FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Andre Schiffrin: in Memoriam

With the passing of André Schiffrin, the publishing world has lost a giant and independent publishing houses on different continents, a much-respected author, whose razor-sharp analysis of the publishing industry has been vindicated many times over.

Culturally, intellectually and physically he inhabited two worlds: Paris/New York.

The single most important influence on his life was his father Jacques Schiffrin, a refugee from St Petersburg who arrived in France in 1920 and by 1923, had established a publishing house, La Pléiade, a permanent bequest to French culture. The publishing house started by translating the Russian classics, translated into French by Schiffrin and established a strong reputation as a house of quality, that later became an imprint within Gallimard but with Jacques in complete editorial control. André was born in 1935.

During the German occupation, French publishers were asked to sack all the Jews. Gaston Gallimard fired Jacques Schiffrin within two minutes of receiving the circular. A promise was made that he would continue to receive royalties from La Pléiade, but he never did. Later Gaston informed him that the books hadn’t sold during the occupation. This was an outrageous falsehood as was discovered later when the accounts indicated the exact opposite. Antoine Gallimard (current boss and bon vivant) could have remedied the situation with a simple signature on a cheque. He refused to do so and André, who should have gone public and exposed the fraud and thin veneer of France’s ‘civilized’ folk, did not do so. He was wrong but the motivation was honourable. He did not wish to be regarded as a money-grabber. France’s collaborators got away with a great deal.

The Schiffrins moved to New York where Jacques and other exiles from the Third Reich set up Pantheon books in 1942. It brought the old breezes of pre-fascist Europe to a humid New York. The venture was a huge cultural success, something underrated by the obituarist in the New York Times. The story is recounted in detail by his son in The Business of Books: How International Conglomerates Took Over Publishing and Changed the Way We Read. This was Andre’s response to the destruction of Pantheon by the corporates.

After the death of Pantheon, a house that had published the best of Euro-American radicalism, Schiffrin established the New Press, which continued the tradition, in the process training a bunch of younger editors from different social and ethnic backgrounds. In his last years, he was pessimistic about publishing, as recounted by the publisher of Melville House on their website, warning younger people about the perils of setting up something from scratch in these bad times. We can only hope he was wrong.

It is now common to refer to people like Schiffrin as ‘old-fashioned’ editors and publishers. What the appellation really means is those who read a book before they decide to publish, those who value the role of good books in any culture, those who refuse to treat a book exclusively as a commodity to be judged only by sales figures, those who can still recognize and publish a good book with the full knowledge that it will cover its costs over the next five years rather than weeks. They have the intellectual confidence to decide that it will be a backlist seller for many years to come. Corporate publishing, as Schiffrin used to say, wants to destroy all this forever. In his last years he waged a ferocious literary war against this mentality.

Women and men like him still exist, confined to small, but fiercely independent publishing houses in different parts of the world and it is they who published Schiffrin in London, New York, Paris, Brazil, South Korea, etc.

Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).

 
More articles by:

Tariq Ali is the author of The Obama Syndrome (Verso).

Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
Ajamu Baraka
North Korea Issue is Not De-nuclearization But De-Colonization
Andrew Levine
Midterms Coming: Antinomy Ahead
Louisa Willcox
New Information on 2017 Yellowstone Grizzly Bear Deaths Should Nix Trophy Hunting in Core Habitat
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Singapore Fling
Ron Jacobs
What’s So Bad About Peace, Man?
Robert Hunziker
State of the Climate – It’s Alarming!
L. Michael Hager
Acts and Omissions: The NYT’s Flawed Coverage of the Gaza Protest
Dave Lindorff
However Tenuous and Whatever His Motives, Trump’s Summit Agreement with Kim is Praiseworthy
Robert Fantina
Palestine, the United Nations and the Right of Return
Brian Cloughley
Sabre-Rattling With Russia
Chris Wright
To Be or Not to Be? That’s the Question
David Rosen
Why Do Establishment Feminists Hate Sex Workers?
Victor Grossman
A Key Congress in Leipzig
John Eskow
“It’s All Kinderspiel!” Trump, MSNBC, and the 24/7 Horseshit Roundelay
Paul Buhle
The Russians are Coming!
Joyce Nelson
The NED’s Useful Idiots
Lindsay Koshgarian
Trump’s Giving Diplomacy a Chance. His Critics Should, Too
Louis Proyect
American Nativism: From the Chinese Exclusion Act to Trump
Stan Malinowitz
On the Elections in Colombia
Camilo Mejia
Open Letter to Amnesty International on Nicaragua From a Former Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience
David Krieger
An Assessment of the Trump-Kim Singapore Summit
Jonah Raskin
Cannabis in California: a Report From Sacramento
Josh Hoxie
Just How Rich Are the Ultra Rich?
CJ Hopkins
Awaiting the Putin-Nazi Apocalypse
Mona Younis
We’re the Wealthiest Country on Earth, But Over 40 Percent of Us Live in or Near Poverty
Dean Baker
Not Everything Trump Says on Trade is Wrong
James Munson
Trading Places: the Other 1% and the .001% Who Won’t Save Them
Rivera Sun
Stop Crony Capitalism: Protect the Net!
Franklin Lamb
Hezbollah Claims a 20-Seat Parliamentary Majority
William Loren Katz
Oliver Law, the Lincoln Brigade’s Black Commander
Ralph Nader
The Constitution and the Lawmen are Coming for Trump—He Laughs!
Tom Clifford
Mexico ’70 Sets the Goal for World Cup 
David Swanson
What Else Canadians Should Be Sorry For — Besides Burning the White House
Andy Piascik
Jane LaTour: 50+ Years in the Labor Movement (And Still Going)
Jill Richardson
Pruitt’s Abuse of Our Environment is Far More Dangerous Than His Abuse of Taxpayer Money
Ebony Slaughter-Johnson
Pardons Aren’t Policy
Daniel Warner
To Russia With Love? In Praise of Trump the Includer
Raouf Halaby
Talking Heads A’Talking Nonsense
Julian Vigo
On the Smearing of Jordan Peterson: On Dialogue and Listening
Larry Everest
A Week of Rachel Maddow…or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Ronald Reagan
David Yearsley
Hereditary: Where Things are Not What They Sound Like
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail