In August 1915, The Egoist – an avant-garde magazine which claimed to ‘recognise no taboos’ and had serialised A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses while James Joyce’s work was banned – announced that it was launching a Poets’ Translation Series. With translations from Greek, French, Italian, Russian, Spanish and Hebrew, it aimed to capture the history of European literature in a unified collection, and thus to keep a spirit of internationalism alive at a time of crisis. In 1941, as the continent was divided in another war, the Hogarth Press published a journal titled Daylight, a collaboration of English and Czech writers printed to ‘reaffirm a belief that the culture of Europe is fundamentally one’ and to establish an artistic alliance that would prove ‘more valuable and more lasting than any political accommodation of the moment’. Over the period during and between the two world wars, little magazines – among them Horizon, New Writing, Left Review, Criterion and Adam International Review – looked to counter the tide of nationalism in Europe by forming new and unexpected alliances within their pages, by juxtaposing the work of British writers with their counterparts from other cultures, and by foregrounding translation as an act of solidarity. As we planned this issue of The White Review, knowing it would be published in the month that the UK is scheduled, at time of writing, to leave the European Union, we looked, in some small way, to their example, seeking to put together an issue concerned with language, understanding, and dialogue across borders – not only trans-European, but internationally.
This issue’s roundtable takes as it subject translation. Our participants – Khairani Barokka, Rahul Bery, Kate Briggs and Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen – discuss ‘fluency as power’, language extinction and oral cultures, and making mistakes. A theme returned to throughout the discussion is translation’s nature as essentially relational and collaborative: a practice, as Briggs puts it, that ‘is attached to something else, and arrives pointing to something other than itself’. As if to show the theory in action, Adam Thirlwell’s essay/journal offers an account of his process of translating a poem by his friend Alejandro Zambra, and is replete with distractions, memories and incidental observations as he ponders word-choice and subtext. Presented in conjunction with Zambra’s poem, this collaboration is a moving meditation on the infinite misunderstandings that characterise human relationships.
‘Letter-writing,’ says Mary Ruefle, ‘is my favourite genre, next to haiku’; we present here the record of the poet’s year-long correspondence with our online editor Cecilia Tricker, which ranges over writing rituals, childhood and invisibility, and contains some of the wisest life-advice we’ve recently encountered. We’re also delighted to present an interview with German novelist Jenny Erpenbeck, an unsettling story by the Man Booker International shortlisted Argentine writer Ariana Harwicz, and debut fiction by Zakia Uddin, a deadpan exploration of love and manipulation at a provincial dance school. They are joined by an extract from a new novel by Egyptian writer Nael Eltoukhy, elegantly translated from the Arabic by Robin Moger. Set around the time of the 2011 revolution, the book traces its protagonist’s disintegration into madness and murder against the backdrop of political upheaval. Elsewhere, Rebecca Tamás’s luminous, spell-infused essay ‘The Songs of Hecate’ is both a manifesto for her own poetics and an interrogation of ‘what it might be possible to make language do, what might be made possible through language’. Our cover is designed by the artist Anthea Hamilton, who is interviewed in this issue. Hamilton’s work encapsulates a concern that seems to bind these pieces together: her playful, political, bold work explores, as Emily LaBarge writes, ‘utopias and collectivity… attempts at finding a “shared language”, or an alternative mode of existing within the world.’