Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 30, No. 6. 1967.
Anthologies have always been popular with publishers, perhaps because people prefer to buy a selection of various writers rather than approaching a corpus of literature in a series of singular actions. Anthologies are "short-cuts" and therefore are intended to undermine the ideal of reading at leisure. Only browsing is permitted; a dip in here and there to form a rough impression. The worst type of anthology are those "pressure-cooker" textbooks intended for English literature undergraduates. These are little more than intellectual confidence tricks aimed at the gullible student, making him think that he is experiencing literature in the least painful manner possible.
"New writing" anthologies are of a slightly different nature, their purpose largely being the introduction to a wider audience of new authors and literary trends. John Lehmann's New Writing series published by Penguins in the 'thirties, became the prototype, serving both as a vehicle for literary fashion and as a launching-pad for new writers. The distinction of these volumes was that they depended very little on reprinting material already published. Today the "new writing" anthologies are still with us. but are more of synthetic nature in that reprinting is the norm rather than the exception. Each generation conceives its popularisers, and perhaps the most influential synthetic anthology of modern American and British literature of the 'fifties was Protest, edited by Gene Feldman and Max Gartenberg (Panther. 1960, reprinted 1966. New Zealand price 6/6).
Protest became a pacesetter for subsequent anthologies, notable mainly for their addiction to the smart phrase and indiscriminate categorisation. The original, however, gave wider circulation to Ginsburg's "Howl," Mailer's "White Negro." and Junkie by "William Lee" (Burroughs). Today the majority of contributors to Protest form the mainstream of modern literature in the USA and Britain.
In the past few years a new generation of writers has developed, and therefore new anthologies have been assembled to ensure a wider context for the avant-garde. The first of these is LeRoi Jones's volume. The Moderns (MacGibbon and Kee, 1965, New Zealand price 37/-). Jones himself has affirmed himself as one of the most vitriolic and engaging voices in the literary underground (as distinct from the serious middlebrow establishment literature). He sees in his contributors a loose division between urban and non-urban environments as the chief influence and a unifying characteristic of existence outside of the "American social organism." No doubt when The Moderns was first published in the United States in 1963 the writers he chose were mostly unknown, but four years later their reputation is firmly established (Eastlake. Rechy. Ru-maker, Creeley, Selby, Burroughs and Jones). Kerouac was the only contributor who appeared in Protest.
If Jones's anthology represents the underground. Bruce Jay Friedman's Black Humour (Corgi, New Zealand price 6/3) represents the middle ground between the "left" and the "establishment" (New Yorker). Several of the contributions are from already published novels of comic-serious writers like Barth, Donleavy. Heller and Pynchon. Both extracts and short stories are of outstanding quality, and show how well humour can be exploited to leave distaste and disillusion in the mind of the reader. Terry Southern's picture of baton twirling at "Ole Miss" southern university is a mixture of satire and farce—reminiscent of scenes from Elia Kazan's film A Face In The Crowd, seen recently at Victoria. Equally a classic is Pynchon's description of a cosmetic operation matching any of the visual sickness of Mondo Cane.
In an attempt to resuscitate John Lehmann's New Writing series Penguin have embarked on a series which will offer collections of new writing in Africa, Italy. Germany, Latin America and South Africa. The New Writing In The USA (New Zealand price 10/-) is claimed by the publishers not to be representative, but "personal—almost polemic" in its selection. The editors in this case are Donald Allen (editor of the Penguin New American Poetry) and Robert Creeley, like Jones a writer in his own right. The volume offers several pieces which are contained in The Moderns (Creeley, Dorn, Selby, Rechy) and should have provoked second thoughts considering that "representativeness" was not the purpose. In their choice of "Another Day Another Dollar," from Selby's Lost Exit To Brooklyn, the editors have definitely erred, while other duplicating could have been easily averted. In poetry (lacking from The Moderns), The New Writing is even less adventurous, depending on such "safe" poets as Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti, Corso, Olson and Zukofsky, all of whom are readily available. Lack of willingness to present the hard-hitting content of The Moderns is the chief defect of the volume and a reluctance to relate avant-garde writing to the wider social context of Black Power and the New Left. But as value for money The New Writing is worthwhile as an introduction to some names that are unknown in the British Commonwealth. The inevitable biographical detail is of some help, but publishing details give little idea of the availability of many books. It is this question which goes beyond the usefulness of anthologies to a more important aspect of the publishing racket, especially as it effects New Zealand. This is the restrictive publishing practices which deny audiences closer to the USA than to Great Britain access to the latest American literature.
In concluding a brief survey of anthologies, it is perhaps worthwhile to give some background into these restrictive practices which necesitate new writing anthologies of various parts of the English-speaking world. In Britain there is a Traditional Marketing Agreement by which American and British publishers divide the market between themselves. An American publisher must dispose of his English copyright of a book to a British publisher if he wants a book published in Britain. The catch is that British publishers have agreed not to purchase American or other copyrights unless they are guaranteed a sales monopoly for the entire British Commonwealth (sometimes excluding Canada). This, of course, eliminates any enterprising Australian or New Zealand publisher (like Sun Books of Melbourne), from republishing cheap editions of any copyright, even if the book hasn't been published or is out of print.
This vicious practice is complemented by voluntary import restrictions imposed by publishers, as mentioned in an earlier Salient, thus effectively cutting New Zealand off from any direct access to American books outside of university texts. Unless these practices cease (which is unlikely) or Australia and New Zealand leave the Commonwealth (much more preferable), limitations on what we may read will remain, as will our continued reliance on the small magazines like Evergreen Review, Contrast, Transatlantic Review, Paris Review and even Playboy to maintain even a remote awareness of literature in the largest section of the English-speaking world.