Negotiating and Understanding One Another: Publishing as a Form of Ruling
Tracing the publication of Muerte у Transfiguration del Martin Fierro by the Argentine essayist Ezequiel Martinez Estrada helps reveal the tensions between author and publisher and what was at stake in contracts. They also shed light on the emergence of the publisher as a specialist who exercised a particular kind of power in the organization of intellectual life. In mid-1941, Martinez Estrada agreed to write one book about Leo- poldo Lugones and another about Jose Hernandez. In August, Cosio sent him the contracts and reminded him of the nature of the expected texts: a maximum length of 250 pages with a 1.5 cm line spacing;
both volumes are of the usual ‘The Life and Works’ style, i.e. a short biography, a description of the place and time, a summary of the work and its appraisal. We are expecting both volumes to be delivered within a period of six to eight months.
(Letter from Cosio to M. Estrada, 8/28/41)
The author replied one month later - he had not received the contracts, he said, but was already working on the two texts, which he was hoping would meet the publisher’s expectations. In March 1942, Cosio complained that he had heard nothing from the author regarding the contracts and, on May 12, Martinez Estrada answered with a letter jeopardizing the relationship. He stated that the conditions were
not particularly encouraging: one takes a percentage of the translations that I could obtain; the excessive measures that the publishing house takes as precautions against me; forbidding me to publish elsewhere, even just one chapter of the work; and last but not least, my Martin Fierro needs more than five hundred pages to discuss the topic thoroughly and definitely (particularly as I shall never be able to cover it again).
The author felt disappointed, a state of discouragement that made him leave out many of the research sources:
I hardly work on it anymore: I don’t feel like it nor do I have the time for it. Concerning (the book on) Lugones, 250 pages would have been enough. But it is not worth it either (...) I do acknowledge and feel honoured by the fact that your company has included my almost unknown name alongside other distinguished figures. That is why I beg you not to construe my decision to not participate in this meritorious work as a result of negative reflections.
Cosio answered immediately with a feeling of “profound sorrow” due to M. Estrada’s message, but he was willing to solve the issues: “The fact that I am immediately replying to you shows how open we feel about assessing the objections to our contract, simply aimed at establishing rules to negotiate and understand one another”. Cosio made an even greater appreciation of the author by stating that he was as awaiting his collaboration as much as “almost any other”. Then, he answered each of the objections. To begin, he referred to the translation percentage: this was a way to cover the risk taken by a publishing house when launching an unpublished work. The editor who publishes a translation usually buys a text that is already well known and proven to have been successful in another market.
This is a very important reason -continued Cosio- to explain why the publishers from the Americas and Spain have always published translations. Now, let me tell you that what our house risks with the series of 300 original works from the Americas, which includes your two volumes, is the modest amount of a million Argentine pesos.
However, Cosio said that the publishing house would be willing to give up its translation percentage. Additionally, he pointed out that forbidding him from publishing chapters as journal articles was part of defending the original nature of the works, as well as an attempt to transform the customs of writers from the Americas. Nonetheless, Cosio authorized M. Estrada to publish “one chapter at some time”. Lastly,
Do you need 500 pages for Martin Fierro? It is not impossible either: we will issue two volumes, or a ‘double issue’ (...) Consider this too: it is the first time that, in our countries, a great book series intends to highlight the best part in each [country]. The risks that we are taking are huge, and our chances to succeed financially are uncertain and low. Our motivation and goal are to create a work that our countries request and deserve, but that no one carries out. Is it even possible to do without a contribution as important as yours? I am begging you to please answer me and keep all the concessions that I am willing to make secret where appropriate because, otherwise, I would lose control of the whole series.
In spite of the publisher giving in to his requests, it was November when Martinez Estrada finally confirmed that he would continue in the project:
I always think about how I will meet, without any delays, my commitment to write my ‘Martin Fierro’, and I hope it will happen soon. (...) In mid-1944,1 will be able to send you the originals. Since I have made a moral and spiritual commitment to you, I get upset every time I think how nice you have been to me and how badly I have behaved. But if you knew the myriad of absurd things that I am going through, you would forgive me.
The time periods and the forms of communication between Cosio Villegas and Martinez Estrada are a clear example of how a legitimate/ legitimized culture is the place par excellence for the denial of economic rationality, and how it requires the language of honour (Cf. Bourdieu 1977; Elias 1991). The messages ranged from superficial symbolic appraisal to the disembodied depth of economic restrictions. However, they were once again redirected into a rhetoric of artistic creation, a place of selflessness that was essential to close the contract (the gift circle, in Maussian’s terms) and the launch of Muerte у Transfiguracion del Martin Fierro by the end of 1948. Only crisis situations between cultural producers reveal the economic interests that also shape the nature of symbolic goods. The self-denial of Tierra Firme is equivalent to its ambition to shape and shed light upon the greatness and challenges of the continent. Only a company that is funded by public resources could take such a big risk.
Figure 3.1 “Balcony - The FCE travels across America”. A section in FCE’s La Gaceta magazine, which, in the 1950s, provided information about the activities conducted by the publishing house all over the continent. The image (the Americas as the cultural meridian of the globe) reproduced that on the covers of Tierra Firme at its outset.
Source: La Gaceta II (19). FCE archives.