Reading the World 阅读世界

May 22, 2019 2019年5月22日

Four times a year, a compact paperback with a simple cover hits Chinese bookstores, its pages filled with essays, notes, interviews, long-form nonfiction, book reviews, poetry and short stories by some of the most spirited voices from China and abroad. One-Way Street Magazine, as the quarterly is known in English—the Chinese name Dandu name might be translated as “independent reading” or “reading alone”—is a journal that thinks books and ideas are worth arguing about, and for the past ten years it’s created a small but vital space for intellectual debate. Highbrow but unpretentious, it’s a platform for opinions, articles of faith, and moments of doubt—in short, a public conversation about cultural life.

Printed on the cover of every issue is the journal’s English motto, “We read the world,” while underneath a line in Chinese adds: “A source for worldwide youth thought.” One-Way Street aims to put writers from around the globe in dialogue with their Chinese counterparts. “We’re a journal that grew out of a bookstore, and reading has always been our primary vehicle for knowledge,” says Wu Qi, the editor-in-chief. “And in a globalized age, we want the object of that knowledge to be the entire world.” Each issue ends with a handful of capsule reviews of new and noteworthy titles that haven’t yet appeared in Chinese. Recently they’ve covered books by Martha Nussbaum, Rachel Cusk, Timothy Snyder, and Teju Cole, among many others, and though there’s a distinct Anglophone bias, this section epitomizes the journal’s mission: to read deep and wide and to respond in a reflective, critical spirit.


每三个月问世一本封面朴素、设计紧凑的平装书,囊括了散文、随笔、访谈、长篇报道、书评、诗歌与小说,作者皆代表着国内外最独特的新声。这本名为《单读》的季刊致力于一个主张:书籍和思想是值得辩论的话题,十年来创造了一种较小却精力充沛的知识议论空间。高雅但不张扬,这本杂志提供了展示各种意见、信念和疑问的平台,简而言之,是一种关于文化生活的公共对话。

印在每一期的封面是杂志的英文口号:“We read the world”(我们阅读世界),下方又用中文补充了一句“全球青年思想策源地” 。《单读》旨在为来自中国和世界各个地方的作家创造对话。主编吴琦解释道,“我们是在一家书店诞生的杂志,所以阅读始终是我们最重要的认知方式,而在一个全球化的年代里,我们希望我们认知的对象是整个世界。” 一如其名,每一期的结尾部分都有一系列短短的书评,评价一些国外惹人注目但还没翻译成中文的书籍,最近评价对象当中有玛莎·努斯鲍姆(Martha Nussbaum)、蕾切尔·卡斯克(Rachel Cusk)、蒂莫西·斯奈德(Timothy Snyder)和泰茹·科尔(Teju Cole )等著名作家。虽然略显侧重英文作家,但这个《全球书情》代表了杂志的宗旨:有广泛而深刻的阅读,以审慎而严谨的精神回应。

Wu Qi, the editor-in-chief of One-Way Street Magazine 吴琦,《单读》主编
Wu Qi, the editor-in-chief of One-Way Street Magazine 吴琦,《单读》主编

Before it was a journal, One-Way Street was a bookstore. In 2005, a group of journalists living in Beijing opened “Danxiangjie Tushuguan,” or One-Way Street Library, named after Walter Benjamin’s idiosyncratic collection of observations on early-twentieth-century life. The shop began hosting lectures and panel discussions, and it quickly made a name for itself as a meeting place for Chinese intellectuals. Four years later, in 2009, when the founders launched a publication—initially also called Danxiangjie—their events gave them a ready list of contributors.

“The bookstore made a point of inviting prominent people from every field to talk about cultural and social issues,” says Wu. “We wanted to create a space that was truly shared, and we very organically gathered people from the worlds of social thought and literature. They became the journal’s first contributors, and many of them, like Yan Geling, Liu Yu, Zhang Chengzhi, Li Yinhe, and Xiang Biao, went on to have a big impact on contemporary Chinese thought. From the very start, the journal was an attempt to create that shared space on paper.”


在成为杂志之前,“单读”原来是家书店。2005 年,北京一群记者创办了“单向街图书馆”,名字源自德国思想家瓦尔特·本雅明(Walter Benjamin以对二十世纪早期生活的观察写成的独特著作《单向街》。书店很早开始举办各种讲座和小组讨论,并迅速成为中国知识分子的聚会之地。四年后,在 2009 年,创始人推出了杂志,最初名为《单向街》,而曾经举办的这些活动也让他们积累了众多投稿作者。

吴琦说:“书店创立时,便致力于邀请各界人士谈论人文思想和社会问题,想要开创一个真正的公共空间,那么自然地,也就积累了很多思想界、文学界的朋友,他们成为了这本杂志最早的作者群,其中包括了许多对当代中国思想影响很大的人物,比如严歌苓、刘瑜、张承志、李银河、项飙等等,所以说,最早的《单读》杂志其实也是一个在纸上开创公共空间的尝试。”

After five issues released more or less once a year, in 2014 the journal began publishing on a quarterly basis and changed its name to Dandu, while the bookstore expanded to other locations in Beijing and changed its name to Danxiang Kongjian, or One-Way Space. Newer issues feature pull-quotes on the cover in both Chinese and English—a nod to the editors’ aspiration to engage the outside world beyond China’s borders. In fact, they now include a table of contents in English along with a short summary of each piece. “We want to introduce Chinese writers abroad, as well as to bring foreign writers in, and language is a barrier,” says Wu. “Hopefully one day we can publish a special issue in English.” To that end, the journal has begun collaborating with the Los Angeles Review of Books China Channel and Paper Republic to make some articles available in translation. Neocha is likewise pleased to include an exclusive English edition of Wu’s recent essay “Arriving in London” below.


直到 2014 年,前五期杂志(约一年一期)已经问世后,杂志便开始按季度发行,并更名为《单读》。与此同时,原来的书店也扩散到北京的其他地点,更名为“单向空间”。现在杂志封面上印上了双语引文,点明编辑促进中外交流的理念,里面也配上英文目录和英文摘要。“我们希望把中国作者介绍出去,也想把国外作者翻译进来,所以语言是一个很大的壁垒。希望有一天我们能出版英文特辑。”为此,杂志已经开始与《洛杉矶书评中华频道》(Los Angeles Review of Books China Channel)和线上文学翻译组织“纸托邦”(Paper Republic)合作,进行一些文章的翻译。在本文结尾,Neocha 也荣幸地刊登了吴琦的近期文章《进入伦敦》独家英文版本

“We want each issue’s theme to address current topics of discussion in contemporary Chinese society, and at the same time to have a deeper theoretical or intellectual background,” explains Wu. “Escape to the Future,” the most recent issue (no. 19), includes an interview with Yuval Noah Harari, along with essays by Jia Hangjia on the future of language, Lu Ye on technology, and Yu Wei on personal autonomy. Not every article or story takes up the topic; the themes don’t draw a border so much as give each issue a center of gravity. Others include “The Empty Metropolis (no. 18, special issue on British literature), “The Age of Anxiety” (no. 9), and “Is the Avant-Garde Dead?” (no. 2). They try to strike a difficult balance—timely but not ephemeral.


“每期主题我们都希望能够贴近当代中国社会正在发生的议题,同时又具有比较深渊的理论或者思想背景。”吴琦解释道。最新一期(第 19 期)“到未来去”,包括了与尤瓦尔·赫拉利(Yuval Noah Harari)的采访、贾行家谈论语言的未来、陆晔讲述科技以及于威有关个人自主权的文章。不是每一篇文章都必须符合杂志主题;主题不是要划定界限,而是成为每期杂志的重心。往期杂志还包括“都市一无所有”(第 18 期,英国文学专刊),“焦虑的年代”(第 10 期),和“先锋已死?”(第 2 期),他们在试图达到一种微妙平衡——主题要贴合时势,但不能转瞬即逝。

One-Way Street has a website, an app, podcasts, and WeChat and Weibo accounts, yet its heart is in print. In fact, the editors seem to regard the online world with a certain suspicion. “We’re children of Gutenberg,” wrote Xu Zhiyuan, one of the journal’s founders, and still its most widely known figure, in the introduction to the inaugural issue, back in 2009. “What we fell in love with was the stillness of reading alone under faint light, the logic that strings one sentence to another, the surprises between the lines. And staring at a computer screen, constantly interrupted by an MSN chat window, with messages coming one at a time, is hard to take.” This dedication to print is less an eccentric or nostalgic whim than an attempt to resist the distraction of online media. To read their stories, you can’t always go online—you have to get your hands on a paper copy, or at least an ebook. In an age when every smartphone is refreshed with trivial, mindlessly scrollable “content,” One-Way Street insists on a format that requires patience and attention.


《单读》有网站、手机 APP、音频,还开设了微信公众号和微博账号,但它心心念念的始终是平面印刷的杂志。事实上,编辑们是带着质疑来看待网络世界的。早在 2009 年,许知远(杂志创始人之一,也是最著名的公知人物)曾写道:“我们都是古登堡的孩子,我们钟情的是在昏黄的光线下,独自阅读的静谧,句子与句子的逻辑感,字里行间的意外。而对着电脑屏幕,不断被 MSN 对话框中断,从一个文本接到另一个文本的方式,实在令人难以忍受。”这种对平面印刷的执着不是一种古怪或怀旧的想法,而是在试图抵制令人无法专注的网络媒体。要阅读他们的文章,不能总是上网去浏览,而要时不时手握一份纸质的杂志,或至少一本电子书。在这个时代,当每个人的智能手机都充斥着可以无限滚屏但并无实质的碎片“内容”,《单读》坚守了一种要求人注入耐心和专注的方式。

With its slightly contrarian posture, the journal is what in China is called xiaozhong: it appeals to the “small crowd” because it deliberately goes against the mainstream. Its critical spirit offers an alternative both to the reigning consumerism and to the bland official values touted on posters across the country. It’s an insistent, bracing reminder that the world doesn’t have to be the way it is.

Yet in recent years the space for such independent voices in the public sphere has begun to shrink rapidly. “I never thought the changes would come so quickly and abruptly,” Wu admits, describing the shifting media environment. “Not just in the past 10 years, in the past five years, the atmosphere for publishing and for cultural critique has drastically changed. In general the space for speech has contracted, while materialism is on the rise.” Hemmed in by censorship and corroded by distraction, the public sphere itself is unrecognizably changed. This gives the early issues a certain poignance—and makes them seem unsettlingly prescient.


持着怀疑的态度,《单读》其实是一份小众刊物:违背主流而行,吸引少数文艺爱好者。其批判精神体现了另一种价值观,异于随处可见的消费主义和无聊的官方宣传,仿佛是在警醒我们,世界并非一定要成为这个样子。

然而,在公共思想言论领域中,最近几年这样有着独立声音的空间正在迅速缩小。谈及现在媒体环境的变化,吴琦承认道:“我也没想到变化会来得这么快这么迅猛,不用说十年,五年来我周围的出版和人文环境就已经是翻天覆地的变化了。概括来说,主要是言论空间在变小,人们普遍的逐利心态在上升。”遭受了审查制度的扼制和腐蚀人心的分流信息,公共言论领域本身已经面目全非。这种变化也令最早几期的杂志蒙上一种凄美,也突显出其可怖的先见之明。

Looking back now, essays from those early years read like dispatches from a bygone world. In a piece from 2010 titled “A Slip of the Tongue,” which opens the second issue, Xu Zhiyuan laments how the advent of the digital age seems to have left intellectuals in China in a daze:

Over the past ten years, people have witnessed a technical revolution sweeping across the whole of society, bringing unprecedented public involvement and reshaping the social mood. Yet intellectuals have lost the ability to respond—there’s not so much as a single impassioned debate. A more powerful system has taken shape, and even though it seems free-wheeling and rowdy, firm control and anarchy can exist side by side. Most of the time people enjoy  the system, and they can no longer clearly tell whether it benefits, implicates, or harms them, or all three at once.

How can I put these vague impressions into clearer words? A heavy shower has just fallen, the air is fragrant with grass and earth, and I have no clue where to begin.

It’s a lament and a call to arms: Xu urges intellectuals to make themselves heard on the public stage. And despite his professed impotence, his words here are themselves a beginning, as are his many other essays, along with the whole collective endeavor of the journal. One-Way Street is an attempt to reclaim a space for the intellectual in the Chinese public sphere.

As for Wu, the current editor, he’s far from pessimistic. “If you want to complain about something, that’s easy,” he says. “Yet if you’re really interested in publishing, in the media, in the culture of knowledge, then you just have to keep working no matter what. I see a lot of barren land that needs cultivating, so we have plenty of possibilities. You can’t give up on yourself too soon.”

 

Click here to read Neocha’s exclusive English translation of Wu Qi’s essay “Arriving in London,” from issue 18 of One-Way Street Magazine. Click here to visit the bookstore’s page on Taobao.


回过头来看,早年的文章读起来就像来自过去的一份份讯报。在 2010 年的第 2 期杂志一篇名为《失语》的文章,许知远感叹数码时代的来临令中国的知识分子陷入迷茫:

在过去的 10 年中,人们则又目睹了一场技术革命席卷全社会,它带来了前所未有的公众参与,也重塑了社会情绪。但知识分子已经失去了回应的能力,连一场热烈地争论都没有。一个更加强大的系统形成了,而且它看起来又是如此自由和喧嚣,牢固控制和无政府状态,可以并行不悖,  更多的时刻,人们乐在其中,人们也已经分不清楚自己是这个系统的受益者、参与者还是受害者,或者三者都是。

该怎样将这些模糊的感受变成更清晰的言说呢?一场大雨刚刚过去,空气里有草和泥土的清香,我仍毫无头绪。

这是扼腕的叹息,也是振奋的呼吁:许知远敦促知识分子在公共舞台发出自己的声音。尽管声称无能为力,但这些话语本身就是一个开端,他的其他文章以及杂志所作出的全部努力也都是如此。《单读》是在试图重夺中国知识分子在公共思想言论领域的一片天地。

就现任主编吴琦而言,他丝毫不悲观。“如果要去抱怨什么,这很容易……如果真的对出版、媒体、知识文化有兴趣,那么不论如何,继续工作就行。事实上我看到有许多荒地需要去开垦去填补,这些都是我们的可能性,不要太早自我放弃。”

你还可以阅读吴琦撰写的《单读》18 期卷首语《进入伦敦》或者 Neocha 独家刊登的英文版点击这里前往单向空间的淘宝。

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Contributor: Allen Young
Photographer: David Yen
Chinese Translation: Olivia Li & Chen Yuan


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供稿人: Allen Young
摄影师: David Yen
英译中: Olivia Li & Chen Yuan