by Paul Stubbs
On July 2nd, 1914, the inaugural issue of Blast magazine was published in England, a project begun by the writer Wyndham Lewis, who hoped it would cement the reputation of the new ‘Vorticist’ movement – an English-speaking response to the new Italian avant-garde and futurist movement founded and preached by Marinetti. The editorial of this first issue of Blast declared: “Beyond Action and Reaction we would establish ourselves”; and while our intent for The Black Herald does not mirror this rather outlandish aim, its birth is, in some way, similar to the Blast one: a response to what has gone before. For me it certainly is, having tired of the insular and island-bound verbiage of my own country’s literary magazines and the secular way in which the majority of the ‘contributors’ have seemed at times ‘handpicked’. The ‘mainstream’ exists in all countries and cultures, but in England especially it has become something of a ghost-ship, one shipwrecked onto the rocks of its own self-delusion and mediocrity, completely unaware of its soon-to-be obsolete passengers.
The editorial team of this new magazine is bilingual, a fact reflected in the contents of this first issue. The French poet Yves Bonnefoy remarked (maybe wrongly) that “English literature begins with ‘aspects’ or ‘appearances’ whereas French poetry begins with ‘essences’ ”, and while the very nature of this statement helps portray the linguistic variations between the two languages, this is just one of many different viewpoints concerning the usage in literature between any two ‘foreign’ countries. If indeed the French language is slightly more abstract compared to the “earthy opaqueness and the body of the Anglo-Saxon” (Michael Hamburger), then we say that we should let the reader decide, and not the omnipotent monocle through which the critic all too often views such things. We thus seek to portray in equal measure the semantic accretions that occur in both languages so as to shift the borders which can at their worst limit and paralyze imagination and vision. Through translation and by simple linguistic juxtaposition and re-echoing of texts (even of languages we cannot and might never understand), the mind regains its first awareness of language before nations and cultures hypnotized us into creating unconscious divisions and ingrained labels which pre-empt our comprehension before a reading has even taken place. And also to maybe disprove the German-born critic Michael Hamburger’s opinion that the French consider the majority of English poetry to be ‘trivial’; for while a lot of it IS still trivial, domestic and nature-fuelled, there are still monumental new discoveries being made by poets and writers alive today – those who have learnt most, it seems to me, from European and world literature. The magazine’s aim is thus to publish world writers, not necessarily linked in any way by ‘theme’, ‘style’, ‘genre’ or ‘movements’, etc. – so as to explore the notion of literary rupture in different ways mainly through poems, essays and short fictions, and therefore create a constellation of various mindscapes, languages, nationalities, textual patterns… without isolating one from the other; also to return language to a place where ‘provincialism’ is but a dusty outhouse on the long forgotten plaines of the mind. In his seminal book, The Truth of Poetry, Michael Hamburger remarked that “it still seems self-evident to me that in trying to understand what poetry does, can and cannot do, one must draw ones exemplars from as wide a range as possible”, a statement we wholeheartedly approve of and believe in.
Multiple literary genres like human lives are not on the whole part of a cumulative activity, but in fact represent mere pockets in time; ‘styles’ which have their flaws and successes magnified by the too-transient lens of the human eye, and usually give birth to generations unable to sustain them. It is worth reminding ourselves where all ‘isms’ were first born, via the earliest proto-languages and all other systematic reconstructions of the human tongue since, for communication can only survive if the ‘Tree model’ of historical linguistics is allowed to flower, bifurcate and branch outwards, if its root is continually ink-watered and allowed to grow at its own natural and primordial pace. The writers included in this inaugural issue are producing works I believe that are a part of this ‘natural’ growth, the different countries represented here being surely a testimony to this kind of thinking, while our ‘editorial’ aspirations are somehow an attempt to free up language again, to loosen the promethean chains of dialects that bind us to the rock of any one continent.
The English philosopher John Gray recently wrote that “what is distinctively human is not the capacity for language. It is the crystallization of language in writing”, and for us at The Black Herald this rings true, for just as The Iliad was handed down by multiple oral cultures, it is only through the sometimes supernatural memory possessed by writers that helps transform the ‘narrative’ of the human condition into an abstract entity of ideas, giving birth then to the poem, the story, the essay, etc.
One thing though has always been clear: ‘quantity-over-quality’ in literature breeds unstable hierarchies, never-to-be finished scaffolds that struggle to hold the sometimes overbearing weight of the ‘specialist’ – critics in England especially fail frequently to sift through this overwhelming volume and thus relegate too many important writers to the ‘underground’ or to the imaginative attic. Academics and journalists, whether in England or abroad though have always to some extent manipulated reputations, while delighting in disparaging the so-called literary also-rans. That won’t happen here, and while it would be foolhardy in the extreme to suggest the editors of The Black Herald do not have their own literary tastes, we both do agree that a literary ‘taste’ is NOT a critical opinion, something many critics fail continually to acknowledge.
There has always been something of an obsession between critics and readers on just what constitutes ‘modern’ writing, but modernity of course has not one birth-certificate, and each epoch continually fills in a new date and hour to constitute its own ‘birth’. Original writing is born of the stone-watch, for it has no birth or death, and it is hoped that the many writings in this magazine will remain ‘outside’ of any modish epoch. The ‘historicizing’ of literature, though it exists in all countries and languages, is not always helpful to the writer, and seems to be no more than a transient progression of the human consciousness, something merely to tether the reader to the frozen post of each existential ‘I’. To usher in the 20th century, Apollinaire cried: “À la fin tu es las de ce monde ancient”, and in the end, yes, all of us grow weary of what has come before (even if the past remains unsurpassed by the future) and so when the 21st century awoke to the rubble (mostly) of the grandiose ruins of the failed utopias of the previous century (a regressive sensation of time that occurs in every new century), a new set of human minds became ready again to ‘assimilate’ its languages, to recreate that artificial memory that occurs in words, and in which most of us re-remember ourselves and our species on earth.
Science and technology have progressed many aspects of what it means to be human, but neither have the ability to alter the natural consciousness of being alive; even in the worst of times it is the writer, neither conscious of himself or what he writes, who ‘progresses’ the human mind the most, and when ‘being alive’ is as precarious and as chimerical as it is in today’s world it can often fall onto the shoulders of the writer to confirm Shelley’s declaration that poets and writers are “the true legislators of their time”. Every age holds on to something of “an hallucinatory image of itself which persists until it has been dispelled by other, alternative events,” (John Gray), ‘events’ in language mostly that I am confident the reader will find in the following pages.
Poetry, short fiction, essays, translations.
Poésie, fiction courte, essais, traductions.