Anne F. Garréta in Words Without Borders

Our very own Anne F. Garréta has an awesome essay on reading Proust, “To sleep, perchance to dream” (translated by Daniel Levin Becker), in the new Oulipo issue of Words Without Borders. Check it out!

I have long suspected that the public, exoteric text of Remembrance of Things Past is a fake. A skillful fake, but a fake nonetheless. I suspect it was the object of censorship: censorship in which Marcel himself was, perhaps, complicit . . . in order to see his work published, to win the Goncourt, to make peace . . . and censorship that is enthusiastically perpetuated, to this day, by Proustians and pastry chefs alike.

This censorship will, naturally, have disfigured the text. Some will compare it to the veil punctured by the psychoanalyst who recognizes the unconscious desires beneath the dispersed, mutilated figures of the dream; others will find in it that which analytic interpretation deploys in its Oedipal conquest of the flux of the machine désirante.

I have already proposed, in a novel called The Decomposition, a strategy for reversing the censorship, for opening the potentiality of the Proustian text. (You didn’t know Proust was an Oulipian author? You think that, like a Mormon, I’m posthumously baptizing and dunking into the waters of Potentiality everything that crosses my path?) Now I envision an additional strategy, and I hold that the only accurate reading of the oneiric prelude of Remembrance of Things Past can be obtained by a schizoid oneiric scheme.

Garréta’s debut novel in English, Sphinx, will be published in late 2014.

I also want to take a moment to note the passing of André Schiffrin, legendary editor at Pantheon and then the founder of The New Press, a nonprofit publishing house that serves as a model for all I hope Deep Vellum can aspire to be, whose mission is “to publish books that promote and enrich public discussion and understanding of the issues vital to our democracy and to a more equitable world.” The White Review interviewed Schiffrin in 2010, it is a good introduction to the man, his history, his legacy, his approach to publishing, and his belief that the profit model of corporate publishing is detrimental to our culture as a whole, and that it is up to the independent smaller publishing houses to move book culture forward:

QTHE WHITE REVIEW — How did the process of looking for writers happen in those days?

AANDRÉ SCHIFFRIN — It was very simple. We just read the books. For example, when I was in Paris browsing the libraries I found a book called Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique (Madness and Civilisation). I didn’t know the author, I’d never heard of him, but it seemed to me like an interesting book, and we ended up translating every Michel Foucault book thereafter, and he became a friend. The French publishers would also tell me what they were publishing, and what was interesting. At the time, the editors still read the books that they were publishing, which is not really the case any more.


*Update* Dennis Johnson, co-founder of Melville House, has written up a beautiful remembrance of Schifflin, including what the NY Times obituary of this independent publishing luminary didn’t say.

But Andre would not have been so miffed about his hard-earned credentials, nor his very life, being so overlooked. What he would have protested was the depiction of his departure from Random House as being due to Pantheon not making money. He would have protested that he wasn’t “fired,” either — he would have reiterated, as he did in his autobiography with us, A Political Education, that he left Random House because of a war with the company’s then-new CEO Alberto Vitale, whom he felt was besmirching both the reputation of Random House (whose founder, Bennet Cerf, Andre greatly admired) and the very nature of the business by decreeing that it was onlyabout the bottom line. Andre always protested that he, of all people, understood that publishing houses had to be profitable — he argued that Pantheon, where he had books like Doctor Zhivago on his backlist, wasn’t losing money, but that Vitale had made it look that way — putting a regular charge for a personal car for Andre on Pantheon’s account, for example, when in fact Andre had never learned how to drive. (It’s notable that the article doesn’t cite several prominent Random Housers who supported Andre, including former senior executives such as Tony Schulte and Random president of Random House Bob Bernstein.)

But perhaps the thing about Andre’s life that the Times obituary most obscures is what a hero that fight with conglomerate publishing made him to so many publishers, particularly a generation of small independent publishers. No one did so much, in fact, to define the term independent publisher coming into the twenty-first century.


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