This isn’t the first time I’ve tried to explain what lay0ut magazine is. Everyone involved with lay0ut these past two years has been asked the question a dozen times, by friends, family members, competitors, and even, thankfully, enthusiasts hoping to land a piece in our publication. The truth is we have no idea. That’s a big part of what lay0ut is.
But I’ll attempt to lay it 0ut for you. lay0ut magazine is an Italian online magazine of contemporary poetry, literature, art, culture, and translation. Yes, it sounds like a huge Russian doll. In fact, that’s what we wanted: we call it “intermediality.” It ties too into our understanding of contemporaneity: everything can become contemporary, shining in constellation with our unreachable present.
lay0ut was founded by four Italian poets and a visual artist back in 2021, in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. The aim was to be able to talk about contemporary culture without limits or boundaries, taking a critical and profound approach to texts, objects, and reality while avoiding institutionalization, steering clear from the dangers and pitfalls of academic discourse.
From the beginning, the website of lay0ut magazine, its online version, was organized into 3 sections: discorsi, traduzioni, and figure.
(How’s your Italian doing?)
Each section aimed to publish articles in a specific cultural realm: “discourses” stood for anything literary and poetical, but also political; “translations” aimed to translate any interesting texts from as many languages as possible (one of our longest rubrics is Neolatina, a series of articles of poetry in Neo-Latin); finally, in the section “figures”, we wanted to explore everything to do with visual and digital culture, which, in today’s world, are intrinsically related.
At times, it’s been hard to differentiate between these sections. Our fascination with intermediality has implied that topics constantly infiltrate each other. This is particularly true because, from the beginning, lay0ut presented itself through a specific visual and graphic identity, and, in everything we published, we paid to the visual side the same attention we paid to the textual one. The images translated the words, the words translated each other, in a continuous exchange.
But can words and images translate into reality? At lay0ut, we don’t believe that images and words are detached from the world we usually call “real”. We do believe that media flow, diffuse, and spread in and through the world and this “spreadability” is exploited by both the patriarchal capitalist system and by radical avant-garde forces. Words need flow, images spread, life speak.
It’s for this reason that lay0ut has never been only an online magazine but has transformed into a series of analogical initiatives and community-based events. This is how we imagined our annual print issue and the many book presentations/parties of ideas we’ve organized all over Italy. Our lay0ut 0: Com’è adesso! And lay0ut 1: sono hackeratə are intermedial, interactive objects created to be read, watched, turned upside down, and discussed. This is why we became a non-profit organization (in Italian, an APS, an Association for Social Promotion) and opened our editorial team and meetings to whoever wished to take part.
This is why lay0ut became an art installation at Spazio Volta, in Bergamo, where we curated the artwork “Cassandra” by Mozzarella Light, an incredible Italian artist duo. It’s also why we cannot imagine what lay0ut might become next. So watch out for our next online reading group on Brigitte Vasallo’s book, Linguaggio inclusivo ed esclusione di classe, which will be directed by Martina Neglia, as well as possible events in your classic provincial Italian town.
lay0ut could not be trapped in the digital world, because the difference between the digital and analogical world, between culture and reality, had to be overcome. All of a sudden, words do translate into reality. We translate the untranslatable.
Wait, what? lay0ut magazine in English?
Today, lay0ut goes one step further: overflowing, anxiously spilling into the English language. This further translation does not come without its own dangers. What does it mean to transpose a community-based, very much Italian, and therefore, regional experiment into the non-lingua-franca of the modern (commercial) World?
I believe we can transform these dangers into moments of possibility, turning the question into its symmetrical, non-less-complicated other: What does it mean to publish a magazine in English, when you don’t speak it, can’t speak it, weren’t born in it, with it, out of it?
We tend to forget that we are not born into language. We obtain it from the outside, at some point, after hearing it so many times it hurts. The same with reading: there is nothing simple, straightforward, or linear about it, except its lines, the place in which poets decide to dwell (and do so by breaking the lines). As children, we are forced to painstakingly learn how to read and many of us, very happily, let it go at some point in our lives.
Whoever speaks about language is destined to speak about a metalanguage: they are destined to speak in English, a beaten-up, unreal, often undead copy of what the English language could be and what it still is among the abandoned working classes of the United Kingdom, or in the ghettos of any American city, or somewhere in the depths of a TikTok comment section.
In turning to English, turning to the world beyond Italy, lay0ut is exposing itself to this very risk: to surrender to the metalanguage and write in an English that does not exist and should not exist. In some way, this has been lay0ut’s dilemma – our dilemma – from the beginning: trying to talk about reality in its intrinsic discursivity without the need for a metalanguage, being able to discuss literature critically without institutionalizing us, letting the language – whatever language – speak for itself in its contingent character.
Taking this Italian experience and pushing it beyond its boundaries towards the global English-speaking world means taking once again that original risk: the risk of succumbing to the requests of the metalanguage. But we believe we can resist this danger in two ways: first, by inserting within the metalanguage the sparkles of a completely different discourse, the very Italian discourse that lay0ut has initiated; second, by extending ourselves where we shouldn’t be, where the metalanguage is itself most eminently at risk, which for us means giving voice to such people and places.
Thus, over the next months, you will read translated articles, literary texts, and essays from the Italian version of our magazine, which will give you an idea of what we have been doing in the past two years but in another language. At the same time, we will welcome new English-speaking editors and guest editors to guide us through the depths of new worlds: we will explore the works of contemporary African writers, artists, poets, and their powerful voices; we will divine a path through contemporary North American poetry; we will imagine something like an atlas of working-class literature in Northern Europe.
(sconclusionatə is that person who never reaches the end of their tasks)
Opening his book on love, Fragments d’un discours amoureux, Roland Barthes wrote:
Dis-cursus — Originally the action of running here and there, comings and goings, measures taken, “plots and plans”: the lover, in fact, cannot keep his mind from racing, taking new measures and plotting against himself. His discourse exists only in outbursts of language, which occur at the whim of trivial, of aleatory circumstances (3).
It is not by chance that lay0ut has also had, from the beginning, a special relationship with care and that, this year, the editorial team has picked love and desire as the main theme to explore together in our adventures. Indeed, because of the discursive aspect of love, Barthes adds, to speak about love means to “rest on the single action of a primary language (no metalanguage)” (3). It sounds familiar.
Like the lover, we work in discourses; we run here and there, like the wind; we are always somewhere else. Now, in one more language, we do not know what lay0ut magazine is. And that’s a very good thing.
Help us go somewhere new, somewhere unexplored. Pitch us at email@example.com.