“Petrushka”

March 29, 2018 in Uncategorized by aogunmok

translated, from the Spanish, by Ayden LeRoux

Like an therld sailor, he scans the horizon with his binoculars. He doesn’t look at the blue horizon line though; his eyes follow the serpentine sketch of the road that crosses through the hills that lay in front of his house. The red Volkswagen weaves by.

Although his binoculars are the strongest from the market, he cannot discern who drives the car. He only sees the car, but that doesn’t matter. He knows that in seconds he won’t be able to see the car anymore; it will disappear from his field of vision until another day, or perhaps forever. Two more curves and the tunnel will have swallowed the car. One more curve before the succession of tunnels that cross the hills of the coast, a curve that meant a saved life, carved out by men who were “lucky” to be spared by war, but then forced to dig the tunnels nearly with their nails. That tunnel had nothing special to differentiate it from the rest of the 20 tunnels that he knew so well. Each minute, each second, a car crossed the road and disappeared below the earth. The strange thing would be not seeing a car on that road that was so well travelled. But the expectation was there, waiting for the red Volkswagen to slowly come closer, until being devoured by the tunnel.

This morning the red Volkswagen arrives fifteen minutes late, but travelling at the same speed as always. If all went the same, it would slow down a little bit before entering the tunnel and then disappear. It seemed strange that the Volkswagen didn’t accelerate even though it was fifteen minutes late. If the car didn’t try to hurry, without a doubt it would arrive late to wherever it wanted to go.

From the first moment that the binoculars focused on the vehicle, it was clear that the car was driven by a woman, or he desired it to be that way. Frankly, it was a pleasant surprise that the Volkswagen came back a second day, and even more delightful that it came back on the third day…at first he examined every last detail of the car, trying to convince himself that it really was the same one. Once he became convinced, that car became his motive to set the alarm clock at the same time each night before going to sleep, like he had a destination to return to each morning, like that red Volkswagen.

It was all ritual. He got up an hour before, showered, shaved and got dressed as if he had a date with someone he wanted to impress. After breakfast, when he had drained the last of the coffee from his cup, he noted the excitement of the moment, the uncertainty it gave his life. He unsheathed the binoculars. Slowly and carefully he cleaned the lenses, hung them around his neck and went out onto the terrace. He sat in one of the wicker chairs with his elbows on the table and focused on the road. And so he waited.

Some days when the red Volkswagen appeared, the morning sun motivated him to get out of bed as it blinded him, hitting the windshield. The car swallowed the road until it arrived at the tunnel and when it disappeared beneath the hillside Spanish Firs, he was left with only the day and its slow hours.

He walked on the beach to the town. He walked slowly because he knew even if he hurried to the newsstand it would be too early for it to be open. Two kilometers going there slowly, two others returning much more quickly. If he spent too much time away from the house he would have an anxiety attack. Four kilometers alone, in silence.

He turns the key in the lock of the door twice and returns to his home, he pauses a few seconds in front of the calendar that hangs in one of the corners of the entrance. On the calendar, a man speaks with another in a small café. The other man quietly lights a pipe, on the table lays a crystal glass on a little plate and a book without a title. It’s the 20s. The images of period cars are painted across a revolving door, bearing witness to a time that is no more, a reminder of the car he sees each morning. At the bottom of the calendar beneath the photo, it reads “November 1992”.

He will leaf through the newspaper, review the names in the obituaries and at mid-morning, when sounds of the screams of children who play at the beach and the music of cars that stop at the plaza swell up with the sea to his balcony, then he will close the window and he will wish with all of his strength for the end of the day and this damn month. On top of the television, a calendar much smaller than the one in the entrance of his house indicated with red letters that the other lied, that its time had already passed and should be thrown out. “August, 2003”.

He will look for another box and entertain the hours that remain until evening by reviewing papers, scavenging in that past including the “November” of the old calendar. He will do anything to stay awake. Before, he was spying on the people at the beach with his binoculars, observing their gestures, their behaviors, inventing their lives, imagining that maybe one day he too would have a day like them and someone would observe him from a hidden corner and fabricate his life. They might even look at him with envy, with desire. But now he couldn’t even think of another use for the binoculars that was not in the morning finding his red Volkswagen winding rapidly to the tunnel.

At 11 PM on the dot he went to bed and before shutting off the light, he set up the alarm to go off at 7:05. Another day had passed, now he was left only with falling asleep and waiting for morning.

The pale face of a middle-aged woman came close to his face. She had long black hair that fell on her shoulders. Her eyes were slanted and she had a great smile. She held his cheeks with both hands and lowered her face until her lips could kiss him. He pressed his lips to keep the warm sweet flavor of her mouth. When his head reacts and lucidity returns to him, he becomes conscious that this was impossible because he is alone and it is night and that he was sleeping. Even before he presses the light switch, he senses someone else has gotten up, the mattress rising as it becomes freed from the weight of another. A thousandth, a second until he turns on the light and confirms that everything has been a happy dream—though his lips still seem to have the essence of a distinct flavor, different from all other flavors.

The needles of the watch mark 8:05. A few rays of light are cast through the slats of the shutters. In a jump he rises to the balcony and on his way knocks aside the aspidistra with the magazine rack and the stool he usually uses as a footrest. Without changing speed or direction, he extends his left arm and, from the kitchen counter, pulls the leather strap of the binoculars. He feels pain in his legs with each stride, but he knows that it is impossible to stop to look at the damage he caused—in the room and in his own body. As he opens the glass doors of the balcony, the fresh breeze of the morning hits his chest forcefully and he realizes that he is not dressed. It is too early and the contrast between the heat of the bed and the cold of the outdoors is very strong. Today there is no ritual, there is no dust cloth to clean the lenses. He jams the binoculars to his face and, hardly having focused the binoculars, crazily scans the road. His heart beats strongly against his chest, a lump in his throat chokes him and the cold and the damp of the sea scrapes his bones. But there it is, worth the trouble, able to arrive on time to see how the hill engulfs the back of his red Volkswagen.

Today the world is in reverse. This morning he doesn’t feel like making French Toast or pancakes. He doesn’t feel like getting dressed in his usual fashion to impress the driver if he has already gone out to the balcony half-naked. Now he only was left with going in to town and picking up the paper. He picked the aspidistra up from the floor and caressed the leaves carefully removing the soil that had fallen on them. He asked himself if it was possible that the plant would even live. Later he drank his coffee quickly, dressed himself in a careless manner and began the walk to the town.

He walks near the shore. He walks erect and it seems the sea itself doesn’t want to get his white shoes wet. It would seem that the waves were dodging his feet and not the other way around. He looks at the stones on the shore and from time to time he stops to pick one up. One thought occupies his mind today: almost not arriving on time to see the red Volkswagen.

On his way home he removes his jacket—the sun is already high and it is getting hotter. Each day there are more people in the town. It is afternoon and he has the feeling that he will not hurry on the two kilometers on his way back again. At the altitude of the path and with the morning the motorcycles passing noisily and families are settling their lives in a patch of sand for the day, it all would have provoked an attack of anxiety in him.  But in that moment, his head was occupied with coming up with a way to not stay sleeping at 7:05 in the morning.

The old calendar is the first to receive him as always when he enters the house. And he, already from the elevator, anticipates the image of the drawing. One time, upon putting the key in the lock, he had the sensation that when he opened the door there would only be a hole where the calendar had been before. At times it was such a real feeling, so strong, that it frightened him and he entered the hall almost without lifting his gaze from the ground because he was scared that it would have actually happened.

He prepares his strategy for the night. He heats a large cup of coffee and browses the bookshelves looking for something to read.  He has everything very calculated. He will listen to the radio until two when one of the night programs that interests him finishes. Meanwhile, so that sleep doesn’t win him over, he will organize the three remaining boxes. He doesn’t know why he never finishes looking through them. After he will start the book of his choosing, he will drink more coffee and wait for the light of day to prepare a succulent breakfast and be ready for the arrival of his car. Red was always his favorite color. That will be, starting today, his new routine, his new schedule. After, when the car has gone, he will lie down and sleep while the people bear the heat of August in the dirty waters. He rubs his hands, smiles and sits in front of his desk, willing to fulfill his new schedule.

“Petrushka”! He knew that “Petrushka” was the piece playing on the radio. The sound had occupied the space in his house so many times that he stopped hating Stravinski. He wanted to think that the piece was not playing as a coincidence, that somewhere they were specially dedicating it to him. He turned up the volume on the radio and closed his eyes and the friendly face that had snatched sleep from him the night before returned to mind.

There was no reading that night, there was no more radio, nor was there more coffee. He didn’t need anything to keep himself awake. After ten years he finally got through the last three boxes that were left and when he finished with the last, the day was already dawning. He had complied with the schedule.

While he showered he felt a strange restlessness, a pressure in his chest, an inner nervousness and worry that could be ascribed to the coffee at breakfast or maybe to the fact that he hadn’t slept all night…he was prepared. In front of the mirror he said to himself, “Sharp as a button” and he didn’t like his deep voice, mature, echoing in that room.

In the room, a disaster of empty boxes scattered between the furniture received him at exactly the right time. He was well dressed, had eaten breakfast and even put on cologne. He stood still in the middle of the room, ready to take his binoculars and go out into the cold morning, he threw a last look at the boxes devoid of ten years of doubts, of silence and fear, and he realized the origin of his strange restlessness. All the boxes were already empty.

Above the last roof, in the last line of white houses, farther than the neon signs of the gas station, behind the last curve and just before the tunnel, at 8:05 AM on the dot, the flashing yellow light of ambulances entered the lenses of the binoculars.

Ayden LeRoux

Ayden LeRoux is an artist, critic, educator, and the author of Isolation & Amazement (Samsara Press, 2012) and Odyssey Works (Princeton Architectural Press, 2016). LeRoux’ photography, performance, video, and installations have been presented in solo exhibitions at IDIO Gallery, Flux Factory, and the Institute for American Art (IFAA), as well as in group shows at chashama and the International Photography Festival, among others. She is a contributor to Glasstireand her work has been published by or is forthcoming from Electric Literature, Cosmonauts Avenue, Public Books, edibleManhattan, and Works & Conversationsamong othersShe is an MFA candidate in Cross-Genre Writing at UCSD.

“A Study of Self-Mutilation”

March 1, 2018 in Uncategorized by aogunmok

Note By Translators

 

The incumbent under secretary of education, Dr Choi Yuk-lin, is a figure of controversy in Hong Kong’s political scene. A pro-Beijing figure in the pan-democrat field of education, her nomination for office at the education bureau was regarded as either contempt towards the will of teachers (not an unfounded suspicion for her unsuccessful candidacy at the LegCo functional constituency election for education) or that she carries with her an ulterior agenda, possibly National Education due to her own political leanings. Her eldest son committed suicide recently and the tragedy drew polarised and varied responses from the Internet, social media, and amongst politically-active university students, epitomised by a slogan stapled on a public display board congratulating her loss at a local university. A good portion of fury directed against Dr Choi seems to be founded in frustration against former office holders of the Education holders, including the former Secretary for Education Eddie Ng Hak-kim and Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun. The media and government officials have generally condemned the Schadenfreude aimed at Dr Choi in the past week.

 

A Study of Self-Mutilation

 

Some people deny the inevitable nihilism that stems from such disillusionment; they insist on being back at the negotiating table and maintaining dialogue with the “Central Government”. These are usually men of age who have lost their sensitivity in life. That is their blessing. The searing reality of the scorched earth under our feet can be too much to bear for some. Those who are too young are spirited and their senses sharp as a blade; they are acutely aware of the situation, unable to lull themselves into self-deception. When one cannot fool oneself, then it all boils down to that critical moment when we ask ourself “to be or not to be”, whether to continue our hollow existence or put it to a sharp halt?

 

Choi Yuk-lin has lost her son. As the elite jump to castigating students for rubbing salt in her wound by congratulating her loss, two more suicides have taken place. One of the victims is twenty four, the other sixteen. Both of them jumped off a building.

 

Since 2015, there has been more than 70 cases of student suicides. Every case has been equally tragic. And yet, the elite have never taken the issue to heart. The deceased are criticized for their fragility, their lack of endurance and their “lack of life-planning”. When the elite make such remarks, the Righteous and the Morally Upright Gentlemen of our society never stand out to comment on their cold-bloodedness; no denouncement at press conferences, nor evisceration in the newspaper.

 

It has been asked: Why do Hong Kong’s youth keep killing themselves? This is a great question indeed![1] Upon finding an explanation, you will see Hong Kong’s “Zeitgeist”. If you want to understand the circumstances Hong Kong’s youth or the majority of Hongkongers are facing, you should go and watch the animated movie Sausage Party.

 

Although the movie is filled with profane jokes, it meditates upon an austere subject — how man faces fear when the mythical powers of legends and paradigms have been extinguished. The main characters of Sausage Party consist of a band of food products, such as hot dog buns, sausages, tacos, chewing gum and so on. They are all waiting at the supermarket to be purchased by their human patrons. These food products believe that they will enter a better world after they have been purchased. Although they do not know what the afterworld is like, nor have food products come back to report on what happened to them, they believe that the future would be bright, and that it holds nothing worrisome in store.

 

Later, a bottle of mustard found out about the “truth.” Human beings would slice them apart, cook them, and digest them in their stomachs. They would be brutally tortured by human beings in the kitchen. And thus the religion of the food products shattered, with them descending into a flight of panic. But of course, the protagonist was a strong-spirited food product. He gathered himself and led his fellow food products in search of the supermarket’s exit, uniting them in a fight against the ruthless humans.

 

This story is postmodern and chthonic — for the food products, human beings are supernatural gods. The food products realize only too late that these gods may not be benevolent — gods too, may be brutal; the humans of the contemporary world too abruptly realize that the laws made by God no longer exist; that everything is but a kangaroo court. The abrupt implosion of their strongly held beliefs can be too much for the average person to bear.

 

When the food products were told the truth, some were in denial, planning to return to the shelves to be purchased, while others went crazy and mutilated themselves.

 

What young Hongkongers are facing is a battlefield that weaves together the degenerate economy, rapid circulation of information created by the expanding internet and psyches that mature too early. Young Hongkongers will have to face fierce competition from all over the world, and the adults tell them that, should they be able to endure all of this, good will come to them – and perhaps – meaning may even be found in this pursuit.

 

But young Hongkongers do not have to mature into adulthood to understand that this isn’t true. Through various channels, they become aware that the successful endurance of all this merely leads into another hell, perhaps another hell of a deeper layer. When they become entrapped in the fierce struggles created by the educational system, only to realize that what is waiting for them are student debts repayment, routine working hours from nine to five — all of which fails to garner them even a pinpoint of space on which to carve out their livelihoods, that they have no control over their own destiny — then they realise the futility and hollowness of their suffering and endurance today.

 

Like followers of Jesus who endured the jaws of lions, oppression, crucifixion, they endured because they believed that their suffering would end one day, that their suffering meant something, and that they will ultimately be rewarded. Even terrorists who release bombs hold the image of the 72 virgins and that of heaven in mind. But young Hongkongers already know what the future holds for them. Through objective salary figures and prices indices, they are already prescient of what life holds in store for them.

 

Disillusioned, but still caged in our educational system, one is still subject to the endless competition and comparison; they have heard too many examples of corruption between officials and corporations – the myth that you reap what you sow has become bankrupt. The belief that the Chinese is the paradigm of gentility, goodness, respect, modesty, and courtesy, has been extinguished by the implementation of the Individual Visit Scheme (自由行) as well. Hongkongers thought that by settling the dust of their past lives, by acknowledging their ancestors and returning to their roots, by learning to be “Chinese” — they could preserve their own freedom and human rights. And thus the myth that China would grant universal suffrage for the executive and the legislature was shattered too.

 

Some people deny the inevitable nihilism that stems from such disillusionment; they insist on being back at the negotiating table and maintaining dialogue with the “Central Government”. These are usually men of age, who have lost their sensitivity in life. That is their blessing. The searing reality of the scorched earth under our feet can be too much to bear for some. Those who are too young are spirited and their senses sharp as a blade; they are acutely aware of the situation, unable to lull themselves into self-deception. When one cannot fool oneself, then it all boils down to that critical moment when we ask ourself “to be or not to be”, whether to continue our hollow existence or put it to a sharp halt?

 

It is not that young Hongkongers are particularly fragile, it is only that they happen to be on the frontline of the battle, as reflected by the fact of their mass suicides. Hong Kong’s educational reforms led to the collapse of today’s norms, disorientating both students and teachers, eventually rendering the pursuit of life and education pointless. Thus suicidal behavior were most common among them. In comparison, psychological issues and suicidal behavior are absent among those whose interests and norms are not affected by the reforms (such as parents, officials, civil servants) because the paradigms of those with vested interests — the elite — their myths, their psyche, their sense of direction, have remained basically unchallenged in these twenty years.

 

Why have so many local university students been discussing localism and lauding the idea of Hong Kong independence? This is because they are the ones who suffer the most from the dissolution of Hong Kong’s myths and paradigms. Our universities have become swarmed with more and more Chinese people; more classes are now taught in Mandarin; requirements of academic exchanges to mainland China have been implemented; Chinese has been taught in simplified characters; a Mandarin language requisite must be fulfilled for graduation; the elite write off grievances by telling the youth to immigrate, demanding that they find employment in mainland China. University administrators keep a facade of morality whilst consuming and feeding on the oppressed.  This set of actions is a foreign one which is utterly incompatible with the “Hongkongness” that they possess and have always insisted upon in action.

 

The legends of the past have become bankrupt, and thus they need to find other things as their anchor of faith, hoping it will bring them peace of mind. These things may be democracy, independence, student movements, or other forms of “resistance”. Although the reasons for which these 70 people killed themselves may be different, they are drawn against the same backdrop – drastic and sudden changes in society, the absence of guidance and order. When the Ice Age came, all the mammoths died. It was not that mammoths were particularly fragile, but because they could not get used to such drastic changes in climate.

 

Only in death can one sense the cyclical nature of life. The sensation of purpose and order helps one live on. Without them, any additional moment to life would seem a drag. To feel life is too long for one to live is an excruciating pain.

 

Hong Kong is being colonized. Injustices have been taking place regularly. The moral paradigm of “good and bad” has long since broken down. At the protests against national education, there was a banner that proclaimed, “I was taught to be humane, just, polite and astute when I was small, but then they taught me to bury my conscience when I grew up.” (細個教我仁義禮智,大個要我埋沒良知) When you understand this fact, what is the point in education? Since there is no meaning in education, the pain in going to school becomes even harder to withstand.

 

I cannot pretend to be optimistic. What I can be certain of is that the youth will continue to mutilate themselves, because we are living in a society where the older generation is extremely impatient with the young, where they unite and use society’s resources to eviscerate their own people, impose tyranny upon the young and demand the youth to vacate if they take issue with something. Until we can build a new and dependable order, a new paradigm, a new identity and a new home to which they are willing to commit and find shelter, until they could find a new way to survive in society. When all “movements” have been crushed and shredded to pieces by reality, self-mutilation is perhaps one of the rare opportunities with which Hong Kong people can experience “agency”. Of course there is nothing good about self-mutilation, and yet there is always a story and a mechanism behind each and every case.

 

The meditation of death can bring clairvoyance. And yet, those who step traverse the shadows of death may not have the strength to emerge from them. Should there be survivors, they will be no doubt be twisted by their experiences of death. And thus they will learn to hate, and they will fight for their lives. Forgive them for being primal beings with a survival instinct indeed, they are neither meek, mild, prim nor proper. And yet the animal’s howl of survival is better than many hypocritical mandarins being all “holier-than-thou” in their ivory towers; the vulgar, unforgiving cries of struggling beasts are better than cannibal chiefs who know how to be moralistic, and bloviate about Qian Mu, quote Mandela or whatever, simply because they know how to dine on human flesh with forks and knives.

 

 

Joy Zhu

Article translated by Joy Zhu with the help of the editorial team of Hong Kong Columns Translated. Joy is a recent graduate of Middlebury College. She attends The New Normal, Strelka Institute as of 2018. She translated Lam Wing-kee’s ordeal and her work also appeared in Brooklyn Magazine. Her portfolio can be found here.

 

This article originally appeared in SOS Reader in Chinese. The author of the article is Lewis Loud. Born in 1990, he is one among many Hongkongers who cling tightly to their Hong Kong identities. A popular columnist, Lewis is more commonly known as the “Hall-Master” (堂主) of his blog named “Hall of No Desire” (無待堂).

 

 

[1](大哉問) http://www.cnculture.net/ebook/jing/sishu/lunyu_en/03.html

by

“For a loaf of bread,”

May 21, 2017 in Uncategorized by

به خاطر یک قرص نان
کلاهمان را به احترام دوست و دشمن
از سر برداشتیم.

دوست نیشخندی زد
و دشمن بی اعتنا از کنارمان عبور کرد

در پایان
دست ها و کلاه هایمان
روی هوا معلق ماندند.


Rasool Yoonan, a poet, playwright, novelist, and translator, was born in 1969 in Urmia, Iran. His debut collection of poetry, Good Day My Dear, was published in 1998. Further collections include Concert in Hell, I Was a Bad Boy, Carrying the Piano Down the Stairs of an Icy Hotel, Be Careful; Ants Are Coming, and Skiing on the Housetops. Yoonan’s most recent publications are three chapbooks of micro fiction: You Idiot! We’re Dead; Damn It, Pick Up the Phone; and See You in Hell.
Yoonan’s poetry has also been translated to Armenian and French.


For a loaf of bread,
we took off our hats
in deference to friend and foe.

The friend snickered,
and the foe walked past us with indifference.

In the end,
our hands and hats stayed suspended in the air.


Siavash Saadlou was born and raised in Iran. He is a writer, literary translator, and teacher. Saadlou is the authorized translator of Rasool Yoonan, the minimalist Iranian poet. His translations have appeared in Washington Square Review, Indian Review, Visions International, Blue Lyra Review, Writing Disorder, and Asymptote. He is an MFA creative writing candidate and a teaching fellow at Saint Mary’s College of California.


 

by

“Neither hell,”

May 21, 2017 in Poetry, Uncategorized by

 

نه جهنم،
نه بهشت
مرد فقیر دم مرگ
تنها به بدهی هایش فکر می کند


Rasool Yoonan, a poet, playwright, novelist, and translator, was born in 1969 in Urmia, Iran. His debut collection of poetry, Good Day My Dear, was published in 1998. Further collections include Concert in Hell, I Was a Bad Boy, Carrying the Piano Down the Stairs of an Icy Hotel, Be Careful; Ants Are Coming, and Skiing on the Housetops. Yoonan’s most recent publications are three chapbooks of micro fiction: You Idiot! We’re Dead; Damn It, Pick Up the Phone; and See You in Hell.


Neither hell,
nor heaven.
The poor man thinks
only about his debts at death’s door.


Siavash Saadlou was born and raised in Iran. He is a writer, literary translator, and teacher. Saadlou is the authorized translator of Rasool Yoonan, the minimalist Iranian poet. His translations have appeared in Washington Square Review, Indian Review, Visions International, Blue Lyra Review, Writing Disorder, and Asymptote. He is an MFA creative writing candidate and a teaching fellow at Saint Mary’s College of California.


 

by

Sentimento Latente

May 15, 2017 in Poetry, Spanish, Uncategorized by

SENTIMENTO LATENTE

Sob a luz do luar
Feliz a cantar
Era um sonho que um dia
Ia acabar

Calaram-me
Desaparecimentos iam ocorrer
Logo então
Exilaram-me

Essa tortura logo
Me enlouqueceu
Mas não me esqueceu

Então me lembrei
Que este país
É meu,
É seu,
E eu lutarei.


Gabriela Helena de Oliveira Borges was born on November 25, 2000, in a city in the interior of São Paulo, Brazil, called Franca.  She is the third and youngest child of a fierce and kind couple.  She was educated in private secondary schools and it was in the first of these, Escola de Arte Criativa Toulouse Lautrec, that she discovered the magic of art and developed her charm for writing, always with the support of her family.  For two consecutive years she won first place in the school poetry competition and she never stopped writing.  She currently attends hight school at Novo Colégio, in her home city


LATENT FEELING

Under the moonlight
Happily singing
There was a dream that one day
It would end

They shut me up
Disappearances would occur
Soon after
They exiled me

This torture soon
Made me go crazy
But it didn’t pass me by

Then I remembered
That this country is mine,
Is yours,
And I will fight.


Tucson, Arizona born-and-raised, Shelby London Salemi practices capoeira angola and is earning her MFA in Writing at the University of California San Diego.  Her writing has appeared in the online journal Spiral Orb and the 2016 print anthology The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide.  She is working on her first novel.


 

by

Alma Dubia

May 15, 2017 in Poetry, Spanish, Uncategorized by

ALMA DUBIA

Os raios solares
Que ultrapassam a janela
Até parecem
Partes de mim
Que querem ser libertadas
Não sei de onde vem
Esse desejo
De ser diferente
Mas fazer parte ao mesmo tempo.

Quero ser aqueles raios
Que ultrapassam a janela
E se sobressaem.
Quero ser aquela flor
No meio do deserto.
E mesmo assim,
Continuarei sendo
Uma gota no oceano.


Gabriela Helena de Oliveira Borges was born on November 25, 2000, in a city in the interior of São Paulo, Brazil, called Franca.  She is the third and youngest child of a fierce and kind couple.  She was educated in private secondary schools and it was in the first of these, Escola de Arte Criativa Toulouse Lautrec, that she discovered the magic of art and developed her charm for writing, always with the support of her family.  For two consecutive years she won first place in the school poetry competition and she never stopped writing.  She currently attends hight school at Novo Colégio, in her home city.


SUSPECT SOUL

The sunbeams
That transcend the window
Almost resemble
Parts of me
That want to be freed
I don’t know from whence it comes
This desire
To be different
But to be a part at the same time.

I want to be those beams
That transcend the window
And that become visible.
I want to be that flower
In the middle of the desert.
Even so,
I will continue being
A drop in the ocean.


Tucson, Arizona born-and-raised, Shelby London Salemi practices capoeira angola and is earning her MFA in Writing at the University of California San Diego.  Her writing has appeared in the online journal Spiral Orb and the 2016 print anthology The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide.  She is working on her first novel.


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“I underestimated your body”

May 15, 2017 in Poetry, Spanish, Uncategorized by

Subestimei seu corpo
Corroído por sua alma.
Subestimei sua mente
Iludida por seu coração
Subestimei até aquilo à minha mão.

Mas não subestimarei
Aqueles que me amam
Porque sem eles
Simplesmente
Não seria
Eu.


Gabriela Helena de Oliveira Borges was born on November 25, 2000, in a city in the interior of São Paulo, Brazil, called Franca.  She is the third and youngest child of a fierce and kind couple.  She was educated in private secondary schools and it was in the first of these, Escola de Arte Criativa Toulouse Lautrec, that she discovered the magic of art and developed her charm for writing, always with the support of her family.  For two consecutive years she won first place in the school poetry competition and she never stopped writing.  She currently attends hight school at Novo Colégio, in her home city.


I underestimated your body
Corroded    by   your    soul.
I underestimated your mind
Deluded      by   your   heart

I underestimated even that within my reach.
But I will not underestimate
Those people that love me
Because without them
I simply wouldn’t
Be
Me.


Tucson, Arizona born-and-raised, Shelby London Salemi practices capoeira angola and is earning her MFA in Writing at the University of California San Diego.  Her writing has appeared in the online journal Spiral Orb and the 2016 print anthology The Sonoran Desert: A Literary Field Guide.  She is working on her first novel.

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A Symbolic Story

May 15, 2017 in Fiction, Uncategorized by

Author’s note on sigils:

The practice of sigil writing has been prevalent in witchcraft societies for hundreds of years. However, when I first began practicing witchcraft nine years ago, hardly any witch made them. Within the last few years, sigil writing has exploded; you can find thousands of sigils just by googling them.

So what is a sigil? A sigil is a symbol formed from a sentence or phrase. The phrase must include the witches intent: it is what the witch hopes will manifest. A common technique to sigil-making is to cross out any repeating letters, and form a shape out of the remaining lines and curves. Anyone write sigils anytime, anywhere, on anything from paper to pie crusts to lotion on the skin. Common sigils, such as the sigil of Solomon, have become commonly recognized, making sigil writing its own unique language.

The following is a fictional story written entirely of translated sigils. I decided to write it to display the popularity of sigils, as well as a snapshot of modern witchcraft. I hope you enjoy.

A Symbolic Story

The following are a series of sigils: a method of witchcraft in which one writes their intent in a phrase or sentence, removes repeating letters, and forms a symbol manifesting their intent. These sigils were all written by the same person, listed in chronological order, for study. Translations will be provided.

“My friends have friendly conversations.”

“Others’ opinions do not affect me.”

“I can speak painlessly.”

“I am heard.”

“I breathe regularly.”

“No awkwardness with my friends.”

“I am heard,” repeated.

“I hear no accusations.”

“I am accepted.”

“I do not cry.”

“I am invisible.”

“Invisible.”


Yunan L. Kirkbride is a poet and short-story writer earning her BA in Writing at the University of California, San Diego. Having published since she was eighteen, Kirkbride currently publishes satire as Design Editor for The Muir Quarterly. She also runs an advice blog on modern witchcraft and NeoPaganism. Her work focuses on fantasy realism, horror, and underground cultural societies. In her free time, you can find her watching videos of rabbits or communicating with the dead. She lives in San Diego.

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Letter from the editor

November 2, 2016 in Letter from the editor, Uncategorized by

Movement defines us, but the action of clashing shapes us.

This issue is dedicated to the savage beauty of encountering the different, the opposite, the paradoxical, and being able to inhabit it in active and dynamic ways. Writing, re-writing, erasing, destroying, and everything that comes between an original and its translation, in the broadest sense of the word, is built within the limits of the encounter with the other person, text, world. This encounter could be an explosion or a junction; could be a sign of change or a prophecy to remain the same. Translating is always transforming both the source and the new creation.

This issue is my first as Alchemy’s incoming 2017-18 editor, and I’ve collaborated on it with last year’s editor in chief, Majo. I would like to extend a special note of thanks to Majo for making this issue possible, a person who has been living and drawing inspiration from clashing cultures, who never hesitated to make me feel that this issue was also my creative project. This feeling of authorial and editorial fluidity is one thing that gives Alchemy its flavor. I’d also like to thank Aia Hawari, Alchemy’s fantastic new assistant editor, for her collaboration in this issue; and to Daniel Lara Cardona, for his striking photography.

As always, we are proud to show groundbreaking works: Daniel Centeno Maldonado y Alfonso J. Gustave deliver an amazing short piece of fiction a about a woman that “is Janis, Aretha, and Edith Piaf all mixed into one” and collides between the limits of beats and sound in Cuba and New York. Daniela Camacho and Majo Delgadillo share a piece of powerful poetry that draws in itself the very beautiful state of grief. Eleanor Hill and anonymous remember the everlasting lucidity of Mallarmé and Verlaine. Izabela Zdun translated a remarkable piece from Michał Paweł Markowski, which states touchingly that the anthropology of literature is “a lovely, really lovely science.”

Enjoy this crossing,

V

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Anthropology, Humanism, Interpretation

October 30, 2016 in Uncategorized by

With the philosophy of William James as the backbone, this essay explores the contemporary notion of literary anthropology and poses broader questions about interpreting both literature and life, showcasing a human being in his attempt to make sense of the world armed with a different understanding of truth.

1. “Anthropology is a lovely, really lovely science!”1 Admittedly, this sentence did not refer to literary anthropology per se; still, it is valid with regard to literature. Literary anthropology is indeed a lovely science; the only question is whether it is a separate science or the newest mutation of literary studies. It seems it is the latter. While changing its subject matter, literary anthropology also changes its previous reading methods. An anthropological reading of a literary text wants us to mistrust the commonalities about literary texts. If structuralists believed that they are more independent than Marxists because they analyzed the very texts and not their economic conditions, and if deconstructionists believed that they are more refined than structuralists because they see that the coherence of a text is a metaphysical premise and not a fact, then anthropologists today jointly believe that their sagaciousness transcends both the structuralist independence and the deconstructive refinement, for texts show us not artefacts and their internal incongruities but most of all a human being who, with their [texts] help, tries to somehow orient himself* in his own world. Today, on the eve or perhaps already at the time of the anthropological changing of the guard, I wish to say a few words about how I see the relationship between anthropology and interpretation.

2. In his lectures, William James aptly described the discord between the tough-minded and the tender-minded people. The former believe only in facts, beyond which there is nothing else and whose incoherence attests to the permanent fragmentation of the unity of our world; the latter, on the other hand, as a result of the same fragmentation, demand an external acknowledgment, an absolute justification of that which is arbitrary. The world “exists in reticulated and concatenated forms,”2 says James, and we either accept it (the tough-minded) or not (the tender-minded choose this option). This, says James, is indeed a serious discord, though in both cases it deprives us of our will and the possibility to influence our lives; or – as Nietzsche would put it – it deprives us of creativity. In both cases, there is no room for experience, which would not only adjust to the varying stream of life but also regulate this stream. In both cases, there is equally no room for time, and so for change. When the tough-minded declare reality to be ready and finite, the tender-minded everything that occurs see as a mere shadow of the invariable. Both see the world through the prism of an absolute (and that is why they invalidate time), except that for the tough-minded absolute are the received laws of reality (and their ensuing facts); and for the tender-minded absolute are the pre-existing laws and that is why facts are completely insignificant.

3. What James calls pragmatism or humanism, today we promptly call an anthropological perspective. The most succinct way to describe it is the following: the meaning of the world exists neither in the very facts nor beyond them – in any sphere of a transcendent explanation of them – but is rather a result of human creativity. This creativity is a negotiation with the world based on established rules. These rules are not a single but a collective discovery; that is why James aptly claimed that “into the field of fresh experience, we plunge forward with the beliefs our ancestors have made already.”3 That said, a human being with an intellect at the disposal is not opposed to the world according to the dichotomy subject-object, but is into this world submerged and does not so much discover it as creates it through mental and physical activity. In other words, he experiences the world and in this notion lies both the fact that the world concerns and surrounds the human being and that he cannot free himself from this world. The world that concerns and surrounds a human being does not allow him to become a subject of cognition per se, i.e., a producer, but rather makes of him a subject of experience. And the category of experience leads us clearly toward anthropology. The turn from the structural-phenomenological literary studies toward anthropological literary studies, I believe, lies specifically in departing from the epistemological subject of research and choosing instead a pragmatic subject of experience. Better yet, a humanistic subject of experience, as James, the integrator of experience and humanism, would put it.

4. Experience, according to James, is “getting into fruitful relations with reality.”4 There is both the more stable subject of experience and the more changeable – what he experiences. Experience then is something that enables us to say something about the subject. Upon translation into the language interesting to us, we could say that if we read books professionally, and so think of reading as an experience (which is impossible not to do), then we ought to agree that the reading method describes more the subject than anything else.

From this transactional conception of a subject experiencing the world follows that if that which is changeable defines that which is stable, then the subject is multilaterally defined by what happens to him in [his] experience or by what he reads. But also the other way around: reality is changeable and its changeability depends on the subject who bestows upon reality its interpretation. This is in fact the best definition of the anthropological take on interpretation: “a fruitful relation with reality,” which can also be described differently: interpretation is a transaction a human being makes with the world. Why relation and why transaction? Because it not only connects the subject with the world but is also a kind of interchangeable activity: I affect the world (texts) and the world (texts) affects me. Why should this transaction be fruitful? Because it permits the reading subject to situate himself in the world as he pleases and at the same time to say something meaningful to others, which is the most humanist feature of human activity imaginable.

5. Experience is also a constantly developing process from which certain consequences follow. A human being builds his beliefs based on what happens to him, and it either matches his beliefs or modifies them. Because experience is changeable, “no point of view can ever be the last one.”5 And that in turn means that experience is by nature perspectival; devoid, however, of a uniting perspective from which – as in Leibniz – we could see everything the way God sees is. The processuality and perspectivism of experience brings about never-ending negotiations between the subject and the world, which means that if we think our beliefs and convictions attain a closed and polished form, we simply relinquish experience for the benefit of theory, from which we demand salvation from the stream of reality. Experience, to the extent James understands it, questions the opposition between practice and theory just as much as it questions the opposition between the tough (practical) and the tender (theoretical) minds. In experience, the (reading) subject affects reality (texts) by way of his created ideas (interpretations), from which follows a certain philosophy of truth. For truth, in James’ definition, is a relation between our sensational experience and our ideas. True is for us not what is in the text but what does not cause dissonance between what comes from the outside (senses) and the state of our intellectual property. It is in fact the only moment when a humanist can speak of any congruence or adequacy, for it is the congruence between experience and belief that is the foundation of interpretation. “If a new experience, conceptual or sensible, contradicts too emphatically our pre-existing system of beliefs, in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred it is treated as false.”6 For true in such cases is only what does not contradict this system of beliefs. And because this system of convictions and beliefs does not create itself separately from experience but rather in its duration, humanism is released from the accusations of any form of transcendentalism.

6. Before I explain why James’ humanism should become a primary source of inspiration for contemporary literary anthropologists, I shall briefly respond to the most serious accusation that may present itself when truth is dispossessed of its power of absolute objectivity. So, they say, if the only criterion of truth is the congruence between one’s experience and beliefs, then how can we protect this truth from complete arbitrariness? James suggests that “truths should have practical consequences.”7 That is, every sentence we suspect to be true (as it corresponds to our beliefs) must undergo a test of experience, which is the only verifying filter. It is the very experience that is the authority by which some judgements are rejected and others accepted. James writes:

The true is the opposite of whatever is instable, of whatever is practically disappointing, of whatever is useless […] of whatever is inconsistent and contradictory […] of whatever is unreal in the sense of being of no practical account.8

Being of no practical account means here unjustifiable, equalling what is false. False then is something to which no one can be convinced and that is because it cannot be justified. However, if I can rationally justify my belief to someone, as it is a belief congruent with my convictions, and that person will accept my belief, then we both believe that our beliefs are true.
Are we at the risk of being accused of arbitrariness by adopting a pragmatic conception of truth? Not in the least. From the fact that absolute truths are defined as truths accepted by the majority does not by all means follow that this acceptance does not belong to the definition of what is true. Quite the contrary, truth does not depend on what it is but rather on who and why accepts it. This acceptance or refusal does not originate from a mythical congruence between our judgements and reality but rather from the congruence between what someone declares and our own experience. And that in turn means that an agreement is easier to reach for those who share similar experiences rather than for those who are divided by profound differences. If people cannot agree upon their experiences, they will not establish truth of their beliefs, which does not mean, however, that it is at all impossible. Truth is desired and necessary but it should not be sought in reality but rather in our relation to it. True, I shall repeat, is what triumphantly undergoes a test of experience so that we are able to justify, confirm, and verify it. If our beliefs about the world flunk this test, then they automatically approach falseness. There are no ideas or beliefs about the world that would be true in themselves. As James aptly puts it: “Truth happens to an idea. It becomes true, is made true by events.”8 The verification of ideas that mean something to us occurs during the experience we are sharing or want to share with others. Clearly, there is no room for arbitrariness.

7. In his reflections, James uses an economy-related imagery. Truth, he says, must be interchangeable, i.e., certain judgements are true if we can pay with them for someone’s experience. It is important to remember that these judgements cannot be uncovered because then, without referring to anything else but themselves, they turn out to be void, and so useless. The usefulness of truth, against which we protest so abruptly, accusing it of relativism, is merely one example of the functioning of cultural economy: everything that circles in a given culture and becomes true (i.e., we agree that it is true) must refer to something other than itself, to something that is accessible also to others. Just as the truthfulness of our words, with which we write an interpretation of a text, which means that they have some kind of coverage; that is to say, they are subject to some kind of test.

8. That is precisely what the meaning of humanism is for interpretation. If experience is the only sanction legitimizing any interpretation, then it becomes true only insofar as we accept it and that is because we have been thinking the same way for a long time or we have been convinced to a new interpretation. The existence of canonical interpretations does not result, therefore, from the fact that what they claim is true (in the sense of objective truth, independent from what is said about the text), but rather from the fact that nearly everyone agrees with this interpretation as it does not stand against our beliefs. Of course, canonical interpretations retain a large level of generality as it is easiest to reach consensus between various individuals. However, what has to be regretfully acknowledged is that that which is canonical often equals that which is banal. If, with what I readily agree, truth is the result of agreed upon experiences (i.e., the result of social negotiation), then the biggest chance for acknowledgement have the most common and palest judgements, and so those which refer to the most commonplace experiences. It is in fact the best proof of the truthfulness of the humanist theory of truth: true is typically what does not cause dissonance in our system of beliefs. What causes such dissonance becomes referred to as untrue.

9. What are then the consequences of the humanist conception of the subject and related to it conception of truth for literary studies today? Following James, I assume that both subject and truth are the effect and not the cause of experience, which is impossible to separate from both its controlling cultural context and from the sphere of social negotiations that grant it legitimacy. The key category, then, becomes experience contrasted with both theory understood epistemologically as an a priori knowledge about the world and with idiosyncratic madness that is unable to substantiate its own rationale. The category of experience allows us to avoid extreme poles of universal theories and isolated gibberish. In this sense, it is a basic anthropological category which describes a human being immersed in life and attempting to say something about this life to others so that they can also understand it. If we agree that we see some continuity between our life and profession, then we should take into account that the profession we exercise is not safe as it is immersed in life that – as James puts it – “wags on”10 without any certainty and warranty, which means that no one and nothing beforehand will explain our actions and we must continuously ensure their rightness. That we must make a good number of mistakes while doing it, dogmatic theoreticians and trivial observers do not want to take into account as they deem satisfactory knowledge which does not belong to their lives. And in this life (the reading and writing of which is its substantial part), there are no interesting experiences they could share. For one who cannot say anything interesting about life should not concern himself with literature. Those are the consequences of James’ humanism and those are the consequences of the anthropology of literature, which, indeed, is “a lovely, really lovely science.”

University of Illinois at Chicago


1 Stefan Żeromski, Dzieje grzechu [The Wages of Sin] (Warsaw: PIW, 1976, vol. 1), 129.
2 William James, Pragmatism. An Old Name for Some New Ways of Thinking (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co, 1907), 137.
3 Ibid., 255.
4 William James, The Meaning of Truth. A Sequel to Pragmatism (New York: Longmans, Green, and Co, 1910), 80.
5 Ibid., 90.
6 Ibid., 134.
7 Ibid., 52.
8 Ibid., 76.
9 James, Pragmatism…, 201.
10 Ibid., 123.
*Translator’s note: ‘himself’, ‘his’, and any other derivative encompass the feminine gender as well.


Michał Paweł Markowski is Chair in Polish Language and Literature as well as Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at University of Illinois at Chicago. He is the author of numerous articles and books, among them on Gombrowicz, Schulz, and Kafka. His current research focuses on nominalist temptation in twentieth century European literature.

Izabela Zdun is a doctoral candidate and Russian language instructor at McGill University, Canada. Her research focuses on genre studies and contemporary Russian literature, specifically on Liudmila Petrushevskaia’s fairy tales. She is also a certified English/Polish translator and regularly translates academic texts from French.