Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

White-Collar Masochism: Grove Press and the Death of the Managerial Subject

Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

White-Collar Masochism: Grove Press and the Death of the Managerial Subject

Article excerpt

Between its founding in 1951 and its labor crisis in 1970, Grove Press stood at the epicenter of radical politics and culture in the United States. (1) A major translator of late modernism and the avant-garde, Grove introduced US audiences to the theater of the absurd and the nouveau roman, publishing authors as important and far ranging as Samuel Beckett and Jorge Luis Borges. During the same period, the press served as a vehicle for revolutionary thought, publishing Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, Fidel Castro, and Ho Chi Minh. Meanwhile, Grove made its mark on domestic policy, championing freedom of expression in a series of obscenity court cases defending its publication of D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover (1959), Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer (1961), and William Burroughs's Naked Lunch (1962). As a result of Grove's success in court, it became a premiere publishing house of philosophical and not-so-philosophical pornography, coming out with landmark editions of the Marquis de Sade. Under editor and owner Barnet ("Barney") Rosset, Grove constituted a nexus of aesthetic experimentation, left-wing politics, and literary erotica, a configuration unthinkable in mainstream publishing today.

Although like most publishers Grove did not track its readers, it did carry out a readership survey for the press's house magazine, Evergreen Review (Glass 2013, 130--31). The magazine and press shared editorial staff--Rosset topped Evergreens masthead--and it featured excerpts or selections from virtually all major Grove authors. As Rosset states, he "wanted to tie Evergreen Review to Grove Press as much as possible" (2016, 101), and thus the editorial discourse in Evergreen Review illuminates how the press saw itself. Drawing on its survey undertaken by Marketing Data Inc., the press described the average subscriber in 1966 as "a 39-year-old male, married, two children, a college graduate who holds a managerial position in business or industry, and has a median family income of $12,875" (Evergreen 1966), more than $95,000 in 2016 dollars. An astounding 90 percent of Evergreen's subscribers were men (Glass 2013, 131), and while the survey does not state it outright, their high salaries and supervisory roles also suggest that Groves readership was predominately white. Surprisingly, the survey revealed the average Grove reader as a member of the professional-managerial class, '"sold out' types" (Evergreen 1966) who hardly fit the image of the austere militant or hedonistic youth projected by the magazine's contents. (2) Although the press undoubtedly published for readers from many different backgrounds, it thus described its audience as the very class it so vehemently opposed (Schryer 2015, 3).

Rosset himself embodied this tension. The editor was radicalized at a wealthy private school, Parker High School, where he and several classmates produced a newspaper titled Sommunist (a portmanteau of Socialist-Communist) and, later, the And-Everything (Rosset 2016, 28-30). Rosset entered into the book business with the help of his father, a midwestern banker, and, when his father died, he merged his father's bank with the press in order to pay for the court battles over Lady Chatterley's Lover (154-55). This combination of affluence and radicalism would come under fire during feminist and worker protests at the press in later years (more on this later), when, throwing Rosset's wealth back in his face, the activists' list of demands included, "No more mansions on Long Island for boss-man Rosset and his executive yes-men flunkies" (quoted in Gontarski 2001, xxvii). (3) Nevertheless, Rosset seemed to believe he could inhabit the position of moneyed revolutionary, claiming that "most progressive, left-wing enterprises have come out of small-business entrepreneurship" (1990a, 31). "Small-time capitalists" like himself can get away with promoting avant-garde or even anticapitalist causes because they have certain "advantages," including "a certain flexibility" that comes with financial security (1990b, 58). …

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