This project arose out of research conducted in the spring of 2011 for Professor Michael Golston’s graduate seminar, “The Poetics of Surrealism,” at Columbia University. The project began without any more direction than the desire to explore in greater depth the stylistic relation of John Ashbery to Giorgio de Chirico–their shared affinity for an ‘atmospheric’ poetics, for playfully distorting space and time, for constructing uncanny landscapes, defamiliarizing perception, and so on.
In beginning to think about these connections, I found I wanted to conduct an initial, brief survey of de Chirico’s reception as a writer in the United States. Particularly, I wanted to know something about the publication history of Hebdomeros and its English translations. My curiosity also stemmed from an earlier encounter with the most recent English edition of Hebdomeros (Exact Change, 1992), in which the publishers confess that their edition reproduces the text of an obscure 1966 edition issued by an “untraceable” publisher, The Four Seasons Book Society. Moreover, as this earlier publication never specified the translator, the text of the 1992 edition remains an anonymous translation.
While the obscurity of the translation’s origins bothered me a little, I didn’t dwell long on this mystery. I had work to do–a seminar paper to write–and no time to play sleuth. But as I continued to research my topic, I kept stumbling across a variety of names associated with the English translation of Hebdomeros, and finally, my curiosity was piqued. Who was Margaret Crosland, I wondered? Who was James A. Hodkinson? Why did some authors mention that Ashbery himself translated Hebdomeros, while others cited a translation by Paul Bowles? I was surprised by the thought that this recent edition of Hebdomeros failed to include, to synthesize, critique, negate, or affirm any or all of this information. Perhaps I should not have been surprised – the publisher makes no claims to having presented a critical edition, and neither does Ashbery’s introduction assume the stance of a critical preface (In fact, the introduction is simply an abbreviated republication of a 1966 Book Week review of the Four Seasons Book Society translation). But, truly, it seemed to me this lack of bibliographic information approached a kind of willful obscurantism.
In the “Publisher’s Note,” Exact Change asserts that the book’s “provenance remains, as befits Hebdomeros, an enigma” (vii). The statement is fair enough–there is a kind of canniness, a sort of charming coincidence in that the mystery surrounding the production of the text replicates the mysterious atmosphere, tone, and aura of the narrative. True, the enigmatic context suits the enigmatic text; but one could also contend that the designation of “enigma” euphemistically covers what is simply ignorance.
Speculating that the “enigma” might be less than a true mystery (and more likely, the result of a lack of deep curiosity), I decided to go searching and researching — to find out where Hebdomeros had been, where he had travelled, how, when, why and with whom. The assumption of this task led me to libraries and archives around New York City, and to contacting librarians as far as Alabama and the UK. In the course of my research I turned up two complete English translations of Hebdomeros, another substantial translation by John Ashbery, and two shorter translations by Paul Bowles and R.C. Knight. The mystery of The Four Seasons Book Society and the anonymous translator remains, though I did find additional information pertaining to the former, and have presented it on this blog (see “Translation and Publication History of Hebdomeros” under the “Translation History” Menu tab above).
This blog also makes available rare, uneasy to access and difficult-to-find materials, such as the selection of Hebdomeros from Arson magazine, or James A. Hodkinson’s critical preface to the 1966 Four Seasons edition of Hebdomeros which has never been republished and therefore only exists in the remaining number of the 500 copies initially printed. Materials made available on this website are for scholarly use.