This issue of The White Review – which marks the tenth anniversary of its foundation – takes up questions that have driven the magazine throughout its history: the relationship between literature and the visual arts, the possibilities of form, the question, as Lydia Davis puts it in an interview here, of ‘how one tells a story’. Several of the pieces that follow seek to subvert or expand received notions of narrative and history, asking how we interpret texts and images from the past, and what might be at stake in the stories, places and relationships we choose to remember and forget. In a detailed interview, the artist Toyin Ojih Odutola describes how she sets out ‘to question the stories we tell ourselves’ and explore ‘the messy human element of history’. Her work – shown on this issue’s cover, and in a series inside – creates a rich interplay between reality and imagined worlds, and dissects the way myths and dominant narratives are shaped by power.
In his essay on the photographic work of Rabih Mroué – in particular his images of gunmen in Syria, drawn from the cameraphones of protesters or civilians in their sightlines – Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa argues that seeing is a ‘necessarily social practice’. Discussing the responsibilities incumbent on the spectators of images of catastrophe, Wolukau-Wanambwa suggests that a close attention to the way images act, and a sensitivity to their possibilities and ambiguities, may ‘sunder the linear division of sequential time by making pasts happen again and again in new and evolving presents’. Taking up this proposal, Jessica Zhan Mei Yu’s essay ‘All the Stain is Tender’, which layers personal experience over a history of anti-Asian legislation in Australia, examines the corrosive effect of generational trauma, and the way languages and ‘official’ histories have long been co-opted as means of oppression. Through archival research into discrimination against immigrants and the buried history of the West Melbourne Swamp, Yu makes a case for ‘racial grief’ as a way to understand the insidious, unquantifiable way that ‘the past embeds itself in your body’, writing against the colonial narratives that have rendered both Indigenous and immigrant histories invisible.
The issue’s fiction features Preti Taneja’s ‘Hotel Stationary’, a capacious, closely patterned work of linguistic invention in which one woman’s nocturnal wanderings reveal the city as a site of memory and connection, a bewitching fable from avant-garde experimentalist Can Xue, where boundaries between sleep and wakefulness are blurred, and ‘Tuscan Leather’ by Laura Grace Ford, a portrait of care, vulnerability and hope set in an unmoored London of pirate radio stations, glowing pylons and hollowed-out pubs. Ford’s sensitivity to the effect of place on the imagination, Xue’s fantastic surrealism and Taneja’s challenge to formal conventions all find parallels in the work of Marie NDiaye, author of one of the most exciting and uncategorisable oeuvres in contemporary fiction, who discusses her life and career in a rare interview here. Sofia Samatar parses centuries of global writing about climate change, from Imru al’Qays via Mary Shelley to Ahmed Saadawi. Her history offers ways to ‘stand at ruins’, to look squarely at what might be more comfortable to ignore, and to find a shared language for planetary mourning. To stand at the ruins, Samatar writes, ‘is to succumb to memory. It is to be pierced, undone… The past cuts into the present.’
The White Review No. 30 is the present editor’s last at the helm: I’m delighted that Rosanna Mclaughlin, Izabella Scott and Skye Arundhati Thomas – writers, critics and longtime collaborators of the magazine, based respectively in Glasgow, London and Goa – will lead The White Review into its next chapter. Issue 31 will mark the first instalment in their tenure as editors, continuing and advancing the magazine’s commitment to finding and promoting the best new writing from around the world, into a thriving second decade.