Issue 4: Trans-

Rima Rantisi | Editor’s Note

Despite what you might read in this fourth issue of Rusted Radishes, what’s really on our minds is garbage. 

As I write, on what could have been a welcome rainy, finally-cool, October evening, there are streets across Lebanon that have literally transformed into flowing rivers of bobbing plastic bags filled with our household waste. As we worry about the air we breathe, the mosquitoes that make their way into our flesh, or how our beloved fresh vegetables may be contaminated by our fellow countrypeople’s rotted – and now wet-and-seeping-into-the-ground – waste, I wonder what role can literature and art have in times when worrying about our health is the most urgent thing our environment has offered us to think about.

In our creative writing courses, we speak of how to plunge into the nuances of the human condition. But how often do students think of the human condition as a product of our political landscape? That is, from a perspective that places the personal into the larger context of citizenship. Why can we use politically charged artwork and literature as objects of study in our classrooms, but rarely encourage our students to render similarly charged products for public consumption?

Let us not forget that our histories can be written through our literature and art. This is why for our fifth issue, we are calling for submissions that address the theme, “The Political City,” in an attempt to encourage the process of thinking about our realities through a lens that strongly acknowledges how our personal lives are born, shaped, struggle, and exist within a political landscape that in no way can be severed. That it even reaches into our sewers and garbage bins. This issue, “Trans-,” started off with the purpose of including more translations, not just in their translated form, but in their original as well, so that readers could be in touch with the transformation that takes place in translation from the Arabic, which in some way is really the subtext of our Anglophone (or other) identities as writers and artists who are Lebanese or connected to Lebanon. In other words, our connection to Arabic, which may be null or partial or equal to English or French, say, is one that included a process at one point – of migration, education, love/hate, necessity…

The prefix “trans-“ essentially infers the movement of one thing beyond, to another state or place, a becoming, a penetration. It seemed appropriate to call for submissions that could address these notions beyond translation as well. Besides brand new English translations of the work of Fadwa Suleiman, Chaza Charafeddine, and Abu Nawas, this issue includes a story about a trans gender character discovering his/her turning point in Christy Chouieri’s fiction piece, “XX”; a promise shattered into “glass nibbling” at the feet of two lovers in Reem Chaalan’s poem, “Mango Sorbet”; and an intimate look into the morning ritual of a young woman who rids herself of “bad juju” in Maya’s Ayache’s essay “The Toilet Bowl.” Our drama piece this year, an excerpt from the play Baltimore, by Alexander Borinsky, is a wrenching illustration of the fragility and volatility of intimacy. These and more brave prose make their way into the pages by Salwa Mansour, Afif Kraitem, Mirene Arasanios, and Thurayya Zreik; and stunning poetry by Elana Bell, Hayan Charara, Philip Metres, Emma Moghabghab, Neil Singh, and more, are here.

This year also boasted the largest number of artwork submissions we have had to date. You can see that the art selections are not only super-cool and eclectic, but they each reveal beauty in unusual ways, whether in the unfocused photograph of “Fisherman the Corniche,” by Vahan Luder Artinian, which is transfigured into something that looks just like a painting, or a sculpture that doubles as an Airwick Freshmatic Spray dispenser in “Lavender, or Yes, I Agree” by Lara Nasser. In the transnationally-cobbled pieces “Corn Angel” and “Way Beyond Home,” artists from different countries, including Lebanon, passed on their work and each added their own layer to reach a final product. There are too many amazing artists to name who contributed to making this issue such a lovely physical product. Just look inside!

We created an advisory board this year comprising some brilliant people who know how to affect their surroundings in the art and literary worlds, and who happen to be good company over coffee too. The board includes Niloufar Afnan, Fouad M. Fouad, Marilyn Hacker, Roseanne Khalaf, Fadi Mogabgab, and Lina Mounzer. Over the years, they each have had their own special contributions to the journal, and we look forward to their expertise in helping us grow further.

It’s a time of transformation, Beirut. We feel it, and we don’t feel it. We believe it, and we don’t believe it. We are optimistic and we are pessimistic. We don’t know for how long we will have garbage in our streets, on our minds, but our literature and art may be the best way, in times like these to complexly narrate our realities and to imagine new ones.