ill. First Edition/Signed. VG. Fully-illustrated wrap-around flaps show some rubbing and slight soiling. Chipping to head of spine. Title band is present, but has tape repair. Internally fine w/ multi-colored, stepped, deckle-edged leaves and tissue-protected etchings. Bukowski’s signature and date are written on verso opposite colophon. [$500] *SOLD*

From the title band:

This signed 1st ed. of Crucifix in a Deathhand, Bukowski’s sixth book, may well be a collector’s piece as was his 5th It Catches My Heart In Its Hands — a mint copy of which can cost you $25. But Loujon Press, who edited & printed this one for N.Y. publisher Lyle Stuart, wishes it clear that: elegant as the book looks in format what’s important is that Crucifix is Bukowski’s first book of all new work…a painstakingly pruned selection from the 326 poems Bukowski submitted for this title between October 1963 & March 1965. The speedy sell-out of It Catches “embarrassed” Bukowski into an L.A. drunktank. “The book’s look did it, not me,” he wrote. If the book’s look impelled so many of its readers — among them Henry Miller, Ferlinghetti, Rexroth, Wm. Burroughs, Patchen, Satre [sic] & Genet — to voice applause, and helped sell it to every big university library in N. America, it is hoped acclaim & sale of Crucifix will be comparably embarrassing.

The Outsider images courtesy of Media Nola

References:

Martin, Nathan C. “The Artistry of Loujon Press: Triumphs and Shortcomings” Pelican Bomb. May 18, 2001

Marszalek, Keith I. “A Story of Love and Books in Bohemian New Orleans.” August 9, 2008.

More information on Loudon Press can be found by reading or watching these two excellent sources: Bohemian New Orleans: The Story of The Outsider and Loujon Press by Jeff Weddle and the documentary The Outsiders of New Orleans: Loujon Press directed by Wayne Ewing.

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The Socialist Standard

The new Pew Charitable Trust survey on the public’s response to political terms has given the Left hope that alternatives to capitalism’s resilient reign are taking hold – at least among 18-29-year-olds. In the survey, 49% of this Occupy age group viewed socialism favorably while only 46% viewed capitalism favorably (anarchism seems to have been mistakenly excluded). Although there is no party line on whether books fall under goods for personal possession or goods for common ownership, idealistic socialists may want to pick up this bound run of 36 issues of The Socialist Standard regardless of how the party ends up voting.

The Socialist Standard is the official organ of the The Socialist Party of Great Britain and has been issued continuously since 1904.  An early editorial stated:

“We are all members of the working class, and cannot hope that our articles will always be finely phrased, but we shall at least endeavour to lay before you on every occasion a sane and sound pronouncement on all matters affecting the welfare of the working class. What we lack in refinement of style we shall make good by the depth of our sincerity and by the truth of our principles . . . We shall, for the present, content ourselves with a monthly issue, but we are confident that the various demands upon us, by the quantity of matter at our disposal, and by the growth of our party, will necessitate in the near future, a weekly issue of our paper.”

The newspaper was placed on a list of secret papers and magazines during WWI for its call for workers to boycott international war and sign up instead for class war. During WWII, the newspaper avoided attention by carrying articles on ancient wars as a cover for opposition to the current one.

An MI5 order banning export of the Socialist Standard during WWI

In 2004, in honor of the one hundredth anniversary of the paper, the Party published a book entitled Socialism Or Your Money Back – Articles from the Socialist Standard, 1904-2004. The Party also maintains an archive on its website of issues of the paper, but only five of the thirty-six contained in this bound volume are available.

[THE SOCIALIST PARTY OF GREAT BRITAIN]. The Socialist Standard: The Official Organ of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, Jan. 1936- Dec. 1938. Quarto size. VG. A complete run of 36 issues of this long-standing socialist newspaper continuously in print since 1904. Bound in green cloth w/ gilt to spine. Boards are rubbed and lightly soiled w/ sunned spine and darkened edges. Light foxing to edges, none to text block. Binding is tight. Some penciled notes of specific articles to pastedown, otherwise all pages are very clean and unmarked. Bound copies of this newspaper are scarce, especially in this condition. $185

Picture of banned list courtesy The Socialist Party at Scribd.

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