Maarten Van Gageldonk (Radboud University Nijmegen)
“The Changing Field of Periodical Studies: Grove Press and Evergreen Review as Transatlantic Cultural Mediators”
Tuesday, November 8, 2011
Guest Scholar: Maarten van Gageldonk, Radboud University Nijmegen
Faculty Moderator: Jan Cohen-Cruz, Director of Imagining America
For the past several years, scholar Maarten van Gageldonk has visited Syracuse University Libraries’ Special Collections Research Center to conduct research in the records of the American publisher Grove Press and its in-house literary and cultural magazine, Evergreen Review. This November, SCRC will host a Research Roundtable for van Gageldonk to share his work with an intimate group of faculty and graduate students from across the humanities at Syracuse University.
One aspect of van Gageldonk’s project is to understand the role that Grove Press and Evergreen Review played in the introduction of the Theater of the Absurd to the United States. Born out of Cold War anxiety and strongly influenced by Existentialism in the 1950s and 1960s, authors such as Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, Harold Pinter, and Fernando Arrabal devised a new form of theater that discarded traditional theatrical approaches. These authors produced plays that were ambiguous, illogical, and that profoundly questioned the human predicament. As Ionesco put it at the time, for these authors, the absurd is “that which is devoid of purpose. When man is cut off from his religious, metaphysical, and transcendental roots he is lost; all his actions become senseless, useless, absurd.”
It is no coincidence, van Gageldonk tells us, that the Absurd playwrights appeared in the pages of Evergreen Review and had their plays published by Grove Press. Drawing upon SCRC’s archival holdings, van Gageldonk will highlight some of the cultural strategies Grove Press employed in introducing the Absurd playwrights to the United States. While previous scholarship on Grove has often focused on the various censorship court cases in which the publisher was embroiled in the early 1960s, van Gageldonk intends to stress a different side to the publisher that heretofore has received little attention: the influence Grove exerted on the postwar cultural field by introducing a wide variety of European avant-garde writers into the United States. What is more, van Gageldonk suggests that, by studying periodicals as cultural mediators rather than as passive barometers, we might further explore their role as active shapers of the cultural field. Thus van Gageldonk’s project not only sheds light on the role of Grove Press and Evergreen Review in bringing avant-garde European culture to postwar America; it also offers a new approach to understanding the complicated relationship between publishing houses and literary magazines during this period, as well as the role magazines play in our society.