Working on Arena and Encounter

My role as part of the SpaTrEM project has been to research and document further information about the contributors and translators of two English-language magazines published in Britain. The first was Arena, founded and edited by Jack Lindsay, John Davenport and Randall Swinger, and the second was Encounter, which begin in London in 1953 and was initially edited by Stephen Spender and Irving Kristol. The process required me to conduct research using online databases, archives, and webpages to gather relevant information and document my findings in an excel spreadsheet in an organised manner. My research findings have shown interesting developments in the role of politics in literary magazine culture after World War Two. Both magazines also brought to my attention the broad range of non-English writers, critics, and creatives who were living in and contributing to such circles long before the influx of migrants from South Asia and the Caribbean during Britain’s Windrush period. A further perspective I undertook during my research was upon those contributors with sympathies for or who were involved in social movements such as communism, fascism, and socialism. In both magazines, I found many of the writers who contributed were popular or important political figures, and their positions on politics and literature demonstrated a clear engagement in the arena of international politics.

The first magazine I researched was Arena 1949-1951. This magazine consisted of seven issues from which I collected data on the contributors’ backgrounds, political involvement and relationships, and the translators credited in the magazine. I created two separate tables for this in order to separate the data found on translators from contributors. Much of the credited translation in this magazine was done by its editors, notable Jack Lindsay and his wife Ann Lindsay, and there were translations from several languages, including French, Hungarian, Russian, Italian, Polish, Spanish, Greek, German, Czech, Turkish, Indian and Chinese. This diversity highlighted an existing appreciation for global writing and translation both amongst and beyond Europe. I also noticed that many of these writers shared similar political interests and opinions and were involved in the same social and political movements and ideologies. The magazine was very consistent in its tone of empathy for left-wing ideas throughout the seven volumes, and this was demonstrated in the content, adverts, and the translations it had selected. This showed a clear reflection of the political and social changes that took place during the time the magazine was founded and run.

The second magazine I engaged with was Encounter which officially ran from 1953-1990; however, the findings on which I base this paragraph are based on two volumes between 1953-1954. This magazine was originally led by editors Stephen Spender and Irving Kristol. Encounter was significantly larger in size in comparison to Arena and was divided into larger sections including fiction, poetry, book reviews, art, and critical essays. Many of the contributions to the magazine came from writers, academics, intellectuals, and journalists, and although English was the dominant language there were many translations (mostly credited) from Japan, Portugal, Switzerland, Russia and Poland.

Both magazines drew heavily on current political and social themes. Reflecting on the global economic and political events of the period, I noticed the parallels between these post-war periodicals and current magazine culture in Europe and Britain. Many current cultural magazines share Postcolonial and Decolonial themes,  allowing contributors to comment on popular movements and events such as Black Lives Matter, Hands Off My Hijab, Brexit, and Covid. These parallels demonstrate the inherently political and social nature of many literary and cultural magazines and their use in reflecting the voice of the various groups in society that they write for. 

Ramisha Rafique

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