Promoting New and Unexpected Crossings: A Conversation with Leonora Djament

July 2, 2024

A photograph of Leonora DjamentLeonora Djament has been editorial director of the Argentine publishing house Eterna Cadencia Editora since 2007. She holds a degree in literature from the University of Buenos Aires and is the author of La vacilación afortunada: H. A. Murena: un intelectual subversivo (Colihue, 2007). Djament has been teaching Professor Jorge Panesi’s literary theory and analysis course at the Universidad de Buenos Aires since 1996 and has participated in several research projects with him. She got her start in publishing in 1996. She was the editor of the essay list at Alfaguara and editorial director of Grupo Editorial Norma.

Those of us working on the research project “The Novel as Global Form: Poetic Challenges and Cross-border Literary Circulation” at the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya are studying a corpus of novels published in the last thirty years.[i] These novels go beyond the national and linguistic sphere; our research projects them onto the international literary market. Since 2008 Eterna Cadencia has been publishing and distributing both Latin American authors—such as Miguel Vitagliano, Diamela Eltit, Sylvia Molloy, and Gabriela Cabezón Cámara—and classic and emerging international voices such as Michel Foucault, Peter Handke, Chris Kraus, and Claire Keegan to both Latin America and Spain. In this conversation, I asked Djament about Eterna Cadencia’s catalog and its cultural work.

Aitana Bellido: In an interview with the Spanish newspaper Público, you commented that “a catalog allows for unexpected crossings, recontextualizes discourses, and, in that sense, makes possible the appearance of certain axes or problematics that were not previously calculated.” What crossings and discourses does your publishing house promote and recontextualize?

Leonora Djament: For Eterna Cadencia’s fifteenth anniversary, we designed a catalog of our books as constellations in a starry sky. Books enter into various relationships with one another, forming part of certain constellations. These constellations are often whimsical: a book could be part of other constellations, but we prefer to highlight certain aspects of that book rather than others. What unites books in constellations can be style, a perspective on the world, themes, problems, etc. I think it is an enriching way of promoting new and unexpected crossings between authors and discourses. The example that comes to mind is Claire Keegan. Her novels and short stories appeared in a constellation composed of contemporary translated women writers. We thought this needed to disappear, because women participate in literature in the same way as men or other genders. So, we relocated this constellation. With Lorrie Moore, we compiled a new constellation for a book of hers with the working title “mind labyrinths.” It included books where the narrators were neurotic or on the verge of psychosis—narrators who don’t distinguish reality from fiction. Lorrie Moore’s novels fit very well there. The initial constellation only showcased that the writer was a woman; with the new one, we highlight the constitution of a neurotic subjectivity. This would have been overlooked in the past.

Bellido: What sort of reader is Eterna Cadencia addressing, and what sort of cultural intervention are you promoting?

Djament: Questions about the reader are always difficult to answer. One doesn’t really know who the reader is, and it is not like we have a target audience in mind. There is not a supply-demand relationship. We publish books we believe are important for other reasons: they contribute to social debates, add perspectives, gazes, words, concepts, etc., whether they are fiction or nonfiction. When I am asked, “What reader do we imagine?” I imagine a restless, curious, and critical reader who is not looking for complacent books. But I am just speculating.

When I am asked “What reader do we imagine?” I imagine a restless, curious, and critical reader who is not looking for complacent books.

Bellido: One of the slogans of Eterna Cadencia is that it was created to “give visibility to those books that don’t circulate; to rescue them from the publishers who have put them aside.” What kind of novels would you say are forgotten by publishers? What voices do you seek to make visible?

Djament: We have rescued and republished all sorts of books. One of the first things we made was an anthology of short stories by Felisberto Hernández. Back then [2008] they were impossible to get; nowadays this would sound funny, because there are countless editions of his books. There was a classic edition by the publishing house Siglo XXI, and some edition from Uruguay, but in Argentina and Spain you could not get this book.

We also published two “cursed” Argentine authors from the 1990s: Jorge Barón Biza (El desierto y su semilla / The Desert and Its Seed) and Salvador Benesdra (El traductor / The Translator). They both ended up committing suicide. Each of them has a unique and representative novel, published with the help of friends and grants.

We also publish new translations of classic texts. When we do a new translation, we do it because we believe that we are adding something in linguistic and paratextual terms. Two years ago we published The Man Who Disappeared, Kafka’s first novel, which is normally known as Amerika. The author called it The Man Who Disappeared, but [his friend and editor] Max Brod not only changed the title but also edited its content, because it was an unfinished novel. We chose one of the first German editions that was left the way Kafka intended, with its original title, and we included a preliminary study that explains what happened and puts his life and work in context.

When we do a new translation, we do it because we believe that we are adding something in linguistic and paratextual terms.

The translator of that edition is Ariel Magnus, and there was a prologue by Mariana Dimópulos, a great translator from German into Spanish. I love her prologue deeply, because it has a section where she argues with Deleuze and Guattari’s classic book Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, where they analyze his work and present the minor literature theory. Mariana speaks German, and she was saying that Kafka’s words were not what Deleuze and Guattari were describing. And she argues, “Where are Deleuze and Guattari getting this idea from? Which books by Kafka are giving rise to this idea?” To me, this is a wonderful finding.

Bellido: So, in the example of The Man Who Disappeared, you are talking about a labor of care for the text; almost a rewriting of elements that were present at the time of publication or that, in the case of very old translations, are obsolete or erroneous.

Djament: A book by Katherine Mansfield comes to mind, Plum Soup, that collects mostly unpublished texts. The important thing about the texts is not that they are unpublished, it is that—thanks to the amazing prologue and remarkable work of selection by translator Eleonora González Capria—we discover that Katherine Mansfield’s diaries don’t really exist. She didn’t write them. It was her husband who, postmortem, selected intimate texts from her notes, recipes, fiction . . . and he cut the parts where he didn’t look good and stamped it with the “Diary” title. He produced the object called “Katherine Mansfield’s diaries.” Thanks to Eleonora’s work, we published some of her notebooks with the complete, uncensored entries. And you find out so many things about her husband . . . no wonder he redacted them. I always say that editorial work is research work. Receiving a manuscript and publishing it is not enough.

Bellido: Is Eterna Cadencia’s work political?

Djament: Absolutely. Every aspect of editorial work is political. You either accept that or not, as with everything in life. We work with language, and language is political, and the decisions we make on what we publish or not are political. One aligns oneself on one side or the other unconsciously.

Every aspect of editorial work is political.

Bellido: The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) champions diversity in the publishing and cultural sector, with the 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. Reference is also made to the concept of “bibliodiversity” at the institutional level. Do you take into account the defense and promotion of cultural diversity at Eterna Cadencia? What role do independent publishers play in this regard?

Djament: I haven’t thought about the concept of “bibliodiversity” in a while. I think it was a useful concept at some point, but I remember I was skeptical. I think that small and midsized publishing houses promote bibliodiversity, in the sense that they take a symbolic and economic risk by publishing authors that bigger publishers are not willing to take on. However, I don’t like categorical, Manichaean distinctions that divide the publishing sector into big, black, publishing beasts and flourishing, bibliodiverse independent publishers. Because big groups also take a stand with certain books, and smaller publishers also play it safe and don’t necessarily think about diversity. There are not “good” and “evil” publishers.

Eric Schierloh, an artisanal writer and editor from Argentina, coined the concept “bookdiversity.” I like this idea because it goes beyond the content; he advocates for diverse editions in material terms as well. As he says, independent publishers also make books industrially, in the same way as bigger groups.

Bellido: In 2021 you commented in an interview that, for you, editing is “intervening in contemporary debates.” As a genre, is the novel a good tool for cultural and political intervention?

Djament: I think so, because books are tools to propose new gazes and perspectives on the world, to allow you to rethink your place in the world and your material life conditions.

Bellido: What would be the “social function” of the novel?

Djament: As an Adornoian, I would never subordinate literature to an immediate political goal or pedagogical-political goal. Literature has a mediated, rather than a direct, social function. In their own logic, texts propose new gazes on the world.

In their own logic, texts propose new gazes on the world.

Bellido: You have Gabriela Cabezón Cámara in your catalog, whom some consider to be “the most baroque of Argentine writers.” As an editor, what struck you about her way of working with language, what narrative elements would you highlight in her work?

Djament: We first started with La virgen cabeza (Eng. Slum Virgin), and then we published two more books by her. I was dazzled. I didn’t know her; a common acquaintance had told me about her. We had a coffee, and she talked to me so humbly about her novel, and then she left me with the first twenty pages. . . . It was a first novel, from an unknown author, and it blew my mind. I wrote her immediately to tell her I wanted to read everything. I think Gabi is one of the first voices to put other universes on the line, other styles, other voices, other characters that, maybe, became more common later on, but she was one of the first to do it. State violence, the different subjectifications the neoliberal state produces through violence and coercion, other ways of emotionally bonding that escape calculating logics, other imaginaries . . .

Bellido: La virgen cabeza deals with transvestite corporealities, religious symbolism, the savage capitalism that plagues Buenos Aires, language, etc. and has been translated into English, French, Italian, and Portuguese. What elements of this novel do you think attract a reader from outside the Spanish-speaking market?

Djament: I didn’t take part in these translations; the novel is now owned by Penguin Random House. We tried to get translations all the years we had the novel, and we didn’t succeed. I am convinced that this novel was ahead of its time. I remember the reactions of publishers to those trans or transvestite characters, that baroque language, that critical look at savage capitalism . . . and it wasn’t the right time. It took many years for that literature to sink in and become readable in other languages.

Bellido: Do you think the change to Random influenced the sale of those translations?

Djament: No, not at all. It’s always multicausal, of course. I think it was something related to the state of the world that finally allowed the moment for these narratives to arrive.

Bellido: In the publishing sector, there is a certain inequality in the flow of editorial exchange between the so-called “central” and “peripheral” languages and countries. This means, for example, that English, a hypercentral language, only translates 3 percent in the US, while it injects originals for translation into the rest of the planet. Does Eterna Cadencia export many authors from its catalog to the Anglo-Saxon market? And to other languages? Many of Gabriela Cabezón Cámara’s novels, including La virgen cabeza, have been translated into English. One of her latest novels, Las aventuras de la China Iron, was nominated for the International Booker Prize. What did the English translations and this nomination mean for the works published by Eterna Cadencia? Did they increase interest in her novels in Latin America?

Djament: We print books in and export them to Latin America and Spain, and when we handle translation rights we try to get translations for those books. It’s always easier to focus on the core languages of countries like the US—with all the difficulty of the 3 percent—France or Italy, Germany. But luckily, through different programs, fellowships, networks that have been woven with different governmental and nongovernmental institutions, we have some books translated into Greek, Turkish, Serbian. . . . That makes it quite easy for us.

Bellido: What differences do you find between the mechanisms (prizes, reception, translations) that consecrate an author in Latin America and in Spain?

Djament: I think the mechanisms of legitimization are fairly universalized. In Argentina, we don’t have as many prizes as in Europe, but the mechanisms are still more or less the same: prizes, certain opinion-formers who give accolades to books. . . . Fortunately, word of mouth continues to be unavoidable. We have an author, Alejandra Kamiya, who has a book of short stories that came out in Argentina a few months ago. It is surprising how many sales and readers she has. This is a product of word of mouth and the fanaticism of her readers. It is wonderful to know that, on one hand, there is the whole circuit of canonical institutional legitimization, but at the same time there is a separate circuit where word of mouth continues to work. Speaking of legitimization mechanisms, I would add social networks, influencers, or content generators, who are new actors that can influence the public more than a review in the newspaper did twenty or thirty years ago.

Bellido: For years there was another legitimization mechanism: a novel had to be successful in Spain for other Latin American countries to take it into account. But other publishers are talking about how this is finally changing, that now there is an “inter–Latin American” gaze.

Djament: I think both things still work. In symbolic terms, unfortunately, Spain continues to function as a legitimizing center for publications and authors. That’s how it is, and one sees that the goal of certain authors is to be published in Spain. Fortunately, however, especially since the rise of independent publishers at the beginning of the century, the old Latin American routes between countries have been rebuilt. Being published in Spain is no longer always a measure of success—there are new movements emerging: someone may be well received in Mexico, and alliances with Chilean, Argentine, Uruguayan publishers are formed immediately, without the need to go through Spain.

October 2023


[i] Spanish Research Agency, PID2020-118610GA-I00, led by Neus Rotger and Marta Puxan-Oliva.

Editorial note: Aitana Bellido would like to thank Diana Roig-Sanz for her assistance with questions for this interview. Bellido’s interview of the editorial director of Charco Press, Carolina Orloff, can be read here.

Aitana Bellido is an independent researcher and cultural manager based in Barcelona. Her background in translation, law, and publishing has led her to pursue research on world literature and the material and colonial dimensions of literary circulation. She has worked at the project “The Novel as Global Form: Poetic Challenges and Cross-Border Literary Circulation” (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya).