Category: UK

In Search of a Higher State: A Short Essay Interview with Sari Nusseibeh by David Garyan

Sari Nusseibeh (photo by Dinu Mendrea)

In Search of a Higher State:
A Short Essay Interview with Sari Nusseibeh
by David Garyan

October 8th, 2023

“Truth is white, write over it / with a crow’s ink. / Truth is black, write over it / with a mirage’s light.” So begins the fourth stanza of Mahmoud Darwish’s piece, “To a Young Poet.” With the very next lines, however, the poet raises the stakes: “If you want to duel with a falcon / soar with the falcon.” If Mahmoud Darwish is Palestine’s poet, then Sari Nusseibeh is Palestine’s philosopher. Born a mere month before the conclusion of the Arab-Israeli war in 1949, the future thinker was in a sense defined by a moment. Since the creation of Israel in 1948, he was witnessed his homeland change. Anwar Nusseibeh, his father, was shot in the leg that same year by Israeli forces. He subsequently lost the limb.

Fortunately, neither loss nor history went on to embitter the son. Having led numerous peace efforts and spoken out vehemently against the use of force, Sari Nusseibeh has not gone down the predictable road. Instead of trying to dismantle the state of Israel, Professor Nusseibeh has spent much of his life trying to understand Israel’s true aspiration. In his view, this has been a limited success. When asked what it is that Israel really wants, the philosopher seemed not so much tongue-tied, but rather frustrated with the nation’s unidentifiable essence: “answering the question ‘What is it that Israel really wants?’ for me remains something of a mystery.” A powerful statement, especially when it comes from a man whose family can speak of a 1,400-year presence in the Holy Land.

Professor Nusseibeh is a sensible man. He understands the nature of nation-states. Competing interests—along with real and supposed threats against their existence—have prompted even the most democratic ones to take heavy-handed measures. The US’s internment of its Japanese population is only one examples of this.

Thus, Nusseibeh’s frustration with trying to understand the country that holds his homeland is, to say the least, understandable: “These are questions that continue to bother me—whether we are thinking of Israel or of other places. There are two components to these questions. Does Israel (or any political organism) have a core identity and a determined path that allows the observer to predict its future? For example, one might say—next to other essential features it has—that it is a colonial enterprise, set to possess itself of what doesn’t belong to it, and to dispossess natives of what naturally belongs to them. One could then look around for concepts associated with colonialism—e.g., expansionism—that will allow us to fine-tune our diagnosis and draw help from these in an attempt to better read Israel’s future trajectory.”

Many contemporary philosophers and activists have rightly branded the country’s actions as “colonial.” Others have even referred to it as an “apartheid state.” About the matter, Professor Nusseibeh had this to say: “If it [Israel] is bound by its core identity to appropriate the land it conquered in ’67, then of course, one could dismiss its declarations about being ready to withdraw from those territories.” That is precisely what seems to be happening. Others argue that Israel’s 2005 disengagement from Gaza runs contrary to the colonial, apartheid argument.

When looking at the facts closely, however, another picture seems to emerge. Not only was the enterprise of disengagement difficult from a logistical standpoint, it was even more gruesome from an emotional one. Many Israeli settlers—in Gush Katif, for example—refused to leave; they staged demonstrations; many broke down in tears, and some even referred to their own forces as “Nazis.” Eventually, authorities didn’t just accomplish their goals of disengagement, they also accomplished another, more important thing: They were able to make the rest of the world ask: “But at what cost was it all done?”

For better or worse, the government had made its point: The PR campaign associated not only with that specific disengagement, but disengagements in general, remains a telling story. Yet, there are more subtle issues besides land—the question of identity. Being a philosopher, Nusseibeh understands the complexities, challenges, and controversies behind the issue all too well: “the other component to this kind of question (What is Israel?) is whether Israel knows itself, i.e., knows itself to be exactly what its core identity defines it. This is a tricky issue. How do we define the ‘subject of knowledge’ here? The only measurable way for us to define this ‘subject’ in a ‘democratic’ system is by its elected governments and their actual policies. But here we come up against a difficulty that questions our initial assumptions: for many years after ’67, Israel’s labor leaders seemed willing to cede some conquered territory back to Jordan. This changed once the Likud came to power. Unless we take this change to be a mere con, what it tells us is that our definition of Israel’s core-identity was wrong: that its identity is not fixed in this respect but is changeable … for instance, that it can claim to be able to remain itself as a nation-state, even a democratic one, alongside a Palestinian state to which it cedes conquered territory. This, after all, is the creed of a sizeable part of its population.” The fact that Israel is a place where beliefs, opinions, and ideas are not homogenous is a trait it shares with many countries claiming a democratic essence. Israel, however, isn’t just another so-called democratic state—its borders also encompass the Holy Land. And so, even the seemingly straightforward issue of what to do with land (and how to use it) is something not universally agreed upon. While ceding territory may be unthinkable today, Israel is in fact no stranger to the act.

Years after its astounding success in the Six Day War, the victorious leadership eventually ceded the entire Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. Why? To make peace. The question thus becomes: Why are today’s leaders not willing to take similar steps? Perhaps, unlike Egypt, they don’t see Palestine as a formidable enough enemy. Nusseibeh seems to hint at this possibility. In his closing remarks to the question about what it is Israel really wants, he states: “But beyond trying to answer such a question, there is a yet more vexing one: perhaps Arab (military and political) failures have inexorably driven Israel (or its elected leadership) to become the voracious animal it has. If this is true, then we need to add another dimension to the problem of identity: that it is affected by the circumstances surrounding it, and therefore by the actions (or inactions) of its neighbors!”

But what about the past? The Jewish people have suffered a genocide (the Shoah). The Palestinians have suffered a catastrophe (the Nakba). I asked Professor Nusseibeh about the possibility of using this joint historical suffering as a starting point for a new “road map” for peace. His response: “I believe that the Shoah and the Nakba are incomparable, except by saying they are both causes of deep pain affecting entire communities. As an after-effect, the Nakba stripped the Palestinian people of their land. The Shoah stripped the Jewish people of existential security. The pains are thus generically different from one another. Does one party’s pain help them sympathize with that of another party? This is hard if the first party’s pain was caused by the second party. And it is also hard if the second party believes that its solution for existential insecurity consists precisely in that which they know is a cause for the pain of the first party. That is to say, their different and somehow mutually exclusive pains make it hard to use them as the stepping-stone for a reconciliation between the two. I think this leaves us with having to look elsewhere … maybe for pragmatic considerations affecting the lives of the two communities. I think practical wisdom will be needed here. As matters stand now the future does not bode well for either community. That future is what needs to be looked into, and it is perhaps future pain that must be avoided or minimized.” Sari Nusseibeh’s response offers neither optimism nor pessimism—only a sobering reality. Where do we go from here? Is Palestine destined to become the title of the brave professor’s book—“once upon a country?” Only time will tell.

For the purpose of reference and transparency, the following questions and responses (exchanged via email during the period of April 2021 through October 2022) were used to craft the essay interview.

David Garyan: Ever since the creation of Israel in 1948, authorities there have continually instituted various measures to prevent the assimilation of non-Jews into mainstream Jewish society (mainly to ensure that Palestinians cannot participate in Israel’s political and civic process); the 2018 Nation-State Law may perhaps be considered the most outward manifestation of that policy, granting only Jews the right to pursue national self-determination in Israel, establishing Hebrew as Israel’s official language while downgrading Arabic to the level of special status, and, lastly, establishing Jewish settlement as a national value, meaning that the state can now openly promote such developments. It seems to be that Israel neither wants a two-state solution, nor even a one-state solution in which all citizens are considered equal, able to participate fully in all aspects of life—such approaches, whether we support them or not, have led newspapers like Al Jazeera and even an Israeli general to make the rather cliché yet emotionally charged parallel to Nazi Germany. While the comparison is rather inappropriate and more or less futile, it nevertheless makes sense to ask what it is that Israel really wants—and not just with regard to the Palestinians living there but also for itself, if not a two-state solution or even assimilation?

Sari Nusseibeh: These are questions that continue to bother me—whether we are thinking of Israel or of other places. There are two components to these questions. Does Israel (or any political organism) have a core identity and a determined path that allows the observer to predict its future? For example, one might say—next to other essential features it has—that it is a colonial enterprise, set to possess itself of what doesn’t belong to it, and to dispossess natives of what naturally belongs to them. One could then look around for concepts associated with colonialism—e.g., expansionism—that will allow us to fine-tune our diagnosis and draw help from these in an attempt to better read Israel’s future trajectory. If it is bound by its core identity to appropriate the land it conquered in ’67, then of course, one could dismiss its declarations about being ready to withdraw from those territories. But the other component to this kind of question (What is Israel?) is whether Israel knows itself, i.e., knows itself to be exactly what its core identity defines it. This is a tricky issue. How do we define the ‘subject of knowledge’ here? The only measurable way for us to define this ‘subject’ in a ‘democratic’ system is by its elected governments and their actual policies. But here we come up against a difficulty that questions our initial assumptions: for many years after ’67, Israel’s labor leaders seemed willing to cede some conquered territory back to Jordan. This changed once the Likud came to power. Unless we take this change to be a mere con, what it tells us is that our definition of Israel’s core-identity was wrong: that its identity is not fixed in this respect but is changeable … for instance, that it can claim to be able to remain itself as a nation-state, even a democratic one, alongside a Palestinian state to which it cedes conquered territory. This, after all, is the creed of a sizeable part of its population. So, answering the question ‘What is it that Israel really wants?’ for me remains something of a mystery. But beyond trying to answer such a question, there is a yet more vexing one: perhaps Arab (military and political) failures have inexorably driven Israel (or its elected leadership) to become the voracious animal it has. If this is true, then we need to add another dimension to the problem of identity: that it is affected by the circumstances surrounding it, and therefore by the actions (or inactions) of its neighbors!

David Garyan: Today, a word like Nakba does not capture the same cultural consciousness as Shoah. And yet, this is not a “competition.” We must look at both tragedies for what they are—unnecessary suffering. Do you see any parallels between these events, and could this shared plight perhaps serve as the foundation for a new “roadmap for peace?”

Sari Nusseibeh: I believe that the Shoah and the Nakba are incomparable, except by saying they are both causes of deep pain affecting entire communities. As an after-effect the Nakba stripped the Palestinian people of their land. The Shoah stripped the Jewish people of existential security. The pains are thus generically different from one another.

Does one party’s pain help them sympathize with that of another party? This is hard if the first party’s pain was caused by the second party. And it is also hard if the second party believes that its solution for existential insecurity consists precisely in that which they know is a cause for the pain of the first party. That is to say, their different and somehow mutually exclusive pains make it hard to use them as the stepping-stone for a reconciliation between them. I think this leaves us with having to look elsewhere … maybe for pragmatic considerations affecting the lives of the two communities. I think practical wisdom will be needed here. As matters stand now the future does not bode well for either community. That future is what needs to be looked into, and it is perhaps future pain that requires to be avoided or minimized.

About Sari Nusseibeh

Sari Nusseibeh is the former President of Al-Quds University, the only Arab university in Jerusalem. He is also a professor of philosophy. He co-founded The People’s Voice, an Israeli-Palestinian grass-roots organization which advocates peace between Israel and Palestine. In 2001 and 2002, he was the chief representative of the PLO in Jerusalem, advocating a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. He is the author of Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life. He lives in Jerusalem.

The Life and Work of Ruth Langdon Inglis: Neil Langdon Inglis interviewed by David Garyan

Ruth Langdon Inglis (1927-2005)

Neil Langdon Inglis, US General Editor for Interlitq

Neil Langdon Inglis

The Life and Work of Ruth Langdon Inglis:
Neil Langdon Inglis interviewed by David Garyan

October 8th, 2023

DG: Apart from being very much an established writer, your mother, the China-born American author Ruth Inglis (1927-2005) was above all a person dedicated to her family. A flourishing literary career and a devotion to family aren’t easy things to balance. Can you speak about your upbringing and whether there were any aspects that were particularly challenging?

NLI: The quest for work-life balance defined my mother’s life, but in the 1960s her career reigned supreme. Fortunately for me, from my earliest years I found it completely normal to have two parents who were consumed with their work and who spent relatively little time at home. Another child in my place would have thrown almighty tantrums. It never bothered me when my mother was on assignment with NOVA magazine or THE OBSERVER, just as long as I could consult her if I had a problem: once I asked her to take me out of a kindergarten where I was being bullied, and she readily agreed.

My mother counted on our housekeepers and assorted babysitters, with whom I got along and who were reliable (the sole unreliable exception, my mother sacked on the spot). My parents’ marriage endured as long as my father Brian Inglis’s TV career (as presenter of the Granada WW2 documentary series “All Our Yesterdays” continued—and when that program came to an end, my father no longer needed my mother. He had other priorities. So the childhood idyll was shattered, but then the idyll of the 1960s was ended for many, to be replaced by the chaos and upheaval of the 1970s.

DG: Ruth knew or interviewed many of the greatest luminaries of her time—and indeed of all time. John Updike, Anne Sexton, and Roald Dahl are some of the names that come to mind. In addition, she wrote books on various topics related to childcare. In her 1998 book, “The Children’s War,” these efforts overlap: She interviews the adults who at that time were children evacuated during WWII bombings of Britain. What inspired Ruth Inglis’s interest in child development and do you see traces of this interest in other areas of her journalistic career?

NLI: Ruth was an ardent admirer of Dr. Benjamin Spock (another of her interviewees), who urged parents to enjoy their children’s company and not to view parenthood as a chore or nightmare. Just as Spock believed that the parenting experience could be enriched through appropriate resources (such as his own classic guidebook, “Baby and Child Care”), my mother dedicated herself to answering questions and dispelling misconceptions about child development, thanks to her interviews with pioneers in the field and through her own research and attendance at conferences. She looked upon herself as a go-between connecting parents with experts, deciphering obscure technical language in a way that busy working parents could understand.

Ruth appreciated the efforts her own parents had made on her behalf (although her mother was mentally ill and institutionalized for long periods, with the result that Ruth’s father stepped in as single father, supervising Ruth’s education via correspondence courses). For a child of diplomats, endless travel and relocations were the norm, and there were painful moments (including perilous evacuations from war zones), some of which could have been handled more deftly but which provided useful fodder for the future writer.

DG: You’ve just scanned the beginning chapter of Ruth Inglis’s first book, “A Time to Learn,” (pubs. Dial Press 1973: a guide for parents to the new theories in early childhood education) [see appendix for the first chapter]. It may be in your view her finest moment as an author. Can you elaborate on why it’s this book which makes you feel this way?

NLI: It was her first book, and her first major project carried out on a fully independent basis, outside of the shadow cast by her ex-husband.  ATTL was an intensely personal manifesto, describing how periods of loneliness in her youth had been delightfully occupied with books, starting with children’s literature, then graduating to Shakespeare but also modern literature, a lifetime passion. Her conclusion? The child’s «absorbent mind» is an invaluable asset, a future goldmine, sowing the seeds for a lifetime of esthetic and cultural appreciation by a richly furnished intellect. My mother’s gratitude for books manifested itself in her generally receptive and welcoming approach to new writing; she championed the work of up-and-coming authors, for example, her friends Anne Sexton and Jennifer Johnston. She was a staunch advocate for the work of photojournalist Penny Tweedie. These women’s achievements were something to celebrate, without hesitation or equivocation.

DG: Ruth Inglis contributed a great deal of material to NOVA magazine. Indeed, as you’ve written, she described this as “the high-point of her professional career.” You’ve been doing research into those years for some time now. What are some of the insights you’ve gained as a result of this work?

NLI: As the sixties progressed, my mother continued to carve out a niche for herself, separate from her marriage and separate from motherhood. She had been a journalist since graduating from Barnard College in the late 1940s, but I think she always intended to leave a personal legacy that transcended the ephemera of bread-and-butter writing. NOVA magazine (1965-1975) burned brightly in the 1960s firmament in the UK. This was a women’s magazine which did not overlook the traditional topics of cookery, fashion, and maternity, but which also made daring sorties into the controversial issues of the day (Vietnam, contraception, abortion, and changing social mores). The magazine ended up being read covertly by men, a phenomenon of which the proprietors were well-aware (this was referred to as the magazine’s «bisexuality»). My mother joked that NOVA was even more popular with men than with women; this was no laughing matter for the syndicate that published the magazine–which advertisers should they target?

I now know that my hugely famous father was roped in to contribute to the inaugural issue of NOVA as a way to lend credibility to the fledgling publication [Brian Inglis, «Doctors and Adultery, and the Muddle of Medical Ethics Today,» NOVA, March 1965]. While my mother might have suggested the idea of Brian’s involvement, and may have served as go-between, I suspect she winced internally at the thought of (yet again) being hitched to Brian Inglis’s wagon. Yet she outgrew that ball and chain, and Ruth soon became a star interviewer for NOVA in her own right, particularly under its first editor Denis Hackett, who helmed the magazine during its halcyon days. Ruth may have had her own private thoughts about how the magazine got run into the ground in the mid-1970s (the three-day week and the oil embargo sealed the magazine’s fate).

NOVA was always a critical, not a commercial success: and rival COSMOPOLITAN’s much greater circulation (three times the size) enabled it to weather that decade and to survive and thrive until the present day.  But commercial success in and of itself meant nothing in Ruth’s eyes; so in conclusion, her years with NOVA did indeed represent the apogee of her career. I was proud of her as her child, and as a student of the history of journalism—and I still am.

DG: During her time at NOVA, Ruth Inglis was in many ways a trailblazer, writing courageously about social issues like the legalization of homosexuality, for example. It’s strange to observe, but today’s society is becoming more about the individual, yet, at the same time, also less tolerant of non-conforming individuals. The right-wing waves across Europe and the US are only one sign of this. Are there particular pieces of her writing that might give you a sense of how Ruth Inglis may have responded to all these new developments?

NLI: Excellent question. Ruth was politically liberal but a small-c conservative in some respects (she was partial to Generals Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell). She enjoyed her friends’ eccentricities, but feared that nontraditional behavior would leave her loved ones vulnerable to abuse. Her view on trans women would have aligned with Martina Navratilova’s or JK Rowling’s. Ruth believed that womanhood was a gift, and not something to be trifled with, or opted out of.  As a further example of how she steered a middle course, we see how she was an advocate of «work-life balance» before the term was invented. We now know that she published two long-form journalistic projects (one for THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY) in the months following my birth. Ruth battled for her career (and successfully), but she also wanted children (and thus she had my sister Diana and me), but she would not have been content with simply the former or the latter (she would have loved a happy marriage too–but there success eluded her).

Ruth was intrigued by changing social mores and devoted many column inches to the topic of «house husbands,» «single fathers,» and “creative [amicable] divorce.” She was determined to give unorthodox social structures a fair chance, irrespective of whatever personal qualms she might hold about their feasibility, or whatever mixed results these new customs might have achieved. Above all she wanted no limits set upon her own personal or intellectual exploration. The limited opportunities and gender role constraints of the 1940s and 1950s were suffocating for her, and she wished to break free from them and live life in her own way. She was, in essence, the «new kind of woman» that NOVA championed.

DG: What were her strengths as an interviewer?

NLI: Preparation, but also warmth and approachability–I think she was able to disarm people right at the start of the conversation. She wasn’t able to break the ice with everybody (no journalist is), but interviewees remembered my mother with sufficient warmth that they would happily answer her questions and give her usable quotes on subsequent occasions as well—even when they did not have a current project of their own to plug. This was a rare accomplishment, and it meant that my mother’s contact book was the envy of Fleet Street. Beneath that kind and friendly exterior was a considerable vein of inner tension, but the interviewee would not sense that anxiety. Always my mother would be thinking: do I have the necessary time/date/place/purpose of interview information to provide context, have I gathered enough usable quotes, when is the deadline for submission of the article? Deadlines dominated my parents’ lives, just as they have dominated mine (in the very different field of translation).

DG: It’s fair to say you grew up in a very liberal environment. Along with Ruth Inglis’s progressive views, you’ve stated in another interview that your father, Brian Inglis, “signed petitions for the legalization of cannabis, and wrote about the use of psychedelics … his television boss Bill Grundy referred to him half-jokingly as a ‘civil servant in Bohemia.’” As a mother, did Ruth Inglis ever feel anxious about the possibility of you being negatively affected by these views?

NLI: Ruth did, from time to time, try to warn me that our household was not representative of mainstream opinion and that I should not assume that everyone was like us. I don’t recall being bullied because my parents were in the public eye (although their celebrity may have been at the root of the nursery school bullying incident that I mentioned earlier). As the years passed, I began to perceive the downside to my father’s casual attitude toward sexual fidelity, which destroyed my parents’ marriage and left Ruth at an economic disadvantage in the wake of the divorce (although her financial picture improved a little when she joined the staff of THE DAILY EXPRESS in 1976). My father’s very public embrace of idiosyncratic opinions on the paranormal in the 70s and 80s further strained our family life, as I was a skeptic as a teenager—and became more politically conservative than my parents, a development which they treated with patience and indulgence. On social policy issues, Ruth believed in women and children first, so she was very much a European social democrat.

DG: Was she a militant, or an incrementalist?

NLI: In most respects an incrementalist. She liked to win individual battles, but with kindness. A friend of hers at THE DAILY EXPRESS (where she was on staff in the 70s and 80s) belittled women writers, but my mother got her colleague to accept that Emily Dickinson was a genius. My mother was quite strongly pro trade union, speaking warmly of the «union umbrella»; yet it was a leaky umbrella then and now, and at National Union of Journalist meetings she spoke up forcefully for herself, never allowing herself to be hooted down by the brothers’ loud male voices. And she was certainly one of the first women to break the notorious gender barrier at El Vino’s wine club (where historically women were forbidden to order drinks for themselves at the bar); reports suggest that a group of NOVA women took the establishment by storm, and based on her own recollections I believe that Ruth may have been one of their number. Yet she was never a bomb-thrower. I remember how she once told me that she was channel-surfing, watched a news item on the Apollo program on one channel, and a discussion of knitting on another channel. While she would never have said openly that «it’s a man’s world,» that was the conclusion she had drawn from an early age—and she always wanted to be where the action was.

DG: What was the nature of her relationship with Brian Inglis? Did she love him, or was she in competition with him?

NLI: To this day I don’t know if she ever loved him, or he her.  I know that by the late 1950s Ruth wanted to make a completely fresh start, and a move to London to join my father (thus marking a clean break with the USA) gave her that opportunity.  I know that she supported Brian’s career enthusiastically and found his work as editor of THE SPECTATOR inherently fascinating. Furthermore, she must have given him the confidence he needed to make the risky leap to television. In addition to her own professional activities, Ruth was a supportive wife, helped Brian with research and typing, kept the household running smoothly, and was a magnificent hostess (Brian delegated all entertaining responsibilities to her). But did they love one another? Ultimately all her sacrifices didn’t matter, and she was cast aside.

DG: How would Ruth’s career have differed without Brian in her life as her husband?

NLI: I think the fact that our household was so unrepresentative gave my mother various opportunities in terms of having a broad support network, so that she could venture forth into the world secure in the knowledge that her children were taken care of under her overall supervision. Life as a journalist for her would have been harder without all those special resources.

DG: How did she cope with the male chauvinist atmosphere at THE DAILY EXPRESS in the 1980s?

NLI: That she could match her colleagues drink for drink certainly helped (the culture of functional alcoholism has certainly vanished from the newspaper world, or has been sharply modified). She picked her battles.

DG: Ruth Inglis’s final book was “The Window in the Corner” (pubs. Peter Owen, 2003)—»a history and defense of children’s television,” as you write. Another poignant observation, but it seems like children don’t even watch TV anymore. TV is the new radio. Social media the new TV. Do you feel Ruth Inglis would’ve written a similar defense for today’s media, or do you think the content kids are consuming today is entirely different? More different, perhaps, than the radio to the TV?

NLI: I think she would have enjoyed «Peppa Pig.» She was an incurable optimist, but certain aspects of today’s media universe would have been hard for her swallow. Journalism for Ruth meant paid journalism, it was a livelihood, and the current universe in which young writers jostle on the internet for exposure and monetization would have struck her as cruel and undignified. My mother took no pleasure in the exodus from Fleet Street of the old-school tabloids and broadsheets. She would have deplored the disappearance of local newspapers and lamented the destruction of the jobs that vanished with them. My father’s perspective was slightly different; he would have argued that in-house staff journalism was a historical fluke and was bound to come to an end eventually.

DG: At the time of her death, Ruth Inglis was preparing a memoir about her father. Indeed, she always looked back fondly on the exciting lifestyle that her father’s diplomatic career brought. Two questions: Did she recall many stories about her youth and is there a chance that even a part of that memoir might be published?

NLI: As a civil servant myself, I always found it fascinating that Grandpa (US diplomat William Russell Langdon) was more highly regarded by his colleagues in the field than by his supervisors back in Washington DC. My grandmother (performing invaluable yet very unpaid service as a diplomatic spouse) was subjected to rigorous performance evaluation, just as her husband was. Regarding Ruth’s specific reminiscences of her father, I personally thought she was too close to the subject. One of her books that I have had re-released is «The Children’s War» (with Lume Media), which you mentioned earlier. One of the themes in the opening chapter of «A Time to Learn» is the expendability of human life in the global postings where she grew up, due to disease or military conflict: dead bodies everywhere. Her father (a workaholic, as she too later became) allowed my mother to spend a great deal of unsupervised time by herself or with whichever friends she was lucky enough to have at any given moment. Reading filled these gaps, and she developed a rich imaginative world. She would never be bored!

DG: Being a US citizen but having been born in China, along with having spent a considerable amount of time in Europe, did Ruth consider herself more a part of the Old World or New?

NLI: It’s no surprise that she ended up in the UK, she was an Anglophile from an early age. She recalled watching UK movies at an art movie house in Boston (the Exeter Street Theatre). It was only a matter of time before she made the move.

DG: Any other memories, stories, facts about Ruth Inglis you would like to share?

NLI: She was given six months to live in 1994, but managed to soldier on until 2005, writing another book, completing a tour of duty as columnist with NURSERY WORLD—and seeing her family come of age. She lived her life in accordance with her own values and principles. Although she was a celebrity interviewer, social welfare issues provided the deeper tug. Even amidst all the «Swinging London» glitz and high-fashion technicolor in the pages of NOVA magazine, we observe Ruth’s thoughtful May 1973 profile entitled, «Children in Hospital: The body is cared for but what about the mind?» That’s Ruth Inglis personified!


A Time To Learn – Chapter 1

About Neil Langdon Inglis

Neil Langdon Inglis, the son of authors, Brian Inglis and Ruth Langdon Inglis, graduated from King’s College, Cambridge with a degree in Modern Languages in 1983. He is a translator and literary critic based in the Washington DC area. His book reviews have appeared in many publications including The Tyndale Society JournalFortean Times and Skeptical Inquirer.

Oliver Harris, President of EBSN, Professor of American Literature, Keele University, interviewed by David Garyan

Oliver Harris (left) with Eric Andersen at the 2017 EBSN Conference, Paris France

January 4th, 2023

Interlitq’s Featured Interview:

Oliver Harris, President of EBSN, Professor of American Literature, Keele University

interviewed by David Garyan


DG: Running an organization like the European Beat Studies Network is a challenging yet rewarding task. Fortunately you have a great team to make it all happen. At the same time, you’re all busy individuals with careers and other responsibilities. How do each of your professional activities inform what everyone does for EBSN and vice versa?

OH: Like all the best ideas, we didn’t initially think it through, let alone worry what might happen if the endeavor succeeded, or worked too well …. At times, it has felt like we’ve set ourselves up for limitless commitments. Ultimately, it’s hard to manage expectations, including your own … and so, it was shortly after the 2009 NL@50 events that I helped co-organize in Paris (which succeeded in the most beautiful way) that Polina MacKay suggested we create the EBSN; it sounded like such an obvious idea—so self-evidently necessary—and because nobody had thought of it before, we had to be the ones. In the decade since then, I think everyone involved has had to balance out their level of commitment. We never wanted it to feel like an obligation—something which was getting in the way. The whole point was that we wanted this. Yet there were times when I was putting in at least a day a week—a full day every week—and that wasn’t sustainable, at least not with a busy day job and family commitments, along with the need to sleep every so often. Having said that, the major pinch points are the conferences, which are the heart and soul of the EBSN; they require a ton of work for those directly involved. In that sense, going to Murcia last year was for me a holiday, but I knew from experience just how much effort it had taken, just how hard the organisers had worked to make it feel effortless—to make it enjoyable as well as invaluable.

DG: Since its foundation in 2010, EBSN has organized ten annual conferences, with the most recent, the eleventh—in Murcia, Spain—in September 2022. It would be interesting to hear a little about the organizational process. In other words, how are locations chosen, who reviews papers/topics, and who are the key figures ensuring that things run smoothly on the ground?

OH: The process was a little haphazard to begin with; however, nothing on such a scale happens without planning! Each event has been unique and even though we realized the process and guidelines needed to be clear—along with the frameworks for conferences that we post on our website—the template is deliberately very open. The one thing we’ve insisted upon is that we don’t do standard academic events, where you just have a series of panels with 20-minute papers that people mainly read out-loud, starting at 9 am, typically hosted in massive chain hotels. We have had conferences in such venues—the Hotel Chellah in Tangier—but this was a very special location and had a fabulous atmosphere. We’ve also held conferences in a community arts centre in Manchester, with cabaret-style layout of tables, along with candles and incense. So, in a way, our conferences give new organisers permission to think outside the academic box, just as I hope we’ve also inspired individuals, especially young academics, to sneak out of the Procrustean bed of academia and, well, enjoy their work. And it definitely helps that we’re a multi-national organization. We benefit from not just having so many creative and smart people involved, but people from different language-communities and cultures. I think that might also account for why the atmosphere is not competitive but cooperative. In this way, it adds up to a complex organism—and to keep it healthy we’ve needed intelligent oversight, along with dedicated people at the top. I won’t single any one out, as it’s been a genuine team effort with everyone playing to their strengths and doing it because we want to, not because it goes with The Day Job.

DG: From your perspective, what was the highlight of this year’s conference?

OH: If may speak selfishly, it was a pleasure visiting a lovely city in Spain and being in the company of interesting people. I really needed that; in this sense, the timing and atmosphere were perfect for me. And it was all so nicely organized by Estíblaliz and her colleagues. If I had to pick out one highlight, it would be on the last night when we’d been at a bar having readings and performances. I walked out with Eric Andersen (who has been there from the start of the EBSN—kind of the soundtrack to the organization) when Gerry Nicosia was leaving the bar at the same time. Gerry had been one of the keynotes in Murcia—full of passion and insight as always—but it was late and he wanted to leave. And I was ready to go too. The three of us stood in the street and none of us could stop talking. I have a lovely photograph (below) of Eric and Gerry, each gesticulating and trying to get a word in. Hilarious.

Gerry Nicosia (right) with Eric Andersen

DG: Let’s shift to your own work and talk about Burroughs. You’ve done extensive research on him, including major editorial projects on his letters and journals. Many have said that writers are really two people—the actual person and the myth. As someone who has studied Burroughs closely and read a great deal of his personal writing, to what extent (aside from accidentally shooting his wife) did the excesses contained within his work correspond to the reality of his life?

OH: That’s such a great question! I’m reminded of a telephone interview from the late 1980s when Burroughs was asked how he saw the relationship between his public image, his body of work, and himself, the actual man—and Burroughs replied: “There is no actual man ….” Another way of putting it is that he was acutely aware that identity is fictional, that we make up who we are, that there is no single stable self inside of us—that’s on the one hand. On the other hand, he knew that we have no idea why we behave the way we do—that we seem to have been given a script to play. And yet, as you know, I’m not a biographer, so for me the answers aren’t in the man but in the work, which I prefer. I recall vividly when I first met him out in Lawrence, Kansas, and wondering at the strangeness of it, that I was drawn to someone so utterly different, incomprehensibly different to myself. I projected a lot onto him, and I knew it wasn’t really based on any insights into what made him who he was. That’s why I feel more comfortable interpreting his work, I think. And over the years, I find myself enjoying it more and more. That might sound surprising—it surprises me. It reminds me of Michael De-la-Noy, the biographer of Denton Welch, who would ask each time we met, “Are you still working on Burroughs?” That was 30 years ago! But yes, I am still working on Burroughs. In part because he’s just so endlessly interesting, an inexhaustible cabinet of curiosities to explore, and it has introduced me to so many remarkable people, some of whom I have collaborated with creatively. And in part, it’s because I’ve accepted a certain obligation. When James Grauerholz gave me my first break, nearly 40 years ago now, I knew I wanted to repay that trust. And also because I came to a decision a long time ago that I didn’t really care for “literary studies,” or for the life of an intellectual. It’s just not me. In this sense, it seemed to simplify everything—to stick with Burroughs and occasionally, very occasionally, cheat on him. Actually, the piece of my own scholarship I rate as the best is not on Burroughs but something I researched on Hemingway—his incomparable short story “The Killers.” There are other things like that I’ll write along the way, but I have no regrets about being the bride of Burroughs ….

DG: Let’s talk about the Beats in general. Though the movement originated in the US, many of its most prominent members were very much inspired by European traditions—Ginsberg’s fondness for Blake, for example, or the fact that Burrough’s famous “cut-up” technique can probably be traced back to early 20th century avant-garde movements in Europe. In this age of increasing nationalism, the preference for isolationism (at best), and downright hostility to anything foreign (at worst), why is the Beat aesthetic especially important, and do you think it’s possible, perhaps, we’ll see the resurgence of some movement akin to what the world experienced in the ‘50s and ‘60s?

OH: That’s such an interesting possibility, and of course it goes to the heart of the EBSN—its internationalism. In academic terms, it’s already happened: there’s plenty of work done from European, global, transnational perspectives. The internet has of course facilitated that, albeit mainly on Anglophone terms. More broadly, it’s pretty obvious that the planet is at a tipping point, that a cataclysm is unfolding, and that the only real question is whether we go through the darkness to emerge renewed—whether we transcend the humanity that has got us into this mess—or not. Central to the Beat movement were writers committed to worldviews along these lines, knowing that an end was looming and offering wildly different takes on the future: Burroughs’ apocalypticism is not at all the same as Ginsberg’s, or McClure’s, or Snyder’s, or Anne Waldman’s, and so on.

DG: Apart from Burroughs, who are some Beat writers you particularly enjoy, and who is one writer outside that tradition you would call a big influence?

OH: The one writer I’d single out is Diane di Prima. I especially love her Revolutionary Letters. Her voice is so direct, so tough, so tender, so alive. But as I said, I really don’t read very widely. My time is entirely taken up with Burroughs and my children, my cat, my partner, and the EBSN (not necessarily in that order).

DG: Let’s briefly return to the organization. In true Beat fashion, membership is inclusive, open to all. Members come from all walks of life and may freely choose how much of their time to contribute to the project. Are there any members you’d like to recognize for their involvement/contribution to not only EBSN, but Beat culture in general.

OH: I’ll add that membership is free. That’s something which has seemed fundamental to me. Even a small fee can be off-putting. There were times recently for me when an annual membership fee for something was really hard to justify, so I don’t want money to exclude anyone. As before, I’d rather not name names: I’ve been fortunate to work with such lovely people, and I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out.

DG: You’ve now concluded the conference in Murcia. What are your projects for the future? Are you reading anything interesting at the moment?

OH: Reading? Mmm. Having just said that I don’t read widely, I realise I must do without realizing it, as I’ve enjoyed several good books this year. I’d single out three: Music For Erotomaniacs by my good friend Keith Seward, and Brainspotting by Andrew Lees, and The Master, by TH White, which is actually teenage fiction, a book I wanted to re-read for pure nostalgia. As for projects, I’m now in the swing of planning the cut-up conference for Paris in September 2023. This is a version of the events cancelled due to Covid in 2020. I doubt I’ll organize another big conference after this one, so I want it to be beautiful. Being held in Paris, how could it not be? And there’ll be such a crowd of interesting people. So the cut-ups@23 conference is going to keep me busy, and I’m also aiming to finish a new book by the spring to launch at the conference. Alongside that I have other Burroughs projects on the go—a big co-edited critical book, a consultancy on a forthcoming Burroughs film adaptation—I’m not very good at saying “no” to anything, and of course, I know what a privilege it is to be in this position.


About Oliver Harris

Oliver Harris is Professor of American Literature at Keele University, and the editor of The Letters of William S. Burroughs, 1945–1959 (1993), Junky: The Definitive Text of “Junk” (2003), The Yage Letters Redux (2006), Everything Lost: The Latin American Notebook of William S. Burroughs (2008), and Queer: Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition (2010), and The Soft Machine: The Restored Text (2014), Nova Express: The Restored Text (2014), and The Ticket That Exploded: The Restored Text (2014). See here for a review of the Cut-Up Trilogy. In 2019, he introduced a new edition of Blade Runner, followed by new editions of four cut-up works: Minutes to Go Redux, The Exterminator Redux, BATTLE INSTRUCTIONS and Dead Fingers Talk: The Restored Text (all 2020).

In addition to the book William Burroughs and the Secret of Fascination (2003) and the collection Naked Lunch @ 50 (2009), co-edited with Ian MacFadyen, he has published numerous articles on Burroughs, as well as essays on film noir, Hemingway, the epistolary, the exquisite corpse game, and the Beat Generation more broadly. He has been a regular contributor to the Burroughs website Reality Studio and his most recent journal articles include “Minute Particulars of the Counter-Culture: Time, Life, and the Photo-poetics of Allen Ginsberg” in Comparative American Studies (2012) and “Burroughs’ Cut-Ups Lost and Found in Translation” in L’Esprit Créateur (2018)

Oliver has co-organized as well as contributed to numerous conferences, including the 2009 NL@50 events in Paris and New York, and has contributed to several documentary films, including The Beat Hotel (2012) and Paul Bowles: the Cage Door is Always Open (2013).


Interviews, Commentary, and Translations by Peter Robertson

Interviews, Commentary, and Translations by Peter Robertson

“My Vision Loss Has Hit Me Hard,” an Interview with Peter Robertson, President and Founder of Interlitq


Photo by Allen Frame

Interlitq: This September Interlitq will be fifteen years old. What are your thoughts?

PR: To keep it going and to build on its successes. My vision loss has hit me hard, of course. For the last three years, I see a white mist before me, and read with difficulty. But perhaps I will get my sight back—there is always everything to play for. David Garyan has been a tremendous boon. Together, he and I conceived the Californian Poets Feature, and Part Five of that enterprise will be coming out shortly. We still have some way to go with California, but our idea further down the road is to publish a feature, in several installments, on New York poets.

Interlitq: Do you feel nostalgic as Interlitq‘s fifteenth anniversary approaches?

PR: There is a background to everything. Before I founded Interlitq, I was the Spain Editor for a New York webzine The Mad Hatter’s Review (TMHR) and I would never have founded Interlitq without the experience I gained working for that publication. TMHR’s Founding Editor, Carol Novack, was a woman with a passion and it seemed to me that she lived for her review. So it was very sad when Carol died at just sixty-three, and her publication went down, with all its valuable content apparently erased forever. It seemed somehow to be the death of a dream. I also remember Ellen Wolchek, another remarkable individual I met during a New York-London transatlantic flight. We were seated next to each other for eight hours, and I told her about Interlitq, and how I was about to approach a lawyer in the UK to set up a legal structure for the publication. Ellen listened attentively and then told me that she was an attorney and that she could help me incorporate the review in New York. Such is fate. And then, some years later, after a long silence during which I did not hear from her, I googled her name and was confronted by a death notice. She had died suddenly one Saturday, while still quite young, in upstate New York.

As Interlitq‘s fifteenth anniversary approaches, I find myself once again thinking of Ellen. Through Interlitq I have been lucky to have met so many fascinating people. I have developed a strong friendship with Glenna Luschei, the Californian poet who wrote me for the first time on the day my mother died, and we have forged such a close bond that I put it down to causation. Someone I will never forget is Tessa Ransford, the Scottish poet. I was in Edinburgh, and Tessa suggested that I visit her. I remember how cold it was as I walked through the snow, and what a relief it was to arrive, and to spend time together, sipping whisky as Tessa talked about her early years in India—from the heat to the frost. As I left, she looked at me with her intense eyes and said, «Never be a passenger.» I could not get her out of my mind as I walked back to the hotel, and still can’t.

Interlitq: Do you ever feel that a conflict exists between Interlitq and your own literary output?

PR: I don’t see any conflict between the two activities, as both are literary in nature or, at least, a conflict only exists to the extent that one activity necessarily takes time away from the other, but I am determined to continue to work as hard as I can at both undertakings.

Interlitq: Focusing on your own literary work, can you tell us more about how this is shaping up?

PR: Over the last few months, I have been working on a series of narratives with the title, «For As Long As We Live.» These texts, combining elements of fiction and autobiography, will start to be published in Interlitq within the next few weeks. The nine narratives are also to be translated into Spanish by the literary translator, Marina Kohon, and published in the review. With regard to «For As Long As We Live,» to date I have not written anything as long, and it makes me ask myself if I am not perhaps moving in the direction of writing novels.

Interlitq: Do you feel then that, transcending short fiction, you are starting to need more space to express your literary ideas?

PR: I am starting to feel that this may be the case and that, so far as some of my short fiction is concerned, I may have tried on occasions to squeeze too much into too limited a space. Concerning some new subjects I have for fiction, and that I was intending to write as short stories, I am thinking more and more that the themes in question may well lend themselves to a broader canvas, and I think that, for the most part, I will explore my literary ideas more expansively, and see where such a process leads me.

Interlitq: Over several years, you have published a fair amount of literary translation. Do you see yourself returning to such an activity?

PR: I believe it was Chana Bloch, in one of Interlitq‘s Featured Interviews, who stated that the practice of literary translation had taught her how to write, and her words strike a chord with me, as I believe that the same skills are called for when engaging in literary translation and the writing of one’s own work. Before my vision started to deteriorate, and to the extent that I began to find it difficult to read, I had started work on a number of literary translations, but it became easier for me to write fiction, as I could memorize whole paragraphs, and then find a way to transcribe them. I very much hope to resume work on these literary translations, and there are other texts, in both Spanish and French, that I would like to render into English.

Interlitq: How do you see Interlitq‘s future?

PR: We have made it to fifteen years, and that is a milestone, and here’s to Interlitq still being very much alive another fifteen years from now.

Peter Robertson Featured on Apple Podcast, «The Art of the Invisible,» hosted by Zuzana Morvayová

Click here to listen to the podcast
«The Art of the Invisible,» Episode 20, with Peter Robertson

Peter Robertson


Entrevistado por Yamila Musa


“Un cóctel soy,” Entrevista a Peter Robertson

Británico, escocés y argentinizado, “entonces voy indagando sobre este tema en el relato Struck Dumb, es uno de los asuntos que me fascina», comenta el destacado escritor y periodista Peter Robertson. El mundo nuevo y el mundo viejo. Las diferentes perspectivas y controversias culturales. La inspiración que viene de la vida y la literatura. “Un cóctel soy, tengo lealtades cruzadas”.


 ¿Cómo es ser británico en Argentina? 

Es una pregunta muy difícil porque no hay dos británicos iguales, incluso cada persona en el Reino Unido es totalmente diferente. Hay británicos que trabajan en Argentina para la Embajada Británica o para grandes empresas, estos casos son otros tipos de acercamientos, aunque no dudo de que algunos sientan cierto amor por el país. Después de haber vivido 5 años en Madrid, decidí por mi cuenta venirme a vivir a la Argentina. Tenía amistades y había leído mucho sobre este país. Mi decisión fue de libre albedrío, y ese es otro camino. Hay británicos que vienen un tiempo y se vuelven, en mi caso llevo más de 20 años, una gran parte de mi vida. En esta pregunta podría escribir varias novelas, sería interesante.

Llegué un 10 de octubre del año 1995, cuando toqué tierra Argentina era muy diferente a lo que soy ahora, ha pasado mucho tiempo, tengo otra perspectiva, otra manera de ver las cosas. Nací en Escocia, en una ciudad bastante grande llamada Glasgow. Luego, con sólo 11 años, nos fuimos a vivir a un pueblo pequeño en el campo escocés, un lugar muy lindo. A los 18 años, me fui solo a trabajar a Londres. Cuando llegué a la Argentina tenía algo de influencia española. Soy británico y escocés, existen muchas diferencias culturales entre el Reino Unido y la Argentina. Entonces podrás imaginar ese inmenso viaje cultural.

Después de más de 20 años viviendo en Argentina, un ‘cóctel’ soy, tengo lealtades cruzadas. Con cada día que pasa, me considero más y más argentinizado, respiro todos los días el aire de Buenos Aires, pero estoy consciente que nunca voy a llegar a ser argentino. Es una gran ironía, que España y Argentina sean países católicos y mi educación era protestante, mi familia no tenía trato con personas católicas. Es un tema para otra pregunta, lo reflexiono a menudo, es fascinante, pensar que me muevo por un país premiado con otros valores.

Para concluir, cada viaje interno es diferente y solamente puedo hablar de mi propio caso. Un cambio muy grande para mí fue la navidad. Mis recuerdos de esa fecha en mi adolescencia son de una navidad con frío, nieve, luces en el árbol; en cambio en Buenos Aires, para cada navidad salgo a caminar y hace tanto calor que es una situación surrealista, no lo puedo creer. Otro ejemplo es el tema de los viajes, para un británico viajar 6 horas se considera largo, como es el caso del tren de Edimburgo a Londres, en cambio para un argentino es un viaje corto. Son algunas diferencias culturales. No veo que Argentina y el Reino Unido tengan muchas cosas en común, no veo muchas semblanzas. Si bien en Argentina hay muchas razas y mezclas, sigue siendo un país latino. El Reino Unido es un país muy gobernado por la lógica. Un británico en Argentina para que esté cómodo e incluso llegue a ser feliz tiene que cambiar internamente, no es fácil, porque eso implica ceder, ceder y ceder, es un proceso doloroso, pero es un gran ejercicio para poner en práctica la humildad.

¿Considerás posible establecer mejores relaciones culturales entre los dos países? 

Pienso que sí, obviamente que hay que contextualizar, porque existen roces y conflictos históricos, empezando con las Invasiones Inglesas a comienzos del siglo XIX y la guerra de Malvinas, tenemos que tomar en cuenta estos antagonismos tan grandes. Pero dejando eso de lado, creo que se pueden desarrollar mejores relaciones culturales, siempre y cuando entre las dos partes haya un espíritu de humildad, cordialidad, apertura y aceptación de que somos todos diferentes. Se podría aprender mucho de lo que es distinto y eso nos llevaría a ser mejores que antes. En una buena amistad, con falta de prejuicios y deseos de entender el otro punto de vista, es clave unir fuerzas. Por ejemplo, sería importante indagar en el auge de la banda Queen, que empezó a finales de los años ‘70 en Argentina y sigue siendo muy popular, a pesar de que cantan en inglés. El arte nace en algún país con cultura propia, el creador es un ser humano, es un producto de ese lugar, pero el mejor arte llega a ser universal y justamente se refleja en la recepción de la banda Queenen Argentina.

Hay un escritor llamado V.S. Naipaul, que escribió un libro sobre Argentina, “El Regreso de Eva Perón”. Él es muy crítico de este país, escribe sobre la expropiación cultural del arte de otras culturas. Estoy en desacuerdo con lo que dice,pienso que su punto de vista es bastante mezquino, porque el arte del mundo es para todos. Un británico tiene que poder escuchar música oriental, ¿o esto constituye la expropiación cultural?. Según Naipaul, un argentino no puede disfrutar la música de la banda Queen. Hace un año aproximadamente, tuve un encuentro en Argentina con un británico, y él empezó  a plantear algo parecido, que le gusta la cumbia porque es autóctona. No estoy de acuerdo, el arte es para toda la humanidad, no solamente para la gente de la cultura en donde nace, es algo que nos une.

Hace bastantes años, cuando era estudiante, leí un libro muy interesante que se llama ¿Qué es el arte?por León Tolstoi. En este libro, indaga sobre lo que significa el arte, y llega a la conclusión que tiene que ser universal si realmente es arte, y tiene ese poder para unir a las personas, coincido con sus preceptos.

Retomando tu pregunta, con esta idea de acercamiento cultural, tenemos que aceptar que somos diferentes, cada persona, cada británico, cada argentino. Todo está incluido en este concepto, en lo ‘cultural’. Un ejemplo es el tema del aborto, ya que tiene que ver con la libertad sexual de la mujer, el poder decidir sobre su propio cuerpo. Entiendo que es un tema complejo, en Argentina hace poco lo legalizaron y en el Reino Unido en el año 1967. Esto habla de diferencias culturales, la manera de ver a la mujer, su libertad. No es que un país ni otro tenga razón, sino que son diferentes y hay que respetar como es cada uno, obviamente están influenciados por las religiones. Recuerdo otro ejemplo, hace más de diez años, di una clase a 20 estudiantes argentinos y hablamos sobre la serie de televisión Sex and the City, y en general, no les gustó el mensaje de esta serie, por la libertad sexual que se muestra de las mujeres, tanta libertad como los hombres.

Se pueden construir puentes constantemente, en tanto ninguno de los dos países intente imponerse, se podrían desarrollar muy buenas relaciones culturales. Obviamente que en Argentina hay interés por la cultura británica, a las personas les gustan las películas y la música británica. La clase media, cuando puede viaja a Europa o al Reino Unido. Muchos, desafortunadamente no cuentan con los fondos para viajar, sería fantástico si pudieran hacerlo, si el Gobierno de la Argentina otorgara becas para gente necesitada, para que puedan conocer Londres y otros mundos. Desde el lado británico, una parte de la población se interesa en el escritor Jorge Luis Borges. Lo que sucede, es que para un británico, Argentina está geográficamente muy lejos. Ya te hablé de este concepto de distancia, que un viaje de 6 horas es largo, y volar hasta acá son más de 12 horas. Hablando de los argentinos y los británicos, el centro del mundo es a donde uno se encuentre. Todos tenemos muchas preocupaciones y desafíos, a menudo no tenemos el tiempo para enfocarnos en otras culturas, pero creo que se puede, y es un área donde hay que trabajar mucho y daría muy buenos resultados.

Publicaste un nuevo relato, ¿es de género autobiográfico o de ficción? 

El relato Struck Dumb que escribí hace varias semanas tiene toques de ficción, pero casi todo es autobiografía, sirve como un tipo de respuesta a tu primera pregunta, de cómo es un británico en Argentina. Quería escribir sobre mi viaje personal, sobre lo que me trajo a vivir a este país, y como fui cambiando como ser humano durante todo este tiempo.

Cómo te comenté anteriormente, llevo más de 20 años en Argentina y me interesó el tema de ser un británico, dados los conflictos pasados, con la guerra de las Malvinas y las Invasiones Inglesas. Maria Elena Walsh escribió un relato que se llama El diablo inglés. Escribo sobre ese tema, porque la gente tiene la tendencia a decir inglés cuando quieren decir británico, en el año 1603 fue la Unión de las Coronas, en el año 1707 se aprobó el Acta de Unión, entonces no fueron las Invasiones Inglesas sino que fueron las Invasiones Británicas, y no era una guerra entre Argentina e Inglaterra, sino que fue una guerra entre Argentina y el Reino Unido.

Soy escocés y británico viviendo en Argentina, entonces voy indagando sobre este tema en el relato, es uno de los asuntos que me fascina. Al haber transcurrido tantos años en este país, el personaje tiene lealtades cruzadas, el choque cultural entre el mundo nuevo y el mundo viejo. Un británico que soy yo, que también pasó varios años viviendo en Madrid antes de llegar a la Argentina, ese personaje vive muchas experiencias. Otro tema que me interesó indagar, es el tema del machismo y de la homosexualidad.

Existe el tópico en Argentina de asociar a los británicos con la homosexualidad, o asociarlos cuando se piensa en Cambridge. La primera parte del relato tiene que ver con una relación que tenía cuando era joven en el período prehistórico. El personaje en Cambridge y sus ideas acerca de la guerra de las Malvinas. Luego, se viene a vivir a la Argentina y se encuentra con un mundo escondido por la cultura, una cultura de apariencias, de no decir la verdad siempre, a diferencia de las personas de España, que terminan siendo brutales por su honestidad. En mi búsqueda, quería un país más complejo y eso me trajo a la Argentina. Tengo fascinación por lo que es difícil. En el relato, cuento que en Madrid son más tajantes, es si o no, en cambio en Buenos Aires, hay mucho de sí pero no.

La cultura británica es mucho más transparente, es importante decir la verdad y afrontar las cosas con honestidad. Te cuento una anécdota. Cuando trabajaba en enseñanza y había terminado una clase con una alumna, quedé shockeado cuando me dijo que mi peor defecto era mi transparencia. Para un británico es muy importante, muy sano ser claro, si alguien no lo es, no podés confiar en esa persona, pero en Argentina la cultura es más encubierta para decir la verdad, por eso me pareció importante indagar sobre este tema en Struck Dumb, el título del relato. Podría escribir sobre muchos temas, pero me interesó demasiado la guerra de las Malvinas, y escribir uniendo lo autobiográfico y la ficción. El relato tiene que ver con la evolución del personaje, y cómo va cambiando a través de los años, su proceso y construcción. Al final no se sabe si es más argentino o británico, porque vive absorbiendo los valores de Argentina. Cuando el personaje está estudiando en Cambridge, tiene muchas reservas de lo que pensaba sobre la guerra, luego va profundizando sobre este tema durante su vida en Argentina. Trata de lealtades cruzadas y de investigar sobre diferencias culturales, y una diferencia clave, es el tema del machismo. El Reino Unido en general no es una cultura machista y Argentina lo sigue siendo.

¿Cuáles son las técnicas que utilizás para desarrollar tu proceso creativo? 

En general, hace unos años, solía escribir 5 o 6 borradores de textos. El primero siempre era terrible, pero me fui perfeccionando y esa era mi técnica. Hace dos años, se me fue agravando el problema con la vista. Durante la pandemia en Argentina, escribí varios relatos como Burning Down The Tower, The Sheer Drop, Struck Dumb, The Lift Door, y al no poder tener una vida social como antes, con el aislamiento más el problema de la visión, no tenía mucho más para hacer, entonces me echaba en la cama y escribía a mano, que es muy laborioso. En ese momento pensaba, que esperaba poder leerlos. Me costó pero lo logré, no fue fácil transferir todo a una computadora. Entonces empecé a pensar, que en vez de redactar varios borradores, voy a comenzar a perfeccionar en mi mente uno solo. Entonces escribía palabras, frases, y las iba puliendo en mi mente hasta transcribirlas en un papel. Durante la pandemia, mi técnica es escribir solo en el departamento, y de esa manera entro en un estado de mucha concentración, y me digo a mi mismo, que es muy importante intentar todos los días producir algo para que sea publicado, y ese es mi objetivo.

Espero que mi vista vaya mejorando, porque si esto sucede voy a volver a usar la computadora. De todas maneras, pensando en tu pregunta, creo que la técnica es clave, pero hace falta la inspiración que viene de la vida y que puede llegar en cualquier momento. En una charla, en mi bar favorito que está a dos cuadras de mi departamento y que a veces voy con amigos, otras veces solo, me siento a tomar un par de vinos y pienso sobre las cosas. y muchas veces surgen ideas de la nada. Todo comienza con una buena idea, después viene la técnica, que con la misma se puede sostener la idea y darle estructura al pensamiento. Encuentro la inspiración en la vida, a través de otras personas y pensando en vivencias mías del pasado. Desafortunadamente, por el momento no salgo tanto como antes, porque veo todo muy borroso y sin nitidez. Antes era muy aventurero, los fines de semana me iba solo a tomar el tren para llegar a conocer diferentes lugares, hablaba con desconocidos, me encantaba esta aventura. Es negativo para un escritor vivir en una burbuja, un escritor necesita la expansión, extraño esa etapa de mi vida, espero que esos tiempos vuelvan.

No estamos en fase 1, pero sigue el distanciamiento social y eso afecta la rutina de las personas, de todas maneras la inspiración viene de la vida y de las relaciones, de abrirse. En mi opinión, no es favorable pertenecer a un grupo literario cerrado, a una camarilla, sino conocer a diferentes tipos de personas y salir de tu propio mundo. Para escribir es importante estar solo y concentrarme mucho. Cuando estoy en ese estado, las palabras llegan mágicamente, me invaden una vorágine de vocablos, a los que solo debo darles formas.

Encuentro muchas similitudes en esta etapa de tu vida con la del escritor Jorge Luis Borges ¿pensás que tu dificultad con la visión influyó en tu vida literaria?  

Nunca llegué a conocer a Jorge Luis Borges, él falleció cuando yo tenía 25 años, si conocí a su viuda en dos oportunidades, María Kodama. Para hablar de similitudes, como persona es muy difícil para mí sin haberlo conocido, y además leí muy poco sobre su vida. Por ejemplo, la biografía de Edwin Williamson en inglés, no llegué a leerla, conozco algunas anécdotas y fragmentos de su vida. Traduje un ensayo escrito por Borges que se llama La metáfora, tengo que conseguir los derechos literarios de la Fundación, fue publicado en una antología hace varios años y editado por Suzanne Jill Levine, la académica de la Universidad en Santa Bárbara, California.

Borges fue un hombre muy inteligente, no digo que soy inteligente, sino que ambos somos literarios. En este punto de contacto, como dije en mi respuesta número 4, me siento incómodo con el concepto de camarilla literaria, se ve en el caso de Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, Silvina Ocampo y Victoria Ocampo, que formaron un tipo de camarilla, como pasó con Bloomsbury groupen el siglo XX. No siento como ser humano que algún día debiera pertenecer a una facción, partido político, camarilla, me gusta el individualismoy pensar por mi propia cuenta, esto es fundamental para un escritor.

Otra diferencia que destaco en Borges, es que no se interesaba por los más necesitados, por las personas humildes, y a mí sí me interesa indagar en sus vidas. En el cuento The Sheer Drop, el personaje principal llega a vivir en la pobreza, en una casa alquilada, con pocos alimentos para comer y duerme en la calle, y en el relato Burning Down The Tower, dos hombres que son parejaviven en un monoblock, al borde de todo, tienen lo justo, sus vidas son difíciles. A mi me interesa no solo escribir sobre personajes así, sino indagar e imaginar cómo es vivir al límite, quizás porque la vida de Borges y la mía son muy diferentes en varios aspectos, mi vida es más extremista. De todas maneras, también me gusta escribir sobre la gente que tiene dinero, pero me fascina entrar en el mundo de las personas que viven al borde de las cosas, y creo que Borges no tuvo esa visión de la vida. Leer su obra es una asignatura pendiente, especialmente porque tengo una idea para escribir algo relacionado con él, forma una parte de un ensayo, no voy a decir mucho hasta que lo escriba.

Retomando la pregunta, él con 55 años llegó a ser ciego, en mi caso con 57 años, empecé a tener problemas con la vista. Nunca vi del todo bien, desde mi nacimiento tengo problemas, pero siempre tuve una vida plena. Ahora, hace algunos años que me cuesta mucho más, y sigo pensando que voy a encontrar una solución, obviamente que mi situación y la de Borges son totalmente diferentes. Al haber perdido tanto la visión durante estos años, fue un gran desafío. Mis amigos, a menudo me dicen qué terrible, porque sos escritor y necesitas ver para tu trabajo, y siempre respondo lo mismo, que hace falta no solamente para escribir sino para la vida, para todo, hasta para las relaciones humanas, para la autoconfianza. Espero que sea temporario, perder la vista te impacta, te hace ser menos extrovertido, es lógico, si no ves con nitidez, la calle comienza a ser un lugar hostil, porque somos animales, y sino podemos dominar el entorno te afecta, no solo a nivel literario sino a nivel humano. Cada escritor no solamente es un escritor, sino que tiene otras facetas, y no ver bien, afecta en todas las dimensiones.Puedo ver lo suficiente para escribir, pero perdí lo de ser aventurero, ir a cualquier lado para encontrar material, inspiración. Nunca voy a poder olvidar estos años.

Peter Robertson
Peter Robertson

Argentine journalist Vanina Redondi  asks Peter Robertson, President and Publisher of Interlitq, a further 5 questions.



I am enjoying reading English Writers 1. I believe English Writers 2 will be published shortly.



Yes, later this month we will enter the production phase for publishing English Writers 2. We are planning a total of 4 profiles on English Writers, in addition to resuming publication of Interlitq’s regular features. Work by English writers will be published alongside artwork by Argentine artists. Luis Altieri was our Guest Artist for English Writers 1, and Rodolfo Zagert will be our Guest Artist for English Writers 2, with Guest Artists for English Writers 3 and English Writers 4 to be confirmed.



How do you see the long-term future of Interlitq?



I predict that Interlitq will continue to grow.  Certainly, we have had some setbacks over the last eight years, but these have served to strengthen our resolve. The review will continue to meet the challenge of opening up to different cultures, different ideas, generating debate in various languages.  Right now, Interlitq is interested in developing its readership in France, by publishing more on French literature, and also work in French.



Have you by now resolved funding issues?


This takes time. The third negative decision from Arts Council England was disappointing, but why dwell on it? Interlitq has never been a left-wing publication, but then nor are we to the right, embracing the dictum of the great U.S. critic, Lionel Trilling: “Between is the only honest best place to be”.  We look to the future.  Other doors will open.



I notice that you have made significant changes to your editorial staff.



Yes, Neil Langdon Inglis is our U. S. General Editor, with Meena Alexander elevated to New York Editor/Senior Editor at Large, and Geraldine Maxwell to London Editor/Senior-Editor-at-Large. And Laura Moser has recently accepted Interlitq’s invitation to act as Washington D.C. Editor/Senior Editor at Large. It’s a strong team.




I notice that Interlitq is now archived by Columbia University Libraries Web Resources Collection.



This is encouraging news, and consolidates our position in New York, with Interlitq incorporated in the State of New York, and with our status as a Collaborating Institution of Americas Society. New York is Interlitq’s home.

«Foreboding», the translation from the Spanish into English by Peter Robertson of «Víspera» (Kodak, 2001) by María Teresa Andruetto, a Consulting Editor for Interlitq, first published in «Apt: An Online Literary Journal» (2007)

This translation was first published in Issue 10 of Apt: An Online Literary Journal (2007)




Dusk descends. You say,

“When we are old, we will return to this place,

you will write, I will till the soil.”

A wood-pigeon soars above the home that we plan,

in the distance a hawk takes wing.

On the hillside, the sun transfigures the gorse,

for a moment only, we are bathed in warmth.

I say, “It is all so beautiful. And yet,

I sense a presage of sadness in the dense foliage.”

You say, “It’s because it is Sunday.”

You say, “It’s because it is winter.”




Se va la tarde. Decís, a este sitio

vendremos: escribirás, sembraré,

pasaremos los días de viejos.

Sobre la casa que nace, cruzó

una torcaza. Más allá hay un halcón

y unas loras. La luz moja la falda

del Mogote, aviva los manchones

amarillos. Todo es hermoso, digo,

y sin embargo, hay una nota

de tristeza sobre talas y espinillos.

Será porque es invierno, decís,

será porque es domingo.



María Teresa Andruetto nació el 26 de enero de 1954 en Arroyo Cabral, hija de un partisano piamontés que llegó a Argentina en 1948  y de una descendiente de piamonteses afincados en la llanura. Se crió en Oliva, en el corazón de la Córdoba cerealera, un pueblo marcado por la existencia de un asilo de enfermos mentales que, en tiempos de su infancia, era considerado el más grande de Sudamérica.

En los años setenta  estudió Letras en la Universidad Nacional de Córdoba. Después de una breve estancia en la Patagonia y de años de exilio interno, al finalizar la dictadura trabajó en un  centro especializado en lectura y literatura destinada a niños y jóvenes. Formó parte de numerosos planes de lectura de su país, municipales, provinciales y nacionales, así como de equipos de capacitación a docentes en lectura y escritura creativa, acompañó procesos de escritura con niños, adolescentes, jóvenes en riesgo social y adultos en programas oficiales e instituciones privadas, dentro y fuera de la institución escolar, y ejerció la docencia en los niveles medio y terciario. Coordinó ateneos de discusión y colecciones de libros para niños y jóvenes.

En 1992 su novela Tama obtuvo  el Premio Municipal Luis de Tejeda y a partir de esa circunstancia comenzó a publicar la escritura que tenía  acumulada. Publicó las novelas Tama (Alción 2003), Stefano (Sudamericana, 1998), Veladuras (Norma, 2005), La Mujer en Cuestión (DeBolsillo 2009) y Lengua Madre (Mondadori,2010), el libro de cuentos Todo Movimiento es Cacería ( Alción, 2002), los libros de poemas Palabras al rescoldo ( Argos, 1993), Pavese y otros poemas (Argos, 1998), Kodak (Argos, 2001), Beatriz ( Argos, 2005), Pavese/Kodak (Ediciones del dock, 2008), Sueño Americano (Caballo negro editora, 2009) y Tendedero (CILC, 2009), la obra de teatro Enero (Ferreyra editor, 2005) y numerosos libros para niños y jóvenes, entre otros  El anillo encantado (Sudamericana, 1993), Huellas en la arena (Sudamericana,1998), La mujer vampiro (Sudamericana, 2000), Benjamino (Sudamericana, 2003), Trenes (Alfaguara, 2007), El país de Juan (Anaya, 2003/Aique 2010), Campeón (Calibroscopio, 2009), El árbol de lilas (Comunicarte, 2006), Agua cero (Comunicarte, 2007) y El incendio (El Eclipse, 2008). Reunió su experiencia  en talleres de escritura en dos libros realizados en colaboración, La escritura en el taller (Anaya, 2008) y El taller de escritura en la escuela (Comunicarte, 2010) y sus reflexiones  en Hacia una literatura sin adjetivos (Comunicarte, 2009). Su obra está siendo traducida a varias lenguas. Obtuvo entre otras distinciones, Premio Novela  del Fondo Nacional de las Artes, Lista de Honor de IBBY,  Finalista Premio Clarín de Novela y Premio Iberoamericano a la Trayectoria  en Literatura Infantil y Juvenil SM. Seleccionada y antologada en publicaciones nacionales y extranjeras, por numerosos equipos  y jurados, su obra ha servido de base para la creación de otros artistas, y se han realizado a partir de ella  libros objeto, cortometrajes, espectáculos poético- musicales, coreografías, espectáculos de narración oral escénica, adaptaciones teatrales y otros. Narran sus cuentos  narradores orales de España y Latinoamérica y sus libros son materia de estudio en universidades argentinas, americanas y europeas. Tiene dos hijas y vive con su marido en un paraje de las sierras cordobesas.

«Where Your Home Is», the translation from the Spanish into English by Peter Robertson of «Ahora que viene el tiempo de los pájaros» (From Pavese y otros poemas (Pavese and other poems) (1997) by María Teresa Andruetto


This translation was first published in Issue 10 of Apt: An Online Literary Journal (2007)


Where Your Home Is
Spring 1992
(in memory of Clara Crimberg)

From Pavese y otros poemas (Pavese and other poems) (1997)


Now that the birds once more intone their chorus

and the almond tree, unbowed, blazes its equal beauty,


now that I walk, in the evening, to take the air,

then tend to plants still parched with seas of water,


now that a myriad of skirts, beguiled by Aeolian dance,

are caught by the breeze and billow,


now that the febrile children head for the lots

to build their dens and holler,


now that the women loll in verdant gardens,

and sip their tea and whisper,


I long for you and look, transfixed,

to the west, where your home is.






                                                 Ahora que viene el tiempo de los pájaros


Primavera de 1992.

(In memoriam Clara Crimberg)





Ahora que viene el tiempo de los pájaros

y de los brotes en las ramas y la blancura

del almendro,


ahora que salgo al aire por las tardes

y riego plantas y veo cómo la tierra bebe

el agua,


ahora que se agitan las polleras

al murmullo de la brisa,


ahora que los niños conquistan el baldío

y construyen refugios y saltan vallas,


ahora que en el barrio las mujeres se sientan

a la sombra de los fresnos y toman mate

y hablan,


yo miro a cada instante hacia el Oeste, hacia

tu casa.

Peter Robertson, President of Interlitq, interviews Calum Colvin, the Art Editor for Interlitq

PR: First of all Calum, I want to thank you for agreeing to be our featured artist for Issue 7, and especially for granting me this interview in your studio here in Edinburgh. A personal meeting is certainly the best way to get to know you well, as man and artist. As soon as I came across your work, I found it utterly compelling–full of verve, subtlety and defiant in the sense that it challenges artistic canons– and I knew instantly that I wanted you to be the featured artist for this issue.

CC: Thank you for your kind comments Peter, and also for inviting me-it’s an honour.

PR: Calum, I’d like to ask you some questions that will help to place your work in perspective.

CC: That’s fine Peter, fire away!

PR: You have gone on record as saying that a concept of «hybridity» is central to your work. What exactly do you mean by this? Is it a process that began with your studies at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art in Dundee or does it date from your studies in London at the Royal College of Art, or even later?

CC: I mean that my work is very much a hybrid of various media: painting, photography and sculpture. This began soon after I started working with photography (whilst studying for a diploma in sculpture at DoJ) in 1982. I was interested in ‘documentary’ photography but quite quickly realized that this was one element in a whole range of possible areas of enquiry inherent in the medium. I realized that I could use the monocular viewpoint of the camera to encompass a whole range of concerns.

PR: Developing this theme, you have described Scotland as a «hybrid» nation. Did you gravitate towards «hybridisation» because you felt it was the best approach when dealing with a country you appear to see as divided, as suggested by your artwork, «Twa Dogs«, which portrays religious and sectarian conflict?

CC: As a child I attended both Catholic and Protestant schools and was therefore made keenly aware of the perceived differences (‘They’re not the same as us, the Tims’. ‘Proddies don’t really believe in God’ etc. etc.). Somewhat confusing to a ten year old caught in the middle! Also, Scotland’s complex and frequently troubled relationship with its neighbors, England and Ireland, has led to a very mixed range of political and cultural outlooks. Scotland is, for many reasons, very different from north to south and east to west. I began to see Scotland as an intriguing construct, ingenious and schizophrenic. I thought perhaps I could layer meaning in my work in some way that would reflect this.

PR: A central theme of your art is the collision between high and low culture. In your portrait of Sir Walter Scott, you include the detritus of Scottish shortbread, tin memorabilia and Jimmy hats. Scotland is perceived as a rich cultural repository but also the «Land o’ Cakes». Can you tell us more about your fascination with this cultural collision.

CC: From Culloden to Brigadoon! I suppose it is because I am interested in contrasting views on the same landscape. Scotland has an often dark and violent history, yet sells a romanticized kilt and haggis version of this to tourists in the High Street in Edinburgh. Much of this can be traced back to the tartan pageant organized by Sir Walter Scott on the occasion of George IV’s visit to Scotland in 1822. The more you look at the construct of national identity, the more you see an incredible mishmash of half-truths and magnificent falsehoods. Perhaps this is true of all nations.

PR: You have been called an icon manipulator and you have certainly stretched the meanings of Western archetypes. I feel that you are a subversive artist in that you take an old master and deconstruct its meaning, forcing us to perceive it in completely new ways. Take your «Heroes 1«, based on Ingres’ 1808 painting, «Oedipus and the Sphinx». And then, in «The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things» you correlate a tradition of Christian iconography and an ironic view of tartanry and kitsch. And, as if this were not sufficiently iconoclastic, in an apotheosis of subversion, in your «Sacred and Profane» exhibition, you re-interpreted eight paintings including «Venus Anadyoneme» (after Titian) and «The Stoning of St Stephen» (after Elsheimer), held in the National Gallery of Scotland’s permanent collection. Would you agree that your work is subversive in spirit?

CC: I would, yes. I think art has become so mixed up with commerce that sometimes it is not possible to see anything other than the financial value and concomitant power structure attached when you gaze upon an ‘old master’. In a sense I wanted to reclaim these images as creative works. I wanted to take the compositional structure of these paintings, play with/subvert the existing narrative, and create new narratives. As an art student, I was often told of the superiority of painting as a medium over other media such as photography. I found this puzzling and wanted to question these orthodoxies. I also enjoy the challenge involved in re-visiting historical works. ‘The Seven Deadly Sins‘ series in 1993 was the first time I worked in-depth with the possibilities of digital imaging, and I wanted to see how far I could go in making a series of works (thirteen in all) that would hold together as a narrative. I took the all-seeing eye of God in the original tableau, and turned it into an eye of Nature, thus allowing me in the series to explore issues around environmental destruction and our unwilling participation in such processes. The ‘Sacred and Profane’ series was more concerned with investigating the structure and narrative of the original paintings. I wanted to impose other layers of meaning and personal narratives upon these works.

PR: You fight shy of people labelling your art as ‘collage’. Can you describe the fusion of techniques that you press into service when producing an artwork?

CC: Sculpture, painting, photography. It’s that simple. A bit of digital stuff mixed in. Anamorphosis. Much painstaking painting over a three-dimensional set. Then photographing the finished set on a large-format camera, playing with lighting. Much photographing. They are not collage as such; the end result is usually a realistic photograph of a constructed scenario. More documentary photography. I use a computer to print the images on different surfaces.

PR: You made heavy use of digital imaging in your sequence «The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things» (1993). When did your interest in digital imaging and computer morphing actually begin?

CC: In the Eighties in London, where I experimented with a few pieces. I used it extensively in 1992 to make ‘The Seven Deadly Sins’ series. I saw the computer as a possible way to extend the narrative of my works, cross-referring them in a way. I made a few more shows in this manner, but increasingly I prefer the simple, paintbrush-and-camera route.

PR: A lot of your work is trompe-l’oeil. You have gone as far as to say that your work is completely about artifice, a homage to the artificial. I notice your use of anamorphic perspective and wonder whether you have been influenced by Hans Holbein’s painting «The Ambassadors» in the National Gallery. Can you tell us more about the role of artifice in your oeuvre.

CC: Anamorphic perspective has been around for a long time, since the 16th C. I am interested in work that concerns this, as it presents a kind of other world, floating between reality and vision. Photography, with its monocular eye, ideally suits this technique, which I try to marry with cultural artifices.

PR: In your most recent major exhibition, «Ossian, Fragments of Ancient Poetry» (2002), a series of twenty-five large-scale digital prints based on James Macpherson‘s probably fictional «The Poems of Ossian and Related Works» of 1765, you started to present images as paintings. Did you adopt this approach to make the viewer decide for himself what is real and what is artificial and, narrowing this down, to what extent did you embark on this exhibition so as to unearth what is authentic and what is ersatz in Scottish culture?

CC: The ‘authentic’ and the ‘ersatz’ are both moveable feasts. In this area the questions are more interesting than the answers. I really wanted to try to make the viewer question what is good and what is bad in Scottish culture.

PR: Focusing on what you consider to be inherently bad in Scottish culture, you have gone on record as saying that you believe the Scots to be a fatalistic people. Do you still hold to this, and what virtues redeem our vices?

CC: The essence of the Scottish psyche is certainly a tough one to answer! It is difficult to discuss this without a «Wha’s like us?» mentality (famous tea-towel poem extolling the achievements of Scots throughout the ages). What you say is true. I have said in the past that the Scots tend to be fatalistic, and sometimes quite negative. I still believe this, but I also think that we have a very good, surreal and dark sense of humour. Couple this with a certain tendency to argue, particularly in the pub, about politics, perhaps a remnant of «the flyting» (a precursor to freestyle battling) common in 16th century Scottish poetry, and the result is a good night out!

PR: And yet, in some of your work, this fatalism, that you berate, appears to creep in. I am thinking here of your work, «Crying in the Chapel» (1991) from «The Two Ways of Life«, a series that you made for the Art Institute of Chicago.

CC: The vision in this case cites Jacob’s Dream but drastically shifts the revelation of the House of God to a mournful secular site: that of a Scotland dispossessed. But this is not so much fatalism as a metaphor for a momentous, and indeed heart-rending, historical event.

PR: Does this, then, serve as a metaphor for the Highland Clearances? Calum, do you agree with me that, while we can debate ad infinitum whether Scotland is still haunted by its past, the haunting beauty of its landscapes is certainly beyond question?

CC: Indeed! As it happens, I have long had an interest in the Scottish landscape. This is tied to my interest in Scottish history and culture. It doesn’t take long, when looking at Scottish history, to see the ways in which the country has been shaped, both politically and economically, by the soil. The intense attachment that the Highlanders felt for the land is well-documented, in poetry and song, from the time of Columba. After the Second Highland Rebellion in 1745, the clearance of land has been an emotive issue. Sir Walter Scott’s literary exploration of the Scottish Highlands, together with the massive fame of Macpherson’s «Ossian», reshaped the whole perception of the romantic wilderness. From all this we eventually end up with a thriving tourist industry selling Gonks and Nessie souvenirs to the tourists. There is a lot to explore visually in all of that!

PR: Developing the theme of Scottish identity, I believe that a journalist once described you as «an unrepentant Scot». Do you think that there was an element of veiled criticism here, an implication that your cultivation of Scottishness impeded the nurturing of a universal vision? Can you tell us more about the ten years that you spent in London and how they shaped your outlook? Also, as an «unrepentant Scot», are you surprised at the success that your art has had in Spain and South America? Do you think that this is due to the heavy photographic component in your work, photography being so popular in these countries, or because of the bright, symbolic, stained-glass colors, proper to Catholic religious art, which you achieve as a result of cibachrome prints?

CC: If you take the experience of James Macpherson and the phenomenon of his Ossianic publications, its massive popularity across the world and influence on the Romantic movement, these are truly astonishing achievements. Even Napoleon is rumoured to have said, while in St Helena, «I have even been accused of having my head filled with Ossian’s clouds». It is notable that most of the vitriol heaped upon Macpherson came from England. It is natural to take your own culture and language as a basis for your art, you see it all the time in literature. I simply did this with photography. I can’t remember who called me ‘an unrepentant Scot’, I think it was in «The Times». In jest, I presume! The time I spent in London was invaluable, and great fun. I was 21 when I arrived there, and was exhibiting internationally by the time I was 23, so it was very exciting. It was also strange, being in a country you know so well (from the shared world of the BBC) yet within which you always felt an outsider. I have never understood why my work would be popular anywhere! I try not to think about it.

PR: In 1989, while still living in London, you yourself gave your «Jock’s Progress» series the sub-title, «the Rise and Fall of an Unrepentant Scotsman«. Was your appropriation tongue-in-cheek or was it meant to connote some Calvinist fall from grace?

CC: The sub-title is a retrospective joke, though some truth in it. I suppose, at the time, I was a little bemused at the amount of attention me and my work were receiving. I thought that this would not last, and that if you are feted so much, then inevitably people would hope to see you fall («I kent his Faither» kind of deal). I was realizing at the time that the intellectual enquiry I was pursuing would (at some point) lead to a division between the type of images that a gallery may be interested in, and the kind of images I wanted to make. I have always gone my own way in this respect. If you look at the series of images, there is a double-edged irony in there. It’s a sense of enquiring into your own culture, exploring its intellectual possibilities, and then the fall…ironically softened by a kailyard cushion, so to speak!

PR: Your worst fears never came to pass but, in any case, after a decade down south you headed home. Calum, can you tell us about the art scene in Scotland right now and, more specifically, in Edinburgh, where you live? How does the art scene there compare with that in England? Do you feel that devolution, and the sharper awareness of a national identity thereby engendered, have enriched the cultural scene? Do you believe that, in cultural terms, Scots felt colonized by England in the past?

CC: Scotland has, on some levels, a very vibrant art scene. More so in Glasgow than Edinburgh, which can be a little conservative. There are a lot of good young artists emerging (and staying) in Scotland. When I graduated in 1983 I went to London. This, or New York, was the normal route for artist ‘Scotsmen on the make’. This route does not seem to be a necessity now. Scottish artists of course, do not have the established art- buying audience that English artists enjoy, nor the same level of support from the national institutions (not sure why). There are other difficulties. I would like very much to publish a book of my works (as opposed to catalogues, which I have plenty of). However, this is nigh-on impossible in Scotland. I think cultural awareness and national identity are areas that have been increasingly re-appraised in Scotland in recent years. I also think the citizens of North Britain (as it nearly became) have an interesting future.

PR: Reverting to the Ossian exhibition, you appear to be haunted by the destruction wrought by the inexorable march of time. In your cycle of images, «Blind Ossian I-IX«, based on an 1807 engraving by the Scottish artist, Alexander Runciman, you gradually destroy the original form, ending up with a ruin. And, I can see from the artefacts here in your studio that you are working on a «Vanitas» series. As man and artist, now in your mid forties, would you say that you are more preoccupied than ever with «memento mori»?

CC: I think that, as you get older, you want to simplify your ideas and practices. You become aware of perception changing over time. When I was younger, I wanted to make images that were densely layered, echoing the ‘noise of the world’. In 1989 in London I made a triptych over an intense three months called ‘Deaf Man’s Villa‘. I became so obsessed with it that afterwards I felt like I had been living in a cave.

PR: It is in «Deaf Man’s Villa» that birds first appear as a central motif. Later, in the mid 90’s, you went on to produce your «Ornithology» series. Can you tell us more about the symbolic significance of birds in your work.

CC: In «Deaf Man’s Villa» representations of birds appear symbolically in various forms as victims of human conceit and neglect. In this way the bird symbol is one of innocent nature corrupted by human action. In a sense this occurs again and again in my photographs, but there are other layers of symbolism in the use of birds. It highlights the complexity of meaning I aimed at achieving through the simple technique of staged constructed scenarios orchestrated before and recorded in front of a large-format camera. It is a multi-layered and endlessly cross-referenced image touching on themes of optical illusion, corrupted nature, transformation, evolution and reproduction. Although «the Deaf Man’s Villa» was titled after Goya’s home near Madrid, the place where he painted his incredible «Black Paintings», the title became something more to me. I began to see the «Villa» as an emblem for the world as a whole and the «Deaf Man» as humankind. The general abuse of the planet by man coupled with the usually catastrophic attempts to interfere in the natural processes, for example, re-introducing extinct species, became an issue of some concern and I wanted to explore the consequences of this kind of behaviour. As you mentioned, the use of bird imagery became more central to the image in the mid 90’s when I started work on an ongoing series of images under the collective title, «Ornithology», although in fact the works touched on many themes. I wanted to create a series of images which contained social commentary masked in a kind of urban Audobonesque visual style. These works include «The Magnificent Frigatebird«, an image which meditates on Scottish working-class culture, and «Sacred Ibis«, which looks at the destructive aspects of the lottery obsession.

PR: One critic has said that there is a quality of near madness in your constant weaving of pictorial images. This seems to me to be going too far but there is a startlingly surreal quality to your work with images such as Icarus falling into a set of bagpipes and St Anthony gazing at a lunatic procession of garden gnomes. And I often perceive an immanent darkness, for example in «Mundus Subterraneus 1» with its unsettling images such as coiled and dessicated snake-skins and distorted images of a cranium. I am hardly surprised that James Thomson’s phantasmagoric poem, «The City of Dreadful Night» is one of your favourite poems. Can you give us some insights into your subterranean world? How crepuscular is it?

CC: I cannot help but dwell on the everyday ironies of contemporary life, coupled with a typically Scottish dark humour. The idea for my exhibition ‘Pseudologica Fantastica’ came when I was lying on a densely packed tourist beach in the Costa Brava in Spain in 1991. I was looking at newspaper images of the destruction of the Iraqi army on the road to Basra, and burning oil wells in Kuwait. I thought of both these worlds (with sand as the common denominator) and the images evolved from there. This sounds dark! I was also fascinated by the types of tattoo sported by the Scottish and German tourists. I like the idea of a twilit world, between day and night. It is worth bearing in mind that all the objects, props etc, which appear in my pictures, had a previous life in the ‘real’ world. Now that is worrying.

PR: You have promoted your work not only as an exploration of national identity and aspects of contemporary culture, but also sexuality. It seems to me that, with David Donaldson, you are alone among male Scottish artists in representing yourself in the nude, in your androgynous self-portrait «Narcissus«. You have spoken of your wish to «sensualize the male«. I wonder whether this is a tall artistic order in a country like Scotland which some people think still has an ethos of «machismo»? Do you feel that some aspects of sexuality are still taboo in Scotland, and can you tell us more about how Magnus Hirsch’s ground-breaking studies of sexual perversion have influenced your work?

CC: I came across the Hirsch book in a second-hand bookshop in London, and was interested in the series of case histories, outlining real experiences and proclivities. I used part of the text in images such as ‘Narcissus’ (a case history of a person with narcissistic tendencies) to provide a commentary to the visual image. I have used this book through a number of images to provide a ‘documentary’ comment and as a metaphor for artistic obsession in contrast to sexual obsession. The notion of Scotland still being a ‘macho’ country is an interesting one, and hard to quantify. Certainly where I grew up, wearing a hat for any male under 60 was considered a challenge to the sexual status quo. But now (I hope) Scotland seems more relaxed, in parts anyway. When you consider the paintings I have re-worked, it would seem too tempting not to challenge the male/female power structures epitomized by these works.

PR: It isn’t just the Hirsch book that has been important to you. You have said how much you were influenced by Robert Ferguson’s book on Scottish national identity. You have also mentioned that Alasdair Gray’s magnum opus, «Lanark», with its interplay of distinct genres, prompted you to find a visual equivalent through photographs. I am struck by how literary you are as, in your work, you quote Wittgenstein, Leibnitz, Descartes and Hegel as well as Shelley, nursery-books and medical treatises.

CC: I’ve read a lot since childhood, on account of the rain. My father was the first in his family to attend University in Glasgow, where he studied psychology. He kept a fairly large library and I dipped into it regularly, without pattern or method. I see the books, or fragments of books which appear throughout my works, as kind of stepping stones, literary colours which comment on the visual element. I look for texts that are ironic, funny, dark or mysterious in relation to the painted work. I like Hogg, Stevenson and Burns, and am fascinated by that period in Scotland’s history.

PR You have said that in the future you want to incorporate «stereo photography» in your work-what advantages will this give you?

CC A direct access to the cerebral cortex of the unsuspecting viewer. This new work will be exhibited in the exhibition ‘Natural Magic’ in the Royal Scottish Academy 7th March-5th April 2009.

About Calum Colvin:

Born in 1961, Calum Colvin is one of Scotland’s leading contemporary artists. Professor of Fine Art Photography at Dundee University, his oeuvre is internationally renowned and widely exhibited. His work is held in numerous prestigious collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Museum of Fine Art, Houston; The Victoria and Albert Museum, London; as well as the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh and the Gallery of Modern Art in his native Glasgow. In 2001 Colvin was awarded the Order of the British Empire for his contribution to the visual arts, and in 2004 was made an Associate of the Royal Scottish Academy.

Peter Robertson’s translation from the Spanish of «El Vestido Blanco» (The White Dress) by the Uruguayan author, Felisberto Hernández


Peter Robertson writes:

This June I crossed the immense River Plate on my way to Montevideo, to meet Walter Diconca, the grandson of Uruguayan writer, Felisberto Hernández (1902-1964). I had come to another country to enlist Walter’s support in obtaining the literary rights for my translation of Hernández “The White Dress.” Months before, I had stumbled across this story, published in the 1925 collection, “Fulano de Tal”, and dedicated to María Isabel Guerra, Felisberto’s first wife. As I read “The White Dress,” I was compelled by its images, giving primacy not to the protagonist’s inner musings but his obsessive observation—shot through with sexual tension and encroaching menace—of the external world.

While Felisberto has proved to be a seminal influence on major Latin American writers, such as Gabriel García Márquez, Julio Cortázar and Carlos Fuentes, this quixotic writer defies categorization. Italo Calvino has said that Hernández was like no other writer, either European or Latin American, and Felisberto himself was at pains to distance himself from any literary affiliation. With regard to the genesis of his work, he would only say: “I don’t know how my stories come to be written—each has its own internal life.”

It is to be hoped that, in the English-speaking world, Felisberto Hernández will come to receive the recognition that he deserves—this would be a far cry from the critical neglect that dogged his career. Indeed, in terms of adversity, Felisberto’s life appears to have been inspired by one of the many tangos he, in his days as a concert pianist, would have played in the music halls of Uruguay. A fitting thought as I once again crossed the River Plate on my way back to Buenos Aires.


The White Dress

by Felisberto Hernández, translated by Peter Robertson:



I was standing outside, looking up at the balcony. From where I was, I could see that the two glass doors had been flung open and were facing each other diametrically, inside the room. Marisa was standing there too, her back almost grazing one of the glass doors. But, all of a sudden, someone called her from within and she left the scene. No sooner had she gone than I sensed that her departure had failed to evoke any intimation of absence. Indeed, I grew conscious of the fact that, all the while, the two glass doors had been looking at each other intently, that she had been a trespasser. She had encroached on the sanctity of that mute, immutable thing: the two doors staring at each other.



It did not take me long to discover the only thing that engaged me about the two glass doors: the pleasure I derived from their inviolate positions; and the anguish that invaded me when these were transgressed. The positions that gave me pleasure were only two: when the glass doors faced each other, in sullen collusion; and when they were shut together and therefore at one. If Marisa pulled the doors back and they passed, even by a fraction, the precise point where they faced each other, I could not stop my jaw from clenching, my body from seizing up. At moments like this I would make a preternatural physical effort, willing the doors to revert to their perfect symmetry. Were this to be prevented, I had no doubt that the two glass doors would incubate a rancorous hatred whose outcome we could not predict.




The most sacrilegious assaults on one of the two positions that gave me pleasure would occur in the evening, as Marisa and I wished each other goodnight.


On these occasions she would hesitate as she closed the two doors, leaving an invidious gap between them. I could tell that she was blind to the need of the two glass doors to be fused together forthwith, in implacable union.
In the dark space that remained between the two doors, there was scarcely enough room for Marisa’s head. She looked nonchalant as she smiled at me, clearly reluctant to say goodbye. I could tell that she was oblivious to that intangible, yet menacing, force born of her delay in closing the two glass doors.




One evening, Marisa invited me inside and I felt elated. Later, she asked me to stand with her on the balcony. To get there, we had to negotiate the space between the two glass doors. Surveying them, I was bemused by their inscrutability: it seemed that, before we passed, they had been thinking one thing; and, after we passed, quite another. In any case, we walked through the gap that separated them. After Marisa and I had been talking for a while, and I had started to forget about the glass doors, I felt them touching my back in hypnotic movements. And, turning round, I saw that the doors were right up against my face. In fact, they had succeeded in pushing Marisa and me to the very edge of the balcony. My instinct was to jump off there and then, taking Marisa with me.




One morning I was ecstatic because we had just got married. But when Marisa opened a wardrobe, I felt as perturbed as I had been by the glass doors, by this excessive aperture. One evening, while she was away, I went to take something out of the wardrobe. Although I felt like a desecrator, I opened it nonetheless. Spellbound, I stood there inert. My head was motionless, as were the contents of the wardrobe, and one of Marisa’s white dresses, which looked just like her, without arms, without legs, with no head.

(First published in Turnrow, Fall 2007)

«A María Isabel G. de Hernández»


El Vestido Blanco



Yo estaba del lado de afuera del balcón. Del lado de adentro, estaban abiertas las dos hojas de la ventana y coincidían muy enfrente una de la otra. Marisa estaba parada con la espalda casi tocando una de las hojas.


Pero quedó poco en esta posición porque la llamaron de adentro. Al Marisa salirse, no sentí el vacío de ella en la ventana. Al contrario. Sentí como que las hojas se habían estado mirando frente a frente y que ella había estado de más. Ella había interrumpido ese espacio simétrico lleno de una cosa fija que resultaba de mirarse las dos hojas.




Al poco tiempo yo ya había descubierto lo más importante, lo más primordial y casi lo único en el sentido de las dos hojas: las posiciones, el placer de posiciones determinadas y el dolor de violarlas. Las posiciones de placer eran solamente dos: cuando las hojas estaban enfrentadas simétricamente y se miraban fijo, y cuando estaban totalmente cerradas y estaban juntas. Si algunas veces Marisa echaba las hojas para atrás y pasaban el límite de enfrentarse, yo no podía dejar de tener los músculos en tensión. En ese momento creía contribuir con mi fuerza a que se cerraran lo suficiente hasta quedar en una de las posiciones de placer: una frente a la otra. De lo contrario me parecía que con el tiempo se les sumaría un odio silencioso y fijo del cual nuestra conciencia no sospechaba el resultado.




Los momentos más terribles y violadores de una de las posiciones de placer, ocurrían algunas noches al despedirnos.

Ella amagaba a cerrar las ventanas y nunca terminaba de cerrarlas. Ignoraba esa violenta necesidad física que tenían las ventanas de estar juntas ya, pronto, cuanto antes.


En el espacio oscuro que aún quedaba entre las hojas, calzaba justo la cabeza de Marisa. En la cara había una cosa inconsciente e ingenua que sonreía en la demora de despedirse. Y eso no sabía nada de esa otra cosa dura y amenazantemente imprecisa que había en la demora de cerrarse.




Una noche estaba contentísimo porque entré a visitar a Marisa. Ella me invitó a ir al balcón. Pero tuvimos que pasar por el espacio de esos lacayos de ventanas. Y no se sabía qué pensar de esa insistente etiqueta escuálida. Parecía que pensarían algo antes de nosotros pasar y algo después de pasar. Pasamos. Al rato de estar conversando y que se me había distraído el asunto de las ventanas, sentí que me tocaban en la espalda muy despacito y como si me quisieran hipnotizar. Y al darme vuelta me encontré con las ventanas en la cara. Sentí que nos habían sepultado entre el balcón y ellas. Pensé en saltar el balcón y sacar a Marisa de allí.




Una mañana estaba contentísimo porque nos habíamos casado. Pero cuando Marisa fue a abrir un roperito de dos hojas sentí el mismo problema de las ventanas, de la abertura que sobraba.

Una noche Marisa estaba fuera de casa. Fui a sacar algo del roperito y en el momento de abrirlo me sentí horriblemente actor en el asunto de las hojas. Pero lo abrí. Sin querer me quedé quieto un rato. La cabeza también se me quedó quieta igual que las cosas que había en el ropero, y que un vestido blanco de Marisa que parecía Marisa sin cabeza, ni brazos, ni piernas.


About Felisberto Hernández:


Escritor uruguayo. Fue también un músico notable, y vivió de sus conciertos de piano en Uruguay y Argentina mientras publicaba sus primeros y breves relatos: Fulano de tal(1925), Libro sin tapas (1929), La cara de Ana (1930) y La envenenada (1931). Su dedicación a la literatura se acentuó tras la publicación de la novela Por los tiempos de Clemente Colling (1942), donde evocó su adolescencia y al pianista ciego que fue su maestro de armonía y composición. Ya en plena madurez escribió dos relatos largos más, dedicados también a la recuperación del pasado y al análisis de los mecanismos de la memoria: El caballo perdido (1943), y Tierras de la memoria, que apareció póstumo en 1965. En su última etapa, cuando el trabajo en una oficina le permitía una dedicación plena a la literatura, prefirió el relato breve y fantástico: sus colecciones Nadie encendía las lámparas (1947) y La casa inundada (1960), así como su novela corta Las hortensias (1949), lo consagraron como un verdadero maestro del género, que renovó con la irrupción de los misterios del inconsciente en la vida cotidiana. Murió de leucemia en el año 1964.

About Peter Robertson

Peter Robertson was born in Glasgow in 1960, of Scottish and Irish descent, son of William John Robertson, formerly Chairman, West of Scotland Refractories, and Isobel Murray Imrie; he was the step-nephew of Ames Lyell Imrie CBE, variously City Chamberlain of Edinburgh, City Chamberlain of Dundee, and Consul of Sweden at Edinburgh. He was brought up in Perthshire, and educated at King’s College, Cambridge. He is the President, Publisher, and Founding Editor of The International Literary Quarterly (Interlitq), a not-for-profit corporation in the State of New York.

A journalist by profession, he also taught for the British Council in Madrid, and was later employed as an Editorial Assistant for the Alfaguara Publishing House in Buenos Aires. He was then contracted by the International Monetary Fund as a linguist, and for which organization he also conducted research. Subsequently, he acted as a Consultant for a number of international agencies, including the World Bank, the European Investment Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and UN Women.

As an author, his fiction has been translated into several languages, and he has published translations of work by authors such as Jorge Luis Borges, Rosalía de Castro, Rubén Darío and Paul Éluard.

He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Linguists, and a Fellow of the English Association.

He lives in Argentina and Scotland.