Last night, Naveen Kishore, the founder and publisher of Seagull Books, received the 2021 Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature. Joining the celebratory cocktail reception in New York via video from Kolkata, Mr. Kishore shared the following acceptance speech. The laudatory remarks presented by Jeff Deutsch of Seminary Co-op are available here.
There are days when the worms emerge. And slither into the raging waters. In my head.
At the core of the publisher-translator-publisher-translator relationship. Mentoring. Seamless shifting of balance. A seesaw of possibility.
where will you be this summer?
When the temperatures rise
and the train tracks refuse
the haze diminishes
the distance of not arriving nor
getting there where
the mirror glints there
where the one
doesn’t greet the other
where the haze diminishes where
the one doesn’t meet the other
nor the distance of not arriving
nor getting there where
the mirror glints there where
to hell with it I’ll write you a letter and post it
Translation not only. But also. As an activity that decodes image text memory. Causing something almost “erstwhile”—what may have been, what used to be, what no longer is—to come into being.
Thought: so much remains still. So much remains in a state of almost-born. We know this in the case of thoughts. Or in my case, images. My constant battle between the analog and the instant nature of the digital or what I call the phone-chimera. That which excites even as it obliterates. Leaving very little room for “living,” that stretched period of anxious time that creates suspense. I bring you back to my first encounter with the Stoppardian suspense. That startling beginning to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. R&G having lost their way into a limbo somewhere between Shakespeare and Beckett are seen tossing coins. Guildenstern remarks, “There is an art to the building up of suspense,” then continues, “though it can be done by luck alone.” One of the two characters is aware that the coin is in fact two-headed. So there is no way the spinning can change the fate of the coin or of the character. And yet what if? This “existential” suspense is our modern-day condition. As in, despite the knowledge of the odds being stacked against us, there is a tiny window of hope.
The photographic suspense I speak of is somewhat in the nature of a moment paused. An act of almost-revealed. Not by accident. But by design and purpose. Perhaps even with some degree of motivation as in the case of Pinter’s plays. The Pinteresque pause anticipates in that moment of imposed-suspense a limbo that is full of everyday menace at one level and a vast melancholic helplessness at another. But. We know that the pause will create an active (or passive) moment of decision. Choice. For the character. One which implies the desire to act. Or to not do anything. Either because all has been numbed or because every act implies a risk-taking. You don’t want to take a risk. You let time step in. Perhaps in the guise of circumstance and choose for you. This choosing to not choose builds suspense.
My constant battle between the analog and the instant nature of the digital the phone-chimera. That which excites even as it obliterates. Translation?
This phone-“chimera”—the phone camera or digital camera is the modern-day instrument of what I call “obliterates.” The chimera offered by the digital while creating images is prone to a disappearance that is comparable to a “censoring” of the images. To deleting the ones that “in my opinion” do not work for me. Versus the old-fashioned analog camera that transfers the movement into film, thereby stilling it for as long as the film lasts. The life-term allotted to the invention called film-negative. This mode of image making doesn't allow you to tamper with that which is captured.
Again: the digital offers an instant replay of every moment during the process of image-making itself. While: the film camera creates suspense. You wait for the film to be processed into its negative state and then the print to be made. It is at this stage that a photographer realizes whether the image is a rendering of what was attempted while taking the photograph or not. Of course, here the act of “deleting” takes place differently. You choose not to print the image. It remains in its negative state. Another kind of suspense. For one day you may return to it and decide to give it “life” in the form of a print.
Here's what my friend and translator Tess Lewis writes: “Like photography, translation entails a moment of suspense—both in the sense of anticipation and suspension—in the journey of an idea, a whole, a vision between two media, and more importantly the transfiguration from the metaphysical to the physical.”
The hot afternoon in literature across cultures often finds itself described as one that is full of the noise we equate with extreme silence. Each one of these heatednoonssilences have at least a fly or a bee buzzing. It struck me that this need-urge to add “sound” in the form of a universal buzz is an attempt at “warding off” evil or falling prey to a superstition that this complete “vacuum”—what one may call the absence of sound—might become a permanent. And yet there is a temptation to explore this newfound deafness too. Seek words that lie hidden within this absent-absence without the distraction of those that we utter-repeat every day. Interestingly, the night in literature has no bees or flies. What it has is a Dark. The sheer mass of this Dark can be overwhelming. Like a weight upon one’s chest. Or it can be a space where the eye-toes become nimble and we learn to see our way via the temporary-blindness that engulfs us. Unseeing-seeing that allows the birth of words. First through hearing and then through the use of a rapidly blinking pair of eyes. Choose your own particular Dark.
Months after I write this, I find our friend and author Pascal Quignard had said it with much more force and imagery that I could:
One must know how to respond vacuously, in the void. This gives rise to books. One must know how to get lost in the void. This is the light in which we read them. One must respond to others only by creating. One must drop all other forms of replies. General Carl von Clausewitz wrote to Mainz: Never structure oneself like the adversary. Never submit oneself to an incurable hostility and to the feeling of helplessness that causes you to pay attention to the hostility.
Creating means assailing a battlefront without a rival, where there is no community.
Creating is the only good piece of ground in the world.
For this “ground’”that suddenly surges forth in the eyes of one who creates does not exist before it is created.
This space where the book is created cannot be found in reality. It is unimaginable within symbolism. It is empty. This occasion cannot be anticipated by those who are envious of the happiness that they do not possess, by those who are thirsty for the blood of others, by those who unremittingly seek to devour the prey that they see escaping from them. For they do not invent their space and do not find the blood that they love in it.
One comes back to the words. Always.
You do want to say the right thing, don’t you?
On behalf of all of us at Seagull Books, our authors who take a chance on us, our translators who trust us, our friends in publishing who champion us and our colleagues in foreign rights departments in so many places across the globe, I would like to thank you for this award, and for recognizing how vital books are, how vital stories are, and how essential it is that words remain without borders. For all time and all people.