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Out of the intellectual ferment that was Paris in the Twenties burst many strange and sometimes wonderful aberrations. The grand synthesizer of some of the best of these artistic movements was the little magazine "transition." Published first in April, 1927, "transition" found the inspiration for its early daring in dadaism and surrealism but soon developed its own literary philosophy.
Eugene Jolas, who conceived and edited "transition," has selected some of the most representative writing from the twenty-seven issues published between 1927 and Spring, 1938. To generalize about the 135 articles by 92 authors of 17 nationalities would be folly. But Jolas has described all the writing published by "transition" as "panromantic"; that is, antirealistic narratives and poetry of "fantastic, dreamlike, apocalyptic" quality.
By the Twenties Jung's and Freud's theories of the subconscious had pretty well destroyed the rational structure of the world and opened the way for the literary experimenters to take an inordinate interest in dreams and innovations in the use of language. Much of the description of dreams does not make very good sense, as the word is customarily used. But this is in line with the attitude "The writer expresses, he does not communicate." This idea, which infuriated some critics, was expounded by "transition" in a manifesto called "The Revolution of the Word." The manifesto closed with the statement, "The plain reader be damned."
Some of the writing in "transition workshop" reflects this philosophy and remains more or less incomprehensible. But though the plain reader may be damned and may damn in return, the contribution of "transition" as a marketplace where the avant-garde writer could display his bizarre wares was great. Its pages gave James Joyce a place to bring forth his "Work in Progress" gradually into a hostile world and so smoothed the way for its later appearance as "Finnegan's Wake."
Besides Joyce, gathered together under one of the most handsome formats to appear in some time are such well known writers as Audre Gide, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Franz Kaiks, Erskine Caldwell, William Saroyan, Dylan Thomas and many others. This large selection will not have a widespread appeal, but for those who are interested it is an excellent chronicle of the "transition" literary era.
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