A few months after I moved back to New York I got an unexpected email from a guy I’d known in Vilnius, Augustinus, or Augie, for short. Sociable guy, warm, if a little intense. Augie wrote that he wanted to follow up on a conversation we’d had wherein—so he claimed—I’d promised I’d contribute a story, which he’d translate, to his magazine, a literary magazine whose name I wouldn’t have remembered but there it was in his signature: Snarglys. I looked it up online. The site was sparse, well designed, and entirely in Lithuanian.
That I had no recollection of this conversation in no way meant it hadn’t happened. I definitely remembered him talking about this magazine. He talked about it all the time. It was something he clearly had a lot of pride in. He’d assume this insistent, authoritative tone that would have been unbearable had I had the slightest familiarity with or interest in Lithuanian literary culture, but as I did not have the slightest familiarity or interest in Lithuanian literary culture, why should it bother me? He claimed it was the most prestigious literary journal in Lithuania, and someone’s journal had to be the most prestigious journal in Lithuania; why not Augie’s?
Point is, it was certainly possible that on some cold night in some bar Augie had asked me to contribute a story and I’d enthusiastically agreed. This seemed exactly like something I would do: acknowledge his acknowledgement of me, recognize the status the request implicitly conferred, but without any intention of actually delivering. In Vilnius, the perception of me as a writer could not have been more generous. I had nothing to prove. I could just surf the respect the fellowship granted.
But now I wasn’t in Vilnius. I was in Brooklyn. And in Brooklyn I was just another writerly schmuck in Brooklyn. So Augie’s request seemed heaven-sent. I wrote Augie back, thanked him, said it’d be a huge privilege, but I just needed a couple of weeks to go through my material, see what I’ve got that’s still unpublished and/or available, what might be a good fit, etc. My response hinted at the existence of a veritable depot of world-altering work that might or might not be available, depending on demand and publishing cycles, but the truth was that it had been years since I’d finished a story.
It took a few days, but Jan eventually did get back to me. It had been a hectic week, he wrote. When you ask me what transdistillation is, he continued, I assume you’re asking me not the definition (because obviously you’re already familiar!) but my personal stance on it. It is a rather controversial subject right now in certain Polish literary circles. My take, personally, is that it is concerned with form and with power and also with what I like to call directionality. I find it somewhat romantic, like the kiss of a text. Jan quoted Derrida for multiple paragraphs. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. I texted Daniel, my go-to authority on matters of lit theory. As far as Daniel knew, it was very trendy in the former Soviet Union. He’d seen a research paper examining recent transdistillations of the great Russian works. Most of these had appeared on Twitter.