The White Review began life in 2011 as a little magazine intended to provide “a space for a new generation to express itself unconstrained by form, subject or genre”. Since then – often in the face of financial precariousness – it has become something of a literary fixture; in addition to its tri-annual print publication, it has developed a vibrant online platform and presides over regular events in both Britain and the United States. The White Review Anthology is a stylish “best of”, in which emerging writers sit alongside those with more instant kerb appeal.
In their brief introduction, the White Review’s editors Ben Eastham and Jacques Testard explain that they took its name from La Revue Blanche – a fin-de-siècle magazine whose “anarchist” principles chimed with their mission to disrupt the conservative “closed shop” of the literary establishment. And, in her astute essay, “Barking from the Margins” (an assessment of contemporary attitudes to women’s writing), Lauren Elkin addresses the ever-timely VIDA count, which year after year reveals the dismal state of gender equality in the literary world. On this front, The White Review Anthology performs well, with a near-exact balance between male and female contributors; on almost every other count, however, the anthology’s range fails to live up to its founding principles. Despite an editorial “commitment to translation, and to emerging writers”, the anthology represents little more than a fin-de-siècle diversity: London, New York and Paris dominate; there are no black contributors; and all three of the translated works were originally written in Spanish.
Nevertheless, those seeking either an overview of recent transatlantic literary culture or an introduction to contemporary literature will find much to please in this anthology. The essays are especially striking – those by Gabriela Wiener (a mid-thirty-year-old’s take on mortality, ageing and modern life) and Evan Harris (a softly spoken indictment of educational inequality) are powerful, while Rosanna McLaughlin’s skewering of the contemporary art world is essential reading for anyone who enjoys camp critiques of the chattering classes – from the Chapman Brothers’ idea for “Tramps on Ice” (“‘We’d bottle the shower water and call it Eau de Tramp, and the by- product is that these drug addicts would end up brilliant ice-skaters. Win win!’”) – to the phenomenon of the “double-tracker”, who “arrives at a private view at MoMA in a dinner jacket and paint-spattered Levis, exclaiming ‘I’m still a virgin! (Where’s the champagne?)’”.
Of the fiction, Chris Kraus’s “Resistance” stands out: a semi-autobiographical tale of transcendental homelessness (or modern melancholia), in which the loss of a black plastic coffee scoop proves “insurmountable”. And Evan Lavender-Smith’s darkly funny blue- collar monologue is compelling: “Ricardo was incarcerated for seventeen years prior to his employment here for a reason that if I were to divulge it to you I am 100 per cent certain you would quit immediately and then I would find myself in a world of shit with Miss Heather”.
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