Happy Friday, Asymptote. Translation lets us read to challenge our canon. And the Millions (satirically) wills us (Americans) to make the canon great again. And Taiwanese literature may be growing in its global presence, thanks to the National Museum of Taiwanese Literature’s translation initiative, which will sponsor literary translations into sixteen languages. Speaking of industry insiders wheeling-and-dealing, here’s Eida Rotor, Penguin Classics’ Filipino publisher. READ MORE…
This week's literary highlights from across the world
This month's hottest titles—in translation
The Clouds by Juan José Saer, tr. Hillary Vaughn Dobel, Open Letter Books. Review: Hannah Berk, Digital Editor
The Clouds begins with the destruction of a mental asylum and ends with an arrival at its threshold. Its central journey takes place across a vast expanse of flatlands, every horizon so much the same that progressing and doubling back lose their distinction. This is a novel of contingent geometries. In some respects, it is linear: there is a journey in which a doctor leads a crew of five mental patients, two escort soldiers, and a guide across a desert to a mental hospital. At the same time, it carves layer upon layer into itself. The manuscript we read is a file on a floppy disk being read by one Pinchón Garay in a Paris apartment, haphazardly annotated by the man into whose hands the thing haphazardly fell.
Our narrator is Dr. Real, who works under a psychologist renowned for experimental treatment methods that mostly seem to entail allowing the mad live their lives just like anyone else. He is tasked with leading a group of patients on a long journey to a mental health facility in 1804 Argentina. His charges include a delusional narcissist, a nun convinced that the only way to approach consummate divinity is by consummating as many earthly relationships as possible, two brothers as incapable of communication as they are of silence, and a distraught philosophy student unable to unfurl his fists. Dr. Real promises a scientific account of their ailments at the outset, but the moment their journey begins, we are forced to question whether their responses are so outlandish for their circumstances, or, at their core, much different from our own.
"But I think a core question that everyone can appreciate, track, and ponder through the series is that of what it means to be a 'good person.'"
Alessio Franko is a New York-based screenwriter and actor. In addition to writing the web series Under InspeKtion, he has studied TV writing at Columbia University and the University of Chicago and has written several original pilots. His work often experiments with the narrative portrayal of systems and thinks through how the systems we navigate affect our identities. Trained in acting at HB Studios, he has performed on a variety of New York stages including La Mama and the Ontological Theater and extensively with University Theater at the University of Chicago. I spoke with him via email to find out more about his webseries adaptation of Franz Kafka’s The Trial.
Allegra Rosenbaum: What is Under InspeKtion for those of us who don’t know?
Alessio Franko: Under InspeKtion is a serialized suspense-comedy webseries currently comprised of 14 roughly 10-minute episodes. You can see it on YouTube and on our website. Though inspired by Franz Kafka’s The Trial, it is an original story and no exposure to Kafka is needed to enjoy it. READ MORE…
"He looked at the bird through the windshield and the bird looked at him in the car. He didn’t move."
When K. went home early in the morning and turned his car into the short, ice-coated driveway, he saw the bird. It was a blackbird. It was standing on one of the posts without moving. Its bird feet were sticking in a thin layer of snow, which made it look as if it didn’t have any feet and was just lying there, in the snow, motionless, like a disoriented tennis ball that has been knocked a long way out of bounds. READ MORE…
"Poking your ribs aside, Britain, we do not need to see our various hyphenations as fracture."
“Look, I admit I came to Paris to escape American provincial, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready for French traditional.”
—Audrey Hepburn, Charade
In spite of Murakami and the rural male youths of my mongrel pubescence informing me otherwise, I still prefer to think of a “morning glory” as a cat licking its paws through choppy rays of light—just at the moment when “rosy-fingered” dawn neatly vivisects your eyes and the living room in two (if the postmodern turn has accomplished anything worthwhile, it has bestowed scalpels on Homeric metaphors), leaving little else to do than bat the sand from your lashes and gulp down that third cup of coffee.
It was during of one these scenes from my everyday homeostasis, Britain, when I began to realize, at first rather absently, that for all legitimate reasons, my cat is British. READ MORE…
This week's literary highlights from across the world
Happy Friday, friends! This week witnessed the unfortunate passing of one of the best translators into English: Gregory Rabassa has passed away at age 94. He famously translated epic Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez and Argentine novelist Julio Cortázar, whose works defined what we think of as the Latin American “boom” in literature. And his mastery underlined the importance of translators in creating a “world literature.” READ MORE…
Why read choreography? Why read choreography—in translation?
This stunning translation of Tatsumi Hijikata’s Costume en Face Butoh choreography notations (transcribed by Moe Yamamoto) is the collaborative work of series editor (Yelena Gluzman, UDP), Hijikata scholars at Keio University (Takashi Morishita), the translator (Sawako Nakayasu), and the book designer (Steven Chodoriwsky). Although of course deeply relevant to scholarship on Butoh dance for English-speaking scholars, this book is a marvel of poetic elision and evocative design.
Nakayasu’s gifted compressions of Moe Yamamoto’s notes read as stage directions for a metaphysical revelation, textured by archetypal figures (from angels to Nazis), modernist paintings, and mythological figures. Her choice to include and briefly gloss specifically Japanese figures in brackets is clever and creates for a seamless experience that exposes the seams of audience. READ MORE…
"Each product comes from same part of a pig: the upper hind leg where thigh becomes rear. The consensus ends there."
In the 1992 melodrama Jamón Jamón a lovers’ quarrel turns violent. Class tensions drive the conflict. Jose Luis’ (Jorge Molla) parents own a factory. He falls in love with one of the workers, Silvia (Penelope Cruz), and gets her pregnant. His parents reject their plan for marriage and hire the fit, sexy Raul (Javier Bardem) to seduce the young woman. Raul sells jamón, with dreams of bullfighting and underwear modeling. In a spate of anger, Jose Luis arrives in Raul’s trailer with a club in hand. Legs of jamón hang from the ceiling. To defend himself, Raul grabs one of the hams and uses it as a weapon. Jose Luis meets a slick, salty end.
The film retains its Spanish-language title in its American release, with a parenthetical (Ham & Ham). Jamón Jamón evokes something aromatic, sensuous. The legs of ham that hang from the ceiling in Raul’s shop are lithe and firm. The translated title Ham & Ham highlights the campy humor of the movie, but misses on the sex appeal. The image conjured is not of golden and burgundy cured meat and fat, but of the pink, clove-studded, maple-glazed behemoths featured at holiday feasts or Easter brunch. It’s more Jaime Lee Curtis than Javier Bardem. The French Jambon Jambon hardly fairs better, rousing images of the boulangerie staple: le parisien, two slices of cooked ham sandwiched between a half a baguette, slathered with butter. READ MORE…
"The funny thing about memory is that it always ends up chasing its own tail. The most important thing is to keep it moving."
Nadia Comaneci’s gold-medal performance at the Olympic Games in Montreal is the starting point for a whole new generation. Eric Dupont watches the performance on TV, mesmerized. The son of a police officer (Henry VIII) and a professional cook—as he likes to remind us—he grows up in the depths of the Quebec countryside with a new address for almost every birthday and little but memories of his mother to hang on to. His parents have divorced, and the novel’s narrator relates his childhood, comparing it to a family gymnastics performance worthy of Nadia herself.
Life in the court of Matane is unforgiving, and we explore different facets of it (dreams of sovereignty, schoolyard bullying, imagined missions to Russia, poems by Baudelaire), each based around an encounter with a different animal, until the narrator befriends a great horned owl, summons up the courage to let go of the upper bar forever, and makes his glorious escape.
From the first lot we lived on, if you went down a big grassy hill and crossed the road you’d find us by the river. In the summer, the sand could become burning hot in the sun, despite the glacial currents that flowed down from Labrador. Reels of dried-up seaweed revealed how high the tides rose and stretched out in arcs from east to west. We found green sea urchin skeletons, blue shells, and pink tampon applicators. Sometimes we would step on a piece of glass polished by the salt. It would slide so smoothly between our fingers that we could barely imagine its sharp past. When we held it up to the sun it would look like part of a stained-glass window washed up on the beach at Matane. Coke and Pepsi bottles produced translucent shards of polished white. The green bits of glass came from 7UP bottles. Beer bottles splintered into small, dark amber pieces. On this strip of beach, the waves deposited at our feet the shattered stained-glass windows of a church sunk off the Matane coastline. My sister and I picked up the pieces without ever beginning the impossible task of putting them back together. We knew that they had once been part of a whole, but that an earthquake had probably separated them. The sea salt had made them smooth so that their edges no longer fit together. They had taken on a shape all their own. They could be traced back to a family only by their colour. A distant kinship. They had ended up where the Gulf of St. Lawrence melts into the northern blue sky, leaving ships arriving from the Atlantic in July dangling from an invisible thread. The horizon gives way to a blue void that draws the soul northward. The trip is pleasant enough. When you really let yourself go, you soar high above the gulf, the taiga, and the permafrost, until you reach the tundra, where on a sunny January day you can drift off into the light of the north. READ MORE…
"They are like magic formulas, and it’s not a good idea to tamper with magic."
Recently, Interview Features Editor Ryan Mihaly spoke via e-mail with Alfred MacAdam, translator of the likes of Fernando Pessoa and Surrealist filmmaker and novelist Alejandro Jodorowsky. For an excerpt from Jodorowsky’s Albina and the Dog-Men, check out this recent installment of Translation Tuesday. This interview is also available in the Asymptote Fortnightly Airmail. Subscribe here.
RM: What was it like translating Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Where the Bird Sings Best and Albina and the Dog-Men? Did Jodorowsky’s prose get under your skin? You are an experienced translator and are perhaps more immune to the novel’s effects, but I found Albina‘s dark mythology to be intoxicating. What was it like to translate that?
AM: First, let me say that when Ilan Stavans asked me if I might be interested in translating Jodorowsky, I was dumbfounded. To me he was the crazy filmmaker of the 1970s whose El topo or Fando and Lis knocked me and my friends silly. I had no idea he had metamorphosed into a novelist.
So when Ilan sent me Where the Bird Sings Best I was simply not prepared for what it was. First of all, the Jewish essence of the book, its tracing the circuitous route of Jews who end up in Spanish America, whose religion suffers innumerable modifications along the way, was, I thought, a subject whose time in Spanish American literature had long since come. By which I mean that in the U.S. we take our Jewish writers for granted, that the Bellows, the Malamuds, the Roths (both of them) are simply part of our culture. But where was the “great Jewish novel of the Spanish American world”? READ MORE…
This week's literary highlights from across the world
Happy Friday, Asymptote pals! This week may not be “prize season” per se, but literary prizes abound this and every week, as usual. The United Kingdom‘s former Orange Prize for Fiction—then the Bailey’s Prize—and now titled the “Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction”—has been awarded to The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney. In France, the Prix du Livre Inter has been awarded to Tristan Garcia for his 500-page novel, 7 (fitting: the shortlist was seven titles long). And the British Commonwealth Short Story Prize (judged by Man-Booker-award-winner Marlon James) was awarded to Indian writer Parashar Kulkani, for the short story “Cow and Company.” Finally, Akhil Sharma beat out 160 other contenders to win the International Dublin Literary Award for his novel, A Family Life. READ MORE…
A new episode goes live!
In this month’s episode we look at science fiction from all over the world. We’ll start with the Hugo awards, the Oscars of science fiction, where a group calling themselves the Rabid Puppies is trying to take over the ceremony to protest diversity in science fiction which they see as destroying the genre. To prove them wrong, we’ll look at fantastic works from America, Russia, Cuba, and Nigeria that tell stories about dreaming robots, alien plagues, time travel, monstrous sea creatures, and the perils of extra terrestrial communication. This is the Asymptote podcast.
Editor: Mirza Puric
Voice Actors: Piyali Syam, Alessio Frank, and Rron Karahoda.
Music: Spare by Ono, Gotta Run by Wahyas, Let it Me by Drag Sounds, I Was Born on the Wrong Day by Cate Le Bon, Mary Bumble Bee by Purling Hiss Here, Masked Laughter by Dalek, Devil Do by Holly Go Lightly.
All music provided under a Creative Commons license from freemusicarchive.com
"The guitar playing and the shrieks were bad enough. But then they had a piano delivered."
The original version of “The Neighbor” was published in the author’s collection, Zoo, copyright 2006 by Editions P.O.L.
At the Dakota, my life was peaceful.
I had inherited the apartment from my father’s sister, along with a modest sum of money. Living at the Dakota carries with it certain obligations. When the co-op decides, for example, to renovate the basement, you’d better be able to pay your share.
Until then, I had always lived with my mother in a little village in the west of France. I was a furniture maker, I had my own workshop, and everything was going well. I’d led an idyllic childhood with my widowed mother, and I would have been satisfied to continue just as I was. My mother admired my work, above all the delicately inlaid little chests. The prospect of my leaving made her very angry. She used to hate her American sister-in-law.
But I couldn’t resist the lure of the Dakota. My aunt’s death literally changed my life. I gave up my work and crossed the Atlantic, and my main activity ever since has consisted of living at the Dakota. READ MORE…
The blog recommends three more must-reads from Asymptote's April Issue—
Hi there, Asymptote readers! When Asymptote’s April Issue came out (nearly two whole months ago!), we recommended five slick pieces to start off your reading. The issue’s still fresh, featuring dozens of articles, poems, interviews, stories, histories, and visual art definitely worth your perusal. These’ll work to stave off translation cravings until you can get your keyboard on to the July issue—which is slated to come out in a little over a month. Let’s get started (in no particular order, of course):
- An Interview with Ha Jin, by Henry Ace Knight—recommended by Allegra Rosenbaum, blog editor
When I first read Ha Jin in high school, by no means did I appreciate his writing. It wasn’t until I was applying to university that I really started to feel the effect that Waiting had made on my life. Part of the application process in the United States is a personal essay. I wrote the first draft and felt fairly confident about it. I told my mother when she got home. She had just seen Ha Jin talk at her job. READ MORE…