February 22, 2018
Ulysses in AmericaOn this day in 1934, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld Judge Woolsey's earlier ruling allowing James Joyce's Ulysses into America. This enabled Random House to issue the first U.S. edition, over a decade after Sylvia Beach's original Paris edition, and after a decade of American tourists had been nervously returning from Europe with their banned copies. As told by Random House editor Bennett Cerf (At Random, 1977), the success of the original case hinged entirely upon these smuggled editions of the novel.
The Random House legal strategy involved delicate timing, as they wanted their challenge to the banning of the book brought to trial while the erudite and liberal-minded Judge Woolsey was in session in New York. It was equally important to somehow get into the court records the views of those famous literary figures -- Edmund Wilson, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, etc. -- who had written reviews proclaiming Ulysses to be a masterpiece. Under American law at the time, such outside criticism was not allowed in court; only material actually included within the disputed book could be used as evidence. The Random solution was to take a copy of Beach's edition, paste the supporting reviews into it, have someone take it over to Europe and then be caught smuggling it back. The appointed day for this criminality turned out to be one of the hottest in the history of New York, the crime more difficult than expected:
"I think there's something in there that's contraband," our agent said, "and I insist that it be searched."
So, furiously, the fellow had to open the suitcase. And the agent said, "Aha!" as he produced our copy of Ulysses. The customs man said, "Oh, for God's sake, everybody brings that in. We don't pay attention to it." But the agent persisted, "I demand that you seize this book."
New clean bedlinen, additional odours, the presence of a human form, female, hers, the imprint of a human form, male, not his, some crumbs, some flakes of potted meat, recooked, which he removed.
If he had smiled why would he have smiled?
To reflect that each one who enters imagines himself to be the first to enter whereas he is always the last term of a preceding series even if the first term of a succeeding one, each imagining himself to be first, last, only and alone, whereas he is neither first nor last nor only nor alone in a series originating In and repeated to infinity.
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