Cavefors: Förlagsprofil och mediala mytbilder i det svenska litteratursamhället 1959-1982

Ragni Svensson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


Bo Cavefors Bokförlag AB (translated into English, this Swedish name would read Bo Cavefors Publishing Co. Ltd., to be abbreviated Cavefors below, when no confusion between the person and the company is likely to exist) was a Swedish publishing company, active between 1959 and 1982. During this period this company published about 620 books in several genres and with varying topical approaches.
In a perspective now more than three decades long, Cavefors’ body of publications comes into view as both wilful and characteristic of a period during which the Swedish book market was distinguished by intense ideological debate and decisive changes of cultural policy. In the eyes of posterity, however, it has predominantly become associated with left-wing political literature, in the guise of various Marxist source texts and documentary books of social protest published by Cavefors from the mid-1960’s onwards. Due to this publication policy Bo Cavefors Bokförlag AB was poised to become one of those Swedish publishing houses which to Swedish book readers first, and most insistently, introduced the mode of thought of the new left. Via BOC-serien, their pocket book series, Cavefors presented a Swedish audience with philosophers of the 1960’s, such as Michel Foucault, Roland Barthes, and Louis Althusser.
However, Cavefors’ publishing was not unequivocally a left-wing project, but one that produced titles with varying political attitudes in a host of genres. It had a strong profile, albeit one full of contradictions, largely characterized by the personal taste and strong media image possessed by the publisher Bo Cavefors himself.
Cavefors, the publishing company as well as the individual publisher, seems to have been attracted by radical ideas across the entire political spectrum. On the list of names of published authors one can find, beside Karl Marx and several poster names of the new left, also the North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung, as well as the conservative German author Ernst Jünger and the Swedish fascist leader Per Engdahl. The company published expensive volumes, among them lavishly adorned special issue art books, but also cheap pocket books in adhesive binding and soft cover. Among the titles issued can be found non-European fiction, books of topical debate and first books by Swedish lyric poets. By their publication in 1960 of the antology Afrika berättar Cavefors became the first publisher who matched the curiosity newly awakened in Swedish book readers about literature from the recently decolonized African continent. In the mid-1970’s it was Cavefors who elevated Swedish underground lyric poetry from a small but devoted handouts-consuming audience to a culturally interested wider public.
The image of publishing companies and individual publishers as distributors of revolutionary societal ideas is well established in the Western history of books. Ever since the first years of the art of book printing, independent book printers and publishers have acted as introducers of new aesthetic and cultural trends. They have been responsible for the distribution of political texts and propaganda, sometimes in risky opposition to the prevailing powers of a nation, other times as their loyal collaborators. Similarly, epithets like controversial, frequently occurring in remarks on Cavefors’ legacy, may be seen as an ideal with a strong tradition and high status in Western publishing history, and in a Swedish context as well. In Western publisher circles a tendency toward strong myth formation has prevailed since at least the early nineteenth century, displaying and idealizing character traits such as the colourful and the eccentric.
Already at the time of its foundation in 1959, there appeared in the medial reporting on Bo Cavefors and his publishing company distinct echoes of such a myth formation. Bo Cavefors the publisher was often presented as a kind of personification of the books he produced, hence to raise the issue of his own standpoint came close at hand for those who followed the numerous ideological shifts in his publishing activity. This amounted to a kind of actor orientation, an outlook that has been criticized by many book history-oriented scholars in the wake of the annales social-historic school. These scholars have repeatedly emphasized how books are created in a close cooperation between authors and publishers. The publishing path of books leading to book market introduction, and possibly to an international introduction as well is bordered with crass economic arbitrations and is dependent on larger networks of, for instance, translators, printing house employees, bank managers, and lawyers.
This study proceeds in the borderland between these two attitudes to publishing history, i.e., between an actor-oriented and a structural perspective. Against a background of Swedish and international book markets, their prevailing cultural traditions and ideals, as well as the material, productive, and distributive conditions of Cavefors publishing, here its strategies, alliances, policies and activities are investigated, but also the driving forces behind the above-mentioned strong formation of myths about the publisher and his company.
The goal of this thesis is to investigate Bo Cavefors Bokförlag AB as a literature intermediary and disseminator of ideas, in both a political and a cultural sense, in order to create a knowledge base against which the societal function of book publishing can be identified and analysed from a wider perspective. In this context Cavefors becomes especially interesting to study since it was seen in its age as odd and provocative, while often being well placed in time when new political currents, book market trends, topical genres, or important authorships appeared and called for attention. Early on, the name Cavefors became associated with certain specific expectations and connotations, what I have chosen to call myth formation. Taken together, these conditions make it relevant to study this publishing activity from the viewpoint of issues that concern the societal role of the small publishing house, and to analyse the processes where myths are created around a company name.
The analysis takes its starting-point in the following issues: How did Cavefors publishing profile and publisher’s role evolve and what was the relationship between these factors and the publishing company’s position in the Swedish literature society of the 1960’s and 1970’s?
Which role was played in this context by the myth formation that appeared around Bo Cavefors? Which were the relations between the single publisher’s visions and the surrounding environment, such as literature critics, authors, other publishers and the like? How were the conditions constituted that enabled Cavefors’ publishing and what needs did it satisfy?
By trying to answer these questions, I want to indicate the complexity of the societal role of book publishing as well as that of the publisher. An analysis of the processes where such roles are formed and become alive may, I suggest, contribute to a better and deepened understanding of the larger societal and cultural contexts that make up their playing field and form their very basis.
Bo Cavefors Bokförlag was active during the 1960’s and 1970’s, two decades whose cultural and political legacy was characterized by the build-up of the Swedish Welfare State and welfare policy but also of antiwar demonstrations, student revolt, and strong leftist winds.
The book market had an eventful period, too. During these years the Swedish book production expanded substantially due to the economic boom and the gradually developing education system. In 1970 the book trade was deregulated, involving among other things the key fact that the fixed book prices that had previously been set by the publishers were abolished. The book sales that had experienced a succession of favourable years declined considerably at the beginning of the decade, however. In Swedish publishing history this phenomenon is usually designated “the publishing crisis”. It was to become a contributory cause of the adoption of the new Governmental culture policy of the 1970s that led, among other things, to the introduction of State subsidies to publishing. This was a time when old truths about the business of publishing were being reevaluated.
This analysis of Cavefors’ publishing work could, I suggest, modulate traditional conceptions about the societal roles of publishers and publishing houses. In the image I have drawn of the publisher’s activity several such conceptions are brought to the fore. Throughout history book publishers have performed an important societal function owing to the fact that their product concurrently reflects and shapes their age. They functioned as adult educators, as disseminators of philosophical, political, and ideological ways of thinking, and they simultaneously they contributed to new cultural and literary trends and made them available. This study shows that the Cavefors publishing company – as well as the publisher Cavefors –carried out such a role as disseminator of ideas in the Swedish society of his time.
In this thesis I argue that already from the first days of his publishing activity, Cavefors was driven by an intent to play a role as moulder of public political opinion. The inspiration from small, independent publishing houses such as the French Édition de Minuit with a distinctly anti-colonial and anti-authoritarian attitude, should not be underestimated. Although unlike this French publishing house, Cavefors was seemingly not driven by a distinct political vision, by his publishing he would become a mouthpiece for a political mass movement like “1968” without having to sacrifice the distinctive publishing profile of his company. The strength of Cavefors as a disseminator of political ideas and a literary power factor lay primarily in his role as an intermediary, in his courage to embark on and carry through uncertain book projects and authorships and deliver them in physical form to an audience of book readers.
The role of Cavefors publishing company as a disseminator of ideas was made possible primarily by its role as an intermediary between academic and political groupings and the Swedish book-buying public, however. With a few important exceptions, Afrika berättar the most significant of them, it was usually not the publisher himself who initiated either political or literary publications. Instead, Cavefors may be said to have functioned as a patron and promoter of trendsetting movements of the period. That was a role played by the publisher so painstakingly as to make it a mouthpiece for liberal cultural radicalism, party-independent anti-colonialism and the new left, as well as for more militantly radical groups, particulary those at the political left. The publications that had opinion formation as their most obvious purpose were almost exclusively the result of initiatives by people outside of the publishing house. The mixed political direction of its publication as a whole revealed for a long time an open mind of the publisher, also as he made remarks which indicated that he personally became ever more radicalized during this period.
Cavefors’ African publishing, as referring both to the imaginative literature collected under the series name Afrika berättar and to non-fiction literature on African themes, was a publishing contribution until now unrecognized in the Swedish history of books and literature. Nonetheless it undeniably impacted the societal debate, while at the same time it was keenly aware of it. In part, the investigation of this publishing problemizes Pascale Casanova’s thesis about an international literary system completely characterized by the power relationship between centre and periphery. The African works of fiction published by Cavefors in their series Afrika berättar had taken numerous and disparate paths through that system before ending up on the counters of Swedish bookshops. Not all of them had been consecrated by a French or British publisher before Cavefors published them in Swedish, however.
The investigation has shown how the young publisher Bo Cavefors and his newly founded publishing company already from the beginning – in a process that may have been initiated in part by his own deliberate stage-settings – became associated in the literary public sphere with myths about single-person publishers of older times and their aristocratic prominent figures. By way of his publication list and his media persona the publisher flirted with the strong Western mythical image of the Gentleman Publisher, the publisher who produces books entirely on idealistic grounds and who shies all links to commercialism. Another traditional figure out of literature’s type gallery, frequently associated with the publisher and his activity, was the Outsider, the rebel who goes across prevailing rules and norms to follow instead his own inner voice. In this thesis I suggest that these two mythical images, cultivated and boosted by various medial stagings, for instance by interviews with Bo Cavefors in newspapers, journals, and TV, personified the “exclusive” and “daring” character of his publishing profile. The mythical images of gentleman and outsider may seem at first sight to be disparate, but as shown by Cavefors’ example they have also much in common. They are male-coded role creations or representations, which symbolize a kind of lofty outsidership, an attitude toward the collective of imagined independence.
To analyse the creation of meaning in these representations has required the use of several methods and types of material. By combining a source-critical study of preserved archival material, including a comprehensive collection of press clippings, with own interviews, it has been my intention to provide a many-faceted presentation of the themes studied.
The creation of myths around the publishing company may be viewed as a way of luring the “right” kind of authorship toward the trade mark, in order to reach also in the sequel a certain kind of reader, a select group who do not flinch from controversial, complex, or theoretically advanced texts. In addition, material aspects were essential for the creation and upholding of this mythopoeia [formation of myths]. To this belonged, on one side, the mere physical appearance and clothing of the publisher, on the other the manner in which the company marketed its books, as well as – and not least – the design they were provided with.
The book historical research perspective is a way of thinking about “how people have given material form to knowledge and stories”, writes book historian Leslie Howsam in The Cambridge Companion to the History of the Book, published 2015. The fact that authors do not actually write books, but texts that later become material objects, has previously been noted by Roger Chartier, among others. The texts become books by the work of the designer and the publisher. In the case of Cavefors these functions were often embodied by a single person, Bo Cavefors himself. By analysing within a book-historic interpretatory frame the output of this publishing company I have intended to bring out the significance that both the publishing company and its publisher in fact possess, not least in this case, for the dissemination and reasonably also for the reading of books, as well as the significance of the materiality of books.
The book historical research perspective, together with literature sociology and Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory, also emphasizes the significance of social interactions, as well as that of human and institutional networks, for the dissemination of books. In this context the case of Cavefors provides a fascinating example. Although the impetus for many of the publisher’s productions came from outside, still the books were to become seen as “Cavefors books” specifically, due to the publisher’s guarding of the distinctive profile of his company. Hence the role of the publisher in the creation of value around a published text, whether a work of fiction or non-fiction, is emphasized by Bourdieu.
The publishing of books by Cavefors occurred in the tension field between the “single” publisher and his surrounding network, in the form of authors, translators, critics and other actors in the literary society. Each one of those used their own cultural capital to strengthen the company profile, while they benefitted from Cavefors reputation as an authority of consecration with the capacity to strengthen their own trade marks.
“Who creates the ‘creator’ ?” Pierre Bourdieu asks in an often cited phrase. The die-hard myth about creative work as something that takes place in the elevated inner man of the author or artist, to become exploited later by publishers and other businessmen, hides the fact that the work’s value is, in part, created precisely by their work and trade mark, he suggests. The Cavefors example shows that the publisher can become a leading culture personality entirely in his own right, indeed even become brought forward as a principal character by, and at the cost of, his own authors.
The story of Bo Cavefors Bokförlag AB contains many dramaturgically rewarding details. It is a story with a distinct beginning and with an ending so protracted and emotionally charged that it might be told with advantage as a film script or a television series. It could also figure well as a journalistic presentation where the interviewees’ various statements could be contrasted with each other under freer forms than the framework of an academic thesis permits. However, my task here has not been to tell a tickling story. Instead it has been to describe and analyse the role that Bo Cavefors Bokförlag AB and its published production fulfilled during its time and in the Swedish history of publishing. However, this could hardly be done unless certain time-bound sequences of events are allowed to take their place in the account. Therefore I have tried as far as possible to combine in the thesis a chronological and a thematic approach. The chronological story-telling has, I claim, been necessary to make understandable the various phases of change that the publishing house, like the Swedish book market as a whole, went through during the period of slightly more than twenty years that forms the historic context of the thesis. The thematic approach has enabled a deepened investigation of contexts that appear particularly relevant to the elucidation of the purpose of the study, i. e., to investigate the role and functioning of Cavefors’ publishing as a disseminator of political and literary ideas. In addition, it has provided an opportunity to describe in more detail and to analyse, not least from a materiality perspective, a selection of books from the Cavefors publication list.
Original languageSwedish
  • Horstboll, Henrik, Supervisor
  • Kärrholm, Sara, Supervisor
  • Schultz Nybacka, Pamela, Supervisor, External person
Place of PublicationLund
ISBN (Print)9789172475199
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Mar 16

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Other Humanities not elsewhere specified

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