The recent announcement that Ellah Allfrey and two other members of staff will soon leave Granta came alongside word that the magazine's New York office is set to close and John Freeman, editor of the last 4 years, is soon moving on. All this commotion threw me, unexpectedly, into a blind panic about the future of the magazine and this last blog in the Travel Books series on new writing in translation seemed a good place to think about why. From its original incarnation in the 1980s, no British literary enterprise has been so prescient – or is that influential? – with regards to new international writing. Nor can I think of a publisher or imprint so practical in its support for its contributing writers –widely considered the brightest young things in literature. If your writing is good enough to be published by Granta Books, it’s then good enough for the magazine was Sigrid Rausing’s bottom-up modus operandi when she took over as Publisher. In the transitory, often flippant online world where “best new writers” appear ten to the dozen, Granta’s unhurried, self-assured mafia-mentality ensures that “the best” according to them are nurtured until they are truly established on a wider literary scene. And when their writers fly the nest and hit the big time either critically or commercially, like prodigal sons they return to la mama every now and again to support her next generation of international writerlings.
Shoring up my theory of Granta’s tiresian prescience (or is that titan sway?), next week Granada-based Andrés Neuman, who appeared in their Best Young Spanish-language novelists issue in 2010, has his novel, Traveller of the Century up for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Commercially, 2012 – the year of mummy porn – was a literary washout. But while E. L. James was busy telling the world how best to get butt-whipped, Ted Hodgkinson et al. at Granta online gently buttressed Pushkin Press’ quiet publication of a truly sexy, accurately filthy book by the Spanish-Argentinian, Andrés Neuman. In Neuman’s case, Granta didn’t get there first: as early as 2004 Roberto Bolaño had laden the then twenty-seven-year-old with the modest task of upkeeping the literature of the twenty-first century. But Ted was the first interviewer to pull out the link between Neuman’s bone-achingly seductive sex scenes and the act of translation, which the book’s two main protagonists undertake together. Elsewhere, Andrés – who, when approached for a piece on translation and sex, told me “No need to say that I find the subject you suggest deeply interesting” – has written both sincerely and coquettishly about the topic. In his latest novel, Hablar Solos, a character gets all het up over the huge amount of words for orgasm in the Spanish language.
So as not to be so self-conscious in the face of Ezequiel’s scientific knowledge, I listed for him all the different verbs that exist in Spanish to say orgasm. In Cuba, for example, they say, venirse, something like coming. I like this infinitive because it suggests an approach towards someone. It’s a verb for two. And pretty unisex. In Spain they say correrse, an emphatic version of running. Which is to say the opposite thing: to detach yourself at the end; to distance yourself from the other. It’s a verb for cocksure machos. In Argentina they say acabar, finishing. It sounds like a command, like the whole thing’s a military manoeuvre. A Peruvian friend says llegar, arriving. Said this way, it returns to a kind of utopia (which it often is). […] Her husband says darla, giving it. Interesting. Sounds like an oblation. Or, being cynical, like a good turn that you do for her: “here y’are, love.” Given this, it doesn’t surprise me that my friend never “arrives” herself. In Guatemala they use irse, going or leaving –abandonment, plain and simple. They only need to chip in, after paying. In other countries they say terminar, finishing or breaking off. Frustrating. Like the door opening, someone walking in on the act and you left suspended, not quite there […] Are there places, I wonder, where they name the female orgasm? Where it’s said, I’m overflowing, I’m unfurling, I’m coming apart, I’m radiating?
Bolaño, in his infectiously zealous way, implied that Neuman was so good it pained him: “When I come across these young writers it makes me want to cry”. When Granta comes across writers like Neuman, they push on past the first sting of razor sharp penmanship; it makes them want to translate, and commission, and interview, and re-commission, ad infinitum. Less bombastic than Bolaño’s written endorsement, Granta’s support is surely more practical and sustainable. Does featuring the same writers make them outdated? Quite the opposite. Writing doesn’t function like fashion; it’s as immemorial and durable as sex. Here’s hoping Granta’s recent upheavals are simply changes of position for hungry, enquiring minds and that Rausing’s assiduous literari continue to dominate the international lit scene.
The Travel Books blog was all about tripping out with the world’s most radical writers. Now that it’s finished (arrived, left, come), what have the poets and novelists shown us about “radical”? Prompting drastic upheaval and artistic reform? Or the oldest senses of the word: far-reaching; thorough; of a fundamental nature that we never tire of – like sex, for example?
This extract featured in Andrés Neuman’s blog, Microrréplicas, and has been translated by Sophie Hughes. Hablar Solos will be published in English (trans. Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia) by Pushkin Press in April 2014.