Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Student's Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 4. March 26 1968
Books — Calder's back
The John Calder-Marion Boyars partnership was prosecuted late last year for publishing Hubert Selby Jnr's Last Exit to Brooklyn.
The decision was welcomed in some circles as a step towards elimination of the more pernicious aspects of censorship—police raids and expensive legal proceedings to clear a book under the Obscene Publications Act.
However, it was still a gamble for no one could predict what a jury (all male in this case) would find about a book which examined in great detail life in a New York slum area.
Doubts were expressed as to the wisdom of allowing a jury of "right-thinking men" decide the indecency or otherwise of a book in a law court.
These doubts were not allayed when the book was found obscene and the publisher fined and ordered to pay costs.
Calder and Boyars' gamble did not pay off. As Calder himself wrote, the case was one which many publishers had waited for before proceeding with publication of other books which may be regarded as being on the fringe.
There is no doubt the Court's decision has set the anti-censorship cause back several years.
As was noted in Salient last year, Selby's novel was available in New Zealand for some time before it was brought to the censor's notice. It was promptly banned here shortly after legal proceedings got under way in England.
Despite their set-back Calder and Boyars will continue to publish high-quality fiction and non-fiction. Recently they issued their first complete catalogue of books in print till the end of 1968.
New Zealand booksellers, especially those supplied by Cordon and Gotch, are notorious for their lack of appreciation of what books arc all about.
Fortunately, however, there arc some independents who rise above the rut—but even among their shelves very few Calder and Boyars books are to be found.
The reason for this, I was told by one bookseller, was limited awareness of the Calder catalogue and a certain amount of trepidation about possible police seizure.
One Wellington bookshop, Unity Books, is about to remedy the situation by attempting to stock a relatively comprehensive selection.
The success of the experiment will depend on the interest of students.
The foremost feature of the catalogue is the quality and quantity of translations from European languages including writers such as Ivo Andric (Yugoslavia Nobel Prizewinner), Fernando Arrabal, Tibor Dery, Marguerite Duras, Wittold Gombrowicz, Ionesco, Monique Lange, Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues (whose extremely erotic works have appeared in Evergreen Review—his Girl on a Motorcycle has recently been filmed), Robert Pinget, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Nathalie Sarraute, and Peter Weiss (Marat/Sade).
The catalogue also contains titles by important English-speaking writers Beckett, Burroughs, Robert Creeley, David Mercer, and Gil Orlovitz (Milkbottle H) plus several newer writers who have graduated from the New Writers series (a series which has probably done more than most to introduce new and experimental writing).
Those who enjoyed John Antrobus' You'll Come to Love Your Sperm Test at Downstage recently will appreciate New Writers No. 4 which is solely devoted to experimental drama.
Indeed, drama is one of the distinct features of the Calder list and is rivalled only by Faber although the latter relies more on established dramatists.
Cinephiles will find film scripts by Bergman, Duras, and Robbe-Grillet while music lovers will find the most complete selection of books on serious music.
Notable new titles include critical books by John Cage, Darius Milhaud, Ernst Krenek, and Ernest Newman plus profiles of great composers by leading European writers. Modern composers such as Schoenberg and Janacek are also included.
Many of these books are available in paperback—although not as cheap as the average Penguin or Panther.
— Nevil Gibson.