Monthly Archives: June 2015

Translation Tuesday: “Night Visit” by Emmanuel Bove

His eyes left the comforting flame of the lamp, seemed to follow the flight of a bird, then landed on me.

What was making me sad? My books—all my books—were sleeping on the shelves. No one had spoken badly of me. My family and friends had no particular worries. I found myself in the midst of all things. So I did not need to fear that events, in my absence, would take a turn I would be unable to change. I was not unhappy with myself. And, even had I been, this intensity of feeling was different.

It was eleven o’clock at night. A lamp without a shade lit my desk. I had not gone out all day. Whenever fresh air has not put color in my cheeks, I don’t feel at ease. My wrists are smoother and I notice, with some displeasure, that the down covering them is silkier, and when I go to bed, my unexpended energy makes me uncomfortable.

I was dozing in an armchair. At the seam where the red velvet meets the wood, golden tacks form a border. One of them was missing and, there, the edge sagged a bit. I sat motionless. My hand tugged at this seam without my being aware of it, as it sought unconsciously to pull out the next tack.

It was only once I had managed to pull it out that I became aware of what I was doing. I felt a small joy at this discovery, as I feel each time I catch myself doing something without realizing it, or when I bring to light a sensation in me of which I was unaware. It makes me as happy as a ray of sunshine or a kind word. Anyone who would criticize me for this tiny joy will never understand me. I think that seeking knowledge of oneself is a pure deed. To criticize me for digging too deep into myself would be to criticize me for being happy.

I have to say, though, that this joy is very fragile. It really is not equal to the joy a ray of sunshine gives us. Quickly it disappears, and I have to look for something else inside me to bring it back to life. Then, in the intervals, it seems that everything is hostile to me and that the people around me, with their simple joy, are in reality happier than I am.

*

I was reading when there was a knock at the door. It was my friend Paul. He rushed in and the door, which he had yanked behind him so it would close, stopped half-way.

“What’s the matter, Paul?”

“Nothing.”

His face was pale, and his eyes darker than usual. He dropped onto the sofa, which he knew was soft.

“But what is it?”

He stood, walked around the room as I put my book down, and lit a cigarette, then sat again. He was smoking the way nervous people do, his cigarette drooping from his mouth. From time to time, he would spit out bits of tobacco.

“Please, Paul, tell me what’s happened to you.”

I looked at him. I tried to find a gesture, an expression, something in his bearing that would reassure me. But there was nothing. If he had been holding some object, his fingers would have trembled. He must have realized this because he avoided touching anything whatsoever.

“Paul, I’m your friend. Tell me everything. You know if there’s anything I can do for you, I’ll do it. It hurts me to see you like this, without being able to help you.” READ MORE…

KROKODIL Literary Festival: A Dispatch

"Every year in mid-June, in front of the Yugoslav Museum in Belgrade, a strange sect gathers: made up of friends whose names you don’t know."

When organizing an open-air festival, it is easy to realize how religions first came into being: man gazed into the sky and yearned for weather to save the harvest. For seven years now, we—the organization team of the Krokodil festival—have been just-as-obsessively peering at the sky and weather forecasts, always clutching to the one that predicts the worst possible weather. Finally, on the opening day, we phone the Hydrometeorology Institute every two hours. We’re on a first-name basis with its employees.

The festival takes place in the open-air amphitheater in front of the Museum of Yugoslav History, which makes for great atmosphere and an exceptionally high turnout. Krokodil (an acronym loosely translatable as “regional literary gathering which does away with boredom and lethargy”) is conceived as a reading festival and a festival of contemporary literature. More than 120 authors, from over fifteen European countries, have participated thus far.

This year’s theme was “Centers of Periphery.” We aimed to examine the relation between the “center” and the “margin” in literature, as well as in society and politics, exploring the geographical aspects of banishment from the mainstream. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 26th June 2015: Plagiarism You Don’t Remember

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Hey guys, happy Friday!

We frequently report happy awards-news (and don’t worry, we’ve got a bit this week, too). But unhappy literary awards news? Forget about it—until now. South Korean Man Asian Book Prize-winner Shin Kyung-Sook has (sort of) admitted to pilfering passages from Japanese writer Yukio Mishima’s work. Apparently, she “can’t trust her own memory” on the issue. Hm. And speaking of South Korean bestsellers—apparently the Talmud is a hot-ticket bestseller right now.

We’ve spoken about the buzz surrounding Algerian writer Kamel Daoud’s Prix Goncourt-winning (originally French-language, recently translated into English by John Cullen) The Meursault Investigation, itself a riff on Albert Camus’ legendary The Stranger—here’s another great review at NPR. Speaking of literary rivalries/riffs, here’s what Irish writer playwright George Bernhard Shaw thought of German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.  READ MORE…

Working Title: A Sorrow Beyond Dreams

"Titles that involve wordplay often send translators into overdrive."

There is a scene in Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel The Marriage Plot where a class of American students discusses A Sorrow Beyond Dreams by Peter Handke. A know-it-all boy with a penchant for Barthes says he found the book “totally dank and depressive” and “loved it.”

“Suicide is a trope,” he announced. “Especially in German literature. You’ve got The Sorrows of Young Werther. You’ve got Kleist. Hey, I just thought of something.” He held up a finger. “The Sorrows of Young Werther.” He held up another finger. “A Sorrow Beyond Dreams. My theory is that Handke felt the weight of all that tradition and this book was his attempt to break free.”

At this point, the teacher reminds him that the original German title, Wunschloses Unglück, has no “sorrow” in it: this “serious and strangely wonderful title,” a play on the phrase wunschlos glücklich (“happier than you could ever wish for” ), could be translated as “extreme unhappiness.”  The student, without batting an eyelid, proceeds to explain what the author wanted to achieve with the book. READ MORE…

Art Talks: the Photography of Andrea Modica

"Many believe photography is different from language, that it is less culturally contingent. But Modica questions such oversimplifications."

Looking at the work of Andrea Modica, professor of photography at Drexel University and recent recipient of the 2015 Knight Purchase Award for Photographic Media, is a bit like reading a poem for the first time in translation. Engaging with her images, I am struck by the knowledge that I carry my own culture alongside my language, and that my language brings me to my experience of Modica’s photography.

This is to say that what results is a harmonious coexistence of estrangement and intimacy with the image. It’s widely understood that you can never really read the same poem in translation. Many believe visual art (and specifically photography) is different from language, that it is somehow less culturally contingent, or even a container for a sort of singular, “universal” meaning.

But Modica’s work is particularly poetic in that it boldly questions such oversimplifications, drawing attention to the language systems that inform our diverse understandings of images. In one black-and-white photograph, a distinctive silhouette emerges from behind a long, pale curtain, both defined and obscured by its paper or canvas-like veiling. To the viewer, the semiotics of this shadow, with its distinct black and white contours, constitutes a horse. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “Amigos Mexicanos” by Juan Villoro

I was afraid he was going to ask me to give him back the money (...) I told him I was busy because a witch had put the evil eye on me.

1. Katzenberg

The phone rang twenty times. The caller must have been thinking that I live in a villa where it takes forever to get from the stables to the phone, or that there’s no such thing as cordless phones here, or that I experience fits of mystic uncertainty and have a hard time deciding to pick up the receiver. That last one was true, I’m sorry to say.

It was Samuel Katzenberg. He had come back to Mexico to do a story on violence. Last visit, he’d been traveling on The New Yorker’s dime. Now he was working for Point Blank, one of those publications that perfume their ads and print how-to’s on being a man of the world. It took him two minutes to tell me the move was an improvement.

“In Spanish, point blank is ‘a quemarropa.’” Katzenberg hadn’t grown tired of showing off how well he spoke the language. “The magazine doesn’t just publish fluff pieces; my editor looks for serious stories. She’s a very cool mujer, a one-woman fiesta. Mexico is magical, but confusing. I need your help to figure out which parts are horrible and which parts are Buñuel-esque.” He tongued the ñ as if he were sucking on a silver bullet and offered me a thousand dollars.

Then I explained why I was offended.

READ MORE…

Assignment: Translate Your Prose into Verse

Michael Odom on translation, poems, and pedagogy in the classroom.

“…it gave me a devil of a lot of trouble to get into verse the poems that I will read for you tonight, and that is why I will not read them as if they were prose!”

-W.B. Yeats

 

All reading is translation: translation from the language of one mind to the language of another. The worst possible translation is one that takes a great poem in one language and makes of it a terrible poem in another. For example, the translation in a student’s mind of “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may” into “Memento mori!” is a ‘lost in translation’ reading. This occurred to me as I tried to teach university freshmen the correct terms for genres, prosodies, tropes, and dictions.

My students recited verse as if it were an unusually unmusical type of prose. They could not hear it and they could not conceive of lineation as anything but an odd way to write sentences. They droned as they read, flattening every stress and evening out tones as they raced from the initial capital to the period of the last sentence. Their close reading was the same: racing past language to ‘the meaning’. Verse as weird prose; as if poetry were a gameshow where a writer says something cryptic or enigmatic and readers try to guess what was said. Readers who guess right win a PhD. Poets who stump the audience take home an MFA. My students seemed to think the consolation prize would be an easy A.

READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 19th June 2015: Schadensorrow, Bloomsday.

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Happy Friday, Asymptote pals! In the Internet, especially in the Translation Deep-Web we at Asymptote wander in, clickbait articles about “untranslate-able words” are so common we hardly register them any more. But articles about untranslate-able words that don’t exist yet—that’s another thing entirely. Why doesn’t “Schadenfreude” have an antonym?

You probably noted that this past week marked Bloomsday, a holiday for the literati invented by Irish writer James Joyce—who inspires fear and awe in most English-language readers. Not the case in China, apparently, where Finnegans Wake is a bestseller and several Joycean works, including the ominous Ulysses, have been adapted to the stage. In other unlikely artsy feel-good stories: you’ve probably never heard of Annecy, France (unless you went there for study-abroad like a certain roundup contributor). Here’s how a little picaresque French town became central in the international film circuit. But France isn’t the only country with an on-the-ball film scene: here’s why Chilewood should be on your radar. READ MORE…

Mexico City Lit on Radical Translation: Part II

"As a way of questioning dominant representations, translation is a way of doing political and cultural work."

Find Part I here.

*

Mexican Poets Go Home is a radical document of poetry in translation. Eugene Tisselli, for example, channels the spirit of Oulipo in a 79-line auto-generating poem based on an algorithm designed by the poet himself. Also excerpted in the anthology is Karen Villeda’s book-length retelling of the extinction of the dodo, a polyvocal epic woven out of quotes from contemporary scientific journals, colonial documents, and the imagined monologues of sailors.

These, and the other poems in the book, are restless texts: they are far from happy to remain within the confines of a national literary tradition. But the free, bilingual, digitally-distributed format of Mexican Poets Go Home puts it on the frontline of the politics of translation.

The anthology’s format allows it to transcend linguistic borders and forces people to read Mexican writing on its own terms. So in terms of distribution as well as content (form, as well as meaning) Mexican Poets Go Home remains so stubbornly hybrid as to defy any given aesthetic or cultural stricture.

As mentioned, the poem in the anthology is an autogenerative text based on an algorithm. As such, the text collapses language to its most basic atoms and mechanisms of meaning-production. Each line starts out as the buildup of all of its denominators: for example, line 32 is made up of lines 16, 8, 4 and 2. READ MORE…

Mexico City Lit on Radical Translation: Part I

"Translation is the adjustment of voltage and signal within a language system. But every adjustment is an ideological statement."

Every readable sentence carries a subliminal thrum of voltage. Language is the total circuitry of power relations that take place within the groups deploying that language. If translation means the movement between languages, then the act of translation is in some sense a rerouting of that linguistic voltage.

To paraphrase David Bellos, however: an “asymmetrical relationship” is involved in any translation act. Upward translation moves from a less prestigious or powerful language to one considered “stronger.” Almost all translations into English, for example, can be conceived of as “upward translations “ Translation-downwards, therefore, implies movement from a stronger language to one with a smaller readership, or which possesses less cultural and economic prestige.

Have you ever noticed how “un-Japanese” Haruki Murakami feels in English translation, compared to other Japanese writers? Part of this is his own writerly project, born as it is out of an admiration for the likes of Raymond Chandler and J.D. Salinger. But where his translations are concerned, it feels as though twists which may have caused his foreign-language audience to read twice have been effaced or unkinked in the English. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “Mr. Crane Takes a Wife” by Elek Benedek

A Hungarian fairy tale in verse, translated by Mark Baczoni

     There was and there was not, over sevenfold seven lands beyond the Sea of Far Away, there was once a great bed of reeds, and on the edges of these reeds were two little houses, one on either side. In one lived a Crane, alone, and in the other a Wild Duck, alone; alone and frightfully forlorn.

One day the Crane thought and thought,

and thinking to himself of what he ought

to do, he croaked aloud:

“Oh! How sad my life! How sorrowful with strife,

for I have no one: father, mother, or a wife.

It isn’t worth a tinker’s cuss,

just to go on living thus.

Life’s so dull and never merry, that’s it!

It’s time for me to go and marry.”

 

The Crane did not delay,

but preened himself to fine array,

and gathered all his pluck

to go and see the Wild Duck.

He landed in a trice and knocked three times

– or maybe twice – upon her door.

 

“Are you home, dear Duck?”

“I am indeed, O Mr. Crane!”

“Well then, will you come and be my wife?”

“I never heard such rot in all my life!

Mr. Crane, I’ve seen you fly,

you’re not that strong;

your wing’s too short and your leg’s too long.

What crossed your mind when here you came?

If I married you, I’d die of shame!

There’s a window, there’s the door,

pray don’t pester any more!”

READ MORE…

In Review: “Signs Preceding the End of the World” by Yuri Herrera

Ethan Perets reads a new novel sure to be considered "an enduring document of world literature."

What kind of journey begins without the possibility or intention of return? And what kind of person sets out, all the while knowing this to be the case?

Tales of the epic quest often take such questions as starting points. But the latest novel from contemporary Mexican writer Yuri Herrera, titled Signs Preceding the End of the World, rejects each of these questions from the outset.

Recently translated into English by Lisa Dillman for And Other Stories, Signs Preceding the End of the World focuses on Makina, a young Mexican woman, as she travels from her rural village across alien towns, ice-green rivers and black mountain passes searching for her brother north of the U.S.-Mexico border. Equipped with the determination to return home after a short trek across the border, she leaves with few provisions, which include, among other things, “one white blouse and one with colorful embroidery, in case she came across any parties.”

As Makina meets up with the “top dogs” in her town who arrange for her trip, Herrera offers a glimpse of the men that loom behind Mexican organised crime: Mr. Double-U, “a joyful sight to see,” the hustling Mr. Aitch, who hangs with his gang of misfits at the literarily-named drinking establishment Pulquería Raskolnikova, and the tight-lipped Mr. Q, who “never resorted to violence—at least there was nobody who’d say he did.” Besides adding a touch of Tarantino-esque flair to these shady characters, Herrera essentially establishes a novel of personalities. Biggest among them is Makina herself. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 12th June 2015: What’s Pure Prose & Poetry?

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Happy Friday, Asymptote friends!

Big congratulations to the new poet laureate of the United States, Juan Felipe Herrera! Herrera attended the University of Iowa and his current gig is a direct update from his last one (he spent the past two years as poet laureate of the state of California, where he’s from).

Meanwhile, recommended reading abounds. The Millions reviews French-Algerian writer Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation, big winner of the Prix Goncourt and only recently appearing in John Cullen’s English translation (would have been nice to know this from the review—but, alas). In the Paris Review Daily, former blog contributor and all-around translator/thinker/writer extraordinaire Damion Searls argues for a lesser-known (stateside, at least) Norwegian writer: Jon Fosse. According to Searls: in the Beatles band of Norwegian lit, Fosse is George, “the quiet one, mystical.” Hmm. If Fosse is a pure/prose/poet, it’s important to remember the dutiful audacity of prose-at-large: how should we remember what and how prose writing accomplishes what it does? (I’d like to wager that translation plays a vital role in revealing the mechanics of language. But that’s just me). READ MORE…

In Conversation: Alex Cigale, Guest Editor of the Atlanta Review’s Russian Poetry Issue

An interview with Alex Cigale on editing the Atlanta Review's Russian Poetry Issue

I interviewed Alex Cigale, guest editor for the Russia issue of the Atlanta Review, to pick his brain about the editing process, the special issue, and the state of Russian poetry at-large. 

Alex Cigale (former Central Asia editor-at-large for Asymptote!) has collaborated with the editors of the anthology Crossing Centuries: the New Generation in Russian Poetry (2000), and more recently, the online Twenty First Century Russian Poetry (Big Bridge 16, 2014). Independently, he has presented a score of contemporary Russian poets to Anglophone readers. This year, Cigale was the recipient of an NEA in Literary Translation for his work with poet of the St. Petersburg philological school, Mikhail Eremin.

The Atlanta Review is known for its long-established and respected annual contest, offering publication in each of its fall issues, with a $1,000 top prize and 20 publication awards for finalists (including 30 merit awards for semi-finalists). In its 20-year history, it has published a long list of established poets, including Seamus Heaney, Rachel Hadas, Maxine Kumin, Stephen Dunn, Charles Wright, Billy Collins, Derek Walcott, Paul Muldoon, and so on.

PN: What did the Atlanta Review ask from you for its Russia Issue? How did you approach the editorship and solicit contributions?

AC: My directions were quite open: curate an 80-page section of contemporary Russian poetry. In every Spring issue, the Atlanta Review includes an international feature. In recent years, it had shone a spotlight on international hotspots (Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, etc.) as well as on Anglophone or partly-Anglophone nations in the news (India, Ireland, and Scotland, the latter forthcoming in 2016).

While each is planned two years in advance, the editorial phase itself is quite brief: in my case, I only had this past late fall/early winter to work on the curation, so its contents were largely determined by what unpublished work in translation was available at the moment. As I noted in my introduction, above all else, the issue is a “slice of life”—what (primarily American) translators of Russian poetry are working on right now. The world of Russian poetry translation is a fairly small community, so I was able to put out early word of the issue on social media and correspond with nearly each translator personally to discuss their projects. READ MORE…