Friday, March 30, 2007

Why publish a journal of European writing in translation?

The comments below are from an editorial appearing in the upcoming issue of Absinthe:

I am frequently asked, with differing levels of sincere interest, why it is I have chosen to publish and edit a literary journal of European writing in translation. It is usually assumed that I must speak many languages (in a few European languages I have the vocabulary of a small child), or work as a translator (perhaps in the future, when my vocabulary moves into adolescence), or originate from a European country (yes, but many generations ago). I am often dissatisfied with my response.

The true and simple answer is that Absinthe originates from a quite selfish interest. Proust wrote that "every reader, as he reads, is actually the reader of himself. The writer's work is only a kind of optical instrument he provides the reader so he can discern what he might never have seen in himself without this book."

For me Dostoevsky’s novels are important “optical instruments.” When I first read Father Zossima’s claim that we are, each of us, responsible for everyone it was a clear rebuke to my Cain-like spirit that denies responsibility for anyone else. So I am grateful I can pick up a book by Dostoevsky, a novel written in Russian, and read it in my own language. I am grateful that a translator has made these words available to me, allowing this writer who lived in a place I've never been, who writes in a language I speak very little of, and who wrote a century before I was born, to entertain and challenge me. And to help me understand a little more about what it means to be human.

Reading Dostoevsky (and other great Russian writers) along with viewing films by Ingmar Bergman, Andrei Tarkovsky, and Krzysztof Kieslowski led me to seek out literature and films from other countries and languages and eventually led to the founding of Absinthe: New European Writing in 2002.

In the pages of Absinthe 7 we present writers from Sweden, France, Poland, Russia, Spain, Italy, and elsewhere. These poets, novelists, and short story writers—from Anna-Nina Kovelenko’s recollections of life in the Soviet Union, and Julia Oxtoa’s dark tale of a slaughterhouse, to the “Aerolites” of Carlos Edmund de Ory, and Claudio Magris’ comments about the art of translation--reveal something to us about this world and how we might go about living in it, if we have eyes to see (or read, in this case).

For me the opportunity to discern what I might never have seen in myself is one of the great pleasures of editing this journal. I hope it’s one you can share by reading its pages.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Some comments about our trip to AWP now that I've had a few weeks to recover. I attended several sessions related to translation, including one dedicated to the question of whether it's necessary to be a poet to be an effective translator of poetry (consensus: a good translator of poetry must have a "poetic sensibility." I'll leave that for others to debate.)

However, most of my time was spent at the Absinthe table meeting people and talking to subscribers, potential subscribers, editorial advisors, contributors, and potential contributors. This is always the best part of the conference for me--making friends and seeing old ones.

I'm already looking forward to the conference next year in NYC.