Edmund Wilson: I’m delighted to hear about your new magazine.
The Visitor: We hope that it’s going to be good.
Wilson: God knows that some such thing is needed. The disappearance of the Times Sunday book section at the time of the printers’ strike only made us realize it had never existed. Apart from Norman Cousins’ campaign for peace and an occasional article on popular science, the Saturday Review is interesting only for its reports on new phonograph records. And those quarterlies are still mostly wandering in the vast academic desert of the structure of The Sound and the Fury, the variants in the text of Billy Budd and the religious significance of The Great Gatsby.
But where did you get the money? Not from a foundation, I imagine.
The Visitor: That’s where we were very lucky. We tried the foundations first, but of course there was nothing doing.
Wilson: The big ones, so far as I can see—in the literary and scholarly departments, at least—are run by second-rate professors who have found that they can make more money out of that kind of bureaucratic job than out of mediocre teaching. I’ve been trying for many years to get really good complete editions of the American classics printed—like the French Pléiade series, you know. When a publisher friend of mine who has been trying to do something about it went to the Rockefeller Foundation, he was told that it would first be necessary to have a study made in order to find out whether the books were available—which everyone who has done any work in this field could have told him at once they are not—and then the foundation man remarked that there was really no point in reprinting any author complete: who ever read all of Shakespeare? At the Ford Foundation, he was told that the whole of their cultural budget had been allotted to provide two planes to fly over the Middle West, broadcasting educational programs. The people on these foundations do not seem to have any competence to make judgments on the projects submitted to them (I except the Guggenheim Foundation, which is an older and quite different thing), and they feel free to formulate projects themselves in fields they know nothing about, with no relevance to the applicants’ aims. A middle-aged anthropologist who had devoted many years of his life to a group of Australian aborigines or a tribe of Mexican Indians or something of the sort was told, when he applied to one of the foundations, that it had been discovered in their offices that very little anthropological work had as yet been done on the Turks, and that it might recommend him to investigate this subject, of which he was totally ignorant. A scholar friend of mine who is an expert on the numismatics of the Graeco-Roman world had, when I last saw him, been trying without success to get a grant which would enable him to do research on the coinage of Alexander…
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