Alexander Trocchi

Alexander Trocchi (1925-1984) was a Scottish author, publisher and activist. He attended the University of Glasgow from 1942-1943 and from 1946-1950, and served in the Royal Navy from 1943-1946. Trocchi began writing poetry and prose in the late 1940’s, and by the early 1950’s was an established member of the artistic avant-garde.

With Richard Seaver and Austryn Wainhouse he edited Merlin, a literary magazine that published Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, Samuel Beckett, Robert Creeley, Jean Paul Sartre, Arthur Miller, and others, for seven issues from 1952-1955. He was also an editor of Paris Quarterly from 1952-1955 and of Moving Times, which published work by William S. Burroughs, Trocchi, and Jeff Nuttall. Trocchi’s association with Merlin led to his collaboration with Maurice Girodias at Olympia Press. Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, Trocchi helped Girodias publish books, wrote catalog copy, and contributed a large number of pornographic writings, includingHelen and Desire, The Carnal Days of Helen Seferis, White Thighs, Vol. 5 of My Life and Loves by Frank Harris, and School for Sin. Most of his work was banned in England, France, and America.

At the same time he worked with these publishing efforts, Trocchi was involved with other projects, including painting, sculpting, joining Asgar Jorn in the International Situationist movement, and pursuing his own writing. His first novel, Young Adam (1954), a tale of immorality and justice, was followed by his more famous Cain’s Book, a roman a clef which detailed his adventures as a heroin addict living on a scow on the Hudson River. The book’s frank depiction of drug addiction and sex was the source of an obscenity trial in 1963 and the book was banned in England. His other literary works included The Outsiders (1961), a collection of stories and a revision of Young Adam, and Man at Leisure (1972), a collection of poems.

In the 1960’s, Trocchi devoted most of his energy toward organizing a broad collaboration of international underground movements under the auspices of what he called the Sigma Project. It was an eclectic and protean effort, with no concrete direction, but with a wide focus. The Sigma Project resulted on more than 30 varied publications, and attracted a great deal of attention.

Although it took up much of his time, Sigma was only one of Trocchi’s activities in the 1960’s. He also organized the 1965 Albert Hall poetry reading, which brought the work of Allen Ginsberg, Laurence Ferlinghetti, and others to the attention of a large British audience. He was visiting lecturer in sculpture at St. Martin’s School of Art (London), and he translated the work of a number of French novelists, including Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues, Jan Cremer, Harriet Daimler. Rene de Obaldia and Valentine Penrose. He also wrote his only nonfiction book,Drugs of the Mind, published in 1970.

Prolific as he was, Trocchi’s publishing activities waned during the last 15 years of his life. Although he worked for many years on a sequel to Cain’s Book and a novel called “The Long Book,” they remained unpublished at the time of his death, of pneumonia, 1984. Since then,Trocchi’s reputation as a leader in the avant-garde movements of the mid-20th century has grown steadily.

Go here for the finding aid of the Alexander Trocchi Papers at Washington University.

Modern Literature Collection: The First Fifty Years

Alexander Trocchi