Monday, October 26, 2009

Antaeus, 1970-1994

In later years it would become just another literary magazine, albeit a very good one, but in its first decade there really was something special about Antaeus, which was founded in 1970 in Tangier, Morocco by Daniel Halpern at the instigation of and with the assistance of the novelist and composer Paul Bowles. It was refreshingly if selectively international, a little bit like a North African version of Paris Review, (it even imitated the latter in presenting interviews with literary figures, at least at the beginning) and it featured a number of excellent writers who were then undiscovered or forgotten in the US. Much of its uniqueness must have been due to the influence of Bowles, its "consulting editor," who as a longtime expatriate had contacts with literary circles on several continents.

I was a bit young for it when it first appeared, but by the mid 1970s I had discovered it and become a subscriber, and I eagerly devoured each new number and looked forward to the arrival of the next, which might be six months off if it was a double issue. At some point I believe it switched from a quarterly to a semiannual publication. I can think of any number of moments of pleasure or illumination I gained from its pages, but here are just a handful of favorites:
  • Laura (Riding) Jackson's over-the-top diatribe, in response to a request for suggestions for a list of "Neglected Books of the 20th Century," in issue #20
  • Bowles's own "Istikhara, Anaya, Medagan and the Medaghanat" from the "Special Essay Issue" #21/22
  • J. G. Ballard's disturbing "Low-Flying Aircraft" from the "Popular Fiction" double issue #25/26
  • The Yannis Ritsos poetry feature, from #28
  • Harry Mathews's droll short story in the form of a recipe, "Country Cooking from Central France: Roast Boned Rolled Stuffed Shoulder of Lamb (Farce Double)" from #29

Eventually Antaeus became quite successful and influential, at least as literary magazines go, and by the mid-1980s it had relocated from Tangier to New York and had became slicker, thicker, and to my mind rather tame, devoting way too much space to the same inbred roster of American poets that every other lit mag was publishing. But maybe I was the one who changed. It spawned a publishing company, the Ecco Press, which for a while did a commendable job of restoring to print writers like Bowles and Cormac McCarthy who were then out of fashion. (Sadly, the Ecco Press is now just another imprint of Rupert Murdoch's HarperCollins.)

I love these early covers, which were printed on matte stock, as were all the issues of Antaeus until #54. The curious little grotesques on the ones shown here are by the Moroccan artist Ahmed Yacoubi, a friend of Bowles; the one exception is number 8, which is based on an artifact from Crete.


Brad said...

Wonderful tribute.

Tororo said...

Three cheers for consulting editor Bowles (and, of course, for farce double).