April 2019. What a time to be alive! As the UK makes its way through the interminable Brexit process, it’s time for an issue on the radical political and personal changes that we see going on around us, and within us.
In this issue of PEN Transmissions, we’re featuring a pair of conversations with writers whose work acts as a response to the current political crisis: Austrian writer Robert Menasse and Turkish writer Ece Temelkuran. They complement and contradict each other: one optimistic, one pessimistic about the political future.
Robert Menasse’s The Capital (translated by Jamie Bulloch) is sometimes referred to as ‘the first EU’ novel; in his essays, he engages with politics and, especially, the transnational project of the European Union. In our conversation he reflected on the state of politics and political writing, especially the depoliticisation of writers and the future of the nation state.
Ece Temelkuran (who won a PEN Translates award for her novel Women Who Blow on Knots) has recently written a work of political non-fiction that acts as a call to arms for the EU and the US, a warning about what can happen if people and countries stop being vigilant. In our conversation, she stressed the insidious nature of fascism: ‘[Evil] is different now, it comes across as something that we consider not that dangerous: Oh, it’s another idea in the free market of ideas, oh, it’s just another opinion, another faith. But all these small political choices add up to create their own form of identity.’
Jan Carson provides a different perspective on political upheaval and its consequences. As a Northern Irish writer, Brexit has led her to question her own identity and that of the state she grew up in: ‘Recently, when it comes to British identity, I’ve felt like the kid who’s initially delighted to be invited to a classmate’s part only to discover the birthday girl’s mother has forced her to invite everybody in the class, even the children they don’t like.’
Finally, Theodora Sarah Abigail (Ebi) writes about another kind of personal revolution: becoming a mother at the age of 18, and learning to live with this new identity while holding on to previous identities. While Jan’s questioning of identity revolves around a new passport, Ebi’s centres on a small human.
I hope you enjoy this issue of Transmissions. It’s a good time to think of Mitterand: ‘Le nationalisme, c’est la guerre!’ See you next month. Hopefully.
– Theodora Danek, editor, PEN Transmissions