Preface to the website Kaleidoscope & the project writers@work from the island of Ireland
Bless thee, Bottom, bless thee! Thou art translated. 
Writers@work is an offshoot of the EFACIS project Literature as Translation. There are many different kinds of translation: from one linguistic system into another, from one (sub)culture into another, from body language into a verbal articulation, from life into art … even the translation between different moods, from rapture to routine, may have the effect that we feel translated, like good old Bottom in A Midsummernight’s Dream. With the first initiative, Yeats Reborn, we focused on merely verbal translations – of poems, plays and essays. To compare these texts into twenty-odd languages is interesting for scholars, but non-specialists may be more interested in the students’ comments on their work, as they comment on the ways they negotiated questions of lexicon, grammar and register while transferring Yeats’s textured ideas into the texture of their own language.
The second project which focuses on texts by John Banville, published on johnbanville.eu, is different in that the main focus is on only one text, and the translations invited were now both verbal and cultural. So Fiction and the Dream, written in his characteristic lyrical prose, was translated by colleagues in Irish studies across Europe and beyond – Irish studies is also strong in Brazil and Mexico, and increasingly so in China, India and Singapore. For the cultural translation colleagues invited leading writers in their language to react to Banville’s key text; we received magnificent contributions from major authors such as Claudio Magris, Philippe Le Guillou, Corin Braga, Carmen Boullosa, Paul Claes … to name but a few. Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill was happy to translate the text into Irish but also volunteered to write her own reaction. Her generous proposal triggered an idea, why not ask other Irish writers to pitch in with their evocation of a writer’s existence? So writers@work was born. The remit was clear: to deliver a fresh text on the characteristics of a writer’s life. For those who wanted a more focused approach of this topic I sent the following list of questions to pick from:
- What, to you, is the nature of literature ?
- In which conditions does your writing come into being/flourish? Does mood play a role?
- Which conditions are detrimental to the right concentration?
- Does writing need a room (physical, mental, emotional) of its own?
- Which place does writing have in your life? how does it interact/interfere with life, or does life interfere with writing?
- Is the literary translation of life into stories/poetry/drama somehow an unceasing commitment? Could you give an example of how that works?
- Does the unconscious come into play, and if so, how? Could you give an example of how something gestated over a certain time? Do the best passages come (un)intentionally?
- What exactly can a wo/man’s specific ways of perceiving bring to writing?
- Which is your favourite genre and why?
- What is the purpose of writing for you?
- What should your writing do to the ideal reader? to society?
- What is an ideal sentence to you and why? Are there any metaphors which are central to your perception / work?
- If you were to describe the act of writing in one scene, would that be a curse, a relief, bliss, a struggle, all of these?
There was no pre-set format nor any restrictions in content: any kind of text was fine, whether a short essay, a few aphorisms, a fictional scene, a (fictional) diary entry, a dialogue, a few paragraphs with observations, or a combination of these. The perfect size for essays was set (but not too strictly) between 1000 and 3000 words; if it was a fictional text or sustained meditation, the arc of which would demand more scope, that was very welcome.
This project involves only prose fiction. Though it would have been very interesting to ask the same questions of poets and playwrights, it was beyond the scope of this first project of Kaleidoscope. As to the name: when we started the project in May 2018 it was called writers@work, but later I found out that the series of writers’ interviews Clare Boylan had done on the topic of writing for The Guardian was called “Writers at work”. In those days the at-sign (or ampersat, strudel; monkey tail in Dutch) was not commonly used, so I was happy to keep the name going, as a salute to this fine author. Another difference with Boylan’s book is that this project only invited writers originating from the island of Ireland. For the actual hosting website we switched the name to Kaleidoscope, as it is a broader term which can also accommodate art. Moreover, the word consists of the Greek kalos, beautiful, plus eidos, form, and skopein, to see or to aim; it refers both to a scientific tool and a children’s toy which constantly transforms its elements into surprising configurations. Kaleidoscope wants to offer ideas toward a new epistemology, but it also wants to entertain. Like the tool and the toy, this EFACIS project aims at producing forms so intriguingly beautiful that they invite us to rethink the complexities of life. On the core question of writers@work – what is the nature of (producing) literature to you? – we wanted a multitude of aspects and opinions about writing whirling through this website. These may in turn inspire others in their creative and critical work.
The full title of Kaleidoscope’s first project is writers@work from the island of Ireland. Like authors who “work from home” these 50 fiction writers work “from Ireland”, either living on the island (in the north, the south, commuting, or as a traveler), or in the diaspora. The collection of 50 contributions is only one episode in the ongoing fascination we have with the magic of writing. Clare Boylan’s book, The Agony and the Ego, was subtitled “The Art and Strategy of Fiction Writing Explored”; published by Penguin in 1993, it contains both big and lesser names, yielding colourful insights into the writing process. Declan Meade published another collection on this topic in 2016 to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Irish Writers Centre on Parnell Square, significantly called Beyond the Centre. Some of the authors who contributed to that book also wrote for this publication; but again “The Danger and the Glory, Irish fiction authors on the Art of Writing” the book based on this website, that will be published in February 2019 by Arlen House, will contain yet other voices. And Sebastian Barry will pursue this search further again as he will use part of his time as Ireland’s Fiction Laureate to podcast interviews with Irish writers on their existence. Indeed all these contributions are steps in an ongoing quest for that fluid boundary between word and world, as visible yet magnificently elusive as a rainbow.
The publication of these contributions will be two-fold: one on the website, to increase the availability, and one in a book, to be hand-held and cherished, and kept for long-term use. We are very glad that Rita Duffy was so kind to agree to provide a special cover picture for the book, which will find its echoes on this website. As this Northern Irish artist is on a tour in South-America right now, kaleidoscoping Belfast, São Paulo and Buenos Aires, she felt in the right frame of mind to contribute. We thank her for her generous cooperation and are glad to welcome her as one of the many active players on this website.
Easy availability to all readers (scholars, students and lovers) of Irish literature, across Europe and beyond, is a core concern of EFACIS, so websites are vital, as our projects aim at interaction, in at least three forms. Firstly, as a grassroot initiative, Literature as Translation wants to bring the students into “deep contact” with texts. Through translation of contemporary Irish literature, non-native English speakers become, on the one hand, aware of the complexity of what may have seemed a simple text, and, on the other hand, explore the possibilities of their own language to match the demand which the English text makes of them. Through this process, they also discover the riches of their own culture. As Joyce famously put it: “the way to Tara is via Holyhead”. This also goes for the second kind of interaction, that between Irish writers and their hosts in the Irish Itinerary. A keyword of this project is “uni-city”: via the university translators and scholars enable the whole city and regional communities to share in the products of Irish literature, culture, art. Conversely, Irish writers enjoy the hospitality of the cities they visit, which may give them “the shock of ideas” to spur them into further song. Thirdly, there is the exchange between art and academia, between creative and critical use of literature. Both partakers in the literary craft try to refine the tool box our languages offer, the former more imaginatively, the second in more abstract reflection, but both try to articulate the ways in which humans deal with urges, emotions and values.
This articulation of the self is not a matter of vanity but of sanity, both in the personal and the political sense. At a time where “social media” encourage mimetic behaviour, “verbal coca cola” as Éilís Ní Dhuibhne calls it, literature is meant to stop the reader in her tracks, to tap her on the shoulder and say: think again. Maybe, the writers suggest, we should reread our own world more closely, things are not what they seem, have we listened to voices different from the usual ones?
So now that writers@work, Kaleidoscope’s first project, is ready for you I want to cordially thank everybody who made this possible. First of all, John Banville, for allowing use of this text which anchors the whole project. We also thank the authors who took part in the cultural translation; they remain on the Literature as Translation website, as this was part of the original project. A huge thank you also to the 50 writers who contributed to Kaleidoscope, 14 from the north, 32 from the south, 4 from the diaspora, 17 men, 33 women. What was meant as a fun exercise in honest self-reflection seems to have turned into just that: contributors are both accurate and poetic, so readers are in for an interesting time. Many subgenres are represented, the lyrical and the detective novel, realism and magic realism, styles suited for epistemological probing or for younger readers. My gratitude here goes to Alan Hayes and Anne Enright who were very helpful in bringing me into contact with several writers, as did Caroline Magennis and Dawn M. Sherratt-Bado. A very special word of thanks to Carlos Solis Reyes who is the ‘master of web revels’, doing both front and back work, always creative and ready to help at any time of day and night. I am deeply indebted to Helena Nolan and Ruth Barrett at the Embassy of Ireland in Belgium, who helped me secure financial backing for this project, provided by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Without their support this initiative would never have come about. And last but not least, a huge thank you also to Rebecca Jackson, Sven Kretzschmar, Ciarán Byrne, Harry Thorrington and Stella Cheng. From September 2017 all through to 2019, Rebecca has been and will be following up on the translations of Banville’s text into 38 Languages, checking the versions in their different alphabets with great precision, in close cooperation with the translators. You find these texts as well as the contributions on the art of writing by several European writers on johnbanville.eu. From October onward we could count on Ciarán, the EFACIS coordinator, on the interns Stella and Harry, whose astute proofreading, efficient correspondence and web-savvy approaches make the website to what it is today. From here on, it is you, the authors and artists, scholars and lovers of literature who will make the site fly.
 Here Quince addresses his friend, Bottom, who has just metamorphosed into a donkey, an “ass” – only to reach divine spheres. (A Midsummernight’s Dream, The Arden Shakespeare, 3.1, 112-113).