Publishing Donald Trump, a History of the Giants of Russian Literature, and the Poet Hart Crane Plagiarized
Neil Arditi writes about the work of the poet Hart Crane plagiarized: “Literary history is full of underdogs: autodidacts sprung from unpromising soil, creative lives cut short yet heroically compressed. Even so, the case of the poet and artist Samuel Bernard Greenberg is extreme and probably unique. Born in Vienna in 1893, the sixth of eight children, Greenberg emigrated to New York at the turn of the century with his Yiddish-speaking family to settle on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. At 13, he dropped out of school to work in a leather shop. At 18, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis; he died five years later at the age of 23. His circumstances may bring to mind those of another Jewish poet-painter, Isaac Rosenberg. Raised in poverty on the East End of London, Rosenberg enlisted in the British Army and died in action in 1918—a year after Greenberg—at the age of 27. But Rosenberg’s war poems are highly polished, fully realized works of literary art. They do not reveal the limitations of his formal education any more than Keats’s Odes reveal his class origins. Editors are not inclined to correct them, and poets are not tempted to rewrite them. The same cannot be said of Greenberg’s work. Even his admirers have felt the need to make allowances. One of the earliest and most ardent of Greenberg’s admirers was another poet who died tragically young, Hart Crane. (Crane took his own life in 1932, at the age of 32, throwing himself overboard from a steamship in the Gulf of Mexico.) Crane’s name will forever be linked to Greenberg’s by a brilliant act of plagiarism, for the story of Greenberg’s posthumous manuscripts is almost as remarkable as the poetry itself.”
According to Anthony Kronman, first colleges gave up on meaning. Now they have given up on excellence: “[C]ampus movements that march under the banner of “diversity and inclusion” possess a common goal of subverting the ideals of excellence and achievement around which the American university has been built—and which account for the distinctiveness of America’s national culture.”
A short history of the London Review of Books: “The LRB began in 1979, when the labour dispute at the Times meant that the Times Literary Supplement was not appearing. Karl Miller, former editor of the Listener and head of English at University College London, decided to start a new review. His former deputy at the Listener, Mary-Kay Wilmers, joined him. This volume illustrates the LRB’s rickety yet oddly confident beginnings, first as an insert within the New York Review of Books, which initially provided necessary funding. It split off a year later. Wilmers had inherited some money – ‘I didn’t want it … So I found a use for it’ – and when Miller left in 1992 Wilmers became editor, and is still. The first issue still seems impressive, with William Empson on A Midsummer Night’s Dream, John Bayley’s review of William Golding’s Darkness Visible, and new poems by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney. Pages reproduced from early issues are, however, forbidding: unbroken columns of print as far as the eye can see. The LRB demonstrated its intellectual seriousness by allowing contributors unparalleled wordage.”
Ernest J. Gaines has died. He was 86.
A gossipy history of the giants of Russian literature: “When Dostoyevsky first read Anna Karenina, he called the novel ‘boring.’ Tolstoy, on the other hand, said he did not know ‘a better book in all modern literature’ than Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the House of the Dead. Dostoyevsky was seven years older than Tolstoy, and three years younger than Ivan Turgenev, who thought Dostoyevsky’s ideas about mystical Russianness were nonsense. When Turgenev was dying, he wrote to Tolstoy ‘to say how glad I was to have been a contemporary of yours.’ Nikolai Leskov went further in his admiration, becoming a devoted disciple of Tolstoy after meeting him in 1887. Decades earlier, Tolstoy was ‘in raptures’ over Ivan Goncharov’s novel Oblomov, which he called ‘a truly great work’ that he kept rereading. Chekhov was also fan, praising Goncharov as ‘ten heads above me in talent.’ But Goncharov was jealous of Turgenev, and accused him of plagiarism. Once, Goncharov saw Turgenev at a park in St. Petersburg and ran away shouting, ‘A thief! A thief!’ With gossipy bits like these, Sara Wheeler’s delightful book Mud and Stars: Travels in Russia with Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Other Geniuses of the Golden Age reminds us that the giants of the Russian 19th century were indeed contemporaries, commenting on one another’s work as it came out, supporting and rivaling each other. Besides Alexander Pushkin and Tolstoy, the ‘other geniuses’ of Wheeler’s subtitle include Nikolai Gogol, Mikhail Lermontov, Leskov, Turgenev, Goncharov, Chekhov, and, of course, Dostoyevsky. For her, these are the stars of Russia’s Golden Age, which she defines broadly as the period between 1800 and 1910, the year of Tolstoy’s death.”
An uncommon correspondent: “War reporters come in many types and guises (and degrees of honesty). John Hersey was at the peak of the profession during the Second World War, rivalled among Americans only by the GIs’ own journalist, the immortal Ernie Pyle. Hersey thoroughly deserves this full-length biography and tribute by Jeremy Treglown. Hersey was born in 1914 in China, where his American-born parents were Protestant missionaries. He spoke Chinese before he spoke English, and his knowledge of the language proved to be a great asset in later assignments up the Yangtse River and beyond. He enjoyed a privileged education at Yale University and Clare College, Cambridge. Afterwards, he was taken onto the staff of Time magazine, and within two years he was working at its bureau in Chungking, the capital of China during the second Sino-Japanese War. Like many of its foreign correspondents, he was politically at odds with the magazine’s owner, Henry Luce, who was the megaphone of what was known as the China Lobby. Hersey never involved himself in daily journalism but stood back from the stampede. Throughout his career he crafted his dispatches with the greatest care and always with an eye on the characters and incidents at the very edge of the frame. Books about writers too often fall down at the interface between the writer and the work. This one does not.”
Essay of the Day:
In The New Yorker, Peter Osnos writes about acquiring and editing the book that made Donald Trump:
“In the fall of 1984, a few months after arriving at Random House as a senior editor, I was at lunch with the publishing house’s proprietor, S. I. (Si) Newhouse (whose family owns Condé Nast, which publishes The New Yorker), and its C.E.O., Robert Bernstein, who had hired me away from the Washington Post. We were in the Bahamas, at a sales conference. Newhouse was ordinarily a quiet, phlegmatic man, I had been told, but on one subject he was very animated: Donald Trump. By then, Trump, who had recently completed the construction of a shimmering tower on Fifth Avenue, had been around for a decade. A profile in the Times, in 1976, had called him New York’s “No. 1” real-estate promoter. ‘He is tall, lean and blond,’ the story noted, ‘and he looks ever so much like Robert Redford.’ More recently, at the suggestion of Roy Cohn, the notorious New York lawyer and fixer, who had been Newhouse’s close friend since their days together at the Horace Mann School, Trump had appeared on the cover of GQ, a Condé Nast magazine. The issue had sold especially well.
“This Trump fellow, Newhouse now said, was more than a comer. He had arrived. The word was that Newhouse was hands-off when it came to acquiring books, but on this occasion he emphatically was not. He said, ‘Let’s do a book with Trump.’ I had been brought to Random House to acquire and edit, among other things, high-profile books by public figures. Newhouse said that he would arrange a meeting with Trump, and it was decided that Howard Kaminsky, the new publisher of the Random House trade division, and I would accompany him. Kaminsky was a friend of Newhouse and was clearly his choice as publisher, not Bernstein’s.
“The day of the meeting arrived, and we were led into Trump’s office, on the twenty-sixth floor of Trump Tower, by his personal assistant, an elegant woman named Norma Foerderer. (She would later have an assistant of her own, Rhona Graff, who is still Trump’s personal assistant in New York.) The office had a spectacular view of Central Park and the Plaza Hotel, which Trump coveted. The walls were covered with magazine spreads he’d appeared in and some plaques. There was a large phone console, but Trump summoned Norma and others with a shout.
“Newhouse made the pitch. We had brought along a cover proposal––black background, a photograph of Trump, and his name and the title in gold letters. Trump liked the cover but said his name should be larger. It wasn’t clear to me whether he was being serious or engaging in self-parody. In any case, by the end of the meeting, Trump was ready to do the book. We soon learned that a writer named Tony Schwartz, who had worked at Newsweek and the Times, had come to Trump with a concept for a book they could do together, to be called ‘The Art of The Deal.’ All the pieces were in place. The advance was five hundred thousand dollars, to be split evenly, from the first dollar, with Schwartz as the co-author. I don’t remember dealing with either an agent or a lawyer.”
Poem: Spencer Hupp, “Heavner”
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