The Periphery As the New Center
If the first two decades of the 21st century might be neatly summed up in any generalization, it might be that of the yet-to-be-settled upheaval of the old orders—political, social, economic. The Winter 2014 issue celebrates the transgression of the old order by those at the periphery. We see this with the sudden demands by countries of the so-called Third World to full participation in the world economic and social order amid the waning influence of American empire. We see it, too, where the rights of gay people are recognized with increasing regularity. In the literary milieu, we see it in the growing interest surrounding literature in translation. The former margins and the marginalized are everywhere at work forging a new center. Such a change in influence seemed unlikely only 15 years ago.
On the 20th anniversary of the Zapatista uprising in the Mexican state of Chiapas, we bring you an excerpt from Kevin Brown’s translation of Efraín Bartolomé’s Ocosingo War Diary: Voices from Chiapas. Bartolomé vividly recounts events that seized the world’s gaze when the Zapatista National Liberation Army descended from the hills of Chiapas and engaged in a bloody twelve-day standoff with the Mexican state. Brown’s translation deftly communicates the plain-spokenness of the townspeople amid the tumult and keenly accentuates each well-timed Bartolomé flourish that counterbalances the staid vocabulary of his subjects.
From the hills of Chiapas, we switch our gaze to the mountains of Rio de Janeiro, site of a different sort of rebellion. With her quirky syntax and metaphysical themes, Clarice Lispector refused to abide by the conventions of the Brazilian literature in the 1940s. Lispector broke free from the model of Brazilian fiction that had persisted since the 1920s, in which the dominant theme was discovery of an authentically Brazilian identity and culture, to emphasize characters full of introspection. In separate interviews, two of Lispector’s translators, Rachel Klein and Johnny Lorenz, explain the author’s mystique and recount their efforts to uncoil the idiosyncrasies characteristic of her work for English-language readers. Klein and Lorenz also assess the reckoning induced by Lispector’s Portuguese prose and her propensity for “constantly interrogating words, pressing them, stripping them down, exhausting them,” as Lorenz describes it.
If the work of Lispector and Bartolomé engage revolutions literary and literal, Nandini Bhattacharya’s short story “Nakul and the Goddess” details a breaking-out of a different sort. A middle-aged man looks back on his childhood journey from his village to the city. He realizes that while he may have changed the details of his life, he could not break free from his society’s fundamental strictures. Bhattacharya’s protagonist reminds us that change is moored in both hope in the future and the despair of our pasts. Though he tries to forget what he left behind, Nakul’s past comes back to him unwelcome. For the remade man, the periphery arrives at the center, he may try to forget it, but it makes its presence known.
With poetry from Queens to Lithuania, we bring you writers from communities on the edges of the metropolis–Queens in relation to Manhattan, Lithuania in relation to traditional European cultural powerhouses such as France and Germany. Such writing brings with it new vantage points. We feature the poetry of Emilija Daknevičiūtė, in both the original Lithuanian and her own translation into English. Another poetry contributor, Gary Glauber, looks at change from the perspective of those who resist it, warning that “past results are no guarantee for antiquated dreams.” Everywhere we find the inevitability of change and transformation at the hands of groups once ignored or thought incapable of effecting it. As the traditional centers of power clamor to protect their influence, we are likewise experiencing new challenges to modes of thinking about our society after the Great Recession. Recognizing at the same time that definitive change is hard-won, Meryl McQueens’s “Army of Snails” hails its inevitability, brought on by those who “are certain, though they are slow.”
This issue also marks the launch of our new website, with practical improvements like readability on mobile devices. This redesign acknowledges the Internet’s ability to incorporate the margins; to access the literature we feature from desktop computers to mobile devices is recognition that we also find our media of communication in constant flux. Over the upcoming months, we’ll be working to bring over our archives to the new site. We hope you’ll find the experience improved. We’d love to hear your thoughts on the new site at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy reading, and thanks for your continued support.
Eric M.B. Becker