Halfway through the The Western Lands, William Burroughs introduces us to an unsympathetic critic, who has somehow gotten his hands on a copy of the text and is now prematurely reviewing it for his newspaper. The critic complains about the book’s apparent lack of structure, the jumping from period to period, the proliferation of atmospheres and settings that are summoned one after another only to vanish into thin air. He is quite unaware of his paradoxical position as a character in the book, not to mention the necessary hypocrisy of it. But none of the critic’s complaints can compare to the dead weight of his words: pages and pages of words and not an image in sight.
Different skies is a home for words which are alive and full of images. There are places where it’s inevitable (although in some cases still intolerable) that words should serve an instrumental purpose: empirical research, political agitation, news bulletins. But what we are talking about is the other side of words.
However we don’t believe these things are separate, at least not fully. Our alienated world has not succeeded in tearing them apart completely.
Different Skies is a publication for writing that falls between the categories of the political, the scholarly and the creative: Tales in the guise of criticism, polemics in the guise of poetry, philosophy in the guise of short stories. Prose – in particular the essay form – is at the centre of our gravitational field. Although there are other forces and other forms, pulling us in different directions.
So we are talking about a writing which is hybrid. But this is not just a hybridity of formal categories but also one of subject matter, of life. These are matters of fact vs matters of fiction, vs matters which matter to me – and what matters most?
The world has provided us with many examples. Here is one, in the form of a tragedy: On April 12th a man in Massachusetts named Tarek Mehanna was sentenced to 17 years in prison for translating a document called ’39 ways to serve and participate in Jihad’. Of course, in the United States, free speech has its own special kind of militancy; the holy first amendment used to defend the lowliest of loathsome, anyone from neo Nazi youth to the KKK. But Jihad? Apparently not. Despite the fact that this is not even speech yet, as Tarek did not speak, he did not even write. He was a translator, caught in the middle of words and meaning.
Self expression is ok, even if it amounts to fascism. Information is also ok (after all the document was already in the public domain). What is not ok is anything between the two. The hybrids of language, which count translation among their members, are strictly forbidden.
One more example, a little more hopeful: In Bolivia, radio San Gabriel, a radio station broadcasting completely in the native Aymara language is pushing back against a colonial past, which until now had occupied practically everything, including the Aymara people’s vocal chords. Listening to those voices, it’s not not so much a language’s claim to originality that inspires us, but its traction in the world. Somewhere on the airwaves a voice comes on and says, let’s take it back, let’s take it all back.