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May 26, 1985|JACK MILES

Who runs American publishing? Nobody runs it. This country has no ministry of culture. The jurisdiction of the ever-threatened Department of Education does not extend to publishing. As for the industry itself, it chops off and grows a few new heads each month.

Who runs Soviet publishing? Goskomizdat, the USSR Committee for Printing, Publishing and Book Trade, runs it. Every Soviet organization concerned with publishing, copyrighting, book trade and book exhibition comes under Goskomizdat jurisdiction.

Last month, an exhibition of Soviet health books took place at UCLA under the unlikely co-sponsorship of Goskomizdat and the Esalen Institute. Esalen, long-established in Big Sur as a center of the Human Potential movement, announced the exhibition as a part of its "Soviet-American Exchange Program."

"We are guided," the announcement read, "by the idea that a deeper awareness of human possibilities could contribute to personal and social development in both Soviet and American societies and help improve Soviet-American relationships. Our work is informed by the perspectives gained through 20 years of study at Esalen Institute of skills to enhance interpersonal relations." Esalen, one recalls, is where the encounter group first took hold on the West Coast.

The announcement continued: "Our Track II (i.e. non-governmental) approach to furthering international cooperation emphasizes the need to understand the similarities and differences among disparate cultures in developing a more constructive attitude toward the interdependence of all life. We facilitate this understanding through informal communication, personal contact and dialogue between informed individuals in an open and trusting atmosphere."

The Soviet delegation, headed by Goskomizdat Deputy Chairman Vasily Slastenenko, seemed decidedly more Track I than Track II; but for that very reason, I was curious about it. I accepted an invitation to the exhibition's informal opening reception that was to be held in the home of publisher Jeremy Tarcher.

About 25 American guests were mingling with seven Russians when I arrived. Of the seven, five were in publishing and two were directly in medical and psychiatric research. I managed to shake hands with six and eventually found myself listening in on a conversation between Prof. Aron Belkin, head of the department of psychoneuroendocrinology at the Moscow Institute of Psychiatry, and a Beverly Hills psychotherapist, a middle-aged woman dressed entirely in black leather. Belkin--blushing pink and (as it seemed to me) smiling bashfully--was discussing his specialty: the psychological and medical problems of Soviet citizens who have had sex-change operations. "I am first sexologist in Soviet Union," he said; he added that his work combines counseling and hormonal therapy. The lady in black complimented him in a husky voice. The United States, she said, was backward in the use of hormones: She had had to go to Switzerland for her own injections of sheep placenta.

Our conversation was interrupted by the start of the more formal part of the informal evening. Shari Lewis, Jeremy Tarcher's wife, introduced Dulce Murphy, wife of Esalen co-founder Michael Murphy, who said that the Esalen-Soviet program in Track II diplomacy sought to find non-controversial areas--like health and fitness--where a conversation could begin between nations that, otherwise, were enemies. She then introduced Vasily Slastenenko, who made no mention of Track II but did express the hope that the book exhibition would contribute to Soviet-American understanding. Sheri Lewis returned with her famous puppet, Lambchop, who cheered the Russians in Russian (squeaky Russian) before introducing the guest of honor, newly re-elected Mayor Tom Bradley. Mayor Bradley, at his most relaxed and affable, his huge hands clasped quietly before him, greeted the visitors warmly on behalf of us all. The reception was over.

A basket of friendship pins--the crossed flags of the Soviet Union and the United States--was set out on the Tarcher piano. I scooped up a few as I left, but was there anything here to pursue? I was skeptical. And yet, as these were unquestionably some of the world's most powerful publishers, I decided to give Esalen-style, Track II diplomacy a try. The next day, I phoned the Esalen press secretary and invited Vladimir P. Kartsev to visit me at The Times.

Kartsev is director of Mir, the main Soviet publisher of science and technology, most especially of scientific and technological translations. At the reception, we had spoken of translations and translators. He oversees scientific translations from Russian into 40 other languages and, as he added with a chuckle, "from one other language into Russian." There was nothing daring in his remarks, but--how can one say this?--he seemed more European than Russian in his reaction to Dulce and Shari and Lambchop and Tom. A small spark had been struck. I thought the invitation worth a try.

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