In 2019, Arthur A. Levine in New York and Em. Querido in Amsterdam announced that they were joining forces as an independent publishing house under the name Levine Querido. For me, after decades of living and working in London, that information sparked a flash-back.
Creativity and Nostalgia
A metropolis without immigrants would be unthinkable. The emergence of the modern movement in art and literature coincided with multiple waves of migration and is associated with flux and exile. James Joyce or Ezra Pound felt that being expatriat enhanced their independence. To George Steiner, modernism meant extra-territoriality.
The psychoses dubbed ‘bacillus emigraticus’, the virus of homesickness, hits every exile to a varying degree. Migration is a struggle and an aching pain. Linguistics illuminates what is emotionally hard to express. On 6 June 1945, novelist Thomas Mann celebrated his seventieth birthday in American exile. A public meeting was held at the Library of Congress in his honour. In his speech ‘Deutschland und die Deutschen’ he pointed at the common Latin origin of the English word alien and the German Elend (misery). The term alienate: ‘make estranged’ in feelings or affections, was introduced into English in 1548, at a time that the first mass inpouring of displaced immigrants from the Continent was recorded in the country (in the sense of ‘derangement of mental faculties’ the word was in use as early as 1482). It is not surprising that early students of psychology were known as alienists.
Nostalgia has been interpreted as painting the canvas of memory with a gloss of idealised enthusiasm. It feeds depression, stifles imagination, and blocks participation. Nostalgia is negation. That view needs to revising. Although an antidote to feelings of loss and alienation, nostalgia is a driver of individual initiative and social connectedness. The dual process of settlement and integration demands adaptations, solutions, and decisions, which in turn requires an open mind set. The past is an intimate memory that propels coping with the here and now. Nostalgia is a stimulant not a sedative. It fuels creative energy. Great cities have always been centres of migration: Venice, Antwerp, Amsterdam, London, Vienna, Berlin, or New York.
A Café Named Exile
Early modern urban lifestyle was symbolised by a café-culture that played a major role in the emerging concept of modernism. The impressionist clique was the first artistic grouping entirely organised in cafés such as the Café Guerbois or La Nouvelle Athènes. Symbolism, Futurism, Dadaism, Existentialism, Surrealism, and Vorticism were all rooted in café or tavern settings. Modernism was consumed in sips, be it coffee or absinth.
In a mad flurry of external forces over which exiled artists have little or no control, the café functioned as a cultural home from home, a haven of permanence, where glasses were raised even if hopes had been dashed, where a future was imagined however black the present, where the language of sanity had to be preserved amongst a million foreign tongues. In 1928, Jewish-born novelist Herman Kesten settled in Potsdam, Berlin, to take up the post of editor for the left-wing publisher Gustav Kiepenheuer. That same year he published his first novel Josef sucht die Freiheit. Two more novels followed in quick succession. In 1933, when Hitler came to power Kesten left Berlin for Amsterdam. There he was employed by Allert de Lange’s publishing house to maintain the grand tradition of German writing, editing the work of authors such as Heinrich Heine, Max Brod, Joseph Roth, Stefan Zweig, and Bertholt Brecht.
With the occupation of the Netherlands, Kesten fled to New York and later acquired American citizenship. He first settled in the Park Plaza Hotel, Manhattan, which had opened its doors in 1907 and was designed by Henry Janeway Hardenbergh (as was the Waldorf in 1893), a prominent member of the American-Dutch community. The hotel was residence to a great number of emigrants from Nazi Germany. Situated right across the road was the Museum of Natural History where many of them regularly gathered at its famous European-style café.
In 1959 Kesten published Dichter im Café in which he looked back at the experience of banishment and its effect upon the creative process. Exclusion had turned displaced artists into cosmopolitan figures. They were citizens of several cities, fully at home in none, but capable in all. Migration functioned as release mechanism. A loosening of conventional values became a vehicle for creative endeavour. Exile isolates and regenerates. Wherever he arrived on his long journey as a refugee, Kesten would search for a café table to withdraw from his woes and write – ‘Ich sass im Kaffeehaus des Exils und schrieb’.
Emanuel Querido was the founder in August 1915 of Em. Querido’s publishing house (‘Uitgeverij’) at Keizersgracht 333, Amsterdam. Of Portuguese-Jewish descent, he rejected religion as a young man. A forward-looking internationalist, he started the process of publishing affordable paperback editions of literary works, a year before Penguin Books initiated a similar undertaking. His insistence on hiring the most talented typographers and cover designers was readily copied by Allen Lane when he started his project in London in 1935.
With Hitler coming to power, many German writers crossed the border, seeking refuge in the Netherlands. EQ offered them a platform for publication. One of these refugees was publisher Fritz
Landshoff, the Jewish co-owner of Gustav Kiepenheuer Verlag which had been closed down by the Nazis. In 1934 he participated in the foundation of Querido Verlag and contracted many prominent authors in exile, including Alfred Döblin, Lion Feuchtwanger, Heinrich and Klaus Mann, Thomas Mann, Ernst Toller, and Arnold Zweig. Some 120 German titles were published in Amsterdam. With the occupation of the Netherlands in May 1940, the house was taken out of business by the Gestapo. Emanuel and his wife went into hiding, but they were betrayed and murdered in 1943 at the Sobibor extermination camp in occupied Poland. Landshoff was on a business in London at the time of the invasion. Having spent some time as an ‘alien enemy’ in an internment camp on the Isle of Man, he was allowed to travel to New York where, in 1942, he founded the L.B. Fischer imprint together with fellow exile Gottfried Bermann-Fischer. He would be instrumental in publishing Thomas Mann’s diaries.
After the war EQ’s former employees continued the house and turned it into one of the outstanding publishers of literature and children books in the Low Countries. My generation grew up with the Salamander series (I still have a number of titles in my bookcase). We carried Querido editions of contemporary literature in our pockets, reading their novels in bus or tram, or on the uncomfortable back seat of a bicycle. They were our continuous companions, the publishers that had recognised the talent of young Cees Nooteboom, the house that had introduced me to Franz Kafka and other great writers. Hence that moment of emotion when I learned that Levine and Querido had re-established an old and special relationship between New York and Amsterdam. This coming together reinforces what had been EQ’s prime principle. Literature knowns barriers (language) but no borders, no customs, no walls. There is unrestricted freedom of movement.
Photo of Salamander edition of Cees Nooteboom’s 1954 debut novel Philip and the Others.