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Black Sun: The Brief Transit and Violent Eclipse of Harry Crosby (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – August 31, 2003

4.0 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Crosby emerges as a character as complex and fascinating as Zelda (Fitzgerald) or Alice Toklas, even Ezra Pound. A breathtaking story."

About the Author

Geoffrey Wolff is the acclaimed author of three works of nonfiction-"Black Sun, "a biography; "The Duke of Deception, "a memoir; and "A Day at the Beach, "a collection of personal essays-as well as six novels, most recently "The Age of Consent." In 1994 he received the Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Mr. Wolff is the director of the graduate fiction program at the University of California, Irvine.
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Product Details

  • Series: New York Review Books Classics
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (August 31, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590170660
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590170663
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #780,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Wolff wrote this book in reaction to Malcolm Cowley's portrait of Crosby in Exile's Return. Unlike Cowley, Wolff did not find Crosby to be the representative figure for the Lost Generation. He finds Crosby's obsessions with suicide to predate his war service and his interest in the mystic to be Crosby's alone. The book is probably the best possible portrait of a failed poet and wealthy mystic, who happens to have a deathwish, as could possibly be written. So the book is more a study in human pathology than a sociological study of a generation. It's worth reading all the same.
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Format: Paperback
Geoffrey Wolff's famous 1976 biography of Harry Crosby--a minor but spellbinding figure of the so-called Lost Generation--was an ideal book for the NYRB Press to revive and reissue. As a literary figure Crosby was certainly exceptionally minor--he was a dreadful and derivative poet, and his reputedly beautiful editions published by his Black Sun Press would be hard to reproduce here (and are indeed not). But his life was as fascinating a tale of early 20th-century wealthy decadence as you could wish. The best part of the narrative are the earlier sections, explaining how Harry rebelled against his Proper Bostonian past to pursue a live of drugs, drink, sex and lavish spending in Paris between the wars. The details of what Harry did once he threw caution aside and did whatever he felt like tend to become monotonous, as stories of decadence often do (everything blurs together). But Wolff has sensitively framed his narrative, and makes a very persuasive case for why Harry was NOT typical of his generation that actually makes an intriguing point about the kinds of narratives biographers map onto their subjects' lives. And if Wolff's prose is occasionally somewhat empurpled, it could not be more mete to its subject's temperament.
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By A Customer on November 19, 1999
Format: Paperback
Geoffrey Wolff's bio of the poet, publisher, and mystic Harry Crosby is a terrific read as well as a singularly important contribution to the unfortunately slender body of scholarship on Harry Crosby. Despite persistent popular and academic interest in 1920s literary Paris, Crosby & the Black Sun Press are generally ignored completely or dismissed as marginal. This is truly puzzling. Wolff's biography, while certainly not uncritical, nevertheless does take the man seriously and offers an absorbing account of the life & work of a true original.
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Format: Paperback
Vignettes about Harry Crosby may be found in Malcom Cowley's, "Exiles Return"; "Absinthe: History in a Bottle", by Barnaby Conrad; "Published in Paris," by Hugh Ford; and a couple poems in "The Penguin Book of Surrealist Poetry". You may come across Harry Crosby in biographies of D.H. Lawerence, Hart Crane, or James Joyce, and definitely in his wife, Caresse Crosby's "The Passionate Years". All in all, Geoffrey Wolff's biography is a welcome find. I came across an old and forgotten copy of "Black Sun" for $1 amidst thousands of used books at a San Francisco library sale in the "pre-Amazon.com" days when I was blindly searching for more information about Crosby who fascinated me. It was pure luck; or destiny! I had recently read his diary, "Shadows of the Sun" (Black Sparrow Press, 1977) which is the work he is most known for, and is one of the most fascinating & captivating diaries I've ever read. Some reviewers have commented on the "mediocre quality" of Crosby's poems, but read within the context of "Shadows of the Sun" and/or "Black Sun" they melt into perfect harmony with his life. "Black Sun" is the ideal supplement to "Shadows of the Sun", adding unbiased biographical details about Harry, the 1920's, and the wonderful influence Harry and Caresse had upon those they befriended. Wolff did an excellent job researching old letters from various archives, as well as utilizing his orignal diaries as source material - Harry kept assiduous details of his life for posterity's sake.
I'm glad to see that "Black Sun" has been reprinted in this new 2003 paperback, and it contains an afterword by Wolff discussing how and why he chose to write about Crosby.
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Format: Paperback
Anyone who thinks Crosby led a "minor" life doesn't get it. Harry Crosby, the founder of Black Sun press, led an astonishing existence and was a premiere member of the avant-guarde "suicide club" founded by Baudelaire and carried through Lautrec, Jarry and Charles Cros.

I knew I was going to love this book when I read in the first chapter about the cable Harry and his wife Caresse sent to Harry's rich Boston family: "Please send $10,000 immediately -- have decided to live a wild and extravagant life." Very few people are able to create their own realities and inhabit them as fully as Crosby -- his determination recalls not only Jarry but even earlier figures like William Blake.

Wolff's writing is superb: his sense of narrative and description are pitch-perfect without sacrificing detachment or sinking into the realm of hagiography. It is a fascinating portrait of a man who lived his life to the fullest through his love of Art.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Curiously, given Harry's infatuation with Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray throughout much of his life, it was a dictum of Wilde's that Uber-Critic Harold Bloom says he would have engraved above the entrances to the English Departments of every institution of higher learning if he had his way, to wit: "All bad poetry is sincere." that kept coming to my mind throughout the reading of this book. But, note, this dictum does NOT imply its converse: "All sincere poetry is bad." - An important distinction, this. - For Crosby's poetry is nothing if not sincere and, taken out of the context of his life, is bound to seem tawdry, fantastical or sloppy. In other words, it does indeed seem quite bad. But taken in the context of this life, it assumes another hue entirely. As Wolff puts it, his poems were more "testaments" than poems qua poems. All his writings on suicide, the worship of the Sun, et al seem pallid and lifeless until one realizes through the reading of this book that he lived these words. He didn't merely write them. Upon this realization, (dare I say it) they suddenly BLAZE to life.

The best aspect of the biography for me is that there is no attempt at some sort of psychobabble analysis in the study of a character that surely invites it: Not one "Id," "Ego," "Oedipus Complex," "Jungian Archetype," et blah, blah, blah. Wolff deftly narrates the life-story of this fantastic, wealthy, sybarite with his literary ambition as he lived it through his short, kaleidoscopically decadent and unbalanced life.
But, given all this, there is a prodigal consistency to his life worthy of symbolic logic, right up to the end. Thus, to me, reading this book was brisk and refreshing (pace to the Puritans). Near the end of the book, Wolff quotes Mrs.
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