Asymptote turns three this issue, and instead of temper tantrums, we decided to throw a series of events around the world. Look out London, New York, Zagreb, Boston, Philadelphia, Shanghai, Berlin, Sydney, and Buenos Aires! We also held our first translation competition, and you'll find the winners in our gigantic January issue alongside a letter from Darfur, an essay by Michael Hofmann, translations by J.M. Coetzee and Rosmarie Waldrop, interviews with Adam Thirlwell and Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara, plays from Singapore and Israel, and much more, all of it illustrated by the frightfully young and talented Swedish artist Leif Engström.
Almost three years ago, Japan was hit by the 3.11 earthquake, and both Hideo Furukawa's story and his conversation with Yoshitomo Nara address the ways artists deal in devastation's wake. Much as the athletes in Phillipp Schöntaler's story use talismans to ward off defeat, or the protagonist of Elina Horvonen's story seeks solace in an in-flight magazine, so do some authors keep writing to dispel doubt, or even death. With two essays about Giacomo Leopardi's 19th-century Zibaldone (one from one of his translators), we examine the treasures and challenges to be found in an essayistic diary that's 4,526 pages long. Our Dylan Suher, meanwhile, compares the very contemporary work of Tao Lin and his Chinese peer Murong Xuecun. Like Leopardi and the marvelously raging Iranian poet Arash Allahverdi, these writers are trying to create some order out of chaos. But what happens when the paper stays blank? Michael Hofmann presents the cautionary tale of Wolfgang Koeppen, a German writer who, at the apex of his career, stopped writing novels entirely.
The protagonists in fiction from Colombia and South Africa are trapped in such terrible situations that they see storms as salvation and death as a kind of release. Survival is at stake in a riveting prison memoir from Syria (translated additionally into the Chinese) and also in Jérôme Tubiana's photos and letters from Sudan. In the radical poetry of Víctor Rodríguez Núñez, we find landscape and language to be so intimate as to suggest they engender each other while we attempt to apprehend their horizons, whereas Villa's experimentations produce a gorged and macaronic language headed toward "the new era, / the bicipital era, of phonetic devilries." Equally radical is the risqué poetry of Nansŏrhŏn Hŏ ("White Orchid"), a 16th-century noblewoman from Korea who wrote in hansi, a Korean adaptation of Chinese characters. Although Korea's current "hangul" alphabet was first invented in the 1440s, it wasn't until after 1945 that it came in widespread use. The Korean artists presented in our visual section use that unique alphabet as a way to harness the vibrancy of speech. One of them, Jewyo Rhii, builds typewriters that have to be operated with your whole body, or inside a closed box; each speech its own machine.
The idea behind our first competition was to reward translators who are early in their career and who work on writers under-represented in English. Just how close their work approximated the originals' spirit was up to the judges Eliot Weinberger and Howard Goldblatt. (Read their citations here.) Though the former lamented the lack of strong work from the less familiar corners of the literary world, something we at Asymptote are passionate to counteract, both were so pleased with the level of submissions that they decided to award not only one winner, but two runners-up as well. Goldblatt lauded Cory Tamler and Željko Maksimović's work in conveying a "somewhat erotic and generally foreboding" story by Serbian author Tanja Šljivar, and Weinberger praised Owen Good's translations of the Hungarian poet Krisztina Tóth for their lively zip. At their best, these translators have done what the late Hai Zi's poem, "Wheat Field of May," so beautifully describes "Sometimes I sit in the wheat field reciting Chinese poetry / My eyes disappear, my lips disappear." And that's what the best writing does, doesn't it? Takes your very you away.
While you explore the many marvels mentioned above (and those we left for you to discover yourselves), do check back for daily updates and offerings at our 3-month-old blog. Don't forget to play around with our addictive map feature, which offers yet more ways to explore our rich back catalog of global literature and has just been updated with a new legend that tells you more about where you can find Asymptote around the world. If you like what you see, please consider joining our team or donating to our cause (we've crossed the 25% mark of our goal as of 14 Jan 2014!). Spreading the word far and wide is also mightily appreciated, especially as we're scouting out great talent for April's English-language feature (under the banner theme Diaspora) and our upcoming Latin American fiction feature. ¡Ándale!
Editorial Team for Issue Jan 2014
Editor-in-Chief: Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)
Managing Editor (Content): Tara FitzGerald (USA/UK)
Managing Editor (Administrative): Megan McDowell (Switzerland/USA)
Assistant Managing Editor: Eric M. B. Becker (USA/Brazil)
Senior Editor: Florian Duijsens (Germany/Netherlands)
Senior Editor (Chinese): Chenxin Jiang (Hong Kong/USA)
Lee Yew Leong (Taiwan/Singapore)
Aditi Machado (India/USA)
Joshua Craze (UK/USA)
Caridad Svich (USA/UK)
Simon Morley (UK/South Korea)
Aaron Kerner (USA)
Matthew Jakubowski (USA)
Brother Anthony of Taizé (Korea), Ellen Elias-Bursac (USA), Howard Goldblatt (USA), Aamer Hussein (Pakistan/UK), Sylvia Lin (Taiwan/USA), Sayuri Okamoto (Japan/Italy), Sim Yee Chiang (Singapore), Dylan Suher (USA) and Adrian West (USA)
Chinese Contributing Editor: Francis Li Zhuoxiong (Hong Kong/Taiwan)
Editors-at-large, Argentina: Frances Riddle and Maureen Shaughnessy
Editors-at-large, Australia: Stephanie Guest
Editor-at-large, Central Asia: Alex Cigale
Editor-at-large, Croatia: Ervin Felić
Editor-at-large, Hungary: Ágnes Orzóy
Editor-at-large, India: Rahul Soni
Editor-at-large, Iran: Farzaneh Doosti
Editor-at-large, Kenya: Natalya Din-Kariuki
Editor-at-large, Malaysia: Nicole Idar
Editor-at-large, Nepal: Elen Turner
Editor-at-large, Norway: Julia Gronnevet
Editor-at-large, Paris: Daniel Medin
Editor-at-large, Slovakia: Julia Sherwood
Editor-at-Large, Taiwan: Vivian Chih
Editor-at-large, UK: Nashwa Gowanlock
Blog Editors: Zack Newick and Patricia Nash
Masthead for Issue Jan 2014
Fiction: Lee Yew Leong
Nonfiction: Joshua Craze
Poetry: Aditi Machado
Drama: Caridad Svich
Visual: Simon Morley
Criticism: Aaron Kerner
Interview: Matthew Jakubowski
Illustrations and Cover: Leif Engström
Guest Artist Liaison: Lee Yew Leong
Copy Editor: Diana George
Proofreaders: Sohini Basak, Ervin Felić, Julia Gronnevet, Dana Khromov and Rachel Richardson
Managing Editor (Content): Tara FitzGerald
Managing Editor (Administrative): Megan McDowell
Assistant Managing Editor: Eric M. B. Becker
Senior Editor: Florian Duijsens (Germany/Netherlands)
Senior Editor (Chinese): Chenxin Jiang
Executive Assistants: Alex Sham
Technical Manager: József Szabó
Graphic Designer: Lee Yew Leong
Video Producer: Sarah Chan
Communications Manager: Casiana Ionita
PR for Communications (Events): Matthew Todd
English Social Media: Lee Yew Leong and Rachel Richardson
Chinese Social Media: Vivian Chih and Zhang Zhuxin
Interns: Sohini Basak and Dana Khromov
Asymptote would like to thank Eliot Weinberger and Howard Goldblatt for judging our first-ever translation contest, Close Approximations. We would like to acknowledge their generosity as well—both of them donated their judging fees towards the runners-up of their category.
As well, we want to acknowledge the support and/or contributions of: Shinchosha, Satoko Hamada (from Yoshitomo Nara's office), Alvin Pang, Jill Schoolman, Darryl Sterk, Marc Louis Lin, Michael Spinelli, Ellen Richmond, Letitia Tan and Sahara Shrestha.
Thanks also go to Biling Chen, Jennifer DSouza, Daniella Gitlin, Christian Hawkey, Claire Hirsch, Eddie Song, Sidney Wade for their kind donations.