Ōe on Barney Rosset


Barney Rosset to me represents the literary world of the latter half of the 20th century. Two hefty books—the oldest of autographed books in my library—attest to this fact. The books are The Complete Justine, Philosophy in the Bedroom and Other Writings and The Olympia Reader: Selections from the Traveler’s Companion Series, both published by Grove Press, Inc. The autographs are Barney Rosset’s dated 1965. I was then a writer aged 30, a complete unknown outside of Japan, visiting the New York publishing houses to receive a publication contract for my novel A Personal Matter. The owner of the company, knowing that I had started writing as a student majoring in French literature, asked me who, in contemporary literature, I found interesting. A soft smile spread across his face at the mention of each of my favorite French, English, and American writers and poets. He then kindly gave me the two books saying that although the work by Marquis de Sade required no comment from him, the “Olympia Reader” contained works—obtainable only in Paris—by writers whom I admired. The clear-thinking, soft-spoken man, from whose countenance exuded a youthful vigor, said: “Among the writers in this selection, the most talented is Samuel Beckett, and this book carries a brief story of how Watt came to be published. I will most likely publish all of his works.”

more from Kenzaburō Ōe at Evergreen Review here.