Sunday, April 3, 2022

Richard Kostelanetz: Publishing Avant-Garde Classics

In the following statement, Richard Kostelanetz describes his Archae Editions and Avant-Garde Classics imprints:

  Richard Kostelanetz: Publishing Avant-Garde Classics


In memory of Dick Higgins (1938-1998),

who understood what alternative publishers had to do


Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one.

                               –A. J. Liebling

I founded Archae Editions a decade ago to make available new books of mine that wouldn’t otherwise be published—of a quality that persuaded me that they would survive me, even with only one enthusiastic reader. I favored Amazon/KDP because its prices could not be beat and then because the company was more likely to survive not only me but its competitors in the new business of on-demand publishing.

Since my purpose was circulation, I usually priced Archae Editions as cheaply as Amazon allowed and then generally purchased three copies­ —two for my own shelves, and one for my monthly Last Sunday bookstore. The exceptions to my low retail costs were Posthumous Books, as I call them, that charged as high as Amazon allowed. I wanted them to exist in a definitive form, though their price would discourage wider circulation until a later date. Since I’ve become crippled without regular assistance, I can rely on Amazon to deliver my books to their customers. With on-demand printing, the costs per copy are the same for one as for many. Thanks to this new “on-demand” way of printing books, nothing need be stored.

Around 2017 I opened my initially personal imprint to “classic” manuscripts that I judged would likewise survive and so published volumes by D. E. Steward, Enzo Minarelli, David Morice, Alberto Vitacchio, Alex Caldiero, and Charles Doria. Recently I decided that their titles belong, beside certain other books of mine, under the imprint of AVANT-GARDE CLASSICS and so commissioned another logo (thanks to Igor Satanovsky) and established a second name with Amazon. Because Amazon prigs have rejected some Archae books (and twice even cancelled all of my Archae books from its listings, only to reverse), I’ve printed several Classics with Barnes&Noble’s on-demand service, which charges roughly 30% more. After giving these authors some gratis copies, I advise them to order additional copies for themselves through me, who gets a cheaper publisher’s price. Please don’t expect enough business or staff to pay royalties soon.

Once I established Avant-Garde Classics, I decided that certain Archae books by me really belonged to this new imprint: my own versions of F. M. Marinetti, Guillaume Apollinaire, and Gustave Flaubert’s Dictionary; and my selections of texts by others, such as Kosti’s (Richard) Foreman, as well as my illustrating Edgar Allan Poe’s Maelstrom with verbal/visual images of my own and, of course, certain titles wholly my own.

The first author initially published under this new imprint was, of course, Gertrude Stein, who remains a modernist idol to me. In addition to reprinting her monumental The Making of Americans, not only at a lower retail price than any competitor but with my long introduction to the more radical Stein texts. From books of hers already in the public domain, I extracted Early Geographies and Early Plays, both with the addition of my long introduction. From later Stein collections I similarly extracted sections that I could cost well below the price of the source book, even if it were previously owned. Again my motive was making avant-garde classics available.

With Ezra Pound, another modernist icon with many books in print, I had to find what was not otherwise available. First I reprinted within a single volume his long appreciations of the visual artist Gaudier-Brzeska and the composer George Anthiel. Secondly, I found that Pound’s early collection of criticism, Instigations (1920), had three kinds of essays scrambled together and so extracted three separate volumes: One about French writers, a second about Chinese and Greek, and a third mostly about those writing in English. I expect to do, within a single volume, several short books of poetry that he published before turning 30.

If only because Guillaume Apollinaire and was born Kostrowitski and known to his buddies as Kostro, I’d already translated certain essays of his, as well as his longer poem Zone. For AGC, I’ve reworked Matthew Josephson’s pioneering century-old translation of Le poète assassiné as The Poet Offed. With an intern who’s a graduae student, I’m working on an edition entirely in French of his Alcools entwined with his Calligrammes; a thicker book with four of his lesser-known titles, again only in French; and a translation into English of La femme assise, which, as far as I can tell, is a Kostro novel ethat has not been translated before.

Since the anarchist Emma Goldman died the exact day I was born (14 May 1940) and her politics remain sympathetic, I composed one book from three longer texts, including My Disillusionment with Russia, and am planning another of her shorter essays. Out of respect for Ambrose Bierce, who was the first writer I treasured on my own (because his books weren’t taught to me), I’ve published a book of his Newspaper Poems and another of choice essays and satires. Years ago, I appropriated Nathanael West’s most radical text into Kosti’s Pep Dream (2013) and so now reprint those pages as an AGC.

I’ve also enhanced the typography of certain favorite high modernist texts, such as T. S. Eliot’s early poems and Wallace Stevens’ “Sunday Morning,” which appears before my redesign of “Casey at the Bat,” to establish through audacious publishing an unfamiliar critical point about two favorite poems. AGC reprints intact the pages of H.  L. Mencken’s Schrimpflexicon (1928), which is avant-garde for containing few words written by him, while this screamingly funny book is still uniquely Mencken. At least two other AGCs have a source I cannot announce, because in certain places they might still be under copyright.

By putting together my modest redesigns of other books not normally found together I was able to make a critical point. The theme of combining Henry David Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience and Mark’s Twain’s Awful German Language is that the greatest American essays can be more solemn and comic. As an appendix to the only complete translation of Ivan Turgenev’s Poems in Prose, I reprint an early translation of the Charles Baudelaire prose poems that inspired Turgenev. The theme of Four Literary Translators is that Kenneth Burke, Ezra Pound, James Gibbons Huneker, and Virginia Woolf all published their personal translations (respectively of Thomas Mann, Rene de Gourmont, Charles Baudelaire, and Fyodor Dostoevsky) that were superseded or discarded. Sprinkled between the pages of my print of John Dos Passos’ Manhattan Transfer (1925) are pages from Frans Masereel’s Die Stadt (also 1925), visual fiction composed from woodcut images, followed by an appendix of poems from the 1920s likewise portraying urban life. a Since H. L. Mencken has sometimes been dubbed anti-Semitic, I reprinted within a single set of covers two early book-length appreciations by the Jewish critics Isaac Goldberg and Benjamin de Casseres.

Respecting my interest in avant-garde cultural magazines, I’ve reprinted in a single large volume the complete runs of two magazines edited by Wyndham Lewis —Blast and Tyro —and in another thick book the complete run of Alfred Jay Nock’s The Freeman, as addition to a slimmer volume with the three American magazines edited by Marcel Duchamp, a fourth with six disparate issues of Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth, and a fifth with the complete De Stijl still in Dutch. (Why translate a magazine whose pages must be seen before they are read.) A much shorter volume incudes the complete contents of the pronto-minimalist Matchbook edited by David Morice. In production are books with the complete run of The Broom and several years of Margaret Anderson’s The Little Review.

Because most of these titles are minimally popular, the AGCs have no visible competition. In those cases where they might be available from antiquariats or other reprinters, I’ve added materials unavailable anywhere else, either with my own prefaces or some supplementary material. To the facsimile of the first American printing of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, I’ve added not only my slight preface but longer appreciations by D. H. Lawrence and two professors who’d contributed Melville entries to the third edition of my A Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes (2018). Once a notoriously titled 1926 novel by Carl Van Vechten entered the public domain, I slightly rewrote it to appear as Harlem Heaven, which was the actual subject of the historic book. I had to reprint William Blake: His Philosophy and Symbols by my great teacher S. Foster Damon, still available second-hand at a reasonable price, but now with appendices by Damon himself on how he wrote his masterpiece and then the scholar Morris Eaves on Damon’s achievement.

Another move has been combining one writer’s complimentary texts within a single volume; so that along with poems by the modern American writer Benjamin de Casseres I reprint a prose book by him. While only the fiction of another American writer James Weldon Johnson figured in my M.A. thesis of 1966 (Columbia), I wanted to recognize his other achievements as a poet, reporter, lyricist, anthology, and musicologist and so collected within a single book selections from his work in all these domains. One move that someone should have done before (but didn’t, oddly) was reprinting Yvor Winters’ extraordinary 1928 appreciation of Native American poetry, now along with the two contemporaneous anthologies that he was writing about.

  With certain favorite neglected writers, I reprint two or more earlier books within a single set of covers; so just as Elbert Hubbard’s Notebooks complement his Sketchbooks, I’ve put together in single volumes all three books by Minna Antrim, an American aphorist popular in the early 20th century; five books by the writer/architect Claude Bragdon; and several early books of both poetry and prose by the poet/physician William Carlos Williams.

Another theme of my publishing has been recovering ancient texts that retain avant-garde quality. One example was Meditations on a Divine Name by the Jewish mystic Abraham Abulafia (1240-1291) as prefaced by Enzo Minarelli. In production is a new edition of On the Composition of Images, Signs & Ideas by Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) as translated by Charles Doria and edited by Dick Higgins. (As I write, Amazon is offering only one copy of the 1991 edition for the whopping sum of $449.75.) Michael Peters is presently compiling texts by the American novelist Charles Brockden Brown (1771-1810).

AGC’s co-star has been Charles Doria, my colleague for decades, with examples of his brilliant literary book-art, his translations, his visual/verbal interpretations of texts by others, and much else unusual, all of which, in my judgment, has the quality worthy of an avant-garde classic.

I’m not done yet with books meant to survive. I’d like to reprint some titles that are currently scarce, such as the 1926 “private edition” of T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom, A. L. Gillespie’s Syntactic Structures, Bern Porter’s masterpieces, Frank Kuenstler’s Lens, Loïe Fuller’s memoir of her experience as an American artist in Paris, books by and about the 19th-century American actress/writer Adah Isaacs Menken, Alfred A. Knopf’s anthology of his first years in book publishing, or the self-published retrospectives of the French poet Henri-Martin Barzun who lived for half a century in America. As I own a complete run of the legendary transition literary magazine, I reprinted its 27th number intact, if to test if I could safely do more. I expect to reprint the complete run of Gellet Burgess’s The Lark, which I also happen to own. And rather than printing annual catalogs, AGC will post on Amazon a continually expanding book of just title pages alphabetically organized, Avant-Garde Classics, priced as cheaply as possible, natch.

Because I’ve other work to do, I’m trying to keep this operation simple. That accounts for why I’ve not placed ads, written press releases, or submitted review copies. In my experience, none of these publishing mechanisms have worked at selling my own books (or my getting recognitions in history books) as well as personal recommendations from one reader to another.


                             –Richard Kostelanetz, FarEast BushWick, 1 March 2022


Please click HERE to find Archae Editions and Avant-Garde Classics.

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