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Remembering James Joyce

From: Modernism/modernity
Volume 5, Number 2, April 1998
pp. 2-29 | 10.1353/mod.1998.0042

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Modernism/Modernity 5.2 (1998) 2-29

1. Voyages of Discovery

It is difficult today to project oneself from the tenebrous era of the univers concentrationnaire, with its accompanying esthétique of epigones, to that period of felicity and effervescence in the nineteen-twenties and thirties, when writers of the Anglo-American literary colony in Paris competed with their French contemporaries in imagining new mental landscapes, in an atmosphere of complete intellectual liberty. We seem now to have been living in a golden age of the logos. Many of us had taken refuge from the bleakness of the Volstead regime in the more friendly climate of Montparnasse and Montmartre, and we were hell-bent on discovering new continents of the mind as well. Daring experimentation with words, colors and sounds was the chief preoccupation of an intercontinental avant-garde that extended across continents and did not pause until that day in 1929 when Wall Street "laid its historic egg." Most of the British and Americans went home then, but a few die-hards remained until the Nazis' attempt to conquer the Occident.

In the late fall of 1926, I began preparations to launch the review the following spring. I needed an editorial assistant, and had the names of several newspapermen then living in Paris under consideration. Elliot Paul seemed my best choice and I decided to invite him to join me. He gave enthusiastic acquiescence to the plan, which included a small salary that permitted him to quit newspaper work entirely and devote himself exclusively to the task. He came to our apartment in the rue Valentin-Huy every day, and we began to discuss details with growing excitement. After a few weeks, having outgrown our dining-room table, Paul and I hired a room in a modest hotel on the Place des Invalides, where we hung out the transition shingle. Our "offices," as Paul used to call our cluttered-up ex-bedroom (complete with all French plumbing-fixtures), were eventually to become the mecca of numerous manuscript-laden "exiled" writers from every state in the Union.

For some months the problem of a name troubled us, and numerous suggestions were weighed and rejected. For a time "Bridge" and "Continents" seemed to be the favorites. Then Edwin Muir's collection of essays appeared in London, and the title struck our fancy. We finally settled upon this same title, because it seemed best to symbolize the epoch. I insisted, however, that it be printed with a lower case "t." As an old newspaperman, I knew that the critics would give it a howling reception, and anyway it was the fashion among many continental "little magazines" of the day.

Sherwood Anderson came to Paris that winter, and we were happy to see him again. I met him at the Gare du Nord, and a news story I wrote about him brought many requests for interviews from the French press. But Sherwood did not really like Paris.

He knew no French and felt ill at ease in consequence, for he was essentially the Middle Western type, and it irked him that he should not be able to talk to the workers of Paris in their native argot. I can still see him standing at a little bar where he had invited some workers for a drink, smiling and trying with gestures to approach their minds. He was a frequent visitor in our house, and he also saw a good deal of his old friend Gertrude Stein, concerning whose peculiarities he entertained us. "Use your head, Sherwood," she would say to him, whenever he lazily played with some Middle Western "notion" of his. One day he arranged to bring Gertrude Stein and Alice Toklas to our home. At his insistence, Maria sang some of the American songs he had liked to hear in New Orleans. Miss Stein seemed pleased, although I doubt if her interest in music was more than platonic. With Virgil Thomson, who was also present, the conversation turned to the Gregorian chant, Antheil, Milhaud and Honegger. It was not a wholly successful evening. It constituted, however, an accurate review of our future relationship with Miss Stein, which was also to be...


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