Letters from Herralde

In the spring of 1969, in a brief stupor of Franco’s state of emergency, the publishing house Anagrama was born in Barcelona. The first two books published by the young, long-haired Jordi Herralde were El oficio de vivir —the intimate diary of Cesare Pavese— and Jean Paul Sartre’s Baudelaire. Before those two titles, many others were stopped by censorship: Partiendo de El Capital by Elmar Altvater, Samir Amin, François Châtelet and Nicos Poulantzas; the anthology of Bolshevik texts by Jean Jacques Marie; Moncada. Primer combate de Fidel Castro by Robert Merle; Walter Benjamin’s Sobre el hachís

The mark of the New Left was evident in Herralde’s project. The editor’s correspondence with his authors, with other editors, with literary agencies and, above all, with the press of those years oscillated between discreetly flirtatious and reasonably sullen tones, as of someone who knows he is reprehensible. Those letters are the source of a book edited by essayist Jordi Gracia, which traces the epistolary history of Anagrama over three decades.

The collection of notebooks that Herralde launched at the end of 1969 illustrates very well the inscription of Anagrama in the New Left. Herralde read magazines such as Les Temps Modernes, Nouvelle Critique, Monthly Review and New Left Review, and proposed turning some of their articles into essay notebooks. Thus arose the idea of publishing texts by Maurice Dobb, Claude Lévi-Strauss and Edmund Leach. This idea led Herralde to correspond with André Glucksmann and Louis Althusser, through André Gorz.

The editor’s objective was to translate Glucksmann’s Le discours de la guerre (1967), and to avoid censorship he hatched an ingenious plan: he would submit for prior censorship Gucksmann’s essay Althusser: a ventriloquial structuralismo (1971), together with Althusser’s own Freud y Lacan (1970), which would appear as notebooks. Following that diversionary maneuver, he decided that Glucksmann’s book “would not be sent for prior censorship to avoid deletions or outright banning.” El discurso de la guerra would be “submitted to the depository already in print, risking seizure,” since “in that case the judicial procedure was less arbitrary.”

In the midst of that play an unforeseen event occurred when Althusser, after having accepted, refused the translation of Freud et Lacan in Anagrama. It is not clear what made Althusser hesitate, whether it was a monetary issue —the bargaining for money of those Marxists with their publishers was relentless—, discomfort with the translation or the company of awkward authors such as the Trotskyist Isaac Deustcher in the same collection. What is certain is that after a couple of persuasive letters from Herralde, Althusser accepted the offer.

As in so many other publishing projects of the Western New Left, the relationship with Cuba was marked by tension from the beginning. After the censorship of Robert Merle’s book on the Moncada, Herralde considered translating Andrew Sinclair’s study on Che Guevara. Along the way, the Padilla case and the critical repositioning of a good part of the Western left became an issue. It was then that the manuscript of Interrogatorio de La Habana: autorretrato de la contrarrevolución (1973) by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, one of Herralde’s great accomplices, arrived at Anagrama.

Along with an X-ray of the Bay of Pigs invasion, Enzensberger’s book proposed a critical history of Cuban communism and a scathing description of the rituals of “revolutionary tourism,” with its deluded “delegations from friendly countries,” which irritated Spanish supporters of Castro. In a letter of April 1974, Herralde tells Enzensberger that after the simultaneous appearance in Barcelona of El interrogatorio de La Habana, Persona non grata by Jorge Edwards and Cuba. La lucha por la libertad de Hugh Thomas, the island’s consul became convinced that this “could not have been due to chance” and “imagined a bizarre publishing plot, sponsored by the CIA.”

In those years he began his valuable correspondence with Guillermo Cabrera Infante and Heberto Padilla, in this case, doubly generous, given the civil death of the poet until his departure from Cuba in 1980. Herralde wanted to place Padilla’s poem “Viajeros” in order to reproduce it in the book by Enzensberger, since it helped delineate the sarcastic portrait of the revolutionary tourists, “sweetly subversive,” with their “clothes of abundance” and their “Nikon, Leica and Rolleiflex cameras,” which “shine, perfectly suitable for the light of the tropics, for underdevelopment.” Later, while Padilla was already in exile, Herralde proposed to the poet the translation of Enzensberger’s El hundimiento del Titanic (1986).

With Cabrera Infante, the correspondence was a sum of affectionate attempts that came to nothing, apart from the essay the Cuban wrote, together with Susan Sontag, to precede Edgardo Cozaransky’s book Vudú urbano (1985). Herralde wanted to publish O (1975) and Exorcismos de esti(l)o (1976) in Anagrama’s Informal Series, but had to read them “enviously” in Seix Barral. More progress was made in negotiating the rights for the Spanish edition of Holy Smoke. In December 1983, the publisher announced to the Cuban writer the news of the signing of the contract, “after laborious negotiations with the agent Cochie, a real hard hosted.” The project did not come to fruition either, due to difficulties with the translation, and Puro humo (2000) was finally published by Alfaguara.

Anagrama’s familiarity with the repertoire of the New Left in the seventies is perfectly documentable. Not so much the publisher’s enormous interest in the postmodernism of the 1980s, which is reflected in Herralde’s letters. The publisher made translation offers for The Anti-Oedipus and A Thousand Plateaus by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, and for Jean François Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition. He did not succeed in either, although he did manage to publish Proust y los signos, Nietzsche y la filosofía, Crítica y clínica and other texts by Deleuze. He also published some essays by Oswald Ducrot and Michel Foucault that revealed his reading of poststructuralism.

In these letters from the late seventies and early eighties we can observe Anagrama’s shift from the New Left horizon to neo-Marxism, especially through the French poststructuralist perspective. The mistaken idea of assuming postmodernism as a right-wing intellectual movement —so dear to the cultural bureaucracies of the Latin American left— is questioned by a catalog that includes Toni Negri’s Del obrero masa al obrero social (1980), together with Alain Finkielkraut’s La nueva derecha norteamericana (1982).

Jordi Gracia’s book closes in the 90s, when Herralde consolidated some of the lines of his great publishing project, such as the rescue of almost all of Nabokov, almost all of Highsmith, the commitment to Roberto Bolaño and the translation of a brilliant generation of British writers: Barnes, Amis, Ishiguro, McEwan… 30 years after Anagrama was founded, the publisher could say “mission accomplished” in a book entitled Opiniones mohicanas, published by the Mexican publisher Aldus and presented at the Guadalajara Book Fair in November 2000.

Rafael Rojas (Santa Clara, Cuba, 1965). He is a historian and essayist. He has a degree in Philosophy from the University of Havana and a PhD in History from El Colegio de México. He is a regular contributor to the magazine Letras Libres and the newspaper El País, and is a member of the editorial board of the magazine Istor of the Center for Economic Research and Teaching (CIDE). He has published the books: Un banquete canónico (2000), Revolución, disidencias y exilio intelectual cubano (2006), La vanguardia peregrina. El escritor cubano, la tradición y el exilio (2013), among others. Since July 2019, he occupies chair 11 of the Mexican Academy of History.


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