Specimen. The Babel Review of Translations

Specimen. The Babel review of translations
Origins and aims

Ten years ago we launched Babel, a literary festival focused on translation. We picked a Swiss town called Bellinzona (from “war zone” in Latin), equally distant from Milan and from Zurich, a place that throughout the centuries has both connected the Latin and German worlds and kept them apart. Such is the nature of borders, they unite and they divide.
And we picked translation because it’s an ideal resource for dealing with borders. Translation relentlessly crosses borders in both directions, never denying the differences but rather looking for relations between them. Understood as linguistic hospitality, translation prompts you to reach out towards the other (keep learning the language, the culture, the ways) in order to be able to invite the other into your home. A hospitality that serves as a model for other forms of hospitality.

Now we are launching Specimen, possibly the web’s first highly typographical and entirely multilingual literary journal. Why would we do that? In two words, no idea. In three words, because we can. And this is why we can, in four points:

1. We have the human resources: 10 years of Babel resulted in a world-wide network of people who share a vision of literature, language, hospitality. Each of these people will expand the network by inviting writers, translators and other artists to contribute submitting original or translated work. The editorial board will be selective and attentive in all the languages it understands, and will be spellbound and trusting for all the other languages.

2. We know books and how they’re made: we come from publishing and have in-depth skills in graphic design and typography, as well as in writing, translating and editing. And we have the desire to bring such knowledge and practice to the web, where more often than not they are ignored. This attention to form and style will welcome, we hope, a slower pace, a calmer focus.

3. Conversely, the web can also improve the book form in many ways, with interactive and customizable options we developed with our designers asking the question: what is it that we would improve in a book? Besides, the web can make the wildest modernist dreams of multilingual publications come true. Specimen will publish texts in every language, and every alphabet, and will translate each text into a selection of other languages.

4. We also found some enlightened sponsors who helped us to get the project off the ground: some of them already support Babel and they trust us, while some simply believed in the project, like our U.S. supporters and the crowd-funders. This way, we intend to pay authors and translators, and keep the magazine free for the users.

And what do we expect from this project? Wonders.
When different languages come together, a lot can happen. At all levels.

Social, and ethical, as per the concept of linguistic hospitality or the poetics of relation, or more bluntly: hybridization and translation and the like reflect and foresee the ways of the multifaceted world of today and of tomorrow, in all its diversities, all its correspondences.

Creative, not only because almost every writer we like deals with some sort of linguistic or cultural contamination, but also because the literature we like has increasingly become hybrid, mixed and multi-layered, so that genre distinctions and conventions seem as artificial as a monolingual city.

Individual, or rather intimate: we suspect that the myth of Babel reflects a psychic process, and we welcome the centre ceasing to hold and things falling apart, the scattered bricks of languages that we pick up after the breakdown and we hold in our hands. And the care for the fragments we reassemble is stronger now that we can’t take the whole for granted any more. This is what pushes us to have second thoughts, to feel at home in the absence of home. Gives us second chances. Prompts us to leap before we look.


Specimen is supported by the Federal Office for Culture, Pro Helvetia, Dartmouth College, Fondazione UBS per la Cultura, Cantone Ticino, and all those who contributed to its crowdfunding!

Vanni Bianconi
London As A Second Language
Humboldt books

“This collection is the first step toward a larger project, a travel book for the adopted city. That is what London is for millions of its inhabitants.
These five short texts, written in Italian and translated into English, or written directly in English, approach London and leave London, then approach it again. Because London is permanent transit, transformation and tremor. London is a number of different realities next to one another: some interact and mix, most barely touch or acknowledge each other. London is multiple migrations, is extreme multiculturalism yet somehow monolingual, is savage finance and medieval guild, is brutalist and royalist, safe and uncertain; in this precise moment its mayor is Muslim and the air is damp and tropical. This book looks at London from the perspective of transition, which is one of the most constant elements for many Londoners who, like me, meet to create the London of today as much as they meet to contradict it.
The photos for this collection were taken by novelist and film-maker Xiaolu Guo, as much a Londoner as I am.
The translations are by a true Brit, Carla Calimani”.
Vanni Bianconi

This book is a specimen of “Specimen. The Babel Review of Translations”.
London As A Second Language, Gotthard Super Express, Primi dispacci dai Caraibi and Dispacci dai Caraibi are the first four volumes of the series Babel+Humboldt.

Babel Series, Edizioni Casagrande
Dorcy Rugamba, Marembo, translated by Daniela Marina Rossi

Sono passati oltre vent’anni dal genocidio ruandese, ma il breve libro di Dorcy Rugamba ci appare oggi come una delle più autentiche testimonianze di ciò che è realmente accaduto. Non vi si trovano ricostruzioni storiche, analisi politiche o sociologiche, ma più semplicemente la vita di una famiglia, quella dell’autore, sterminata la mattina del 7 aprile 1994.
In collaborazione con la casa dei traduttori di Looren, Babel ha dato l’occasione allo scrittore di rielaborare il testo originale, e alla traduttrice di lavorare a stretto contatto con lui.
Libro pubblicato con il sostegno della Fondazione Jan Michalski.

Gli altri titoli della collana sono, Questi erano i nostri fragili eroi di Stephanos Papadopoulos, l’antologia di giovani poeti polacchi tradotti da poeti Il vetro è sottile, L’ordinario e il sublime di Adam Zagajewski, La prefazione del negro, libro di racconti dello scrittore algerino Kamel Daoud,
I libri della Collana Babel si trovano in libreria e sul sito

Viceversa Letteratura

Rivista annuale di letteratura svizzera, pubblicata in tre lingue, in tre volumi distinti (italiano, tedesco e francese). Dal 2012 «Viceversa Letteratura», promossa dall’associazione Service de Presse Suisse, propone aggiornamenti settimanali con recensioni librarie, approfondimenti tematici e un archivio di autori svizzeri (o residenti in Svizzera).
Il numero 10 è dedicato agli “Scrittori su Heidi”, e propone un testo di Xiaolu Guo.