An author/artist in the UK is rejected for being too artsy and then pursued by those same companies when his book is published to acclaim by a small press. Indies are what saves literature’s place in the world of “art”.
Art people are literate. When Margarita Gluzberg, who recently exhibited to much praise at the Paradise Row gallery, describes the thought behind her drawings, she turns to Madame Bovary. Rut Blees Luxemburg, discussing her photographs hanging in Tate Modern, talks about Hölderlin. I know at least two artists who have done work based on Huysmans’s Against Nature, and countless others whose images grapple with the labyrinthine architecture of Robbe-Grillet’s novels. The art world, it seems, is the place not just where literature is understood, but also where it is creatively developed, carried forward.
This paradox played out for me directly. By the time I did my ICA cut-up project, I’d finished writing my novel Remainder. But no mainstream press would touch it, deeming it “too literary”. Eventually the art publisher Metronome Press distributed a limited edition through art venues; the literary press picked up on it; then the editor-in-chief at Vintage in New York decided to do a mass-market US edition – at which point a couple of the mainstream British publishers who had rejected it changed their minds and started making offers. Unimpressed, I let a good, new independent, Alma Books, do the mass-market UK edition – a publisher that, maybe not coincidentally, also prints books by and about artists.
None of this is new, perhaps. Literature and art have always looked to one another when they want to reinvigorate themselves. Surrealism developed through an extended dialogue between the two forms. Futurism did the same, and the fallout from its image-derived concrete poetry on these shores led to Vorticism, which in turn, through Pound and Eliot, shaped modern poetry.
Nowadays, though, the traffic seems to flow one way only. While artists and curators still draw inspiration from writers, publishing has dumbed itself down. Marketing departments, not editors, rule the roost.
Sigh. This is all so true it hurts.