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Home arrow Language & Literature arrow Gatekeepers : the emergence of world literature and the 1960s

The New Gatekeepers

Weissner is a new kind of gatekeeper, who initiates what Damrosch calls the “delocalized mode” of World Literature, in which texts become an “elliptical refraction of national literature.”48 When Arjun Appadurai writes of the delocalization of modernity through television, international agencies, and cricket, he touches on the same process.49 But beyond the abstraction lies a process that a more granular sociology of World Literature could explain. Weissner would become Carmen Balcells and Gregory Rabassa rolled into one: in 1967 he was already telling Bukowski to save their letters—they were going to be worth money someday. He had a sense of economic capital, and he noticed that Martin had let those “Dirty Old Man” columns slip away.

Bukowski was surprised but ready to learn, like Garcia Marquez with Fuentes: “I am afraid I would make a very good rich man,” he wrote back to Weissner, “and I am AFRAID I would keep my money.” One can see the dawning realization that cultural capital is financial capital as Bukowski writes “So here’s the 2 and one half page submission for you. whether this goes or not, Hope you cn get a contract from Meltzer from us for us, don’t give up the fight. I’ve even got a fucking thing with PLAY BOY now so you know I’ve gone completely mad.” [sic]50 The moments of breakthrough for Bukowski and Garcia Marquez are strikingly similar: a reconception of literary work situates one denial, followed by a rejection of the economic status quo that the dominant fraction seems to have dictated. Like Garcia Marquez, Bukowski’s career crystallizes when he enters the economic moment and realizes that “It’s now or never.”

That happened this way. Martin was pressing him for the book. Weissner was coming to visit. The chain of events that John Bryan started with Notes was about to take a strange turn: Essex House was in financial trouble and Milton Luros had sold the rights to Notes to Lawrence Ferlinghetti.51 Weissner recognized the potential of Bukowski overseas and bought the German rights to his two City Lights books from Ferlinghetti. Returning to Germany in late 1969, he proposed the translation of Notes to Melzer Verlag (mentioned in the letter above).52 Stepping back from the details for a moment, let us ask: how probable is it that an odd lot of underground newspaper columns by an unknown author will achieve success in foreign translation? Ten years later Bukowski was making the largest part of his income from German translations. That’s another reason why Weissner is the key gatekeeper in his career.

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