Welcome to the May 2018 issue of Transnational Literature. Once again, bringing this issue together has been a wonderful process of discovering links and resonances among the disparate contributions of widely-scattered writers and scholars – I counted 22 countries among the current residences of our contributors, on every continent except Antarctica.
A predominant theme in this issue is translation, both literal – between languages – and the translation the self undergoes when borders are crossed. The Zambian-born, UK-based poet Kayo Chingonyi writes in his interview in this issue, ‘Thinking about the margins is to think about subjectivity, the very specific things which cannot be generalised.’ Those specific things are the stuff of literature, and the best literary scholarship is undertaken with that in mind.
We are very fortunate to be able to include a beautifully curated special feature titled ‘Voices from the Margins’. The editors, Lioba Schreyer, of Ruhr-University Bochum, and Lena Mattheis from the University of Duisburg-Essen, have drawn together articles, interviews and poetry on themes of indigeneity, climate change, orality and, above all, marginality.
Among the articles in this special feature is Lotta Schneidemesser’s discussion of the challenges facing a German translator of Samoan poetry written in English. Translation also emerges as a key element in much of the poetry section, edited magnificently as always by Alison Flett. Alison brings us two special features: eminent Australian poet Lisa Gorton is featured in this issue, with her translations from the French poet Rimbaud; and the guest curator is French avant-garde poet Marie de Quatrebarbes, who has selected some contemporary French poetry given both in the original French and in translation. Among the riches of the general poetry section this month, we have two poems by Peter Bakowski, written in English and translated into German and French respectively, with a note on the translation process.
And of course there is as usual a small section, edited by Reza Haque, devoted to translation, with an English rendering of two of Friedrick Rückert’s German ghazals looking back to the fourteenth-century Persian poet Hafiz. As with all the other translations in this issue, the original text is included along with the translation, and as one of these poems is an English translation of a German translation from Persian, the poem is given in all three languages.
The importance of historical awareness – of acknowledging and understanding the past – is a recurrent preoccupation among the peer-reviewed articles in this issue. Apart from Rohini Shukla’s fascinating examination of the devotional songs of the pastoral region of Maharashtra, the articles mostly deal with canonical works or modern classics of post-colonial fiction in English, and identity, trauma, marginality and embodiment are among the themes explored.
The five short stories in this issue, expertly edited by Ruth Starke, are set in India, Japan, Kuwait and the US, ranging from the whimsical charm of Meredith Stephens’ ‘Cherry Blossom Cycling’ to Leyla Savsar’s deeply moving ‘Almost Home’, a chronicle of a family’s struggle with grief and search for a place to call home.
Twenty-two book reviews, half of which deal with fiction, poetry and other creative writing, and half with works of history, theory and criticism, round out this rich and varied issue of Transnational Literature.
With the May issue of Transnational Literature my time as general editor of the journal ends. I have been in this honorary position since 2008, when I took on the editorship of a journal then known as Quodlibet. It has been an exciting time – building up the journal, expanding its team of editors and extending its reach to encompass writers, scholars and readers from all over the world. It has been a great privilege working with such a dedicated group of editors and with over 600 authors, and I would like to thank all my editorial colleagues, past and present, for their contributions to the journal’s success, as well as the members of the Advisory and Editorial Boards for their invaluable support over the ten years of TNL’s history. It is time for me to step aside to pursue other consuming interests, but I will continue to take an active interest in the wellbeing of the journal. We hope to announce plans for the future over the coming weeks.
Almost Home embodies the outsider’s search for belonging amidst the foreign and the familiar. Written from several vantage points of a narrator who seeks to find a sense of calm in the wake of turbulence and a center from the margins at best, Almost Home paints a bittersweet portrait of grief and loss, of comings and goings, of a shared nostalgia that propels us backwards and forwards, around and back home again. Just almost.
Bahiṇāī Caudharī (1880-1951) was an ardent devotee of Viṭṭhal, the god worshipped by Vārkarīs. Her son Sopāndev was puzzled when he learnt that she repudiated village kīrtans, performances primarily in praise of Viṭṭhal, at the age of sixty. When he asked her for an explanation she said, “No, no, I don’t want to attend kīrtans anymore. They keep saying the same things! Tukā mhaṇe, Nāmā mhaṇe. Has god given them nothing of their own to say?” There is a sense of frustration in Bahiṇāī’s response. Despite the larger tradition of literary stalwarts like Tukārām and Nāmdev in the Vārkarī fold, kīrtankārs of her time seem uninspired, having had nothing of their own to say.
This essay explores how Bahiṇāī reinvented bhakti outside the prevailing framework of kīrtan, through a genre now eponymously remembered as Bahiṇāīcī gāṇī (songs) or Bahiṇāīcā ovyā. In the first section, I elaborate on the centrality of repetition in performing bhakti. In the sections that follow, I argue that a critique of both kīrtan and writing as modes of devotional expression is implicit in Bahiṇāī’s oeuvre. Firstly, writing is considered incompatible with the mobile life circumstances of pastoral Maharashtra, and secondly, ovī is preferred to kīrtan for it enables encountering Viṭṭhal through coevally performing and labouring bodies. This critique thus foregrounds different models of embodiment as conditions of devotional expression. Authorship in ovī performance is predicated on what I term the generative model of embodiment. To Bahiṇāī’s credit, this model relates authorship to the bhakta’s body differently from how kīrtan and writing do.
The ubiquitous use of digital technologies has influenced contemporary African literature, especially with regards to the younger generation of urban poets. Events are posted on the Internet, and many authors use the communication tools offered by social media to create literary networks (e.g. Facebook). Contemporary Spoken Word performances can be seen as artistic practices that merge old media such as live performances or printed texts with new media such as video recordings or social media tools. By focussing on two poems by Harare-based poet Synik my paper describes how Zimbabwean poets of the Born-free generation use digital technology to re-imagine the revolutionary impact of Zimbabwe's artistic tradition of dissident criticism. Furthermore, it aims at analysing how video technology and social media enable artists to re-create the immediacy of live performances within the virtual sphere. My paper also reflects on the meaning of the venue as a space of performance: The monthly event House of Hunger Poetry Slam, for example, took place at the Book-Café, Harare, which until its forced closure in 2015 has been a long-established venue for a multitude of cultural activities. Insofar, space can be seen as the site of performance as well as the space inhabited by a certain community. As mediatized interaction between artists may also be realised in the virtual space, which is both local and global, space gets de-localised and enables artists to create an (imagined) co-presence in time and space
As a cyclist from South Australia, known as the driest state in the driest continent, I had never entertained the notion of cycling in the rain. In Japan, where rain was abundant, I followed the dangerous practice of sheltering myself with an umbrella when cycling in the rain, until the day I was stopped by a young policeman on his motorbike.
This paper will introduce the young Samoan poet Courtney Sina Meredith and her debut poetry collection Brown Girls in Bright Red Lipstick which casts a new light on women with a Pacific or Samoan background and gives the reader a direct, and blunt, yet also a poetic insight into urban life in contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand. Coming from the poetry slam scene and having grown up in Auckland (a city with 2 million inhabitants and a large Pacific Island community), Meredith’s poetry creates an interplay of philosophical, poetic observations and depictions of modern society, and urban life and questions the role of women in today’s society.
As a translator, I am particularly interested in the challenges that arise when translating not just from one language to another (in this case from English, interwoven with Samoan words and concepts, to German), but especially from one culture to another culture. According to Umberto Eco, “translation is always a shift, not between two languages but between two cultures…. A translator must take into account rules that are not strictly linguistic but, broadly speaking, cultural.” Therefore, this paper will also address the importance of the translator when it comes to enabling readers in various parts of the world access to literature from a culture that is not their own. This paper aims to give an insight into contemporary Samoan poetry by introducing one of New Zealand’s aspiring young poets and to discuss the questions and difficulties that arise when translating her poetry into German.