Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sun Myong Moon and Me

sun myong moon and me

I do not celebrate anyone’s death, and Sun Myong Moon’s death, on September 3rd of this year was no exception. Death is a sad occasion. One less person on the horizon—even if, unintentionally, he has long been someone I might totally disagree with. I am not religious, in any sense of that word, and quite thoroughly detested his Korean vision of multi-marriages and religious fanaticism.  It might have been possible that I would have had no relationship to this absurd figure had I not, quite innocently named my magazine and, later, press, Sun & Moon Press.

     Seeking to imitate the wonderful John Ashbery journal, Art & Literature, I sought a connection between those two wonderful genres by referring back to the great Austrian novelist—completely unknown by US readers—Albert-Paris Gütersloh, who was both a great surrealist artist and an important fiction writer, who influenced many Austrian figures, most notably Hemito von Doderer, several of whose fictions I was to publish later on my Sun & Moon Press.

      I bought the rights to Gütersloh’s great fiction, Sonne und Mond, asking the wonderful Rosmarie Waldrop to translate it. She had just discovered that she had breast cancer, and suggested that, given her health, she might want to translate the work for the fair price of $10,000. I had no such funding, and had to pass. The book never came to publication, although she did translate a chapter to give me a sense of the work; it appeared just what I was seeking.

      You must understand, I did not truly read German, but I fell in love with this book in the long-gone Rizzoli bookstore in Manhattan, where I asked several times—as if asking them to bring out this special jewel for me to peruse—for them to take the book out of the glass-enclosed case in which they had embedded this “masterpiece.” I must have perceived it as a masterpiece because of the glass encasement, but something about the book totally enchanted me—why I can’t explain. German publisher Klaus Wagenbach tried to convince me that it was an archaic work—he, after all, had published Kafka and numerous other major psychologically-based works that did not at all accord with the high Austrian fantasist and romanticized works of figures such as Albert-Paris Gütersloh.

      I could not be dissuaded, however, and still today would have loved to have published his fiction. What I did was to name my magazine after his novel, Sonne und Mond, Sun & Moon: A Journal of Literature & Art, recognizing the combination of two great planetary forces, for me representing literature and art. I could never have imagined that that phrase might suddenly put me into the camp of the religious fanatic, Sun Myong Moon. But that is what happened.

      It begin with seemingly friendly questions: are you connected with the Sun Myong Moon sect? No, I had nothing to do with that, I reacted. And soon, I just moved forward with great disdain to the religious connections. I would, I determined, create a Sun & Moon Press, despite the religious bigot who had become a thorn in my side. But at one American Booksellers Conventions (now Book Expo) I was placed with religious presses, at another I was embedded in the section that contained mostly Korean, video-based publishers. Obviously, my customers could not find me in these odd isolationist spots, which has a great deal to do with my continued refusal to attend those large book fairs.  Later, as the newspapers and magazine reviewers became more and more isolated themselves from comprehending serious literature, my press name served as an anathema to their predilections, and reviews appeared less and less often. Sun & Moon was somewhat, subliminally connected with Sun Myong Moon, who had bought up entire newspapers and other media networks to get out his religious perspective. It became clear to me that literary reviewers and their editors are not necessarily wise individuals who comprehend the intricacies of literary publishing. Today, they are even less inclined to comprehend even what serious literature is, although I now publish under a less-loaded name,  Green Integer—after all, they might ask, what is an integer (any number).

     So, I am sorry to say, I cannot exactly mourn this religious “messiah’s” death. Sun & Moon Press was a delightful combinatory of major planetary forces, understood clearly in Asian countries and even in Europe. Americans, as usual, got confused. For nearly thirty years, that press provided a wide range of world poetry, fiction, and drama. Nothing to do with closed religious practices, and certainly disinterested in marrying throngs of young grooms and brides, but very much influenced by European and American modernism. Rest in peace, Sun Myong Moon, my strange ghost of a name-sake. I will no longer have to deal with you, my own press having also gone, for other reasons, into the grave before you.

Los Angeles, October 10, 2012




No comments: