On the disappearance of the Wilson Quarterly:
The subject line worried me. “The Wilson Quarterly’s Final Happy Hour,” it said. Even the rosiest interpretation—that they’d decided, say, to discontinue their occasional get-togethers—was troubling. A link to an online invitation appeared below. The editors had completed the winter 2014 issue, a best-of collection drawn from “four decades of classic essays.” A few particulars followed and then the bad news, withheld for a bit, the way people do: “This will be our final quarterly issue,” they said.
Agnès Poirier | Excerpt adapted from Left Bank: Art, Passion, and the Rebirth of Paris, 1940-50 | Henry Holt and Co. | February 2018 | 20 minutes 5,275 words)
In September 1945, together with their band of students and friends, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre were working night and day finalizing the first issue of their journal Les Temps modernes. They had launched the idea at the end of 1944, choosing the title as a tribute to Chaplin’s Modern Times, and, apart from Camus who was too busy editing Combat, they could rely on almost everyone else to write for them — Communists, Catholics, Gaullists, and Socialists: their schoolmate and liberal philosopher friend Raymond Aron, the Marxist phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty, the anthropologist and art critic Michel Leiris, the Gallimard supremo Jean Paulhan, and even Picasso, who had agreed to design the cover and logo, along with a new generation of writers who were submitting articles and ideas such as Jacques-Laurent Bost. The British writer Philip Toynbee would contribute a Letter from London, while novels and essays the committee particularly liked would be serialized prior to their publication or with a view to attracting a potential publisher. Les Temps modernes would be a laboratory of new ideas and a talent scout rolled into one. Simone de Beauvoir had personally approached the minister of information, the Gaullist and résistant Jacques Soustelle, to ask for an allocation of paper.
Gallimard had agreed to finance the journal and to give the team a little office where they could hold their editorial meetings. The first issue was planned for October 1, 1945. Jean-Paul Sartre was made the head of the publication, “Monsieur le Directeur,” and he thought it important to make himself available to everyone. This would be democracy and public debate in action. He committed to receiving anyone who asked to see him at the magazine’s office at 5 rue Sébastien Bottin every Tuesday and Friday afternoon between five thirty and seven thirty. This commitment was printed at the beginning of the magazine, along with the telephone number Littré 28-91, where they could be reached. Sartre had decided to dedicate the first issue of Les Temps modernes “To Dolorès,” in all simplicity. Simone did not blink an eye.
In the first issue, Sartre announced loud and clear what Les Temps modernes stood for. It was to be the megaphone that would carry their thoughts far and wide.
Every writer of bourgeois origin has known the temptation of irresponsibility. I personally hold Flaubert personally responsible for the repression that followed the Commune because he did not write a line to try to stop it. It was not his business, people will perhaps say. Was the Calas trial Voltaire’s business? Was Dreyfus’s condemnation Zola’s business? We at Les Temps modernes do not want to miss a beat on the times we live in. Our intention is to influence the society we live in. Les Temps modernes will take sides.
The tone was set, the thinking promised to be muscular and the writing fearless.