After six decades as a prominent print journal, Washington and Lee's acclaimed literary journal Shenandoah is available at shenandoahliterary.org. The digital version - Volume 62, Number 2, is now online. The homepage also includes a Poem of the Week, an Archive Feature of the Month, audio files of contributors reading their work, an essay on featured artist, William Dunlap; brief and extended reviews and a rotating series of 100 arresting quotations. Those seeking information about submissions, prizes and the publication's history - from Tom Wolfe through Flannery O'Connor and W. H. Auden up to Rita Dove and Charles Wright- will find a wealth of information on the site. Further links reveal a description of the WLU English Department's Internship in Literary Editing program, along with comments by both the winter 2013 interns and recent graduates. All aspects of the journal are interactive and invite reader comment. Finally, Shenandoah's blog "Snopes" will introduce provocative topics and encourage readers to engage in discussion. Bloggers will include staff members, interns and special guests.
For over half a century Shenandoah has been publishing splendid poems, stories, essays and reviews which display passionate understanding, formal accomplishment and serious mischief.
Founded in 1950 by a group of Washington and Lee University faculty and students, Shenandoah has achieved a wide reputation as one of the country's premier literary magazines. Work from the magazine's pages has appeared in Best American Short Stories, Best American Poems, Best American Essays, Best American Spiritual Writing, The O'Henry Prize, New Stories from the South and The Pushcart Prize, as well as numerous other anthologies and quite literally thousands of collections by the original authors. Recent issues have featured Pulitzer winners Natasha Trethewey, Claudia Emerson and Ted Kooser, as well as fiction by James Lee Burke, George Singleton, Alyson Hagy, Chris Offutt, Bret Anthony Johnston and Pam Durban.
I recently read an article in the online Commentary magazine that listed the top-ranked writers in American literature over the past twenty-five years. Here’s a link to the original piece: http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2012/03/26/mla-rankings/. The list is compiled based upon scholarship published within the MLA International Biography. While there is no ‘official’ list for the canon of American literature, the works cited within MLA offer a pretty decent picture of the canonical works deemed relevant by literary scholars.
According to the list, Henry James is number one with 3,188 pieces of scholarship devoted to his work. One important caveat: this article was written almost exactly 2 years ago, so it’s possible the list has changed somewhat but probably not significantly. I was surprised James’s location at the top of the list; I had not read any Henry James until reading The Portrait of a Lady while studying abroad in Italy last year. The next three authors were less surprising to me: William Faulkner, followed by T.S. Eliot and then Herman Melville, in that order. The rest of the list includes many of the perennial classics that dominate high school English syllabi, from Hemingway to Whitman, Thoreau, and Steinbeck. The only other name that raised my eyebrows was Saul Bellow, who at 706 reference works and ranked at #23 out of 25, barely makes the list as it is. All of this discussion is to say the following: what constitutes inclusion in the American canon? Does scholarship define reputation?
If a work is able to withstand scrutiny and maintain its relevancy years after its publication, certainly it is a candidate for the canon. The author of the Commentary piece, D.G. Myers, is quick to mention that the list is not meant to be comprehensive. There are other qualifications, although they go undefined. In my opinion, chief among these qualifications is a probing argument that changes readers’ impression of culture and society.
The problem with the second of these two definitions is that they can occasionally be contradictory. Postmodern work in the 1960s, for instance, has not existed long enough to receive the scholarship or study of a Henry James novel, and yet there is no question in my mind that authors such as Norman Mailer deserve consideration as contributors to the canon of American literature. The other side of this coin is authors who wrote during Poe’s years without publicity or recognition. Their noteworthy works might have received greater attention and praise had they had access to the sort of publicity available (largely because of technology) in the past few decades.
I can see why Myers quantifies his list the way he does. Tracking MLA documentation is a hard and fast method for numerically comparing works of literary art, and it offers relatively realistic results (based upon my very un-scientific recollections from middle and high school). I am most intrigued to see how this list will ultimately change in another twenty-five years. Given the changes in ranking that have occurred in the past twenty-five (James overtook Faulkner, Frost dropped 5 spots, Toni Morrison rose nine places), I would imagine that the rankings will look incredibly different.
Myers attempts to objectify the largely subjective through his research, and despite my occasional disagreements, I applaud his efforts. The flexibility of the American canon has been under debate for years, and his list provides a good starting point for identifying important literary masters regardless of its comprehensive nature. Who else do you think belongs on the list?
If you’re like my father, you read a lot of magazines. It’s one of my dad’s many endearing traits, one that I’ve even tried to emulate. That’s not to say a magazine is a comparable substitute for a good book. In high school, it used to rattle my bones when someone responded to “what’s your favorite book?” with, “do magazines count?” Unfortunately, I am not making this up. That being said, I do think magazines can successfully fill in the gaps between books. They occupy breakfast time, subway commutes, and grueling minutes spent in waiting rooms. You can even cut them up once they become stale and make collages!
Despite Dad’s ridiculous number of magazines, my collage activities have never gone over well with him. He has multiple stacks that have reached impressive heights (the one in our guest bathroom now reaches my knees). They’re on his nightstand, in the dusty corners of his office, on the kitchen table, and in the back seat of his truck, but the suggestion of downsizing sends him into a tirade. Even more impressive is the variation in titles—The New Yorker, Money, Vanity Fair, Garden and Gun, Vogue, and Conde Nast Traveler, just to name a few. I know most people have a favorite, but at what point do you stop trying to cover all the bases?
Dad’s casual attire usually involves frayed jeans and a red L.L. Bean pullover from 1997, so I have questioned his loyalty to Vogue—does he really need a subscription to a magazine celebrating high fashion? His response—“there are some really interesting articles in there.” I can better understand Money for its practical implications, despite being quite literally the most boring thing I’ve ever picked up. Vanity Fair connects him to pop culture without having to endure a Keeping Up With The Kardashians marathon (I have no problem with this because I am disturbed by the prospect of my father watching the Kardashians). The New Yorker, the most consistent of his subscriptions (we have issues that survived my toddler years), keeps him intellectually sharp. Traveller is so he can visit exotic places in a more realistic timeframe, and Garden and Gun is so he can stay home. He likes the articles about people who love their dogs almost as much as he loves our Jack Russell/Cavalier King Charles mix, Russ. Russ prefers his dinner slathered in gravy and has his own seatbelt. Unlike my dad, he has several sweaters.
I laugh at his affinity for such an assortment of magazines, but let’s look at the bigger picture. My dad, like all of you, is a complex human being with a variety of interests. He has no desire to brand himself with titles. I have learned that this isn’t an excuse to read “trash,” but it is a lesson in broadening the scope of what I read. Why should my dad feel ashamed to pick up Vogue to read about what he’s unfamiliar with (he does live in rural Virginia, after all), and why should I feel out of place reading Money magazine? Variety and accessibility are where I find merit in magazines, and while my dad might never feel totally comfortable in New York City, he feels right at home reading The New Yorker.
What are your favorite magazines? Does anyone else have a magazine collection to rival my father’s?
Take a look at any list entitled “100 Must-Read Books” or “50 Books You Have to Read before Leaving College.” No doubt those lists will include Candide, The Brothers Karamazov, Don Quixote, or Madame Bovary. All of these are essential pieces of classic literature. All of these were also originally written in a language other than English.
I’ve studied both French and Spanish for several years and have always remarked to myself the curious little inconsistencies in translation. These become different questions: why do they use the passive voice here? Why use the subjunctive mode there? Often I received the answer “because.” And though this answer is more or less acceptable for learning the languages, it doesn’t’ help when comparing an original text with its translation.
Having read both poetry and prose in original French and Spanish, I’m always interested in what little things get lost as they’re filtered through translation. While translation does communicate setting, action, and character, it lacks considerable capacity for communicating the nuances of a given language. This presents a problem: one’s native language is a barrier to the best understanding of great literary works.
That’s not to say English speakers shouldn’t be reading Maupassant and Tolstoy. Rather, it is incumbent upon the reader to discover where the nuances are lost in translation and to compensate for the deficiencies of the native language. Abstraction and metaphor rarely translate well; idiomatic expressions are often lost entirely. But these are the obvious limitations of translation.
I’m more interested in the little things, less evident but still important. To demonstrate what I mean why I think it’s important, I’m going to reference a book I know backwards and forwards: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. You could argue that it’s not great literature (I would vehemently disagree), but it is perfect for the purpose of this post.
From the text I’ve picked out three major kinds translation differences:
-Changes in person: In French and other languages, there is frequent use of impersonal expressions. In English, we use the passive voice less frequently. Instead, the translation usually adopts a personal pronoun, creating a more direct link between the action and the subject. In the case below, I think the change makes it appear that the action will take place. In the French, the impersonal expression lends an abstract feeling.
-Word replacement: In lieu of a direct translation, sometimes a translation changes word which gives a more appropriate meaning in the new language. In the second chapter of The Little Prince, the English translation substitutes “rub” for “blink.” In French, one would generally say they blinked before something they could hardly believe. In English, we usually say we rubbed our eyes, just to make sure we aren’t looking at a mirage.
-Changes in Familiarity: This is a problem that, as far as I know, is unique to English. English lacks different versions of the pronoun “you.” In the romance languages and most others, there are two or three (and sometimes more) variants of the pronoun: one familiar and one formal, at least. The lack of this distinction in English can change the dynamic between characters in a story, especially if the shift from formal to familiar signifies a shift in a relationship. In chapter seven of The Little Prince, the eponymous character addresses the narrator with the informal “tu.”For most of the book however, he had used the more formal “vous.” As mentioned above, this change reflects their increasing closeness. In chapter one, the Little Prince uses “vous,” but the translation shows no difference.
Translation is tricky. There are a lot of nuances to be aware of in both the original language and the new one. Skilled translation can account for most of these discrepancies, but if you can, it pays to read a work in its original tongue.