Put me anywhere in the centre of London and I'll tell you exactly where I am: in my twenties, my thirties, my forties or my fifties. These days, it feels almost like a pilgrimage: the National Gallery, the Charing Cross Road (sadly denuded now) and then The Spanish Bar, its metal staircase making me feel like I'm going down into somebody's cellar. There's always a loud group upstairs, boiling away, the jukebox is still one of the best in London and the space itself – its slightly studied air of being down-at-heel – makes me feel entirely at home. I eat in Bar Bruno on Wardour Street. I pop into the Wheatsheaf (George Orwell and Anthony Burgess both drank there) and I walk past Percy Street, which is where Winston Smith took a flat in 1984. In other words, I'm aware – and, partly, I make sure to make myself aware – that I'm in London. But the Spanish Bar will always feel just like my local pub.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I think that the things I do – and the things that you all do – refute the theory that we have all disappeared, somehow, into the internet. The argument (not an argument so much as an assertion) is that it's a kind of romper room, a giant mirror, and that this plays into the hands of politicians and multinational corporations. It's true; of course it is. But it also isn't. Funnily enough, my best argument against it would be this magazine, the thing that you are reading, hopefully, online. The following quote comes from At the Existentialist Café by Sarah Bakewell:
"Levinas took it further: when I encounter you, we normally meet face-to-face, and it is through your face that you, as another person, can make ethical demands on me. ...For Levinas, we literally face each other, one individual at a time, and that relationship becomes one of communication and moral expectation. We do not merge; we respond to one another. Instead of being co-opted into playing some role in my personal drama of authenticity, you look me in the eyes – and you remain Other. You remain you."
This being, of course, the opposite of, say, Instagram. But it isn't the opposite of us. Take a look at the examples of writing elsewhere in this magazine and you'll see people doing exactly what Levinas thinks is required from a face-to-face encounter. Here, in One Hand Clapping, people are all expressing themselves precisely, using language that is satisfyingly exact and that, yes, does feel like an ethical demand. Because, to enjoy a poem, or indeed any other art form, you have to assent to its basic propositions and, in order to do that, you need to assimilate world-views and experiences that are not your own. This – this meeting of others in a mutually coherent and forgiving space – is one of the things that I value most about reading and it's something that I hope we've replicated in the magazine as a whole. Do please pay attention to Anne Carson, Julia Copus, David Collard, Zoe Green, Jane Zwart, Chris Rice, Ben Morgan, Maggie Sawkins, Phil Miller, Steve Shepherd, Agnes Marton, HLR, Martinho Dias, Chai, Julie Stevens, William Thompson, Oz Hardwick, Tess Jolly, Daniel Johnson, P.W. Bridgman, Madeleine Bazil, Peter Moore and Noah Rasheta. They will definitely repay that attention over and over again.