Book publishing’s future: a distinguished Spanglish record of a catastrophe foretold

 Giorgio De Chirico, the founder of the Metaphysical school of painting -- a forerunner of Surrealism -- created this sculptural work, 'The Mysterious Baths,' in 1973 -- when he was eighty-five. Photograph by MIL22

Giorgio De Chirico, the founder of the Metaphysical school of painting — a forerunner of Surrealism — created this sculptural work, ‘Fontana dei Bagni Misteriosi’ (‘The Mysterious Baths,’) in 1973 (aged 85).
Photograph by MIL22

A dig through papers stored in cardboard boxes on a freezing day in silver January light yielded a forgotten scrap of treasure. Who would deny that there is a touch of divine Borgesian surrealism about the circular below, from July, 1994?

Two years ago, we found ourselves arguing with a handsome Swiss nineteen year-old, the son of a novelist, who haughtily condemned the efforts of Google Translate — and was impervious to any suggestion that the translator-robot might be better than nothing, and improving steadily. What, we wonder, would that Adonis make of our vintage circular from the Spanish publisher of the likes of Octavio Paz, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, Milan Kundera and Italo Calvino? This relic, though unsigned, was clearly the work of one of those gentlemanly, perfectionist luminaries of the old print-book publishing world who could — at the drop of a sombrero — have summoned any number of helpers capable of a more straightforward rendering of Spanish thoughts into English.

It is astonishing to read this author complaining about excessive haste — the hurried new tempo being born, for people in his trade — even though no literary proletarian of the time was obliged to answer email around the clock, or multi-task, or check thought-streams in social media.

Still, we are delighted with our discovery. No text we have read, for days, has lifted our spirits to quite the same degree. This is not so much because it reminded us of the high comedy of our own inept attempts to communicate in, say, rusty French. It is the writer’s gung-ho, embrace-the-future-or-perish sentiments about the future of publishing — and eagerness to join forces across cultural borders, for the transition — that we find both moving and endearing.



the 5th July from 10.00 to 13.30 hours
at the Museum of Science (Museu de la Ciència de la Fundaciò de ‘la Caixa’)

The perplexity of the publisher at the end of the century
Proposal for a debate

Our starting point is the fact that we have been living, on last years, great, swift changes which depthly affects the habits in publishing within the field in which we usually work, which is essentially the literary one, under whichever its forms. I think that all of us, now and then and in one way or another, have plunged into perplexity when faced to some of these changes, sometimes rude. From a special way of working, in which time was that of reading and the mechanisms of making contracts, of production, distribution, advertising and selling were relatively clear and simple, we have gone over to a new way of working, mastered by a hurried tempo and increasingly more complex mechanisms. This has often been generating into us doubts and hesitations concerning the future of our very activity as literary publishers and editors, whose activity, fundamentally based on risk, is to discover and experiment, both of them functions which need most of all, at first sight, different manners and time from those of an uniformised and accelerated production, distribution, advertising and selling. I suppose that this approach is valid, although very different nuances, whatever might be the kind of company in which usually works a literary publisher or editor, either an independent one, or a national or multinational group.

Therefore I suggest to divide our contributions into two interacted blocks:

1. Considerations on the present situation and analysis — avoiding as far as possible useless nostalgias — of those aspects from the past which we consider indispensable to safeguard, and even to fight for and maintain, and which complement or come into conflict with the steps each of us has been taking to grapple with the changes of these last years.

2. Reflections on how and what could be done in forthcoming years for the survival of this vocationally cultural activity, intact in its original purpose and spirit, but integrated into the new habits of both publishing and new reading communities, which already became unavoidable and are a part, like it or not, of our everyday task.

The contributions and the debate will be held either in English, French or Spanish, and we’ll have at our disposal, whenever needed, a simultaneous translation service to and from the three languages.


lee to cb

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