Centuries may as well have passed since the moment in 1973 when Roland Barthes reaffirmed that reading is based on pleasure. Now this claim seems unthinkable, almost improper; such a suggestion runs the risk of sounding antiquated. Even more so when literary texts—especially those written in Latin America—inundate us with their insistent representation of our tragic realities. There is no time for pleasure, for play, perhaps even for the happiness we get from reading a good book. Even the idea of a “good book” might sound scandalous. It is unsurprising, then, that today’s youth show little curiosity for literature and art in general. There is too much background noise, too many things to think about, and opinions get mixed up with ideas. What’s more, this all happens at light speed. “Festina lente,” advised Augustus two thousand years ago; a tip that sought to warn its listeners of the dangerous results of rash, hurried decisions. This advice, to “make haste slowly,” could also be a poetics, a way of reading. Literature has its own velocity, both internal and external, slow-paced and personal, but the fruit of its own time and its own reality all the same. Reading makes no sense if there is no pleasure in it. In leaving pleasure aside, we risk reading as a mere exercise of passing from one thing read to the next, placing the books we’ve read in a catalog of dead things, rather than living, meaningful works able to illuminate the human experience through the imagination and sensibility of those who write obstinately of their time, but also against their age.
So we come to this new issue of LALT with a writer who, in recent years, has claimed her own undeniable place among the most solid literary voices of Latin America: Colombia’s Pilar Quintana. Her presence in our digital pages is nothing new. In 2020, we shared an excerpt from her exceptional novel The Bitch (2017), translated by Lisa Dillman, and now we close out 2022 with a cover feature dedicated to her work. We owe this work to guest editors Ingrid Luna López and Óscar Daniel Campo, who put this project together from Colombia. Its two essays, one by Leonardo Gil Gómez and the other by Ruth N. Solarte-Hensgen, invite us to reflect critically on certain aspects of Pilar Quintana’s work. Ingrid and Óscar also spoke to the author for an interview titled “Animality and Writing: A Conversation with Pilar Quintana.” The feature closes with an excerpt from the English translation of The Bitch, by exceptional American translator Lisa Dillman.
This issue’s other dossier is dedicated to a writer who has already achieved canonical status in Spanish-language literature: Uruguayan novelist, poet, and translator Cristina Peri Rossi. In 2021, Peri Rossi won the Cervantes Prize, the most important literary distinction in the world of Hispano-American letters. In its verdict, the prize jury recognized in Peri Rossi “the trajectory of one of the great literary vocations of our time and the magnitude of a writer able to express her talent in a multitude of genres. The literature of Cristina Peri Rossi is a constant exercise of exploration and critique, never shying away from the value of the word as the expression of a commitment to key themes in the contemporary conversation, such as the woman’s condition and sexuality.” This dossier was organized by our associate editor, Arturo Gutiérrez Plaza, along with María José Bruña Bragado and Néstor Sanguinetti, two experts on Peri Rossi’s work who enthusiastically took part. It features writing by Rafael Courtoisie, Gerardo Cianco, Virginia Lucas, and Natasha Tanna, as well as brief but meaningful remarks on Peri Rossi’s work from Selva Almada, Martha Asunción Alonso, Jordi Doce, Ariana Harwicz, Esperanza López Parada, Lina Meruane, Mónica Ojeda, and Fernanda Trías. These peers are unanimous in their recognition of the work of a writer who truly earned her place in the canon of our literature.
A contribution to poetry in this issue—which is both a recovery and a surprise at once—comes from Mariano Vespa in his interview with Laura Rubio León y Federico Barea, who talk at length about two important movements of the Latin American neo-avant-garde. On her part, Laura Rubio León discusses the Colombian nadaístas from the perspective of her book Nadaísmo: una propuesta de vanguardia (2020); on his, Federico Barea analyzes the Argentine beats from the perspective of his book Argentina Beat 1963-1969 (2016). Mariano Vespa does excellent memory work, as always, reminding us that Latin American poets also work at the brink of experimentation and the abyss. Mariano writes: “The conversation that follows connects both their energies, which transcend the aforementioned publications, communities stimulated in associations, and new meanings.” We couldn’t agree more.
As always, this new issue of LALT also has much more to offer: previews, fiction, poetry, more interviews, a new Indigenous Literature feature, etc. This issue is no exception. Our readers will find translation previews from Sarah Booker, Katherine M. Hedeen, Olivia Lott, Helena Dunsmoor, and Ramón J. Stern. Indigenous prose returns, this time through with Mapuche voices through Mariela Fuentealba Millaguir and Daniela Catrileo. Indigenous literature from Brazil is back too, through writer Julie Dorrico.
The diversity of voices, genres, and cultures that come forth in this issue blows me away, as does the fact that it is dedicated to two women whose work shines through for its exceptional literary quality. We invite our readers to approach this issue without forgetting that suggestion, as classical as it is contemporary: “Festina lente.” There is also pleasure in reading. I insist: we refuse to allow the authors we publish in LALT to fade into a simple catalog of literary works published in a literary journal. What we seek is just the contrary: for each issue of LALT to present these works as part of a living, breathing, present-day literature through which Latin America comes into conversation with the world and for the world.
Translated by Arthur Malcolm Dixon