On a memorable page, the British critic V.S. Pritchett grumbled about the American obsession for reading books about the United States in which facts were taken for a sort of intellectual fetish. This custom survives in our times. Pritchett was writing about Henry James and his book The American Scene (1905). James, as we know, was a traveler and a seeker; he expressed what he expressed from within himself, not necessarily from that reality he so often chastised in his labyrinthine books on the human conscience. So we should not be amazed that Pritchett should write: “Great artists are always far-seeing. They easily avoid the big stumbling blocks of fact. […] Henry James […] was himself the only information he required.”
The problem we see here is starkly simple: current critical practices have dragged us away from the pleasant, disinterested practice that should frame the reading of any book. For the critical establishment, it seems the writer is not enough. There is no ingenuous nostalgia in citing Henry James and harkening back to the act of reading a book with no help besides the desire to read it. Our critics, of course, are far from any “ingenuousness” of this nature, from the frivolity of one who reads just for pleasure. On the contrary, our criticism is characterized by skepticism, irony, and suspicion. Its high level of specialization defines it as an operation of intelligence, not necessarily as a form of sensitivity.
After decades of specialized criticism and sophisticated theoretical interpretations, the question is still valid: “Why is it worthwhile to read the Quixote, One Hundred Years of Solitude, or the poems of Gabriela Mistral?” Answering this question is a moral obligation to readers, and also to our students; hence its profound importance and gravity. How long can we keep mistrusting books before we end up in a dead-end alleyway, before we risk running out of the very oxygen we breathe?
In this dialectic, more of a problem in the university than anywhere else, we can recognize a general, systemic problem. For this very reason, Latin American Literature Today (LALT), within this context, offers an invitation to read without prejudice, without theoretical excess: an intimate, personal, solitary encounter between reader and literature. In this sense, reading is the meeting point at which literature emerges again into its full potential. Literature exists again only when we read. Arnold Weinstein of Brown University gives a definition of reading which is hard to dispute: “Reading constitutes an unparalleled access to the feelings, to discoveries, to the wisdom, to the flaws and mistakes, and above all, to the life of the past and other times, other people. It is impossible to underestimate the importance of that because in our own lives we only go around once, and we are locked in our own mindset and we are essentially condemned to see the world only via our equipment. Literature offers a kind of magic opportunity to have vicarious experiences to only to encounter but to feel something of the life of others.”
Reading, then, is a first encounter, alone, with the writer.
LALT No. 10 begins thusly, with the Mexican writer Juan Villoro, who during his recent visit to the University of Oklahoma reflected on the value of intimacy in the digital age. In this masterful text, presented at the fourteenth annual Tierra Tinta Conference in October of 2018, the Mexican author goes even further, rethinking the relationship between literature and journalism in the age of post-truth. In this sense, literature represents that great reserve of intimacy in an overexposed and excessive world that spills over without limits. These words resonate meaningfully with those of Professor Weinstein, which could also be expressed another way: we are social subjects, but, above all, we are subjects. This dossier is rounded out with other texts on Villoro: an interview on his book of literary essays, La utilidad del deseo [The utility of desire] (2017), and a keen text by Rodrigo Figueroa on Juan Villoro as a writer of the literary journalism known as crónica.
Intimacy, then, is a political form of defending ourselves from politics.
In our dossier on emerging literatures, LALT’s readers will find a dossier prepared by Scott Weintraub, a researcher at the University of New Hampshire, on the current state of digital literature in Latin America. Four essays treat this subject in a wide-ranging, detailed, and informative way, providing valuable information on a body of writers who work today in this form of literature, whose digital practices demonstrate a surprising closeness to the spirit of the historical avant-garde. Nevertheless, like any avant-garde movement, digital literature looks to the future, as Weintraub states in his introduction to this dossier: “In a larger sense, the (virtual) space that this dossier seeks to delimit for Latin American digital literature entails a speculation about the future of literature and about literature’s past –both in print literary texts and in the digital realm.” We must pay close attention to what’s going on online: in the near future, these avant-garde practices could well have important ontological consequences for literature as a whole.
Additionally, our collaborator and expert on indigenous literatures, Ana María Ferreira, returns with another interesting dossier on Wayuu writing, this time from the Venezuelan side of the border that runs through the Guajira. The graphic novel and Tlatelolco are also present in this issue, thanks to our tireless collaborator Lale Stefkova. It’s also important to highlight the presence of Jimmy Santiago Baca, a Chicano poet from the United States, who is represented in an interesting and intense conversation with Lucía Ortega. In the fiction section, we present short stories by María Fernanda Ampuero, Oswaldo Estrada, and Mayra Santos Febres, along with crónicas, poetry, and interviews, not to mention two exclusive previews: a selection of poems by Spanish poet Ángelo Néstore, translated by Lawrence Schimel, and another selection of poems by Uruguayan poet Marosa di Giorgio, translated by Jeannine Pitas.
We are thrilled to announce one more piece of news in this issue: our friend and collaborator Denise Kripper is now serving as the new Translation Editor of LALT. Denise earned her doctorate in literature and cultural studies at Georgetown University and currently works in the Department of Modern Languages of Lake Forest College. She has published in countless prestigious journals, and her career has provided wide-ranging experience in interpretation and audiovisual translation. Denise takes the place of our dear friend George Henson, with whom we will always remain in contact (George is well aware that it’s impossible to get rid of us). We welcome Denise to the LALT team!
And so, we close this issue with the happy arrival of Denise, and with translation, a craft that has a special place in Latin American Literature Today. We mean not only to publish in translation, but also to make this digital shop window into a home for translators, the house where translation resides. In this sense, LALT is a journal of Latin American literature as well as a journal of translation. This means that translation must be present along with reflections on translation, as in the important art of the translator’s note. It could not be more appropriate that we publish in this issue an essay by the Chilean translator, Braulio Fernández Biggs, on how Shakespeare is being translated into Spanish. This text tells us not only of the rigour of this task, but also of a foundational fact of this continent: the participation of Latin America in the Western world. Reading these words from the United States, it is impossible not to notice their political dimension.
Politics, then, is in the unsuspected, in the unexpected, in sharing a sensitivity that is sometimes denied us with kindly courtesy.
Translated by Arthur Dixon