Monthly Archives: December 2016

My 2016 by Lori Feathers

By happenstance a number of the books that I’ve read most recently explore the theme of redemption.

I’m a fiction judge for this year’s Best Translated Book Award, which means evaluating the English translations of dozens of novels and story collections by writers representing many countries and languages, a thrilling assignment and one that richly sustained my 2016 reading. By happenstance a number of the books that I’ve read most recently explore the theme of redemption—fertile ground for authors to delve into a character’s sense of moral self, the tangle of thoughts and motivations that enable her to marginalize wrongs or justify culpability. The gifted authors of these books deserve our admiration for creating character-driven narratives that artfully articulate humankind’s innate hopefulness that past wrongs can be rectified and personal guilt, absolved.

Juan Gabriel Vásquez’s Reputations (translated by Anne McLean) places readers in the fictional world of Javier Mallarino, a renowned Columbian political cartoonist. Mallarino prides himself in exposing his country’s corruption and political scandals through his daily newspaper cartoon. He possesses the unwavering conviction that his drawings are vitally important for delivering potent truths, “like a stinger dipped in honey.” Years after one of his caricatures destroys the life of a prominent politician Mallarino becomes acquainted with the man’s alleged victim, and their discussions cause him to question the infallibility of his prior condemnation and the consequences of his influence. In an effort to rectify what might have been defamation Mallarino decides to go public with his doubts about the politician’s guilt, an act that will cause the media to turn on him, humiliating him in much the same way that his cartoons humiliated countless others in the past. Reputations is a fascinating study of a man whose entire sense of self-worth is his reputation—the very thing that he must sacrifice in order to redeem himself. READ MORE…

My 2016 by Lindsay Semel

I’ve found solidarity with characters who, like pebbles in the path of an avalanche, find themselves getting caught up in it.

This year, as I watched wide-eyed and drop-jawed the deeds and choices of my fellow humans, I read books that probe the alarming sensation of impotence in the face of inertia. I’ve found solidarity with characters who, like pebbles in the path of an avalanche, find themselves not stopping or redirecting the object in motion, but getting caught up in it.

I opened the year with a copy of S. Yizhar’s Khirbet Khizeh, lent to me by the writer, activist, and academic, David Shulman, who penned its illuminating afterward. Yizhar’s slim novella, originally published in Hebrew in 1949 with no English translation until 2008, narrates the exile of Palestinian villagers during 1948-9—the time Israel celebrates as the birth of its statehood and Palestine laments as its nakba or catastrophe. The narrator is one of the young Israeli soldiers sent to relocate mostly children and the elderly from the village destined to be resettled by Jews. His extremely complex voice captures the haunting cruelty of the task at hand without forsaking responsibility for his complicity—a complicity assured as much by official narrative as by official order. The novella is an important one in Israel’s national memory and happens to be good. Its intimate and colorful narrative voice, rich with Biblical references, shies away from none of the narrator’s labyrinthine conflict. And it’s never been more relevant. As I was reading the novel, I was living in West Jerusalem and visiting Palestine every weekend, bearing witness to the inheritance of the nakba. Over tea in their large, carpeted tent, the inhabitants of one village (clinging to the rocky hillside with nothing but the conviction that it belonged there) described their 4 am wake-up call by Israeli soldiers with stun grenades. Their offence? Asking for the soldiers to give back the generator they’d stolen. And whether you’re the one throwing the stun grenades, the one protecting your kids from them, or the one horrified by it all, the grenades still get thrown. READ MORE…

My 2016 by Theophilus Kwek

Reading the Refugee Crisis

From today through Saturday, select Asymptote staff will be continuing our annual tradition of looking back on the year—specifically through the lens of literary discovery. First to go is Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek, who recently placed Second in the 2016 Stephen Spender Prize for Poetry in Translation. 

It’s hard to imagine where we were a year ago: on the brink of a nuclear deal in Iran, standing firmly in Europe, and with a cluster of literary titans—including Elie Wiesel, Umberto Eco, Harper Lee, Max Ritvo and Leonard Cohen—to light the road ahead. The intervening months have taken us around blind corners that will, undoubtedly, take many more months to comprehend.

For many, however, that tumultuous journey has been more than metaphorical. From stories of asylum-seekers defying death to reach the Arctic Circle town of Neiden, to weekly reports of dangerous boat journeys across the Mediterranean Sea or the Bay of Bengal, we’ve been confronted this year by the brutal realities faced en route by 65.3 million displaced people worldwide, including 21.3 million refugees. The figures are mind-boggling on their own, but it’s another thing to remember that each statistic represents a fellow human who has braved trials we could never begin to understand.

Or can we? My 2016 has brought—along with border-crossing award-winners like Han Kang’s The Vegetarian (translated by Deborah Smith), Sarah Howe’s Loop of Jade, and Vahni Capildeo’s Measures of Expatriation—a selection of powerful work bearing witness to the refugee experience, both by refugees themselves, and those involved first-hand in the asylum process. More than before, I am convinced that there are ways that we, as readers and writers, can know and share in these journeys. And in a publishing climate that remains overwhelmingly first-world, settled, and white, the least we can do (with our wealth and our words) is choose to look outside those brackets. READ MORE…

What’s New in Translation? December 2016

Asymptote reviews the latest translated books from Spanish, German, and Konkani

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The Moravian Night by Peter Handke, tr. Krishna Winston, Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review: Laura Garmeson, Assistant Copyeditor

Not long after midnight, with wintry constellations etched across the Serbian sky, a group of six or seven men make their way through the darkness from various nearby villages to approach the Morava River, a tributary of the Danube. They have been summoned by the owner of a houseboat moored by the riverbank, guided by its neon sign blazing the boat’s name: “Moravian Night”. Once on board, they are greeted by a man who was formerly a well-known writer. He extinguishes the glowing sign, calls for silence, and begins to tell the listeners his story.

So begins The Moravian Night, the latest shimmering, introspective novel to appear in English from the renowned Austrian author Peter Handke, translated from the German by Krishna Winston and published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Handke is no stranger to controversy, with his support for Serbia’s Milošević in the 1990s provoking widespread outrage, and the alchemy of this work seems to draw from the political life and writing life of its author. Employing cameo appearances of characters from previous Handke novels and plot points about the fallout of Central European projects and failed Balkan states, Handke toys with reality, as he sees it, through the cracked lens of fiction.

The resulting book, which on the surface is the story of the nameless writer’s journey across Europe from east to west, is really a travelogue of the mind. This obscured narrator travels through the Balkans, Spain, and Germany, retraces his own steps from previous decades, and reencounters figures who were once figments of memory: “the longer he walked the more he fell into his previous footsteps, footsteps of air”. The parallels to One Thousand and One Nights are established in the book’s first scene, and continue with the same undercurrent of danger and threat of death that forced Scheherazade’s stories into being. The narrator seems impelled by the same threat in the dark on board the Moravian Night. Storytelling here is the antithesis of death – the recreation of a life – and a disrupter of time.

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Translation Tuesday: An excerpt from “Mountain of Light” by Gen’yū Sōkyū 

Eventually we stopped speaking, and came to see each other as “contaminated.”

Akutagawa Prize winner Gen’yū Sōkyū has an unusual vocation among litterateurs: he is the chief priest of a temple in Fukushima, where nuclear disaster struck following the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. Both a leader and a major voice in reconstruction efforts, Gen’yū uses fiction to grapple with the catastrophe, and in this story, “Mountain of Light”, he imagines (perhaps even hopes for) a future of provincial ascendance and “Irradiation Tours”. In this excerpt, the narrator relates his coming to terms with his father’s devotion in collecting the community’s “irradiated”—their radiation-contaminated waste, in other words.

The next time I saw Dad was at Mom’s funeral. He himself would die three years later at ninety-five—twenty-five years after our last conversation—of old age, not cancer. After my mother’s cremation, he spoke to me.

“Your ma had a hard time of it, but it was all worthwhile. Thanks to the irradiated, we managed to live meaningfully, right up to the end, and that’s no joke. When my time comes . . . you’ll burn me on top of that mountain, right?”

His hearing wasn’t so good by that time, so while I said “Don’t be stupid,” apparently what he heard was “Okay, I’ll do it,” although I didn’t realise this until much later. He held my hands in front of Mom’s altar and said “Thank you” over and over again . . . It might’ve been a misunderstanding, but that was the first time he had ever shown me gratitude.

My brother and sister-in-law had only offered incense at the crematorium, and were no longer there. He was a consultant to an electronics manufacturer, and even though he said he had a meeting to attend, I was sure they had left out of fear. I too had debates with the missus about the effects of low-level exposure, almost every night. Eventually we stopped speaking, and came to see each other as “contaminated.” We’d separated by then. And that’s when I finally realised that we were both being completely ridiculous. READ MORE…

Translator’s Diary: Vincent Kling

In a work of art, sound and sense, content and form, can’t be separated.

Today, we are thrilled to introduce a new monthly column by past contributor Vincent Kling, winner of the 2013 Schlegel-Tieck PrizeMaking his way through his current project—translating Heimito von Doderer’s 909-page Die Strudlhofstiege for New York Review Books, he generously shares with us some thoughts on the process from up close. In this first instalment, he tells us how he got started—and restarted—on this translation, and gives us a taste of the entanglements to come.

No translator’s dream is worth much unless it’s a nightmare as well. The craft requires compromise, meaning necessary loss. Those who argue for the intrinsic untranslatability of literature have a point, but it’s valid only in part and never seems to stop anyone. A rule of thumb (or maybe thumbscrew, considering the toil), is that if the effort doesn’t both drain and recharge at once, it’s probably not genuine. Still, Klaus Reichert’s extensive experience has taught him that the eureka moments and the rare flashes of just-right rendering compensate for the drudgery and frustration. Remembering that makes me stop my pity party and resume work after praying to my patron saints—Constance Garnett and Jean Starr Untermeyer; C. K. Scott-Moncrieff and Archibald Colquhoun.

A door to my current project opened again when a major award, the Schlegel-Tieck Prize, came my way unexpectedly a few years ago. I’d been translating for decades and had been working on Heimito von Doderer’s Die Strudlhofstiege oder Melzer und die Tiefe der Jahre (The Strudlhof Steps or Melzer and the Depth of the Years) in the early 1990s, only to have the publisher go bankrupt. (The title names an elaborate, beautiful public staircase in Vienna that becomes the novel’s main objective correlative.) Half of the long novel (909 pages, about 360,000 words) was finished, all ready to go but no place to go to, since Doderer’s disastrous reception in the early 1960s (Alfred A. Knopf called The Demons “our colossal failure”) made him publishers’ poison. But Edwin Frank of New York Review Books must be immune; his passion is the antidote, here as in so many other cases, so he sought me out in 2014 and asked me to finish my translation.

READ MORE…

Highlights of Our 2016 (Part II)

2016, a year of promoting global consciousness through world literature

6. We launched ‘Around the World with Asymptote’—a uniquely unfiltered weekly window on world literature

In many ways, 2016 was a year of promoting global consciousness through world literature. For a while now, we’ve been uniquely equipped to identify and present literary discoveries from around the world. This year, after blog editor Allegra Rosenbaum stepped down, we decided to tap our invaluable network of editors-at-large for a new initiative: weekly global briefings aggregating localized dispatches from around the world. Below is an exhaustive list of all 29 countries from six collective continents we have reported on and from (click on the hyperlinks to revisit!):

Argentina, Argentina | Australia | Bangladesh, Bangladesh | Canada, Canada | CubaCzech Republic | EcuadorEgypt | FranceHong Kong | HungaryIndia, India | Israel | IranMexicoNepal | NigeriaNordic Countries, Nordic Countries | PakistanRomania, Romania | Singapore, Singapore, Singapore | Slovakia, Slovakia | South Africa, South Africa, South Africa, South Africa | Spain, Spain | TaiwanTibet | UK, UKUS, USUS, US, US| Zambia

7. Reviews, reviews, reviews!

This was the year we hit our stride with our “What’s New in Translation?” column, which aggregates medium-length staff reviews of world literature’s latest offerings, to facilitate discovery: revisit the 35 reviews from our January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November instalments and watch for the December edition coming up next week! Along with the 15 reviews we published collectively in the Criticism section of our Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall quarterly issues, and 13 stand-alone reviews elsewhere on the blog, we’ve covered 68 world literature titles altogether in 2016.

8. Massive publicity coordination leads to unprecedented spike in traffic for Fall 2016 issue

With Anita Raja, László Krasznahorkai, Stefan Zweig, György Spiró and Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness in our lineup, as well as the need to publicize our upcoming translation contest judged by David Bellos and Sawako Nakayasu, we decided to announce the release of our Fall 2016 issue in a big way via:

  • Extensive social media promotion setting us back by about $500 USD
  • Video trailer (that I personally produced)
  • Newsletter announcing launch of issue
  • Publicity blitz on the day of launch
  • 4,000 postcards printed (with the contest announcement on the other side) and distributed in six continents (including at the annual American Literary Translators Association conference), costing around $500 USD
  • A quarter-page color ad in the print edition of The Times Literary Supplement (Oct 14 edition) and an online ad in their newsletter for the reduced rate of £900 ≈ $1,100 USD

To be honest, this was not money (or time) we could afford to spend (yes, we were going to receive a one-off grant of $8,400 USD from the National Arts Council of Singapore—our first and only grant in all these years—but this money was supposed to go toward covering the yawning deficit incurred from many years of promoting world literature). And who does video trailers for magazine issues anyway? Why bother? (*silent, eloquent gesture.* Tell us to unroll the red carpet elsewhere and we’ll do it.) Still, the issue got quite a bit of media attention (and hits) especially for the Anita Raja article, and that made it worth it.

9. We launch our first publicity packages specially tailored for publishers of world literature (or institutions invested in the promotion of their country’s literature)

15 March 2016 was a momentous day: I did something with Paypal that I’d never done before. I created an invoice from the Asymptote Journal account, charging for the first publicity package we ever sold. The idea for our business model was this: we would leverage our Translation Tuesday showcases at The Guardian, as well as the combined reach of our social media and our newsletters (more than 50,000 followers) to help publishers raise the visibility of their forthcoming or new releases, directly impacting book sales. Although the revenue received from partnering with 13 publishing houses in three continents all through 2016 is still nowhere near providing a full-time salary for any individual, the modest success of these publicity packages gives a glimmer of hope for Asymptote‘s long-term sustainability. If you belong to this specific target demographic and would like to take advantage of the channels we offer to raise the visibility of foreign authors in 2017 (while also supporting our mission), please take a look at this informational slideshow and get in touch! If you mention reading about this publicity package from this blog post, I’ll even offer you the 2016 introductory rate.

10. A year of invitations

In one of Lydia Davis’s very short stories, “The Fellowship,” she writes, “It is not that you are not qualified to receive the fellowship, it is that your patience must be tested first. Each year, you are patient, but not patient enough. When you have truly learned what it is to be patient, so much so that you forget all about the fellowship, then you will receive the fellowship.”

Being Singaporean, there’s no arts fellowship I’m eligible for (editing is still not recognized as a fundable activity according to the Singapore government, let alone an activity for which one receives a fellowship), but I have, in my capacity as Asymptote‘s editor-in-chief, received quite a few lovely invitations this year. Among them:

  • I judged the PEN International 2016 New Voices Award.
  • I spoke at a London Book Fair panel—my first—on “Discovering New Stories from Asia, Turkey, and Africa.” Although travel and accomodation were not part of the invitation, I was able to crash on the sofa of a university friend; the Translators Assocation of the Society of Authors in the UK also helped out with a travel subsidy for the onward part of the Taipei-London flight.
  • SUTD then paid for my onward flight from London to Singapore so that I could participate in a three-day conference on “The Art and Politics of Translation.” They also paid for my trip back to Taipei, which was great!

I make a point of mentioning all these travel arrangements (without which I am not able to take up the invitations), because I often get asked well-meaning questions along the lines of, “Asymptote‘s doing an event in ____; will I get to see you?” Yes, I’ve helped organize many global events (33 of them in fact), but I’m never actually present for them (unless I’m part of the panel itself), because of lack of funds. Back to the problem of perception I brought up in a prior blog post then: it must seem to our readers that we are coping financially, or even thriving, because we keep expanding our team and increasing our offerings. Ah, if only that were the case…

Thank you for keeping me company at the blog all through these three days, and a big thank you to all who were inspired to sign up as sustaining members over the past few days. Your generosity will give Asymptote extra lives to stay in the game. For those of you who are tempted to sign on, but vacillate still, please know that each additional sustaining member brings us closer to being able to operate beyond April 2017. And on top of everything your donation represents, it will also give us an invaluable psychological boost; that what we are doing makes a difference.

To end, here’s Forrest Gander on why Asymptote “contains the DNA for 21st century literary magazines.” A happy year-end from all of us at Asymptote!

Click here for Part I of “2016 Highlights.”

Highlights of Our 2016 (Part I)

Thanks to an incredible team behind me, 2016 was a startlingly good year for Asymptote.

1. Amazing scoops 

Where to begin? Interviews with Junot Díaz, Ann Goldstein, Yann Martel, László Krasznahorkai, Pierre Joris, Sawako Nakayasu and Ha Jin. Anita Raja‘s essay on “Translation as the Practice of Acceptance.” Sibylle Lacan on her psychoanalyst father, Jacques Lacan. Vicente Huidobro, one of the very first Latin American avant-garde poets. Jan Dammu and Rasool Yoonan, from the current issue. Hsia Yü. The visual artist and poet Caroline Bergvall. Rising fiction stars Youssef Rakha, Olga Tokarczuk, and Marek VadasPatrick Chamoiseau on Martiniquais writers. Experimental poems translated by Martin Rock and Joe Pan from the Japanese of Nenten Tsubouchi. Karina Lickorish Quinn‘s Spanglish contribution to our Multilingual Writing Special Feature. Drama by György Spiró. These were some of our favorite things.

2. Our eight events in three continents

This year, Asymptote celebrated its fifth anniversary by meeting readers in the flesh in three continents and five cities (New York, London, Ottawa, Chicago, Belgrade, and Hong Kong; photo documentation and event summaries can be found here). Attracting the biggest turnout with 165 attendees was the New York event held at The New School, featuring Ann Goldstein and Natasha Wimmer in conversation with Frederic Tuten. On the other side of the Atlantic, 2016 saw three Asymptote events at Waterstones, Piccadilly, in March, July, and September. The last, organized in honor of International Translation Day, had Adam Freudenheim, Laura Barber, Deborah Smith, and Laura Barber speaking to a sold-out room of 70, with moderator Jonathan Ruppin saying afterwards that Asymptote had become “a real force in London.”

3. Our partnership with The Guardian turns one

Promoted to The Guardian’s international readership, beyond the small circle of world literature aficionados, Asymptote’s showcase at The Guardian represents, for translators, an unparalleled reach in the English-speaking world. As editor of Translation Tuesdays, I either commissioned new work or partnered with publishing houses to present fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from five continents and twenty-nine countries (including underrepresented ones like Andorra, Uzbekistan, Singapore, Iran, and Congo). In curating for diversity, I attempted to correct a Eurocentric bias that has hitherto characterized the canon (European work accounted for just 41% of this year’s lineup; find the full breakdown by continent and country here). Watch this space for our final Translation Tuesday showcase of 2016 next week, where we present an extract of “Mountain of Light” by Akutagawa Prize winner Gen’yū Sōkyū, translated especially for the occasion by contributing editor Sim Yee Chiang.

4. We gave away $4,500 to six emerging translators

This year, we upped the ante and added one more category to our translation contest: Nonfiction. Awarding $4,500 USD (up from $3,000 in 2014) in prizes to six best emerging translators working into English were esteemed judges Michael Hofmann, Ottilie Mulzet and Margaret Jull Costa; additionally, we arranged with The Guardian to present the top entries in each category over three consecutive Tuesdays (one of them, Sean Gasper Bye’s translation of Filip Springer’s extraordinary History of a Disappearancewas even shared 2,275 times, attesting to the newspaper’s incredible reach). Note: this is now an annual contest, with the deadline for the next edition coming up Feb 1, 2017! As with the 2016 edition, we will also be arranging for the winning entries to be showcased in The Guardian, allowing them to be noticed the world over, and possibly launching careers. Find the details here.

5. Daniel Hahn became our resident Agony Uncle for a year

Fielding questions from curious/mystified international readers, Daniel Hahn presided over a monthly column for one entire year. (His last contribution here contains hyperlinks to all previous columns.) Along the way, he ruffled feathers and sparked controversy by opining that translators’ names needn’t necessarily be featured on covers. But mostly, Daniel’s very popular ‘Ask a Translator’ edified and entertained. When I reached out personally to thank Lin Falk van Rooyen for signing up as a sustaining member recently, she even singled out Daniel’s feature for praise:

As a translator I have personally benefitted greatly from Asymptote’s in-depth, inspiring, informative (esp. ‘Ask a Translator’ by the ever sincere, ever astute Daniel Hahn), essential and yes—ambitious!—endeavour to promote and disseminate world literature. 

Part II of ‘Highlights’ continues tomorrow.

***

Join Lin Falk van Rooyen in standing behind our mission: become a sustaining member today! Each additional membership takes us closer to being able to operate beyond April 2017. Or, if you are American, consider a one-time tax-deductible donation via our Fractured Atlas Page. 

 

A look back at 2016’s content

A year of wanderlust in fiction, poetry, nonfiction, drama, visual art, and interviews!

Thanks for joining me at the blog! Before we get into the highlights proper, I thought it fitting to take a look at the number of countries we featured this year, or, rather, will have featured this year.

After next week, Asymptote will have published 170 articles (in nine different sections) via our Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall quarterly issues and 51 Translation Tuesday showcases at The Guardian.

Number of countries featured in the journal in 2016: 68

Number of countries featured in Translation Tuesdays in 2016: 29

Here are the breakdowns for each by continent and country:

asymptote2017tally2
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On Editing an English Literary Journal as a Person Of Color

The matter-of-fact, even slightly cheerful, answer: "Have your characters come to the US!"

Hello! (Taps mic…) Our regular blog editors Madeline, Hanna and Nina are on leave today, so I’ll be guest-blogging to continue our daily programming. My name is Yew Leong (yes, that’s two words for my first name) and I’m the Singaporean editor working behind the scenes of the magazine since 2010. I’m thirty-nine this year (the photo of me, above, was taken in a yakisoba restaurant when I was thirty-six).

Some details of how I came to found the journal are mentioned in the interview I share below, so I won’t get into that here. What I will say to preface my breaking the fourth wall is this: After July 2011, I stopped signing the quarterly issues’ editor’s notes at least partly because, as the only full-time member at Asymptote, I didn’t want to overshadow the team’s collective efforts (for the same reason, I also declined to be videoed for our first-ever Indiegogo campaign). For several years thereafter, all editor’s notes were simply ascribed to “The Editors.”

In July 2016, I decided to sign my name after the editor’s note again: Prior to that, I’d seen Asymptote being written off as a mere “platform” by a prominent translator, but specifically in the derogatory sense of “editor X used the platform Asymptote to do Y” (Y being a massive translation project, requiring coordination across the different roles), as if all I had done was create a free-for-all Facebook or Twitter-like interface for providers of world literature. That could not be further from the truth: there is someone leading the magazine (although hopefully not off a cliff!), someone with a vision to boot, not merely a loose collective of editors, contributing whatever they’d like to contribute.

Secondly, I’d started wondering if, by not putting myself out there a little more, I had become complicit in, let’s just say, a certain racial oppression. This year, after six years of editing the magazine, I was happy to be invited to my first London Book Fair panel (actually any event that wasn’t organized by Asymptote, although, as its editor-in-chief, I have played varying roles toward making 33 world literature events happen in four continents), and I remain eternally grateful to the Translators’ Association of the Society of Authors in the UK for subsidizing my trip there (as I could not afford the flight ticket otherwise).

But, few know that, in 2014, about five years into helming the magazine, and surviving those five years by wearing many different hats to keep the journal going, an invitation was received by someone on the team to represent Asymptote at an international conference, with the offer to be flown in from wherever. The invitation was sent to a part-time White Assistant Managing Editor who’d been on board less than seven months, who actually lived further away from the conference than me, based on her current city at that time. I’d left the US many years ago to avoid being an invisibilized person of color, specifically in a literary environment (Junot Díaz and Ken Chen talk about this issue very eloquently), and suddenly there I was being overlooked again.

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Asymptote Podcast: Readings: The Tarot in Literature

We explore the Tarot and its influence on different corners of fiction and poetry from around the world.

Our last Asymptote Podcast for 2016 takes a turn for the mystical as we explore the Tarot and its influence on different corners of fiction and poetry from around the world. In recent times, there have been many new “translations” of the Tarot in updated editions of the mysterious 78-card deck: see, for example, the ingenius “Black Power Tarot” deck by the Canadian Musician King Khan, who found his inspiration after attending readings by Chilean director Alejandro Jodorowsky! We’ll also delve into Spanish artist Andres Marquinez Casas’s “Macondo Tarot,” a deck crafted with characters from One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, and hear from the creator of the most recent Tarot reimagining, American artist Courtney Alexander who has updated the ancient deck with characters like Grace Jones and Duke Ellington. Stay tuned: you might just have your future unveiled! This is the Asymptote Podcast.

Podcast Editor and Host: Layla Benitez-James

 

Translation Tuesday: A selection from Poems for Michael Jordan by Francisco Ide Wolletter

fate is the phenomenon of the ball passing through empty space to arrive at your empty hands

Awarded first place in the CNCAs Roberto Bolaño Prize for Young Literary Creation in the Poetry category, twenty-seven-year-old Francisco Ide Wolleter stands out from the latest generation of Chilean litterateurs. His “Poems for Michael Jordan” are miracles of observation, imbuing quotidian life with existential drama. You won’t ever watch basketball the same way again after this.

I

 the ball’s porous plane

makes me think of human skin

 

a tactile nostalgia

though contact is always illusory

 

the facts are thus: we’re structured on emptiness

built of atoms,

atoms whose nature is to repel

and be repelled.

 

that’s why we don’t mix with things

that’s why when we touch

we haven’t really touched anything at all

 

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Q&A with Polina Barskova, editor of Written in the Dark

For me, this anthology presents a great lesson of humanity.

Today, we feature editor-in-chief Lee Yew Leong in conversation with Polina Barskova, scholar of the devastating Siege of Leningrad, in which as many as one million perished from famine. Working with a team of historians and translators on “miraculous” archival material, Barskova produced Written in the Dark, an important human testament of its time. After reading this interview, be sure to check out a selection of works from the anthology which we arranged with The Guardian to showcase on a recent Translation Tuesday

Your project presents a literary phenomenon that has been “unknown even to Russian readers for 70 years,” according to the introduction accompanying the anthology. Can you give our (mostly non-Russian) readers a bit of background into the dire circumstances that resulted in the writing gathered here? Why was it unknown for 70 years, even in its native Russia?

The Siege of Leningrad (1941-1944) was a complex disaster indeed, resulting in around one million deaths from famine. But yet another dire consequence was Soviet power doing everything possible to conceal the humanitarian catastrophe that happened in the city. For decades, only the Soviet version of the heroic fight could be published; all other voices and opinions were suppressed. The poems collected here present the human suffering, not the official version of heroism.

Your work as a scholar on the Siege undoubtedly helped you unearth these important poems, whose survival has been called a “miracle.” Can you shed some light on the discovery, and the process of presenting an English anthology?

This anthology is a collective effort: many scholars worked to unearth and preserve and interpret these texts. My job was mainly to put them together, to organize them into one coherent poetic and historical statement. It is mainly due to the families and disciples of these poets that these texts have survived. In every case, their survival is a miracle.

And with this feeling of awe I’ve been talking about the anthology both in the West and in Russia, and curiously very different audiences receive the book with equal enthusiasm.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The latest literary news from Argentina, France, Taiwan, and Singapore.

The end of the year is nearly upon us, and we can hardly believe it here at the Asymptote blog. 2016 has been difficult the world over, but that hasn’t stopped a flourishing of creative energy in literature and the arts—which may be of more importance now than ever. This week, we check in with Asymptote team members on the latest literary happenings in places they call (or have once called) home.

Our world tour begins in Argentina, where Assistant Editor Alexis Almeida brings us the latest:

As the year comes to an end, there has been a steady stream of literary festivals in Buenos Aires. Most recently, the sixth annual Fanzine Festi took place at the Convoi Gallery, which featured zines and underground presses like Tren en Movimiento, alcohol y fotocopias, Fábrica de Estampas, Ediciones de Cero, and many others. On the same weekend, Flipa (Fería del Libro Popular [Popular Book Fair]) took place at the Paco Urondo Cultural Center. This initiative, free and open to the public, came out of “Construyendo Cultura,” a collective of cultural spaces in Buenos Aires, and aims to create a editorial circuit that reaches “the largest possible number of authors, readers, and spaces for the diffusion…of collective, homegrown presses and graphic cooperatives.” This is just another example of the thriving DIY print culture in Buenos Aires. Also held recently was La Sensacíon, a monthly book fair held at the bookstore La Internacional in the Villa Crespo neighborhood. It boasts titles from independent presses such as Blatt & Ríos, Fadel & Fadel, Milena Caserola, and others.

Two recent conferences spotlighted 20th century poets: Alejandra Pizarnik and Susana Thenon. The former was held at the MALBA contemporary art museum, and brought together various contemporary writers and literary critics, such as María Negroni, Daniel Link, and Federica Rocco, to discuss different aspects of Pizarnik’s work. There was also a screening of Virna Molina and Ernesto Ardito’s documentary, Alejandra. The latter was part of a series on gender and poetry presented by Arturo Jauretche University.

Ni Una Menos, the feminist advocacy group, recently led a march on November 25, for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. There was also a national assembly held the same day in public spaces in cities throughout the country, in which advocates and citizens made public demands for legalized abortion and stronger legislation for the prevention of gender violence, among other issues.

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