The Seventeen Seconds of Odette
Hidden in Sight
Resentment as a Kind of Relief
Over the Kanawha
Culled from the Flock
The Beauty in Fracturing
In the past decade or so, much has been made of the claim that the American literary community is considerably more engaged with itself than it is with the rest of the world. This allegation is not new, but it is being taken more seriously now than it has at any other time in our history. Our attention, it is said, is almost exclusively directed toward our own culture, and this has been to the detriment of every literary community in the world, including our own. Those who believe in the truth of this claim will often point to the substantive difference between the number of American texts translated by foreign publishing industries and the number of foreign texts translated by the American publishing industry as proof of its truthfulness. They will further point to the exclusion of international authors from American literary and arts magazines as a sign that our literary community does not respect writers whom we cannot assert as our own. Both of these examples are important to mention, for they say something meaningful about the way in which we view other literary communities around the world, but it is this latter example that is of principal interest. And this is because the structure of a literary and arts magazine reflects the way in which we exist in the world.
Eight years ago, the then permanent secretary of the Nobel prize jury, Horace Engdahl, gave an interview to the Associated Press, wherein he denounced the American literary community for the issues mentioned above. He asserted that Americans do not translate enough, that we do not truly participate in the larger literary discussions happening beyond our borders. Unsurprisingly, many figures in the American literary community responded, the most notable of which came from The New Yorker's David Remnick. He replied by observing that neither Proust, nor Joyce, nor Nabokov won a Nobel prize, and he used this fact as proof of the asininity of Engdahl's statement. Remnick's response was important for two reasons: first, he is the editor in chief of the most recognized literary and arts magazine in this country, and second, it almost entirely missed the purpose of the initial statement. Engdahl's comments were not made for the purpose of dismissing the quality or the importance of American literature; it was instead an assertion that Americans are not doing enough to engage with other literary communities. This was a significant point for Engdahl to have made, because it evinced something very profound about the state of our world: we are no longer isolated from one another, not in any meaningful kind of way. And this fact could not be more important.
We are currently living in an era where we are able to engage with others and ourselves in a way that has been wholly impossible for the entirety of our collective experience. What this has shown us, perhaps for the first time, is that human beings are all in conversation with one another, regardless of whether we possess a common language. Every word, every action we perform influences the words and actions of our neighbors. There is no longer any distance between us.
As artists, we carry a heavy burden due to this, for our recognition of this phenomenon takes a slightly different hue. We understand that being human, being finite creatures who think and feel and love gives us an ability that we alone can realize: we are able to assay the totality of existence and uncover those truths that are hidden to us. But while our condition is what allows us to uncover these truths, it is this same condition that keeps us from unearthing all of them at once. For just as soon as we turn our focus to some aspect of this world, another part of it is lost to us. That this has been written before by the philosophers is proof of its veracity. But the conclusion that we must derive from this realization is one that makes us vulnerable and weak: our inability to assay truth in its totality means that we are reliant upon our fellow artists to elucidate that which we cannot see. We realize definitively for the first time that there is no final language. It does not matter who is making the attempt: we can never capture the entirety of our experience.
What we are left with, therefore, is the understanding that whatever truths we are able to uncover, whatever larger understanding of our condition we can come to, will emerge from the collective effort of artists. Every single one of us. This is why Engdahl's statement was important, and this is why we must give full consideration to those who are concerned about America's literary community and its connectedness with the rest of the world. Because we are all in conversation, and we must recognize this fact as a byproduct of our experience. And this is why, as mentioned above, the structure of a literary and arts magazine reflects the way in which we exist in the world. A single issue contains within it the collective perspective of a group of individuals; it reflects how these voices come together in one work to contribute to the conversation in a way that they could not on their own. This is a microcosm of our experience in the truest sense, for this is how we come to know anything at all.
The issue that you are about to read reflects this spirit as well as any one issue of a literary and arts magazine could. The artists whose work you are about to engage with are not Remnick's titans (though they one day hope to be), nor are they Engdahl's foreigners (though they acknowledge and appreciate the importance of other literary communities). They are instead a group of gifted artists and human beings who have done their best to impart their understanding of the world through their works so that they might contribute to the larger conversation. And we in turn have done our best to create an issue that embodies the spirit of that discussion: our intention was to create a work that will both stand on its own and treat every piece with the importance that it deserves. From the original homes of Regis Louis to Anika Maiberger's Paris, from Casey Burke's solitary writer to Anne Livingston's faith, the works in this magazine attempt to uncover the truth of the world in a way that is wholly unique, wholly pure. We were just lucky to be able to work with them along the way.
And so what we are left with is the knowledge that we do not have a final language, but the truth is that we do not need one. For it is through the attempt of uncovering that we are able to turn our focus on to the whole of existence, that we are able to converse in a manner that is truly important. So that one day, we might be able to give others hope. So that one day, we might be able to reach others in their deepest hours and make them feel whole again, even if just for a moment.
So that one day, we might all feel reconciled.
Editor in Chief