Tag Archives: James Joyce

‘Contemporary Gothic to read in bed’

Paul Bowles and Erich Alport

The Lemon by Mohammed Mrabet ; translated from the Moghrebi and edited by Paul Bowles. London : Peter Owen. 1969

Rob, from the Univ Development Office, reading The Lemon by Mohammed Mrabet ; translated from the Moghrebi and edited by Paul Bowles. London : Peter Owen. 1969

“For Erich Alport after thirty-nine years of friendship,” wrote Paul Bowles in the last book he gave to Erich Alport just a year before Alport’s death in 1971. Their long friendship is reflected in Alport’s ownership of first editions of nine of Paul Bowles works: novels, short stories and translations.

Up Above the World. London : Peter Owen. 1967.

Cover and extract from Up Above the World. London : Peter Owen. 1967. Inside Bowles wrote, “For Erich (a bit of contemporary Gothic to read in bed.) Paul, Tangier, 5/II/68”. Excerpt from ‘Up Above the World’ by Paul Bowles. Copyright
1967, Paul Bowles. This is used with permission of the Paul Bowles Estate. Not for reuse.

Paul Bowles started writing young. His poem ‘Spire Song’ appeared in the Parisian, Avant-Garde literary journal Transition when he was 17. Born in New York, he later made his base in Morocco and travelled widely. He was a prolific musical composer, collaborating in the theatre with Tennessee Williams among others. He increasingly turned towards writing and inspired authors of the American Beat Movement including William S. Burroughs. Jane Bowles, nee Auer, with whom he shared an unconventional marriage, was also an innovative writer.

Cover and extract from Jane Bowles' Plain Pleasures. London : Peter Owen. 1966

Cover and extract from Jane Bowles’ Plain Pleasures. London : Peter Owen. 1966. Excerpt from ‘Plain Pleasures’ by Jane Bowles. Copyright 1966, Jane Bowles. This is used with permission of Rodrigo Rey Rosa. Not for reuse.

Cutting about Jane and Paul Bowles from The Observer, 12 October 1959.

Cutting from The Observer, 12 October 1959. It is kept in the University College Archives [UC:P110/C6/9].

Bowles and Alport kept up a correspondence, some of which was found in Alport’s books and is now kept in the College Archives. They stayed in touch, despite both being often on the move, and sometimes met on their travels. In his letters, Bowles often mentions his friend, the painter Ahmed Yacoubi, whose work Alport collected.

Letter from Bowles to Alport, undated

Letter from Bowles to Alport. It is undated but probably from the 1950s as it was found with other letters of that date in Alport’s copy of Bowles’ novel, The Sheltering Sky. It is kept in the University College Archives [UC:P110/C6/3]. Materials from the Paul Bowles archive. Copyright 2012, Paul Bowles. This is used with permission of the Paul Bowles Estate. Not for reuse.

Letter from Bowles to Alport dated 26 October 1954

Letter from Bowles to Alport dated 26 October 1954. It is kept in the University College Archives [UC:P110/C6/4]. Materials from the Paul Bowles archive. Copyright 2012, Paul Bowles. This is used with permission of the Paul Bowles Estate. Not for reuse.

 

Paul Bowles and Gertrude Stein

Paul Bowles knew of Gertrude Stein from childhood. In an interview with Florian Vetsch he recalls that in High School his English teacher told his class that they must write properly as they were not James Joyce or Gertrude Stein. This made him wonder who Gertrude Stein might be and led him to her ‘A Wife Has A Cow’ in a second hand copy of Transition magazine. He read it and thought it made no sense. Then he thought, “That’s wonderful. There [in Paris] you can publish things that don’t make sense at all and not even in proper English”.

Text and illustrations from 'As A Wife Has A Cow A Love Story'

Extract and illustration from A Book Concluding With As A Wife Has A Cow A Love Story by Gertrude Stein with artwork by Juan Gris. Paris : Editions De La Galerie Simon. 1926.

 

At twenty Bowles made his second trip to Paris and met Gertrude Stein in person (he didn’t meet anyone on the first visit as he was too shy). This and subsequent interactions with Stein had a great impact on Bowles’ literary career. It was she who suggested that he go to Morocco, a place which was to inspire him.

Bowles was among the young male friends Stein made after WWI with whom she had sexual as well as artistic nonconformity in common.  Others included Virgil Thomson, Bernard Faÿ, and Francis Rose. The National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian has an excellent exhibition of images of Stein which includes more on these friendships.

Gertrude Stein in the Alport Collection

…the creator of the new composition in the arts is an outlaw until he is a classic – Gertrude Stein (Composition as Explanation, 1926)

Biographically speaking, Erich Alport overlapped with Gertrude Stein. Both were from German Jewish backgrounds, both were gay, both collected contemporary art. Perhaps this explains why Alport acquired several of her books. They also had acquaintances, such as Paul Bowles, in common. So perhaps Stein’s work was recommended to Alport by his friends.

Page from A Village Are You Ready Yet Not Ready. Paris : Editions de la Galerie Simon. 1926.

Page from A Village Are You Ready Yet Not Ready. Paris : Editions de la Galerie Simon. 1926. Alport’s copy is 31/100. The lithographs are by Elie Lascaux.

Stein’s work in the Alport Collection includes her experiments with language such as A Book Concluding With As A Wife Has A Cow and A Village Are You Ready Yet Not Yet, both published by Andre Simon in signed, limited editions of c. 100 copies. It also encompasses her bestselling books about herself, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, written by Stein from the point of view of Alice her life companion, and Wars I Have Seen, about her experience of living in occupied France.

Cover and publishers 'blurb' from Wars I Have Seen. London : B. T. Batsford. 1945

Cover and publisher’s ‘blurb’ from Wars I Have Seen. London : B. T. Batsford. 1945. The cover design is by Cecil Beaton who was better known for his society photographs.

In Composition as Explanation, published in 1926 by Virginia and Leonard Woolf at the Hogarth Press, Stein talks about her writing. She touches on the effect of the World War on the reception of literature.

Cover of Composition as Explanation. London : Hogarth Press. 1926

Cover of Composition as Explanation. London : Hogarth Press. 1926. The cover design is by Vanessa Bell, sister of the printers.

Stein posits that War broke the trend that art needs time to become socially acceptable (“classic”). War “made every one not only contemporary in act not only comtemporary in thought  but comtemporary in self-consciousness made every one contemporary with the modern composition” (Composition as Explanation, p. 26). The literary world that Alport and his friends inhabited was one where those “who created the expression of the modern composition were to be recognised before we were even dead some of us quite a long time before we were dead” (Composition as Explanation, p. 26).

You can borrow some of Paul Bowles work from the Library:

The Sheltering Sky (YLM/BOW)

Collected Stories (YLM/BOW)

Other sources used in this post were:

Birch, Dinah (Ed.). The Oxford Companion to English Literature. OUP : Oxford. 2009. (ZC)

The Authorised Paul Bowles Website. Accessed 21 Nov. 2012 http://www.paulbowles.org

Seeing Gertrude Stein: Five Stories. Online exhibition from National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution. Accessed 21 Nov. 2012 http://www.npg.si.edu/exhibit/stein/intro.html

All images on this page are copyright of University College.

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‘crass, hairy and evergrim life’

Alport’s science fiction

When Hugo Gernsback coined the term ‘science fiction’ in 1929, he defined it simply as ‘a charming romance intermingled with scientific fact and prophetic vision’. Fascinating may be a better word than charming for some of the science fiction in the Alport Collection. The examples of the genre that Erich Alport bought and read span the best part of the century and demonstrate that the genre has been used not only to write about ‘scientific fact and prophetic vision’ but also to make social commentary and explore the human condition in unusual circumstances.

The Invisible Man

You are the only man…who knows there is such a thing as an Invisible Man… Help me – and I will do great things for you. An Invisible Man is a man of power. – Griffin (The Invisible Man : a grotesque romance, H.G. Wells, 1897)

Alport probably bought his first edition of The Invisible Man whilst he was in Oxford for ten shillings and six pence. It still bears the signature of its original owner, the sociable Orientalist and Freemason, Arthur Cowley, who was Bodleian Librarian from 1919 until his death in 1931.

H.G. Well’s story of an inventor who discovers a way to make his body reflect no light has ancient roots in Book II of Plato’s Republic. Plato uses the story of ‘The Ring of Gyges’ (a ring that gives its wearer the power of invisibility) to consider whether people would be moral if they did not fear detection and punishment. Griffin, the anti-hero of Well’s story, uses his invisible state to commit theft and, through fear of detection, murder.

The Invisible Man : a grotesque romance by H.G. Wells. Pearson : London. 1897.

Cover, bookseller’s price, signature of A. Cowley and extract from p.75 of Alport’s copy of The Invisible Man : a grotesque romance by H.G. Wells. Pearson : London. 1897;

 

Transition Stories

The attempt to arrive at a complete denial of reality by way of a consistent and dogmatic exploration of the subconscious remains one of the important actions of our creative life. – Eugene Jolas (Preface to Transition Stories: twenty-three stories from ‘transition’, 1929)

This selection of stories from the early twentieth-century literary journal Transition looks to modern eyes like a 60s production rather than the 1920s artefact it is. This is partly thanks to the mechanical design printed on the boards, created by typographer Albert Schiller who combined pre-cast metal type elements to make his image.

Transition Stories : twenty-three stories from “transition” selected and edited by Eugene Jolas and Robert Sage. Walter V. McKee : New York. 1929.

Extracts from the Preface and James Joyce’s ‘A Muster from Work in Process’, title page and front board design from Transition Stories : twenty-three stories from ‘transition’ selected and edited by Eugene Jolas and Robert Sage. Walter V. McKee : New York. 1929. Click on the image to read the texts on a larger version.

Transition’s editors published poetry, prose and artwork by contemporary avant-garde movements such as surrealists, Dadaists and modernists. The preface to Transition Stories explains their mission to reject bourgeois forms of literature including purely descriptive writing and challenge the domination of pure reason.

Among the writers published in Transition Stories are Gertrude Stein and Franz Kafka. Perhaps the most famous work to appear in the magazine was Finnegans Wake by James Joyce, which appeared in segments under the title ‘Work in Progress’.

Toborrow and toburrow and tobarrow! That’s our crass, hairy and evergrim life! We may come, touch and go, from atoms and ifs but we’re presurely destined to be odd’s without ends. – James Joyce (‘A Muster from Work in Progress’ in Transition Stories: twenty-three stories from ‘transition’, 1929)

Brave New World

But I don’t want comfort. I want God, I want poetry, I want real danger, I want freedom, I want goodness. I want sin. – the Savage (Brave New World, Aldous Huxley, 1932)

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World questions the scientifically managed future societies of H.G. Well’s utopian novels. In Huxley’s dystopian world state human beings are given their social status before birth and conditioned from then on, by a mixture of drugs and nurture, to accept their place. The inhabitants of Huxley’s novel are content but when a ‘Savage’ is brought to London from his home on a New Mexican Reservation his outsider perspective reveals the incompatibility of individual freedom and a scientifically created trouble-free society.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Chatto and Windus : London. 1932.

Chris from Univ’s Development Office going back to the future with Alport’s copy of Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Chatto and Windus : London. 1932.

 

The Naked Lunch

The study of thinking machines teaches us more about the brain than we can learn by introspective methods. Western man is externalizing himself in the form of gadgets. Ever pop coke in the mainline? – Doctor Benway (The Naked Lunch, William Burroughs, 1959)

In his dedication to Howl and Other Poems Allen Ginsberg named William Burroughs as the author of Naked Lunch for the first time in print. He described Burroughs’ book as “an endless novel which will drive everybody mad”.

Howl and other poems by Allen Ginsberg. City Lights Books : San Francisco. 1956 (14th printing, 1965)

Cover and dedication from Howl and Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg. City Lights Books : San Francisco. 1956 (14th printing, 1965)

 The ‘endless novel’ was a long time in gestation. It circulated in manuscript fragments between the author’s friends, correspondents, publishers and editors, and appeared in periodicals before finding a publisher. This communal writing process may have had some influence on the organic, mosaic nature of Burroughs prose which is picked up on by a contemporary review:

The literary notion of time as simultaneous, a montage, is not original with Burroughs; what is original is the scientific bent he gives it and a view of the world that combines biochemistry, anthropology, and politics. It is as though Finnegans Wake were cut loose from history and adapted for a cinerama circus titled “One World.” – Mary McCarthy (‘Déjeuner sur l’Herbe’ in The New York Review of Books, 1 February 1963)

Alport bought a copy of The Naked Lunch first published in 1959 in Paris by The Olympia Press. This edition has a cover designed by Burroughs himself and a ‘the’ in the title which Burroughs did not intend. Naked Lunch was controversial in both subject matter and language. Its American publisher, Grove, waited until 1962, and the favourable outcome of a court battle over the censorship of another of their authors, to publish it.

The Naked Lunch by William Burroughs. Olympia Press : Paris. 1959

Cover design and extract from The Naked Lunch by William Burroughs. Olympia Press : Paris. 1959.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Naked Lunch Columbia University Libraries have created an online exhibition of their Burroughs collection which includes recordings of Burroughs reading from his novel.

The library has reading copies of some of the novels mentioned:

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (YIO/HUX)

Finnegans Wake by James Joyce (YIK/JOY)

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (YIK/WEL)

Other sources used in this post were:

Ashley, Mike. Out of This World: science fiction but not as you know it. The British Library : London. 2011.

Birch, Dinah (Ed.). The Oxford Companion to English Literature. OUP : Oxford. 2009. (ZC)

Cloud, Gerald W. ‘Naked Lunch’ : the First Fifty Years. Online exhibition from Columbia University Butler Library, Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Accessed 16 Oct. 2012 <https://exhibitions.cul.columbia.edu/exhibits/show/nakedlunch&gt;.

Tomlinson, Steven. “Cowley, Sir Arthur Ernest (1861–1931).” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Ed. Lawrence Goldman. OUP : Oxford. Accessed 16 Oct. 2012 <http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/32598&gt;.

Wikipedia contributors. “The Invisible Man.” in Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Accessed 16 Oct. 2012 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Invisible_Man&gt;

All images on this page are copyright of University College.

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