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.
Translations from the German of two poems by Friedrich Rückert (1788-1866). Both poems look back to the Persian poet Khwāja Shams-ud-Dīn Muḥammad Ḥāfeẓ-e Shīrāzī (1315-1390), commonly known as Hafiz. The first poem, 'Home', uses Hafiz's 'Takhallus' towards the end, but is an original poem by Rückert; the second, 'Bliss', is a translation of Rückert's translation from the Persian.
The following article considers how historical metanarratives are critiqued in The Silent Minaret (2005), a novel by South African author Ishtiyaq Shukri. With reference to Judith Butler’s (2009) notion of the frame and Kerwin Lee Klein’s (1995) understanding of historical metanarratives, this paper examines how Shukri’s protagonist, Issa Shamsuddin, a South African PhD student who vanishes inexplicably from London, attempts to uncover and expose the residual influence that historical forms of unaccountable state power have over contemporary manifestations of political authority. Moreover, this article argues that Issa – through both his interactions with other characters and the work done in his PhD thesis – draws out the inevitable connections that seemingly disparate cultures, religions and nations share. In doing so, he encourages the reader to recognise the ‘trans-cultural’ dimensions of human experience in order to challenge absolutist framings of recorded history.
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.
An Artist of the Floating World (1986) looks back to Ishiguro’s first novel, A Pale View of Hills (1982) and anticipates his third, The Remains of the Day (1989) seeing that the painter Ono worries about a possible interference in his daughter marriage negotiations as a consequence of his support to the nationalist government, which compels him to undertake a self-evaluation of his career. By focusing on the Americanization of the Japanese culture and the generational gap created during the postwar period in Japan, the present article discusses universal conflicts that emerge from verticalized familial and social relationships through the lens of Ono who is having trouble to deal with his sense of guilt and internal conflict regarding his active participation as a nationalist propagandist artist of the empire during the war. His reminiscing reveals mechanisms of self-deception and repression to bury intolerable and unwelcome memories insofar as they are discussed against the backdrop of a unique fluid historical moment of intense upheaval and cultural change in Japan.
Indra Sinha’s 2007 novel Animal’s People, a fictionalized account of the legacy of the Bhopal industrial disaster, centers on a young man who has been physically altered by a large-scale chemical spill that killed thousands and left countless more ill or disfigured. Left with a bent spine that necessitates walking on all fours, he is constantly teased by other children in his youth and dubbed with the epithet “Animal.” Rather than separate himself from this derogatory name, he embraces it and all that being an “Animal” entails, all but shunning his humanity and forming a strong, often vulgar personality in the process. In many ways, the character of Animal presents a case of what critic Monique Allewaert terms parahumanity. Parahumans exist on a horizontal plane alongside humans and animals, thereby subverting enlightenment organizational thinking that places a definite border between the two. The category of parahuman also stands in contrast to the posthuman as it reinforces one’s humanity while also refusing to rely on binary thinking. Animal represents this category as he consistently declares his inhumanity while maintaining traits that firmly cement his conditioned human nature, including his quest for sex, love, and occasional misogynistic attitudes. While critics have interrogated the posthuman nature of the character and Sinha’s text, they often rely on a hard definition of posthumanity that reflects prior definitions of humanity and neglects the subtlety inherent in such a complex narrative and its equally complex narrator. By situating Animal and the novel he inhabits within a more nuanced parahuman context it is possible to challenge the concepts of humanity and posthumanity while simultaneously deepening Allewaert’s concept of parahumanity.
As a study of Kamila Shamsie’s Salt and Saffron (2000), this article will explain that this novel revisits the South Asian history while deconstructing the periodisation of the South Asian historiography and its narration in terms of the stories of kings, rulers and ruling dynasties. This narration of the South Asian history highlights the position of those who were ruled but their stories were either lost or were silenced by the dominant political and social narrative. This analysis of Salt and Saffron explains that the nationalist discourse is a gendered phenomenon where women are confined within the boundaries of a private space of home, away from the public sphere of modernity and progress. Therefore, Shamsie uses the transnational feminist perspective in her novel, to critique the oppressive forms of nationalism while narrating the women experiences. The first part of this article will explain that how nation should be reanalysed as an open and enunciative space against different forms of nation-centred narratives including the British imperial and the anti-colonial Pre-Partition nationalist narratives which reinforced themselves by their hegemony over ‘Other’. It will explain how Homi Bhabha points out the fixities in the discourse of nationalism and suggests the narration of more open and inclusive form of nation and nationalism. As Kamila Shamsie identifies the unequal gender positions within the patriarchally controlled home/family and nation, she reconstructs the family/nation as a space of reunion and reconciliation where gender roles are redefined and the family/nation is reimagined as a space of refuge and reconciliation. In doing so, she is revisiting the South Asian history and reconstructing a new Pakistani-transnational feminist identity that is removed from the fixities of patriarchally controlled Pre-colonial, colonial, and Pre-Partition nationalist narratives of identity.
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.