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Man from Babel

Man from Babel

Eugene Jolas
Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 368
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  • Book Info
    Man from Babel
    Book Description:

    The autobiography of Eugene Jolas, available for the first time nearly half a century after his death in 1952, is the story of a man who, as the editor of the expatriate American literary magazinetransition, was the first publisher of James Joyce'sFinnegans Wakeand other signal works of the modernist period. Jolas's memoir provides often comical and compelling details about such leading modernist figures as Joyce, Stein, Hemingway, Breton, and Gide, and about the political, aesthetic, and social concerns of the Surrealists, Expressionists, and other literary figures during the 1920s and 1930s.Man from Babelboth enriches and challenges our view of international modernism and the historical avant-garde.Born in New Jersey of immigrant parents, Jolas moved back to France with them at the age of two. He grew up in the borderland of Lorraine and later lived in Paris, Berlin, London, and New York, where he pursued a career as a journalist and aspiring poet. As an American press officer after the war, Jolas was actively involved in the denazification of German intellectual life. A champion of the international avant-garde, he continually sought translinguistic, transcultural, and suprapolitical bridges that would transform Western culture into a unified continuum.Compiled and edited from Jolas's drafts and illustrated with contemporary photographs, this memoir not only reveals the multicultural concerns of the man from Babel, as Jolas saw himself, but also illuminates an entire literary and historical era.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14355-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xxxii)

    It might be said that Eugene Jolas owed much to the matchmaking skills of Sylvia Beach: the association with Joyce, a recluse who admitted few into his inner circle, helped launchtransitionand later establish it as an important, even legendary, publication. At his first meeting with James Joyce in 1924, Jolas had committed the faux pas of asking the author for a newspaper interview (which was never granted); Sylvia Beach, meanwhile, was motioning covertly to her imprudent guest to desist. As a reporter, Jolas would, in fact, never succeed in interviewing the author ofFinnegans Wake,yet the literary...

    (pp. xxxiii-xxxiv)
    (pp. xxxv-xl)
    (pp. 1-3)

    All my life has been dominated by the romantic emotion, by a tendency to transform the existing reality, by placing the accent on the dream rather than on the objective awareness of living. There was a kind of recklessness in this, a taking of risks, even a certain psychic violence which propelled my imagination into far-off regions in a miraculous exploration.

    As a boy in a European frontier-land I daydreamed America. It became to me a paradisal continent where tropical and the arctic exoticism reigned supreme. Early in my German reading, I learned to know of a time when poets...

    (pp. 4-17)

    When I arrived in New York four decades ago, as an immigrant from Europe, I was really coming home to my native land; for I was born in one of the ramshackle farmhouses that used to dot the Palisades, near the New Jersey town of Union City, on the west bank of the Hudson river. There it was that, hardly four weeks old, I was baptized according to the rite of the Roman Catholic faith, to which I have adhered—with rebellious interruptions—throughout my life. Despite this act of faith on the part of my parents, I have also...

    (pp. 18-40)

    As the liner neared New York on an afternoon in late autumn, my first sensation was one of almost religious awe. The many-towered city of my dreams stood sky-storming before me, crowded ferry-boats crossed and re-crossed the harbor, the sky was mottled with ruddy clouds. The very air had a winey, invigorating tang, a curiously electric quality that, ever since, I have associated with Manhattan. I invaded this brawling stone-world with exhilaration, my eyes fixed ecstatically on the titanic proportions of the cosmopolis. The thought came to me with explosive force that I was returning to my native land, a...

    (pp. 41-52)

    I reached New York in a practically penniless state, and started to look for a job right away. Once more I became a familiar figure in Park Row, where I approached tough. city-editors in a monotonous daily routine, but without success. At night I slept with other tramps on the Central Park meadow behind the Maine monument, to be wakened at dawn by the tap of a policeman’s stick on my feet. Somehow I managed to scrape along on quarters and dimes borrowed haphazardly from newspapermen encountered during these disheartening visits.

    One day, in desperation, I entered the office of...

    (pp. 53-64)

    The shock of seeing Europe again stirred me: I was going back to my roots, to the cradle of my psychic beginnings, to mythic archetypes, the images of which had lain dormant in my unconscious for more than a decade. The atmosphere of the ravaged continent after the cataclysm evoked scenes from the Thirty Years’ War, glimpsed in old almanacs decades ago, and although autumn spilled its cornucopia over the landscape, not only the works of man but nature itself seemed paralyzed by an infinite sadness. Nevertheless, I felt a sense of release from technological pragmatism and machinism, and I...

    (pp. 65-86)

    I was now working as an American newspaperman in the Seine cosmopolis and during the following years was to realize my ambition to serve as interpreter of European civilization to my native America and of American culture to Europe. The next fourteen years of my life in Paris were to be frequently interrupted by western voyages—both real and visionary—to the Americas, which I saw increasingly as America Romantica, America Phantastica, America Mystica. It was during these years, too, that I set forth on a long pilgrimage through language, a journey of exploration through the titanic forest of words,...

    (pp. 87-106)

    It is difficult today to project oneself from the tenebrous era of theunivers concentrationnaire,with its accompanyingesthétiqueof epigones, to that period of felicity and effervescence in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, when writers of the Anglo-American literary colony in Paris competed with their French contemporaries in imagining new mental landscapes, in an atmosphere of complete intellectual liberty. We seem now to have been living in a golden age of the logos. Many of us had taken refuge from the bleakness of the Volstead regime in the more friendly climate of Montparnasse and Montmartre, and we were hell-bent on...

    (pp. 107-134)

    Transitioninterested me more and more as an adventure in language. I became intensely aware of the interrelationship of three great tongues, each of which was part of my own patrimony, and all three, I felt, were passing through a crisis. Experiencing this pathology on a triple plane, I prodded other writers into answering questions concerning their own linguistic experiences, with the result that the review gradually became a laboratory into which I tried to gather the forces that sympathized with my desire for a renewed logos. I sought a new style, something between prose and poetry, with which to...

    (pp. 135-159)

    The middle thirties were nomadic years for me, during which I traveled back and forth between Paris and Strasbourg, Paris and Forbach, Paris and New York. Neurotically, I sought escape from the threatening collapse of a world in the throes of primeval possession. The dogma of “blood and soil” had been proclaimed by the illiterates who dominated Central Europe, and I could feel the first tremors of the imminent earthquake whenever I visited Alsace-Lorraine, where the futile Maginot Line was being hastily constructed as a bulwark against militaristic aggressiveness and intolerance. On the frontier men recalled the Apocalypse: “And when...

    (pp. 160-178)

    Back in Paris, I found Joyce still working on his magnum opus, but under great psychic difficulties. His daughter, a lovely, gifted girl in her early twenties, had begun to show alarming signs of mental derangement. There had always existed a great affection between the father and daughter, and her increasingly serious malady soon became a nightmare from which he could never free himself. Lucia, whose principal interest was the ballet, but who also had a sensitive talent for the medieval art of illuminated lettering, had become engaged to a young friend of the family, and Joyce had arranged an...

    (pp. 179-214)

    Maria and our two little girls returned from France late in September of 1940, bringing with them a French boy, aged eight—Claude Duthuit, the son of Georges and Marguerite Duthuit—a grandson of the painter Henri Matisse. We celebrated our reunion on American soil, on a pier of my native state of New Jersey, where theExochordafrom Lisbon landed, after a long odyssey. It was a windy autumn day, and I remembered my own landing in New York many years before, when I was a youngster, hungry for the American Utopia.

    The travelers brought back the graphic story...

    (pp. 215-226)

    It was during that same bitter winter of 1944-45 that our special presscontrol team, under the command of Col. James Chesnutt, set out from Brussels for Germany. Our objective was Aachen, the newly captured Rhineland city in which we were to found the first local newspaper to be printed in the German language under the auspices of the American army. The Battle of the Bulge was still raging as our little convoy made its way through a blinding blizzard across Belgium and Holland to the German frontier. A few kilometers further on, Aachen emerged spectrally from out the white whorl....

    (pp. 227-258)

    The satanic epoch of annihilation that had gripped continental Europe was over. All around us were ruins and mutilations, reminders of the countless dead. But the survivors were determined to live, and having awakened from the long nightmare, they began once more to construct their lives with a certain euphoria and hope in the future. The German people entered upon a phase of activeAufbau(construction) that was both physical and intellectual.

    We American journalists, however, refused to use their favorite word,Wiederaufbau(reconstruction), since what we were trying to build was something that the country had not known before:...

    (pp. 259-269)

    But what of Alsace-Lorraine during the apocalyptic years? How had the millenary frontier-mythos evolved since the Götterdämmerung of Hitler’s regime flamed up in its last quivering phases?

    In November 1944, while I was working for Radio Luxembourg, Col. Chesnutt, Grober and I decided to spend a short leave in Paris. Just as we were about to set out, however, the Metz garrison fell into Allied hands and we were ordered by PWD headquarters to make a quick preliminary survey of the printing situation in the newly captured city. It was on this occasion that I saw my native Lorraine again...

    (pp. 270-274)

    In a few days I shall say good-bye to the military world, the tensions of the occupation, the German words and take a train for Paris. I shall leave behind the stark ruins of Frankfurt silhouetted against a violet sky of June, the dramas of the beaten nation, the optimism of the High Commission for a democratic reconstruction of this gifted, disturbed, fermenting nation. Now that spring has come over the Hessian land, with cascades of white and pink blossoms in parks and in the countryside, I ramble about in the plenitude of nostalgic emotion and cast myself into the...

    (pp. 275-280)
    (pp. 281-318)
  24. INDEX
    (pp. 319-326)