Tribute to Barney Rosset


Dan Simon


Barney was drawn to people of genius. They mattered to him. Not because of what they did or made or because of what could be made of or from them. It was something more impulsive than that, purer and more elemental too. People of genius interested him in the same way that water interests fish or the sky birds. This was not only wonderful, but also unusual and important. Why? Because too often people of true genius are treated like lepers in our society, increasingly so, and what is wanted instead are people of “talent,” who can be counted upon to be more manageable in the corporate settings that are so pervasive today. But imagine how nice it must have been for, say, Sam Beckett, to have to do with Barney Rosset instead of another type of person.

Barney wasn’t the only publisher who lived in the electric light fantastic of pure genius. I think there are many publishers who did so, who do so still. But Barney was a great influence and catalyst. Many of the people of his generation, true publishers like George Braziller, still among us and still publishing, will confirm this: his recklessness, high-energy, and willingness to take up arms for whatever he believed had literary merit, gave them strength and courage. He was a leader and a creator of the muscular tradition of antiauthoritarianism in American publishing, of mixing politics and literature. Of challenging the status quo, rather than catering to it. He wasn’t the only one, but he may have been the wildest and perhaps also the most glamorous, and this made him a very appealing model, a generous and welcoming model.

Barney’s death shocked me personally, as it did many of us, because his energy was still so strong right up to the end and, simply put, because we loved him. But it also shocked me professionally, and this was something I hadn’t expected. While he lived, the mystery of what it means to be a publisher was mostly a marvelous and intriguing mystery. With him gone, the status quo in publishing seems to me to be a heavy thing, too concerned with reassuring the powers that be rather than challenging them. So the shock was that Barney seemed to take so much with him when he died. Let us hope that I am wrong in this; that instead the lovely and funny and noble qualities Barney personified will circulate freely among us.

—Dan Simon, NYC 4-24-12