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Zukofsky's son seeks to stifle scholars


The progeny of major literary figures have long played an active role in determining the stature and reputation of these writers' works among future generations of readers. Recently, however, the heirs of several important 20th century writers have exercised their rights of literary executorship in ways that have raised questions about their role in advancing that legacy.
 
Two years ago in this space we& wrote of Dmitri Nabokov's reported intention to ;carry out his father Vladimir's wishes that the "manuscript" (actually about 125 index cards of handwritten text) of his unfinished final novel The Original of Laura be destroyed.  Fortunately for biographers and scholars, the younger Nabokov — thinking perhaps of Franz Kafka's instructions to his literary executor Max Brod or the nearly three declining years his father spent on the novel — could not bring himself to carry out the deed. After fervent requests that he reconsider, many of which were bolstered by his own comments about the manuscript to the press ("... [It] would have been a brilliant, original, and potentially totally radical book, in the literary sense very different from the rest of his oeuvre."), Dmitri finally acceded to what may have been his own wish all along.  Vladimir Nabokov's The Original of Laura will be published in the largely inchoate form he left it in at the time of his death next month by Knopf.
 
A far more egregious example of an heir insinuating himself into a literary legacy concerns the case of Stephen Joyce, the grandson and sole surviving heir of James Joyce and the controversial executor of the Joyce estate.  As the The New Yorker magazine's D.T. Max described in his excellent 2006 piece  The Injustice Collector, since coming into control of the Joyce estate in the mid-1980's, the younger Joyce has sought to micro-manage every aspect of his grandfather's legacy, from control and access to the Joyce papers and ephemera, to who may or may not quote from the Joyce oeuvre still under the estate's copyright protection.  Many of his actions have set him in conflict with institutional collections of Joyce papers and manuscripts, including The James Joyce Collection at the University at Buffalo.  
 
The younger Joyce maintains a rather curiously anti-modernist reading of his grandfather's work surely based more on the Dubliners and A Portrait of Artist as a Young Man than Ulysses or Finnegans Wake, and he has sought to promulgate that view in granting access or permission to quote from the work.  Just as his grandfather was a great innovator of narrative writing forms, the grandson has raised nuisance litigation into a kind of art form, winning some cases, losing some others, and generally marking his territory in Joyce criticism and scholarship with a kind of preemptory zeal.  "Most prickly literary estates are interested in suppressing unflattering or intrusive information, but no one combines tolltaker, brand enforcer, and arbiter of taste as relentlessly as Stephen does, and certainly not in such a personal way," wrote Max, pointing out that he blocked a Joyce study to be published by the Purdue University Press because he objected to the name of the university's sports teams: the Boilermakers. 
 
One professed admirer of Stephen Joyce's approach who has taken an even more preemptive and proprietary stance is Paul Zukofsky, the only child and executor of the literary estate of Louis Zukofsky, the second wave modernist poet most closely associated with the Objectivist movement and the author of "A", the 24 part long poem he began in 1927 and continued to work on until his death in 1978 that ranks among greatest achievements of 20th century modernism.
 
In a remarkable document entitled Copyright Notice by PZ posted last month on Z-site: A Companion to the Work of Louis Zukofsky , the younger Zukofsky, who was born in 1943 and achieved some measure of fame as a violinist and conductor of contemporary classical music--notably the work of John Cage, Morton Feldman and Phillip Glass--berates graduate students and would be scholars of his father's work and asserts absolute control over the use of both the published work and personal papers of his father and his mother, Celia Zukofsky, for any purpose.

"Far too many people, especially perhaps-innocent grad. students, have been misled into thinking that, in terms of quoting LZ or CZ, they may do what they want, and do not have to worry about me," the younger Zukofsky writes:

All Louis and Celia Zukofsky is still copyright, and will remain so for many, many years. I own all of these copyrights, and they are my property, and I insist upon deriving income from that property. For those of you convinced that LZ would find my stance abhorrent, the truth is that he kept all copyrights (initially in his name) as he had the rather absurd idea that said copyrights would be sufficient to allow for the economic survival of my mother, and their son...

Despite what you may have been told, you may not use LZ’s words as you see fit, as if you owned them, while you hide behind the rubric of “fair use”. “Fair use” is a very-broadly defined doctrine, of which I take a very narrow interpretation, and I expect my views to be respected. We can therefore either more or less amicably work out the fees that I demand; you can remove all quotation; or we can turn the matter over to lawyers, this last solution being the worst of the three, but one which I will use if I need to enforce my rights.

In general, as a matter of principle, and for your own well-being, I urge you to not work on Louis Zukofsky, and prefer that you do not. Working on LZ will be far more trouble than it is worth. You will be far more appreciated working on some author whose copyright holder(s) will actually cherish you, and/or your work. I do not, and no one should work under those conditions....

I can perhaps understand your misguided interest in literature, music, art, etc. I would be suspicious of your interest in Louis Zukofsky, but might eventually accept it. I can applaud your desire to obtain a job, any job, although why in your chosen so-called profession is quite beyond me; but one line you may not cross i.e. never, never ever tell me that your work is to be valued by me because it promotes my father. Doing that will earn my life-long permanent enmity...
 
...I am not trying to censor you. I hardly give a damn what is said about my father (I am far more protective of my mother) as long as the name is spelled properly, and the fees are paid. My interest is almost purely economic. That being said, I do not approve of delving into the personal lives of my parents. If you wish to spend your time worrying if LZ did or did not shtupp alligators, that is your problem, but I will not approve quotation. That is not scholarship. That is gossip, and beneath contempt...Do not lie, or try to dissemble. If I ask for something, and you agree, be certain that you do it. If I find out after the fact that you have not, there will be trouble...
 
If the younger Zukofsky's intention was to provoke the enmity of much of the literary world, he certainly succeeded.  It might have possible, for instance, to assert his copyright claims in a less inflammatory fashion, and without casting unnecessary aspersions on an entire class of actual and would be professional scholars.  He might have employed legal counsel to craft a document that did not include gratuitous bestiality references.  If compliance was his true intention, he might have found a friend to edit his rambling fusillade of resentments.
 
Instead, the results were immediate and predicable. Less than 48 hours after the younger Zukofsky's copyright notice appeared last week on the web, many of he same sites that linked to his statement also carried a link to site where one could illegally download a completely indexed,  optical character recognition software scanned PDF file of "A" in its entirety.  The link has since been taken down.

The key point in Paul Zukofsky's tirade masquerading as rights statement isn't that he intends to extend copyright protection to personal letters and unpublished papers or even that he intends to deny access material in the Zukofsky estate unless a fee is extracted.  Rather, it's that he intends to contest the doctrine of "fair use" of a published literary text as currently interpreted.
 
He may be entitled to his own "narrow interpretation" of  the "fair use" doctrine from the comfort of his residence in Hong Kong, but until he's appointed to a federal judgeship, no one needs to respect his interpretation of the law.  There are over 33 years of established precedent (see U.S. Copyright Office - Fair Use) under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976 that says he's wrong.
 
Were Zukofsky's narrow view of "fair use" to prevail, every book reviewer in the United States would have to pay authors for quoting from them,  and the entire online world of social networking and the "blogosphere," particularly the practice of inserting hyperlinks to otherwise copyrighted material, would come crashing down.
 
There are over thirty pages of Louis Zukofsky's A Test of Poetry available for free viewing online at Google Books.  Why doesn't the younger Zukofsky go after Google for damages as they have considerably deeper pockets than your average debt-ridden graduate student?  Or has he concluded that Google's legal team would make short work of his fee demands?
 
The enormous paradox of Zukofsky's position is his insistence that his interests are "almost entirely economic"--which  presumably would involve maximizing his income derived from the estate-- even as he does his best to discourage students and scholars from having access to or developing an interest in his father's work. If ever there was a business model for failure as a literary conservator, it would be to alienate your most active and influential group of current and future readers.
 
It's also curious to note that Louis Zukofsky was unquestionably a socialist in his political thinking for the greater part of his life, especially while a student at Columbia University in the 1920's where he befriended Whittaker Chambers, and that he identified himself as a Marxist at least through the end of the 1930's.  While he did retain copyright to all his work, and in fact made provisions for the proceeds from his literary estate to benefit his wife and son, there are no indications that he had the kind of late life conversion to neo-conservatism that many leftists of his generation underwent. 
 
For his son to become one of the literary world's leading spokespersons for the militant assertion of copyright as personal property is not without a certain degree of irony — a fact the younger Zukofsky appears to acknowledge ("For those of you convinced that LZ would find my stance abhorrent...") in his notice.  Those who have long speculated that the Paul Zukofsky's motives in managing his father's estate are deeply conflicted and tend toward erasure of his father's legacy doubtless will find much to substantiate their claims in his latest action.
 
--R.D. Pohl 
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