Some magazines age well. Different readers come and go, but the magazine is never without them. Other magazines do not, and what was published comes to seem trivial, or even amusingly old-fashioned. And then are magazines that do not simply age well, but improve with age. Long after the final issue has been printed, people still talk, copies are still sought after, and there are rumours, never true, from time to time of a revival, of a resurrection. Such magazines stand as examples not just of what good writing once was, but still is, and may always be. Antæus is and was one such magazine.
I should say upfront that I have had only a limited a limited exposure to Antæus, the heyday of which was well before my time (in that way my admiration for it is a substantiation of the assertions in the first paragraph). I only have limited understanding of its lifespan and its multiple incarnations. My personal contact with the magazine is limited to two volumes of the special themed issues (the Jubilee Edition and the Literature as Pleasure edition), which were republished by Harvill Press, and which I bought second-hand one day when I found them by chance at closing down sale. Here are some of the dozens of incredible contributors in those two issues: John Ashbery, Eugenio Montale, Charles Simic, Margret Atwood, Ann Beattie, Guy Davenport, Peter Handke, Steven Millhauser, Susan Sontag, and Paul Bowles.
I only have what I can find online to go by, but as I understand it, Antæus was founded by Paul Bowles in Morocco, and was edited his friend Daniel Halpern. The magazine was a sort of rogue internationalist operation that came out of North America, and promoted a wild variety of literary points of view (something that is definitely true of the copies I have). At some point, the magazine moved from Tangiers to New York, and even had its own spin-off publishing house, Ecco (now owned by one of the big multinational companies). The magazine’s ambition was “to mix the well known and the unknown.”
The copy I have of Antæus: Literature as Pleasure embodies that ambition. I bought it initially because it contained so many of my favourite writers, but later, after I read some of its articles, became glad I’d bought so because of the writers whose work I was reading for the first time. Almost every single article, poem and story seemed to present a different sensibility, style and approach to writing, without any seeming false or contrived. One sentence from the book, the opening sentence of Guy Davenport’s On Reading, I can and hopefully always will remember vividly for the way it not just described but also embodied and enacted for me all the paradoxical, joyous familiarity and strangeness of reading:
‘To my Aunt Mae – Mary Elizabeth Davenport Morrow (1881 – 1964), whose diary when I saw it after her death turned out to be a list of places, with dates, she and Uncle Buzzie (Julius Allen Morrow, 1885 – 1970) had visited over the years, never driving over thirty miles an hour, places like Toccoa Falls, Georgia, and Antreville, South Carolina, as well as random sentences athwart the page, two of which face down indifference, “My father was a horse doctor, but not a common horse doctor” and “Nobody has ever loved me as much as I have loved them” – and a Mrs. Cora Shiflett, a neighbor on East Franklin Street, Anderson, South Carolina, I owe my love of reading.’
By Will Heyward