Heliotrope and the Shadow Cabinet: Spotlight on Dedalus

Jeff VanderMeer • May 12th, 2008 @ 9:36 pm • Book Reviews, Culture

No publisher covers Decadent and Surreal literature in quite the same way as Dedalus in the United Kingdom. As someone more eloquent than me said, “Dedalus is an arts-council funded publisher of beautiful, decadent and dazzling books. Looking through their catalogue is like looking in a musty old cabinet of curiosities, filled full of sweets. Their author list ranges from Huysmans to Mirbeau, Robert Irwin to Voltaire. Along with some of the best dark classics, there are modern English and translated works, and some exceptional concept books, such as The Decadent Handbook, The Dedalus Book of Absinthe and The Dedalus Book of Literary Suicides.” They’ve been having a hard time lately, and there’s even an online petition to save their funding.

This time in the Shadow Cabinet article on overlooked books that I do for Heliotrope, I single out some deserving Dedalus titles:

The Other Side by Alfred Kubin (original publication, 1908)
Memoirs of a Gnostic Dwarf and Confessions of a Flesh-Eater by David Madsen (Dedalus originals, 1995 and 1997)
Primordial Soup by Christine Leunens (Dedalus original, 1999)
The Mysteries of Algiers by Robert Irwin (original publication, 1988)
The Book of Nights by Sylvie Germain (original publication, 1985)

(with a brief recommendation to seek out The Man in Flames by Serge Filippini, Memoirs of a Byzantine Eunuch, and Alembert’s Principle by Andrew Crumey)

Below the cut find more detailed photographs of my entire Dedalus collection its utterly decadent glory…

17 Responses to “Heliotrope and the Shadow Cabinet: Spotlight on Dedalus”

  1. Larry says:

    I have raging book lust after seeing some of those titles, especially those for the non-English fantasies…

  2. susie says:

    if i didn’t love your work, i would hate you out of jealousy. but i’d still haunt your blog for all the book-porn.

    (and i’m jealous of all those multi-lingual assholes who don’t have to wait for fabulous publishers to translate texts. there are so. many. books i want and can’t read!)

  3. Larry says:

    You say “multilingual assholes” as if it were a bad thing! Oh wait a minute…nevermind!

  4. Brendan says:

    One of their recent titles, The Bells of Bruges, by Rodenbach, I have been reading over the past few weeks. It is definately worth picking up.

  5. jukkahoo says:

    I think jealousy doesn’t even start to describe my feelings right now. THAT is one awesome pile of booksies. Want. *sigh*

  6. Terry Weyna says:

    I agree that the translations of fantasies are particularly jealous-making. I’m of Polish descent, and I’d dearly love to read that volume of Polish fantasy. In my family, heritage was something to leave behind. Polish was the language that was spoken by my grandparents when they didn’t want the kids to understand what they were saying. My generation has none of the language beyond a word or two (I can say “I love you, give me a kiss,” but that’s about it; I guess that was a cute thing to teach a kid). Noen of the stories have been passed down. So I haven’t a clue what’s in that book — and boy, would I like to know.

  7. Terry Weyna says:

    …and with a click an Amazon, it’ll be mine in 3-6 weeks.

  8. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    I have to admit, this is an amazing resource for a writer to have. If I want to find out what was going on in a particular Decadent/Surreal tradition during a certain time period, all I have to do is consult the collection. I go through it slowly, picking out another title to read every few months. It’s important, too, because some of this is the source inspiration for more modern works. And, of course, Dedalus is doing a great job of helping modern writers in a very strange vein get published. Which is important for continuing innovation.

    I also have to admit that I lucked out. About the only good thing about Eastercon in Blackpool was encountering a book dealer who had all of these Dedalus titles. I reached a deal to buy them en masse and have them shipped to me in the US. Saved me a lot of time picking them up individually, since most of what you see is from that one shipment.

    Jeff

  9. Brendan says:

    Actually, though I am a huge fan of Dedalus, I find some of their anthologies a bit lazy. There are often times extracts from longer works. Also, for all the “decadent” titles they have published, many of the most important decadent and symbolist writers have been totally ignored.

    So, I do really appreciate them, but find that sometimes their publications don’t quite live up to my ideal. Occassionally also the translations are scarily bad (i.e. Rachilde’s The Marquise de Sade).

    For instance, instead of those Meyrink books they published (which I find for the most part boring as hell) and many of the books that already exist in English, it would have been nice if they had published something a bit more off the wall.

    I would love it if a publisher were to come along and REALLY publish the classics of decadence and symbolism, but I just don’t think that is going to happen. So, no luck for most folks if they want to read a novel by Paul Adam or Champsaur. Which is a pity.

  10. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Brendan:

    It’s a bit like looking at a stallion and wishing it were an iron horse, I think. I mean, you seem awfully sour on them and I don’t think it’s warranted. Fine to mention omissions, but without knowing their rationale–rights issues, other publishers having done it, whatever–I’m not sure it’s fair.

    JV

  11. Brendan says:

    Jeff–

    No, I am not sour on them. They are the best publisher in the field. I just feel that, as far as the decadent and symbolist stuff goes, they could have done a bit more.

    I understand the issues about rights, of course, but a lot of the stuff is in the public domain. Catulle Mendes for instance. Everything he wrote is in public domain, but his best work has never been put into English.

    I guess the reason for my post is not so much that I am sour, but that I think it is important to highlight not only the abundance of good books, but also the lack.

    Your original post addressed the former, and I just thought I would address the latter.

    I mean–I have about twenty dedalus books and have read a number ot titles that I don’t possess. They are one of the few contemporary publishers that I actually buy new books from. So not really sour–just wishing for more.

  12. John Coulthart says:

    Blah…I posted a link to a Guardian story about Dedalus’s money troubles being alleviated but it’s probably in your spam list.

  13. Jeff VanderMeer says:

    Try again and I’ll make sure it goes through.

  14. John Coulthart says:

    Et voila:

    http://books.guardian.co.uk/interviews/story/0,,2263393,00.html

  15. Alex Carnegie says:

    Jealous!

    I’ve got a Dedalus volume of Grabinski (although I suspect it’s a different and possibly less complete edition than yours) and consider myself very fortunate that they were good enough to translate and release his stories in English. They’re doing something very worthwhile and I’m off to sign the petition forthwith

  16. JESSEDZIEDZIC says:

    That was a truly fun writing!!

  17. Online MarketPlace with NO FEES says:

    What a frankly good read!!!

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