Pierre Ryckmans (Simon Leys) to Champ Libre
28 February 1977

(…) Concerning the question of the reprinting of Les Habits neufs,[1] I would very much like it if you could accept the offer by Livre de Poche (Hachette): in the book’s current form, it has – I fear – ended its career for the moment: the sales during the last two years show an obvious loss of speed, and a reprint in this same [hardcover] form would not change this state of affairs at all: it would only encumber you with a bigger stock of unsold copies. But a paperback, on the other hand, would reach another public, the public to which I wanted to address myself in the first place and have only reached very imperfectly so far. The agreement with Livre de Poche would not harm you at all; indeed, on the contrary, it would assure you a profit that, for the moment, you couldn’t hope to make if you produced and distributed the book yourself. Moreover, this agreement would only be temporary, limited to a single edition. Nothing would prevent you from re-taking control of the book after a few years; by signing the contract with Livre de Poche, you would not abrogate your rights: you would [merely] lease use of the book to a publisher who will not be in direct competition with you and who assures you of the profits that you would have difficulty obtaining yourself at this moment. I truly see no reason to refuse an offer that appears to me to go as far in the direction of your interests as in mine. In the long term, I have confidence in the future of Les Habits neufs (I have re-read it closely in an English translation,[2] and I’m struck by seeing the degree to which recent developments and revelations have already confirmed my analyses. Alone among its kind, my book has stood the test of time, and its place, I believe, will no longer move around: it will remain a classic about the “Cultural Revolution”). I am sure that, in five or six years from now, you will continue to be able to make regular reprints of it. The only thing that we lack at the moment is having it also appear as a paperback. This is essential for me: I have not made a literary work for the happy few.[3] By writing this book, I committed a political act, and this act has no meaning if it remains deprived of a wide audience. I understand your reticence, as a refined publisher, where the industrial production of a paperback is concerned. For me, it is precisely this distribution that I now need. (I would willingly print it on toilet paper if this would assure it of an even larger distribution.) I do not manage to see how this limited and temporary agreement with Livre de Poche could involve disadvantages for you. I only see, too clearly, all the disadvantages that would exist if we refuse their offer. I regret not being able to discuss this question with you face to face, but it was only two days before my departure that Livre de Poche made this offer to me. Will you tell me what you think?

My fondest memories,
Pierre Ryckmans

[1] Les Habits neufs de Président Mao: chronique de la Revolution culturelle (Champ Libre, 1971).

[2] Perhaps the manuscript of the translation published by Palgrave Macmillan in March 1978 under the title The Chairman’s New Clothes: Mao and the Cultural Revolution.

[3] English in original.

Livre de Poche to Champ Libre
Paris, 26 April 1977
Dear Madame,

During his most recent stay in Paris, Pierre Ryckmans mentioned to me the possibility of a reprint of Le Habits neufs in “Pluriel,” Livre de Poche’s new collection, which I direct: I spoke to you about this reprint during a telephone conversation we had.

I have recently received a letter from him that announces that he’s written to you on this subject.

Allow me to confirm the proposition that I made to you: Les Habits neufs would be reprinted in 1978, in a guaranteed minimum press run of 15,000 copies and sold at a price between 12 and 16 francs (subject to definitive grading). Livre de Poche would pay you an amount corresponding to 10 percent of the sales price, taxes not included, and you would pay Pierre Ryckmans 5 percent. These are the “classic” arrangements, which I am ready to discuss with you.

I hope that the first volumes of “Pluriel” have arrived safely, and I beg you, Dear Madame, to believe in my best memories.

G. Liebert

P.S. I have sent a copy of this letter to Pierre Ryckmans.

[1] Floriana Lebovici.

Pierre Ryckmans to Champ Libre
Canberra, 1 May 1977
Dear friend,

It worries me a little to still be without news from you – I wrote two months ago concerning the question of publishing Les Habits neufs as a paperback. I have difficulty believing that you could be hostile to a project that, in fact, meets up so well with your own interests – but it is difficult for us to go forward without having your explicit response first. Can we at least interpret your silence as a form of consent? This is what I will allow myself to believe if this silence persists – because I am impatient, I will confess it to you, to seize the occasion to give Les Habits neufs the type of distribution that it greatly needs and that it has been deprived of. I am very aware that Champ Libre has done excellent work on the “academic” distribution of the book; today it still lacks a “popular” distribution, which the “paperback” formula alone can assure. And I am in haste to see this enterprise complement yours as soon as possible.

I beg you to accept my fondest memories,
Pierre Ryckmans

[1] Floriana Lebovici.

Champ Libre to Livre de Poche
12 May 1977

We have taken good note of your proposition to reprint Simon Leys’ work Les Habits neufs du Président Mao in Livre de Poche’s new collection, “Pluriel.”

We have decided not to follow up on it.

We beg you to accept, Sir, our sincere salutations.
Gérard Lebovici

Champ Libre to Pierre Ryckmans
12 May 1977
Dear Sir:

Please find enclosed a copy of the letter that we sent today to Mr. Liebert. We haven’t wanted to respond to your previous letter, and you were wrong to interpret our silence as a “form of consent.” Quite the contrary: we refuse to cede the publication rights for Les Habits neufs to Livre de Poche.

Your work in its current edition – despite the adoption of the “pinyin” system, which you seem to have abandoned since then – has a career to pursue and develop: [a career] to which we are applying ourselves. The small financial profits that we could obtain from a transfer would not make us change our minds.

If it is a question of giving your book and the theses that are developed in it an “industrial distribution,” 15,000 copies would certainly not be enough, even for a first printing, to satisfy our legitimate requirements, but 10 or 20 times that.

You say that, “not having made a literary work,” you desire that your work attains a “type of distribution that it greatly needs and that it has been deprived of.” This would only be due to the aberrant care of a “refined publisher” who reserves the sale of Les Habits neufs to the “happy few.”[1] This isn’t at all the case.

In an era in which falsification and silence are the last weapons of the intellectual recuperators, we want commercial success for the majority of the books we publish, and not only for financial reasons.

Your work merits such success and it is Champ Libre that will assure it, despite the disappointment and despair of those who would like us not to exist.

Please accept, Dear Sir, the expression of our sincere salutations.

Gérard Lebovici

P.S. The new reprint of Les Habits neufs, which includes your changes and addenda, is currently being produced. It will appear with the cover from the first edition, as you desire.

[1] English in original.

Pierre Ryckmans to Champ Libre
15 June 1977
Dear Sir:

Thanks for your letter of 12 may, which, after such a long silence, has finally informed me of your projects. I am happy to learn that you are about to reprint Les Habits neufs, but I regret that you have blocked the chance to reach the paperback audience. I understand nothing of the offended manner with which you seem to have responded to the proposition by Mr. Liebert, who is not at all dishonest, and the dark allusions that you make, in your letter of the 12th, to a kind of conspiracy against Champ Libre by people who are made to “despair” by its survival and who would be sworn to choke you, brings my perplexity to its heights . . . . When a book that has almost ended its career in the form of a regular [hardcover] edition, isn’t it an absolutely common and routine procedure to print it as a paperback so as to assure it of complementary distribution to a different type of public? Floriana Lebovici explained to me that, for ethical and aesthetic reasons, you have a visceral horror of paperbacks and the people who industrially produce books like they were tins of sardines or bags of noodles. I can understand your point of view; try to see mine. I am infinitely cognizant of what Champ Libre can do for my book – Champ Libre did everything that it could do with absolute devotion and efficiency – in fact, it only failed to do one thing for my book, and that was the sardine-tin-and-noodle-bag career of the paperback, which, by definition, you could not and did not want to assure it. Your intention to reprint the book today testifies to your attention and solicitude, which touches me, but I can’t stop myself from doubting the efficiency of this initiative. The question is not so much putting the book in front of a public that already knows it, but rather bringing it to a completely different type of public, which it still hasn’t reached: the public of the paperback. At least since Champ Libre hasn’t started a paperback collection [of its own] in the meantime (which would surprise me, given your hostile principles concerning this industrial mode of production and distribution), I do not see how the reprint that you envision would be able to avoid the stumbling block of already-saturated demand (that of your normal audience), to reach the different public of the paperback. . . .

I attach much importance to the pleasant and amicable relations that I’ve always had with Champ Libre; I hope to be able to preserve and develop these relations (among the diverse projects that I’m working on, there are some I would like to be able to interest you in). I still do not understand the strange misunderstanding by which you have been able to see this offer (which is infinitely precious to me and not at all disadvantageous to you) to distribute Les Habits neufs as a paperback as a sinister conspiracy against Champ Libre!! I cannot see what could motivate your reaction of outraged refusal; obviously there are aspects of the problem that escape me. . . .

I ask you, Dear Sir, to want to accept the expression of my best wishes.

Pierre Ryckmans

P.S. In your letter, you seem to indicate a certain repugnance for pinyin transcription. I have no objection in principle to the English [method of] transcription (Wade-Giles).

Send my thanks for Floriana for her amiable gift of Hervey-Saint-Denys’ Poésies de l’epoque des Thang. The volume is very beautiful and this reprint is welcome. But, if you will allow me to make a criticism, isn’t it a bit of a shame to have published it as is, without an introduction or any commentary? Why didn’t you ask a specialist to write two or three pages of introduction that make a critical point about the value of Hervey-Saint-Denys’ work in the light of the [recent] developments in our knowledge of Chinese literature?

I will be coming to Paris in six months or so. I hope very much to have the pleasure of meeting with you on that occasion.

Pierre Ryckmans to Champ Libre
27 July 1977

P.S. What’s going on with the reprint of Les habits neufs? The letter that I sent one or two months ago to G. Lebovici has remained without response, which leaves me perplexed as to its results. I would so much like to be able to persuade Champ Libre that a paperback edition is not only a current and banal procedure in the domain of publishing, but it is also an initiative that best meets your interests and mine. I still cannot understand how G. Lebovici had been able to read in this offer some kind of dark machination against Champ Libre! Has he kept his positions? Will he reprint Les habits neufs himself? If you find a moment, I would be very happy to receive some news on the subject! (I won’t have the chance to see you in Paris until the end of December at the earliest. . . .)

Pierre Ryckmans

(Published in Editions Champ Libre, Correspondance, Vol. 1, Editions Champ Libre, Paris, 1978. Translated from the French and footnoted by NOT BORED! June 2012.)

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