In a publishing world where carving out a unique niche, not to mention publishing unique books, might appear to be increasingly difficult, Haute Culture Books has come along and done just that. With a fascinating selection of fiction that are offerred as exceptional art objects publisher Luis de Miranda is charting a very different course than even some of his most innovative contemporaries. At the upcoming London Book Fair on April 10, Haute Culture will unveil their latest works, a Russian cult classic of the late 60s, The Sublimes by Yuri Mamleyev (translated by Marian Schwartz) and the Estonian Truth and Justice by Anton Hansen Tammsaare (translated by Inna Feldbach and Alan Peter Trei).
De Miranda talked to Literalab about finding books, their publishing model, the hypocrisy in the publishing world and more.
Literalab: How do you identify the books you want to publish with Haute Culture Books assuming they’re written in languages you don’t read yourself?
Luis de Miranda: Sometimes I fly to forgotten lands, enter the unique bookshop of a remote village, pick up the book which has the most amount of dust on its spine, and decide in a mad laugh that it’s a masterpiece. More often, I’m lucky enough to read French: many interesting books from all over the world are translated into French and not into English. That’s how I chose Yuri Mamleyev. I read the French translation a few years ago and always wondered why the author didn’t receive the Nobel Prize for that particular novel.
Literalab: Can you comment on your publishing model and its uniqueness within today’s publishing world?
De Miranda: It’s a Heraclitean model, that unites opposites to create something new and playful. Or is that Hegelian? We use the dynamic tension between digital demateralised books and luxurious ultra-limited physical editions to generate a dialectics of content sublimation. Firstly, the author sublimates reality. Then our physical books sublimate the author’s gesture. And finally, the free unlimited digital books are a virtual sublimation of a local mind into the global psyche.
Haute Culture Books wishes to refresh the standard publishing model, making it both more participatory and more elegant. Each title comes as a singular ultra-limited edition, using hand-bound precious covers, real gold logos and an original design. Instead of praying for readers to come to us after the book is produced, we’re going to craft the book with the people who know it, love it, desire it and want to share it with the world. We call them Book Angels. It’s also with their help that we’re able to offer our free e-book versions. Digital books should be free, physical books should be sublime, as I often say.
There’s a great abstract and democratic convenience in e-books. And there’s a pleasure in crafty arty objects that’s also a philosophical and economical statement. We only produce physically what people desire with us or what we dream of. The world is already saturated with objects. Imagine a world where what is produced would be mostly produced on demand, with care and the best quality. Wouldn’t that avoid overproduction, pollution, waste and ugliness? Haute Culture is a slow book press. Of course, for the moment, we’re totally non-profit and have to do other jobs on the side. That’s the price and the danger of freedom.
Literalab: To what degree does your specific publishing model play a role in the type of book you chose to publish, both in terms of the fact that certain books would seem to lend themselves to the kind of support that, for example, Truth and Justice, received from Estonian sources, as well as being well-suited to presentation as art objects?
De Miranda: As we’re trying to create, in terms of design and packaging, contemporary classic objects, it seemed quite natural to work with literary masterpieces rather than how-to books or the latest supermarket detective story. Haute Culture Books is (among a few others) an almost desperate but structured and thought-of call for beauty in a world saturated by too much ugliness and mass production. It’s our foolish yet serious attempt to break all the stupid rules of adaptation to a fantasized “demand of the masses for fast-books”.
I’ve worked for many years not far from mainstream publishers, both as an author and a publisher. I’ve seen too many decision-makers sell their soul out of laziness or lack of courage. The typical sentence I heard too often in all the culture production milieux is, more or less, this one: “Personally, I like quality and poetry, but we have to be realistic.”
I remember when I published my fourth novel with Denoël, a mainstream brand of Gallimard, in Paris. When we signed the contract, the director, Olivier Rubinstein, a relatively well-known figure in French publishing, told me: “My favorite book is James Joyce’s Ulysses.” But when two years later I presented an experimental manuscript (which was later published by a small press), he refused it and declared: “I don’t publish what I do not understand.” Would he have understood Joyce when it was only a manuscript?
Literalab: How significant is the art object feature of the books you publish? What does it give back to the reading experience in the age of e-books?
De Miranda: Our physical artifacts are spiritual retro-futuristic machines that allow the gift of unlimited e-books. I’ve always been interested in contemporary art, and sometimes I immodestly see my life as a continuous happening of which I am both the hero and the fool. But I’m not interested in the kind of art that imprisons itself in galleries and museums. I’m interested in applied art, artisanal structures, mental projections, political machines, operational gestures.
What Haute Culture is saying in a metaphorical way is that cultural relativism should give place anew to a more spiritual and structured sense of wonder. Some experiences are sublime and some others are just a soporific waste of time. The Eurovision Festival is not the same thing as a uniting vision for Europe. I guess I am a bit of a snob, in the way Boris Vian used to sing about it. Like Baudelaire, I wish for luxury and refinement for all. Maybe one day we’ll all live in luxury, calm and voluptuousness.
Coming in Part II – On Yuri Mamleyev, Flaubert and the classics being better than LSD
Read an excerpt from The Sublimes by Yuri Mamleyev in B O D Y