As is often the case, random walks through Webspace can put you face to face with surprises and unexpected treasures. I happened upon an ad for Eakins Press, and it piqued my interest. In a blurb for one of Eakins Press’ books, The Bitch-Goddess Success, edited by Leslie George Katz, three memorable quotes appeared:

…the moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess success. That—with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word success—is our national disease.
—William James

With its characteristic staccato patterns, its lack of follow-through, and its endless abrupt transitions of theme, commercial entertainment has tended everywhere to weaken the faculty of concentration and to debauch the capacity for sustained and orderly thought. At the back of all this is usually, though not always, advertising….
—George F. Kennan

An original mind is rarely understood,…so averse are men to admitting the true in an unusual form; whilst any novelty, however fantastic, however false, is greedily swallowed….Distinction is the consequence, never the object, of a great mind.
—Washington Allston

Great title, great quotes, and this is a book I’ve never heard about. Turns out there is lots to know about the Eakins Press and its founder and editor, Leslie George Katz. From Katz’ obituary in the New York Times (he died in 1997):

Mr. Katz’s long and varied career included writing and directing experimentalist plays in a community center in Brooklyn, writing for Classic Comics, The Nation and the Democratic National Committee and writing speeches for Adlai Stevenson. He was the publisher of Arts magazine in the 1950’s, and was a longtime member of the board of the Yaddo artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

He was instrumental in arranging for the Museum of Modern Art to acquire its collection of photographs by Atget. He also contributed to the garden statuary at the Brooklyn Museum of Art by collecting architectural ornaments from demolition sites and delivering them to the museum for preservation.

But it was with Eakins Press, which he founded in 1966, that Mr. Katz found his metier. He had long had an interest in printing, and the 56 books he published through 1996 were notable for their meticulous, elegant design. The press was known for its books on American photographers, sculptors and poets and on the New York City Ballet. ”Man is and remains a creature of nature capable of cultivation, and art is the measure of his life,” Mr. Katz wrote in an introduction to Walker Evans’s ”Message From the Interior,” one of the first books published by Eakins Press.

How did I miss all this until now? Too many blind spots, too little time. At the Eakins Press site there is another another tribute to Katz, this one by Ned O’Gorman: “To know him is to know the very best. His taste is flawless, his mind always leaning with comfort on the mysteries. I know no one but for some few, Lincoln Kirstein, Herbert Read, Isaiah Berlin, for whom the practice of life has yielded such incredible riches.”

“Leaning with comfort on the mysteries.” What an extraordinary thing to say about a person.

Katz
Photograph of Leslie George Katz by Berenice Abbott, 1957 (Photograph: Commerce Graphics Limited)

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