It’s Gilbert Sorrentino day at wood s lot; I haven’t read much Sorrentino (Aberration of Starlight and, I think, Mulligan Stew), but I like his style. I very much like this interview by Alexander Laurence (from 1994). Asked about what’s happened since the glory days of Black Mountain, he says:
Hard to answer this question. I was on a panel a little while ago with Robert Creeley, and we were both being asked versions of your question. Apparently, young people are enormously interested in “how things were” in the Fifties. Creeley said something much to the point, to the effect that we all took art very seriously in those days, we were absolutely committed. He’s right, of course, there was a sense then among young artists that we were writing for our lives—but maybe more importantly, there was a really drab “establishment” in place at that time—artistic and social and political—and young artists felt, rightly or wrongly, that they were destroying it, “deforming the ideogram,” as Jakobson says.
And his response to a question about commercial publishing is a wonderful rant:
Joyce, Pound, and Williams commanded the smallest of audiences and were shunned by what we now think of as “major” publishing houses. Publishers have always been craven when the odds are not in their favor, it’s just enhanced nowadays because there is so much money to be made if the publisher can hit the shit machine. What is most surprising to me is the number of—what can I call them?—”absent” books published. These are books that have no literary merit, no spirit of aesthetic adventure, no rough but interesting formal design, and—this is most important—no chance of commercial success! That’s what is so amazing to me—not the number of Judith Krantz-like novels published, nor the Calvin Trillin-Garrison Keillor warm and wise and witty and wonderful malarkey, but the novels that just lie there: life and love in a small town in Northern California, sexual awakening in a Baptist family in Pennsylvania—daughter flees to Greenwich Village, meets bum who makes her pregnant, discovers feminism—and on and on. Were I running these houses, I’d can all these editors in a minute. If they can’t make millions, would be my thinking, I’ll be God damned if they’re going to put out excrement that will only break even, i.e., if we want to break even, I’d say, let’s publish BOOKS. But, of course, the chances are that the people who own these houses would not know a book if it buggered them.