Monthly Archives: March 2014

Proust Questionnaire: Damiano Abeni

A "Lydia Davis" Questionnaire

Who is your favorite fictional character of all time?

In this exact moment it is a three-way tie: Achilles, Omar Little (The Wire), and Sherlock Holmes.


Weekly News Roundup, 28th March 2014: Pretty literary pennies, Prison reading

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Writing is a notoriously penny-pinching métier, unless you’re Canadian Nobel winner Alice Munro—whom the Canadian government has graced with a $5 commemorative coin of her very own. Don’t count on making literary purchases with the coin any time soon, though: the coin costs $69.95, which—granted, we aren’t mathematicians here at Asymptote—seems like a not-so-smart investment. READ MORE…

How well do you know your neighbor?

"The linguistic closeness is a false cognate for cultural closeness. And for that, we can't blame the translators."

My chair is uncomfortable, I don’t understand Danish, and it smells like someone in my general vicinity had kippers for dinner. I’m at the Oslo Central Library’s panel discussion on “What is good Scandinavian literature?,” and it isn’t going well. READ MORE…

Asymptote Never Sleeps: Contributor News Roundup

From films to exhibitions, here's what Asymptote contributors have been up to lately.

Coming May 7, 2014! Moroccan writer Abdellah Taïa’s widely anticipated screen debut L’armée du salut (Salvation Army) has been making waves at film festivals. Watch an excerpt of the prize-winning movie here and find out more on Taïa’s official Facebook page. For French speakers: a French-language interview with Taïa. Revisit his open letter “Homosexuality Explained to My Mother,” translated into English and Chinese exclusively for Asymptote here.

Alexander Dickow brings Henri Droguet’s poetry to the United States for the first time with Clatters. Published by Rain Taxi imprint Ohm Editions, Droguet’s French text appears beside Dickow’s translation. In the translator’s afterword, Dickow opines: “Never, perhaps, has so pure a litany of despair, vanity, destruction and decay given rise to such vibrant language.” Lovely!

Moving away from the Francophone world… Boey Kim Cheng co-edited a crucial anthology of Asian Australian poetry–get up to speed with the project here. His own poem “Plumb blossom or Quong Tart” appears with voices “from Pakistan to Singapore to Thailand to Goa and beyond, telling diverse, richly textured and evolving stories.”

Forrest Gander is speaking tonightMarch 26, at SOAS, University of London, about modern and contemporary Japanese poetry in translation and how it has influenced literature originally written in English. He will tackle the question so many readers have only wondered at: What gets translated and why? Join him and Asymptote contributing editor Sayuri Okamoto.


Translation Tuesday: Poems by John Smelcer

Featuring work by John Smelcer, who can read and write in Ahtna, one of the world's most endangered languages


Recipe for a Reztini

Two parts cheap gin or vodka

One part of your youth

Garnish with a strip of dried salmon or jerky

Shake it in the backseat of a Pontiac

doing 70 mph on Dead Man’s Curve



The Joys and Dangers of Translating Asian Dictionaries: Part II.

"An encyclopedia already performs one dangerous act of translation: it translates the language of things into that of man."

When last we left off (read part I here!), I was discussing an imagined translation of an ordering system devised by a (fictitious) king of Siam in the mind of the (very real) W. Somerset Maugham. This time, I will jump to a different author.

Jorge Luis Borges, like Maugham, takes us once again to a land East of Eden, more precisely, somewhere East of Suez (where the best is like the worst, where there aren’t no Ten Commandments). In his essay “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins,” Borges introduces us to “a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled ‘Celestial Empire of Benevolent Knowledge’” that was discussed by one “doctor Franz Kuhn.” Borges writes:

In its remote pages it is written that the animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.


Weekly News Roundup, 21st March 2014: Welcome to Translationland

A look at some of the most important literary news of the past week

Spring has sprung today, but it’s more than likely the weather is still less-than-stellar, wherever you are. At the New York Review of Books, British novelist Zadie Smith eulogizes the seasons in the shadow of climate change. Elsewhere, watch a conversation between Smith and Nigerian-American author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on writing postcolonial literature, or read about Adichie’s literary Lagos.

Fellow Nigerian-American writer Teju Cole posted his essay A Piece of the Wall, on immigration, entirely on Twitter (here’s how the social media platform is changing the face of fiction, despite griping critics). Themes of diaspora and identity certainly resonate with readers: Zimbabwean writer NoViolet Bulawayo has snagged the PEN/Hemingway Award for her novel We Need New Names, about a 10-year-old girl moving to the United States. But don’t make these mistakes when reading immigrant fiction: a view from Germany, via our friends at Words Without Borders.


Sports and Literature: an interview with Philipp Schönthaler

Plumbing the depths of human endeavor

Last night, at an intimate jazz bar hidden away on one of Berlin’s many courtyards, Readux books presented its gorgeous second set of books. Hardly larger than the next generation of cell phones, these little books are designed for brief escapes, mini-breathers away from your screen (although they’re of course also available as ebooks, who are we kidding?).

There were readings, short discussions, and delicious and plentiful vodka tonics, spring was very much in the air—it’s no coincidence that these books do well on lunch-break benches underneath Berlin’s tender first blossomings. READ MORE…

Asymptote’s 3rd Anniversary Celebrations in March and April (Plus: our New Events Page, with Multimedia!)

Check out highlights from our past celebrations in London and New York, and don't miss our upcoming events!

We’re thrilled to announce that Asymptote’s globetrotting third anniversary party, which kicked off in London and New York in January, will continue across five continents over the next month—watch our brand-new video trailer below for a taste, and don’t forget to RSVP at our Shanghai (March 29), Philadelphia (March 29), Berlin (April 3), and Sydney (April 11) Facebook Event pages, already live.

In case you can’t make it, don’t fret: we’ve launched a new Events page, where you can find photos, podcasts, videos, and dispatches of all the events we’ve ever organized, as well as an up-to-date pulse for all upcoming events!


Translation Tuesday: Dead Stars by Álvaro Bisama

"The past is that: a photo taken in a hotel we wish was our home—false photographs, proof of the life we never had."

Forthcoming from Ox and Pigeon Press is Megan McDowell’s English translation of Álvaro Bisama’s Dead Stars, which won the 2011 Santiago Municipal Prize for Literature and the 2011 Premio Academia, given out by the Chilean Academy of Language for the best book of 2010.


RIP: Roberto “Freak” Antoni

"One good thing about getting sick, really sick... was that it made him give up drugs."

Roberto Freak Antoni died just short of age sixty on February 12 this year. One good thing about getting sick, really sick, he noted, was that it made him give up drugs. Antoni—or Freak, his moniker among legions of both young and aging fans—was by no means a role model, but  a rock star and poet, and above all a deeply subversive figure in Italian literature and pop culture.


Weekly News Roundup, 14th March 2014: BTBA (yay!), Illustrated texts

A look at some of the most important literary news of the past week

We report on book prize-awarding every week here at the Roundup, but it isn’t often that we’re so giddy to see some nominations: our friends at Three Percent have announced the longlist for the 2014 Best Translated Book Award, awarded in categories of both fiction and poetry. We’re especially happy to see the remarkably diverse longlist include several Asymptote alums, past and present: our very own Howard Goldblatt, Asymptote contributing editor, is up for his translation of Mo Yan’s Sandalwood Death (read Goldblatt’s recent essay about his relationship with author Huang Chunming here!), Mircea Cărtărescu, longlisted for Blinding (excerpted in our October 2013 issue), Arnon Grunberg for Tirza (Grunberg’s piece on J.M. Coetzee here), last year’s winner Lászlo Krasznahorkai for Seibobo Here Below (read his remarkable short prose in our July 2013 issue, translated by blog contributor Ottilie Mulzet), Javier Marías’ The Infatuations, translated by the venerable Margaret Jull Costa (interviewed here), Stig Sætterbakken’s Through the Night (don’t miss our review from our January issue), and many, many more—phew! One thing’s for sure: we don’t envy the difficult decisions those judges have got to make in the coming weeks.


In Review: “Word by Word”

"Saroyan’s comparison of his grandmother’s mustache to Stalin’s had to be blacked out by the editor in the whole print run."

Czechoslovak history is closely connected to language and culture; it follows that translation, in particular, is a mighty revolutionary tool in times of oppression…

The twenty-seven interviews with the oldest generation of Czech translators collected in Word by Word (With Translators on Translating) reveal the personal histories of the people who, for more than half a century, were the arbiters of the literary masterworks available to thousands of Czech and Slovak readers.


Asymptote’s Third Anniversary in Boston: a Recap

“The past is a foreign country. There is no native position from which a poem can be understood.”

In honor of our third anniversary, Asymptote’s Boston crew hosted “Translation in the Academy,” a conversation about the intersection of the growth of “translation studies” programs in universities and the praxis of professional translators. The panel was convened by our own contributing editor Ellen Elias-Bursac (along with plenty of help from Nina Beguš, Daniel Goulden, and Alex Sham!).

On the academic, translation-in-theory side of the ring: Karen Thornber, professor and current chair of Harvard University’s Department of Comparative Literature, and Edwin Gentzler, Director of the Translation Center at University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Representing translation in practice: Lloyd Schwartz, poet, active translator of Portuguese, and English professor at the University of Massachusetts-Boston, and Vivek Narayanan, poet and translator of Tamil. The panel was held at the Outpost 186 artspace in Cambridge, and true to Asymptote form, it was a room full of translators: of Japanese, of German, of Hebrew, and of Spanish, to name only a few of the languages represented in the diverse audience.