Reported Speech by Pavel Arseniev, Cicada Press, 2018
Reviewed by Paul Worley, Editor-at-Large
I tell my students that literature does things, but I prefer to do so in even less polished terms. From a more abstract perspective, I see current attacks on the humanities (especially literature) in the United States and elsewhere as being so vicious precisely because of the fact that literature does do things. It changes how we, as humans, relate to and understand others, as well as ourselves.
That said, there are moments when I profoundly doubt this. For example, I was recently discussing the fabricated crisis at the US-Mexico border and Trump’s wall with someone I had just met. During our discussion, this person informed me that Stephanie Elizondo Griest’s nonfiction All the Agents and Saints: Dispatches from the US Borderlands, a work that gives a nuanced, highly sensitive portrait of the US-Mexico border, actually serves to justify that border’s further militarization. It was like being told by someone with a very serious face that Shelley’s “Ozymandius” is a laudatory poem on the subject of indelible human achievement or that Swift’s A Modest Proposal provided a brilliant roadmap for the betterment of the Irish economy. And yet, even when my doubts about literature and its power dominate my thoughts, events like the murder of Iraqi novelist Alaa Mashzoub snap me back to reality. Literature matters, so much so that in other parts of the world literature can get you killed, even as I safely type this up in my home in the United States. Perhaps this will soon be the case here, too.
In this edition of weekly dispatches, we remember Argentine author Hebe Uhart, celebrate the continuation of Guatemala’s national book fair, and look to China for news of cultural exchange and literary prizes.
Sarah Moses, Editor-At-Large, reporting from Argentina:
Argentine author Hebe Uhart passed away on October 11 at the age of eighty-one. Uhart was the author of numerous collections of travel essays, stories, and novellas, and in recent years dedicated herself exclusively to the former, visiting towns in Argentina as well as countries in Latin America and further abroad to document what she saw. Her most recent work was a collection of non-fiction pieces about animals, which included her own sketches.
Uhart was born in the town of Moreno and moved to the capital to study philosophy at the University of Buenos Aires, where she later taught. For many years, she also led writing workshops out of her home. She was recognized as one of the greats among both readers and colleagues, and authors such as Mariana Enríquez and Inés Acevedo have written about her work. In 2017, she was awarded the prestigious Premio Iberoamericano de Narrativa Manuel Rojas.
This week, we dock first in Romania, where Editor-at-Large MARGENTO updates us on the political climate and how it’s influencing literary output. Then we sail southwest to Cuba, where we’ll hear from Blog Editor Madeline Jones about the foreign diplomats barred from an awards ceremony, as well as highlights from the International Book Fair in Havana. Finally, back across the Atlantic, M. René Bradshaw, Editor-at-Large for the UK, maps out the best literary events taking place in and around the capital throughout March and April.
MARGENTO, Editor-at-Large for Romania & Moldova, catches us up on the Romanian literary scene:
The recent wave of rallies that have swept Romania, where hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest the government’s decrees decriminalizing certain corruption-related offences, has sparked reactions both on social media and in literary and creative circles. The “light revolution” received huge global media coverage when tens of thousands of smartphones converged their glows outside the government building in Bucharest, sending a blinding anti-graft message while also forming the image of a huge national flag. The true hallmark of this revolution has been internationally perceived as the deployment of digital apps and catchy, pun-filled slogans in both English and Romanian, inundating social and mass media with what hip-hop star Călin “Rimaru” Ionescu has termed the new “OUGmented reality” (OUG being the Romanian acronym for a governmental decree). As #Rezist has gone viral across digital media channels, it is apt to share from our past archives a celebration by Asymptote contributor Ruxandra Cesereanu of what she sees as a revival of the anti-Soviet and anti-communist rezistance, a Romanian partisan movement that heroically lasted from the late 1940s through the mid-1960s.
In a similar vein, American poet and translator Tara Skurtu—currently in Romania on a Fulbright grant—has revisited the Romanian gulag in a poem inspired by the recent protests and published in the Huffington Post. A couple of days later, the same publication ran an interview on similar issues with Radu Vancu, also an Asymptote contributor. Still, one of the authorities on modern and post-communist history Mircea Stănescu, who has consistently and shrewdly chronicled and analyzed the protests, maintained a cautionary stance, pointing out the generation gap strongly manifest in the current movement and warning about deeper political and educational issues that might remain unaddressed and resurface later. Yet it seems that the ongoing rallies and sense of solidarity are a breath of fresh air that has already inspired a great deal of writers. Poet, novelist, and essayist Cosmin Perța has already announced a forthcoming #Rezist literary anthology.
It’s been a big week in literature around the world, with major awards, book fairs, and new publications vying for media attention in a particularly crowded news cycle. But the book world keeps turning even when it seems like everything else has come to a standstill. Blog Editor Madeline Jones reports from south of the border in Mexico, Editor-at Large MARGENTO gives us the update on Romania, and Contributor George Kirkum checks in from Ecuador.
Madeline Jones, Blog Editor, brings the literary update from Mexico:
Hundreds of Mexican artists have been mocking the President Elect of the United States, Donald Trump, by way of political cartoons. Now that he’s clinched the elections, the value of the peso has plummeted and Mexicans on both sides of the border are speaking out about their disapproval of Trump’s platform as well as their own fears for the future. Poet, novelist, and activist Javier Sicilia told El Universal, “This man unified fragments of fascism that were scattered throughout North America. And he’s creating proposals for destruction…it doesn’t matter if Trump wins, the theme is systemic.”* Well-known Mexican author and historian Enrique Krauze’s op-ed in The New York Times also captures the sentiments of many, in Hank Heifetz’s translation from the Spanish.
Eduardo Lizalde, who is recognized as one of the most important living poets in the Spanish-speaking world, was awarded the Premio Internacional Carlos Fuentes a la Creación Literaria en el Idioma Español this week. The judges said that his collection El tigre en la casa [The Tiger in the House] is “one of the most influential and poignant books in several generations.”*
2017 marks the 40th anniversary of the reopening of diplomatic relations between Mexico and Spain after the Franco regime ended. Last week, the organization la Cátedra México-España, which was founded with the purpose of studying and fomenting the historical, cultural, and linguistic links between the two nations, celebrated its tenth year. Attendants at the anniversary conference noted that the international relationship is still in its “honey moon” phase and the first ten years of the organization’s work have seen significant academic collaboration across the Atlantic.