Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Richard Seaver wanted to "make a fool of" himself but only gained applause. By positively reviewing two works by Samuel Beckett - Molloy and Malone Dies - Seaver started a ball rolling that continues to gather no moss.

After getting Beckett a publisher in the US, the itinerant University of North Carolina graduate returned to the States and started work at Grove Press. It's a famous house. It's a little more famous now that Bruce Weber, for The New York Times, has written a glowing obituary of Richard Seaver, who died at the age of 82. He was born in 1926, three years before my mother.

I'm usually disgusted by obits. In the case of Matthew Hayden's career as an international batsman, the extended verbal farting by the popular press has brought a familiar stench to our reluctant nostrils. Compared to Seaver, Hayden was a blip on history's least well-read page.

Seaver stuck his neck out and waited for it to be chopped. Instead, he managed to just rest his brilliant head on a comfortable pillow. Weber's obituary should be compulsory reading in schools. Leave Hayden for the brainless and safety-seeking. Seaver belongs in a different empyrean.

I chose a front page from an old copy of Henry Miller's Tropic of Capricorn for this post. It's not a first edition, but it is from the Obelisk Press - the racy French publisher who subsidised avantgarde work like Miller's by selling bodice rippers that used words such as fente and vit ('cunt' and cock' for the uninitiated).

Seaver also translated a lot and the obit contains a surprise - he was the mysterious translator who worked on The Story of O, whose author (Dominique Autry) outed herself in 1994. The editor's wife spills the beans now.

Most public-sphere obits are filled with the same old same old. The same old glowing tripe that borders on the toxicity of enriched uranium about the deceased being an apple of an eye and a true champion. I've always regretted these stories. In Seaver's, I'm less likely to blame, than praise.

Well done Weber and the NYT for fronting up and celebrating a name of rarity. The International Herald Tribune (7 January) and The Sydney Morning Herald (13 January) carried the same story. The Washington Post carried another story, by Alexander F. Remington, titled 'Censorship-Fighting Editor Richard Seaver'.

It's worthwhile to read both.

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