Posts by Alexis Almeida

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your latest updates from the UK, Argentina, and Canada

In case you missed it, Asymptote has exciting news from the London Book Fair, plus the latest literary gossip from Argentina and Canada this week. Lots of new books to look out for, and many writers making waves in their communities. First stop: LBF! 

Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large for Slovakia, sends us her notes from the recently concluded London Book Fair, where Polish literature had a big moment:

Over the past few years, Polish has become the second most widely spoken language in the UK, so it was high time for Londoners to get exposed to a massive dose of Polish literature.  Several years of work by the British Council, the Polish Book Institute and the Polish Cultural Institute in London finally paid off as Poland was the market focus at this year’s London Book Fair, held from 13 to 16 March.

Polish writers kept popping up at readings and discussions—not just at the buzzing maze that is the Olympia conference centre, but also at venues all over London. However, the toast of the town was, without doubt,  leading feminist author Olga Tokarchuk (Tok-ARCH-ook: TOK as in tick-tock, ARCH as in arch, OOK to rhyme with book, stress on the ARCH, to quote from the handy guide to pronouncing Polish writers’ names prepared by translator extraordinaire Antonia Lloyd-Jones).  Apparently unfazed by her relentless schedule, Tokarczuk was always ready to answer probing questions with unfailing grace.  Her conversation with novelist Deborah Levy at the London Review Bookshop sold out weeks in advance, and it must have been a real bonus for the author to be presented, ahead of its scheduled publication, with copies of her own latest book Flights, in Jennifer Croft’s English translation (excerpt here).

credit Elzbieta Piekacz, courtesy of Polish Book Institute

credit Elzbieta Piekacz, courtesy of Polish Book Institute

Discussing the role of history in 21st century Polish fiction, Tokarczuk—whom moderator Rosie Goldsmith introduced as the “Margaret Atwood of Central Europe“—declared: “Objective history doesn’t really exist. What is located in the archives is just a collection of facts; history is a projection, our interpretation.” London-based Libyan author Hisham Matar concurred, suggesting that “all writing about the past is vigorously about the present.”  Science fiction writer Jacek Dukaj pointed out that films and books can shape our own memory of events, while poet, writer, and translator Jacek Dehnel explained that he doesn’t write non-fiction because in literature you often have to lie to make it more true.

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What’s New in Translation? January 2017

Asymptote reviews some of the best new books from Spanish, German, and Occitan.

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Proensa: An Anthology of Troubadour Poetry, tr. by Paul Blackburn, edited and introduced by George Economou. New York Review Books.

Review: Nozomi Saito, Executive Assistant

Translated from the Occitan by Paul Blackburn, Proensa: An Anthology of Troubadour Poetry is a remarkable collection of troubadour poetry, which had vast influence on major literary figures, including Dante and Ezra Pound. As poems of the twelfth century, the historic weight of troubadour poetry might intimidate some, but the lively language in Paul Blackburn’s translations is sure to shock and delight twenty-first century readers in the same way that these poems did for their contemporary audiences.

The context surrounding the original publication of Proensa in 1978 is nearly as interesting as the troubadour poems themselves. Although Proensa was in fact ready for publication in the late 1950s, lacking only an introduction, the collection was not published until seven years after Paul Blackburn’s death. The manuscript was then given to George Economou, who edited the collection and saw to its posthumous publication.

The circumstances of the publication of Proensa, of the pseudo-collaboration between a deceased translator and a living editor, are reminiscent of another publication that came out in 1916, Certain Noble Plays of Japan. This manuscript was a collection of Noh plays translated by Ernest Fenollosa, which Ezra Pound received after Fenollosa’s death.

Interestingly, it was Ezra Pound’s influence and the great importance he placed on the troubadours that ignited the fire of translation within Blackburn.  Pound, as Economou explains, “did more than any other twentieth-century poet to introduce the troubadours and their legacy to the English-speaking world”. Pound viewed the translation of the troubadours as an all-important task, and Paul Blackburn answered the call-to-action.

Six degrees of Ezra Pound. The coincidence (if it is one) begs the question of why Proensa is being reprinted now, thirty-nine years after its original publication, and one hundred years after the publication of Certain Noble Plays.

In the case of Certain Noble Plays, the significance of its publication was that Pound (as well as William Butler Yeats) felt that the Noh plays could revitalize Anglo-American poetry and drama in ways that suited modernist aesthetics. One might wonder if the same intention lies behind the reprinting of Proensa—if these troubadour poems are appearing again to twenty-first century readers to revitalize poetry and performance using literary forms from the past. READ MORE…

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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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week's literary news from Pakistan, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Argentina

The Asymptote world tour this time begins in Pakistan, with an update on the Punjabi literary scene from Janani Ganesan, Assistant Managing Editor. Then, we fly north, where Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large in Slovakia, shares the latest publications and literary events in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Our last stop takes us southwest to Argentina, where Assistant Editor Alexis Almeida talks poetry festivals, feminism, and politics. Welcome aboard, and enjoy the ride.

Janani Ganesan, Assistant Managing Editor, with news from Pakistan:

It’s been 250 years since one of the most famous renderings of the Punjabi tragic romance came into being—Heer by Waris Shah, which remains an influence on Punjabi literature and folk traditions. But Punjabi has suffered as a consequence of marginalization during the colonial rule (when Urdu was patronized) as well as the 1947 Partition between India and Pakistan, when (Punjabi-speaking) Sikhs were forced to leave their homeland in Pakistani Punjab (while Urdu and Muslims were expunged from India).

Amidst a growing Punjabi literary movement to correct this historical wrong, Asymptote encountered a reading club in Lahore dedicated to and named after this legendary text—the Heer Study Circle.

Ghulam Ali Sher, co-founder of the group, shares its purpose with Asymptote: “to inculcate an interest for Punjabi reading among university youth; to do away with the religiously-oriented sufistic reading of such Punjabi folktales for a more pluralistic and people-oriented interpretation; and to trace the socio-economic patterns of pre-colonial Punjab through popular historical sources, like this folktale, against the biases of mainstream historiography.”

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The Copy in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

In the permanent anxiety surrounding whether or not a work is or is not original, a fear emerges when living in a colonized society.

Today, we’re trying out a new form with this sharp and engaging interview brought to us by Alexis Almeida, an Assistant Editor of Asymptote. Victoria Cóccaro interviewed artist and writer Leticia Obeid in Spanish; Almeida translated it into English. Much of Obeid’s work deals with ‘the copy,’ reproduction and interpretation—questions translators face as interpreters and writers. Here is the English translation, with the original Spanish below it.

Leticia Obeid is a visual artist and writer. As a writer, she has published the novela Se conoce que si (2012) and the artist book Escribir, Leer, Escuchar with Blatt & Rios press, as well as the novels Frente (2013) and Preparación (2015) with Caballo Negro press. In her visual art, which you can see here, she stages a dialogue between these artistic practices, while at the same time interrogating their supposedly separate bearing. Through the different forms she explores—video, drawing and illustration—she poses questions about what reading is, what writing is, and above all how the word can become an image, line, or sound. The line turns into a form of temporality and experience in her work, whose residue is the materiality of its footprint. Like a 19th century naturalist who copies in her notebook with her pen an infinitude of species that reveal themselves phenomenologically, she uses handwriting as a tool to materially experience thought and existence. Reading, writing, translation, image, word, and copy could be terms that vector—without diagramming entirely—Leticia Obeid’s work, which is also a kind of thinking about visual art, a kind of putting pressure on its assumptions and limits, allowing it to travel through (travel, travel-writing, other vectors) other artistic practices.

The following interview emerged from Leticia’s participation in Mi Bibliografía / My Biography, a series that I coordinate together with Marcos Perearnau at La Sede, a cultural space in Buenos Aires. With this as a pretext, I lingered to think about her work and found the idea of the copy operating as much in certain themes as in techniques she developed, I think, to explore this idea. My hope is that the reader will think about the way the idea of the copy operates in her artistic project, how it sets down in certain procedures, and also throughout the scope of Argentine and Latin American art in general. For this we’ll focus on five points: the link between the copy and tradition, Leticia’s work, experience, language, and our present moment. –Victoria Cóccaro

Victoria Cóccaro: We might consider that since its beginnings Argentine literature has activated a certain artistic potential in the copy. Practices like stealing, appropriation, reading, and rewriting intersect here in different ways. To name a few examples: Ricardo Piglia pointed out, from the apocryphal quotation that appears in the author’s note of Domingo Sarmiento’s Facundo–—on ne tue point les idées—the staged desecration of European or American culture, positing an “aesthetics of stealing.”[i] Borges points out a lateral and decentralized, even impertinent and irreverent use of European culture in Argentine literature; his writing contains much cutting, copying, and transcribing. Leónidas Lamborghini, in his Reescrituras, brings together copy and variation through a procedure that distorts and denaturalizes the original statement of the work.[ii] Finally, I’m remembering all of the events last year surrounding Pablo Katchadijian’s El Aleph engordado—the lawsuit that Borges’ widow filed for supposed “plagiarism,” and the defense made by the artistic community on behalf of the work, alleging that his practice was in line with certain practices of 20th century art, from Duchamp forward, including Borges himself.[iii]

How do you locate your own practice within this trajectory?

Leticia Obeid: I am part of that tradition by affinity, but also in an inevitable way, because I believe that the feeling of being a copy of a distant original model is a specific kind of symptom of being from a culture born as a colony—this feeling that we are a copy of a distant, original model. Without a doubt, this quality exists in all of Argentine cultural production—it is more or less central, more or less evident in each case. In my work, the copy has a pop quality, I would dare to say, now that we’re looking for genealogies: the parody and the homage unite in a single act. I feel a love and a hate for those very expressions that I have learned by heart, those songs, those texts and images that at some point invaded a space in my mind. In some cases the copy is a response to that invasion; it’s a charade, and it’s reverential as well.

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What’s New in Translation? June 2016

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

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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.

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Publisher Profile: In Conversation with Kaya Press

"We push boundaries by putting these books out there."

Kaya Press was founded in 1994, and has established itself as a premier publisher of Asian and Pacific Islander diasporic writers in the United States. Its diverse list of titles includes experimental poetry, noir fiction, film memoir, avant-garde art, performance pieces, “lost” novels, and everything in between. Kaya and its authors have been the recipients of numerous awards, including the Gregory Kolovakas Prize for Outstanding New Literary Press, the American Book Award, the Association for Asian American Studies Book Award, the PEN Beyond Margins Open Book Prize, the Asian American Writers’ Workshop Award, and their books have become cornerstone texts in American Studies and Asian American Studies curricula at universities throughout the country. I spoke with Publisher Sunyoung Lee via email.

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Alexis Almeida: Can you tell me about Kaya’s origins? I’ve read that it was originally intended to house a journal of Korean literature-in-translation, and that the press has been through many transformations.

Sunyoung Lee: Kaya was founded by Kim Soo Kyung, a writer and a publisher based in Korea, who originally was interested in publishing Korean lit in translation. She met up with writer Walter K. Lew, who convinced her to publish a broader list of Asian diasporic lit—and to move beyond putting out a journal format to putting out actual books. The transformations that Kaya has gone through have been largely due to staffing and funding. The start up funding from Kim Soo Kyung ended in 1997, whereupon all funding for salaries abruptly ended, though I continued to work at Kaya with Juliana Koo, Kaya’s original managing editor. Probably the most difficult time for Kaya was the period where I became the sole volunteer staff person at Kaya after Julie went to graduate school. Luckily, we had enough forward momentum to stay afloat because of the great organizational groundwork that Julie had put into place, but it was a huge challenge to keep up—to continue publishing books, keeping our books in print, etc. We managed to keep our heads above water, but there were a couple of moments when it was a bit touch and go. More recently, however, working with Neelanjana Banerjee, our managing editor, and our new publicist, Cathy Che—not to mention our graduate student assistant, Heidi Hong, and the numerous, talented undergraduate interns whom we work with here  (happy to give a list of all of their names! Anita Chen, Maggie Deagon, Jamaal Armstrong, among others)—has made all of the difference in getting Kaya Press really humming again. Not only are we putting on more events and publishing more titles than ever before, we’re also working on a couple of new series of titles (and planning a few more), including one on Japanese lit in translation, and another on Korean literature in translation, both of which will be launched in 2017. So there’s a way in which we’ve finally circled back around to our original founding impulse!

AA: What has your move from New York to LA been like? Can you tell me about your affiliation with the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity at USC, and your relationship with the greater LA community?

SL: From New York—at least back in the 90s, at least for myself—Los Angeles was not just beyond the pool of light being generated by the city itself, it was past the curve of the earth—past the horizon. So it was never a place I ever really ever thought about, much less imagined Kaya moving to.

Because we started in the 1990s, we had a very strong sense of creating culture as we went—desktop publishing had just started to make possible the world of indie publishing that we now see flourishing around us, and there was a lot of excitement and new ideas and people trying to figure out how to making this indie publishing thing work.

The feeling was a lot like the feeling of riding my bike (my primary mode of transportation in those days) through midtown Manhattan—you’re out in the world, completely self-powered, moving between lanes of packed traffic in the shadow of these enormously tall buildings. It’s a weirdly wonderful feeling—you feel acutely your smallness and insignificance, yet all of that looming institutional weight can’t prevent you from making your way to wherever you need to be. That’s what it felt like to be doing indie publishing at that time. It was hard not to feel like a pioneer.

Ditto with regards to working the Asian diasporic focus—unlike out on the West Coast, where there was a more of a cohesive sense of history and critical mass and activism around Asian American-ness, in New York, being Asian American and really trying to make an impact as an Asian diasporic press required a different kind of wiliness—a different set of survival skills, if you will. There was definitely an active, thriving community of Asian American artists, but it wasn’t as entrenched and institutional as it was out west, from what I could tell at least. Which meant that you spent more time trying to break new ground—to get to the table—than you did navigating pre-existing social and cultural hierarchies—or figuring out how to position yourself at the table.

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What’s New in Translation? December 2015

So many new translations this month! Here's what you've got to know—from Asymptote's own.

Mark Kongstad, Am I Cold (Serpent’s Tail, November 2015). Translated by Martin Aitkenreview by Beau Lowenstern, Editor-at-Large Australia

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Am I Cold throws you into a world of hedonism and extravagance. It is Danish author Martin Kongstad’s first novel to appear in English, and his second body of fiction after 2009’s  short story collection Han Danser På Sin Søns Grav (He Dances on his Son’s Grave). The story follows Mikkel Vallin, a recently-divorced, recently-unemployed writer who—toeing the line between unreliable narrator and protagonist—takes the reader through the moonlit halls of Copenhagen’s artistic elite as he attempts to find existential clarity through a lens of sex, alcohol and debauchery. Loosely held together through Mikkel’s polemic, endeavoring to destroy “coupledom” and the trappings of monogamy, the novel endures in a pre-2008 micro bubble of Denmark and seductively draws you into a chilling, often hilarious world that somehow exists in spite of itself.

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Publisher Profile: Counterpath Press

"We have absolutely no commitment to translation for the sake of translation."

Counterpath is a publisher, gallery, event space, and bookstore. Counterpath was founded in 2006 and has published nearly 50 titles to date. Its gallery and event space opened in late 2010 in Denver, Colorado, hosting over 160 exhibitions, performances, and events. Counterpath’s new venue, at 7935 East 14th Avenue in Denver, is currently under renovation but will be open to the public in 2015. I recently spoke to Tim Roberts via email. 

Alexis Almeida: How did Counterpath get started? What was your initial vision for the press?

Tim Roberts: That’s an interesting assumption, that we had a vision, or that a press needs a vision. The implications are many: that we, for some reason, saw something we wanted to accomplish, that we believed needed to be done, something to create that didn’t yet exist, or that was outside what already existed. In some way we believed we could operate, by our own decision, in a way separate from what we might already do automatically— separate from a need to make a living, to not get pummeled by the weather, to bring food to one’s mouth. This was just about a decade back, and I’m not sure I’m prepared at the moment to sketch out lines of developmental continuity that might not make any sense next week or next month. I think you could say we did something in the media, at a time when media was shifting. I think you could say we took something with vaguely personal motives and said this is public, impersonal, objectively valuable, in some way, at some demarcation point, by fiat. We set ourselves up to be believed. Like anyone else, we had an idea of how media works, and how it would work for us. We had an idea of what reading was.

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Publisher Profile: Antena

"Language justice is difficult to see. The plight of the invisibility of translation is storied."

 

Antena is a language justice and literary experimentation collaborative founded by Jen Hofer and John Pluecker, both writers, artists, literary translators, bookmakers and activist interpreters. Antena activates links between social justice work and artistic practice by exploring how critical views on language can help us to reimagine and rearticulate the worlds we inhabit. Antena has exhibited, published, performed, organized, advocated, translated, curated, interpreted, and/or instigated with numerous groups and institutions, including Blaffer Art Museum, Hemispheric Institute for Performance and Politics, and Project Row Houses. I recently spoke with Jen Hofer and John Pluecker over email. 

 

Alexis Almeida: I’d like to start with Antena’s beginnings. It seems collaboration is a key element of everything you do. Can you talk a bit about how your different backgrounds/interests were able to coalesce in this project?

John Pluecker: As I’ve described previously in an interview Nancy Wozny did with Antena in 2014 for Arts + Culture TX, “Jen and I initially met in Tijuana, Mexico in 2006 at the Writing Lab on the Border, a six-week series of workshops organized by Mexican writer Cristina Rivera Garza. Jen’s ideas and thinking about translation, interpretation and writing blew me away from the very start. After our first meeting in Tijuana, we kept running into each other: as interpreters at the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and the US Social Forum, as literary translators at various gatherings and as poets in readings and events. Over the years, our friendship grew to the point that we decided to join forces.” READ MORE…

Publisher Profile: Ugly Duckling Presse

"I think there’s an interest among the editors in finding new translators, allowing the work of new translators to shine."

Ugly Duckling Presse is a nonprofit publisher for poetry, translation, experimental nonfiction, performance texts, and books by artists. Matvei Yankelevich is the co-founder and co-executive director of the press, and Rebekah Smith is an associate editor who spent the summer in Buenos Aires. We chatted over Skype about the press’s origins, as well as two of its translation series: EEPS (the Eastern European Poets Series) and Señal, which Rebekah and Matvei both curate. 

 

Alexis Almeida: I want to first ask about Ugly Duckling’s origins. I read recently that you started as a zine and over time evolved into a small press. Can you highlight a few major transformations that the press went through during in this time? What were you goals for the press initially, and how have they changed over the years, especially as you expand to include more collective members and publish new kinds of books?

Matvei Yankelevich: Well, it’s important to say first that the press has very little to do with what the zine was, although the name stuck. When I moved to New York, I kept using the name for new collaborative projects with people I met. When we decided to actually do something more substantial, in the late 90s, we were just a group of writers, artists, and theater people. It wasn’t necessarily going to be a publishing house, but we decided to keep the name, Ugly Duckling Presse. What united us, or gave us the idea of working together, was that we were making books with each other, or for each other, so books were a common language. And the original idea was that we would publish things, maybe have a space, have performances and shows, but that was very difficult in late 90s New York. READ MORE…