boy people sure are nostalgic for the days of prestigious publishing houses that conducted themselves scandalously and served as august gatekeepers of taste to the whole world. the latest round has to do with a book on farrar, straus by boris kaschka. jason epstein in the new york review of books does the usual suspects: cerf and knopf simon and schuster, etc., and then lines up the nobel prize winners by the dozens. and always the same names and pics pop up: sontag, roth, edmund wilson. then he writes this:
The United States and indeed the world, without a viable book industry and leaders like Robert Straus to energize it is awful to contemplate. Within a bookless generation, or two, or three, human beings would have lost the better part of the knowledge acquired by their species over millennia, from making an omelette to parsing the universe and removing an appendix.
don't we think, on reflection, that this might be a trifle overwrought? thanks for keeping dreiser in print, though. but i like the very decentralized publishing world that can emerge now much better. these houses were like the hollywood studios: they promoted people into world-shattering geniuses, but the stables were awfully small. the tastes were elitist and often merely fashionable, if you will pardon my saying so. in many cases the genre or even pulp literature of the same era turns out to be more interesting, and at any rate more vividly written. remember when the new yorker was so good and carried so much cultural authority? well yes it has been good on and off. but it never should have had that kind of cultural authority.
more blurbs: from an ad from polity books in nyrb, for philosophy and the event, by alain badiou:
"Those who haven't yet read Badiou's work have got delicious pleasures in store." --Simon Critchley
this is striking, but perhaps somewhat misleading.