May 09, 2010

Birthday wishes

I’ve just finished a visit with my 74-year old father and on leaving, had the curious feeling that I won’t see him again. This, coupled with being on the eve of the launch of Versal’s 8th issue (in fact the party in Amsterdam is probably just finishing up) I’m feeling retrospective.

Versal began in 2002, the same year the “war on terror” was launched. Now, I wasn’t there for the production of the first three issues of Versal, but I was in Europe in 2002. Seen from the lens of an ‘American’ in Europe, I watched as the US seemed to go crazy about weapons of mass destruction, European ‘obstinacy’ in the UN in relation to invading Iraq to pre-emptively strike a sovereign nation that, it turns out, didn’t have such weapons. Anger in the US was particularly strong towards France, with fries being renamed and wine being poured in gutters as protest.

Does all this have a point? Yes, indirectly. It shows the context in which Versal came to be in Amsterdam. It shows the place in which wordsinhere began a little literary journal to highlight work from around the world. Translocal Americans living outside the US, it felt to me at the time, weren’t infected with the insanity that seemed to spread over the US. For example, groups of people burned albums of the Dixie Chicks, a country western band, for speaking out against the tide of fear and war in which the US seemed enshrouded. It reminded me of what I’ve heard about McCarthyism in the US of the 1950s, or living in Germany or Italy during the second world war. Or the ultra-nationalism in the Balkans during the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Examples are legion.

If a population goes crazy—for whatever reason—who is there to stand up for reason? If a government one day declares that two plus two equals five, and has primed people in the country through fear or coercion to believe it and silence those who say it equals four, where do the voices go that express two plus two equals four?

I’d like to think that voices of people who are outside the pockets of insanity could provide that voice of reason. Could provide, at the least, a plurality of viewpoints during periods of widespread hysteria and fear. I’d like to think that Versal is such a place: that in providing a forum for story, poetry and artwork from contributors around the world, it shows us the reader that—in this world at least—there are a multiplicity of voices, that hegemony bred from ignorance and fear need not dictate to the world.

Hmm, perhaps this entry doesn’t have a point after all. Perhaps I’m just musing about death and life, decay and birth, and celebrating eight years of Versal as well. Happy birthday, Versal.

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