Posts by Lara Norgaard

Reevaluating the Urgent Political Relevance of 20th Century Brazilian Novelist Lima Barreto

"He’s the author who picks a fight with the republic, demanding more res publica."

Authors forgotten in their lifetimes sometimes resurface decades later, telling us stories that resonate far beyond their original historical moment. One such writer is Lima Barreto, whose poignant renderings of working class Brazilians from the turn of the twentieth century reverberate with contemporary relevance. Today, anthropologist Lilia Moritz Schwarcz tells Asymptote about her experience researching and writing the new biography of Lima Barreto, Lima Barreto, Triste Visionário, released in Brazil in July 2017.


Lara Norgaard (LN): In the biography you recently published, Lima Barreto, Triste Visionário, you read Lima Barreto’s fiction through the lens of history and anthropology. How was the experience of studying literature from that perspective? Why is historical context important for reading Lima’s work?

Lilia Moritz Schwarcz (LMS): Disciplinary contact zones are engaging spaces, but they are contested. I place myself at the intersection of anthropology, history, and literary criticism. It was a great concern of mine not to see literature as a direct reflection of reality, since we know that Lima Barreto, while reflecting on reality, also created his own. At the same time, Lima said he wrote literaturamilitante, a term he himself used. That kind of committed literature dialogues with reality.

Lima even suffered for that approach in his time. What we now praise as high literature used to be considered unimaginative. Can you believe that? His contemporaries said that because he referenced reality and his own life, he didn’t have imagination. For me, that was a big step. I thought, I’m going to write this life by engaging with the reality that Lima lived, just as he himself did. Take his first novel, Recordações do EscrivãoIsaias Caminha, which is the story of a young black man, the son of a former slave who takes the train to the big city, as Lima did. In that city he experiences discrimination. And the second part of the book is entirely a roman à clef, as it calls attention to journalism as the fourth estate. The novel was so critical that the media blacklisted Lima, and the book was terribly received. His story “Numa e a Ninfa” critiqued politicians and his second novel, The Sad End of Policarpo Quaresma, critiqued president Floriano Peixoto. Peixoto is part of the book. History enters the novel. And in that sense these novels dialogue with reality and invite the historian.

I also read the excellent North American biographer of Dostoevsky, Joseph Frank, who calls attention to how it’s possible for novels to structure a biography, not the other way around. So I tried to include Lima Barreto’s voice in my book. He’s the writer, and rather than explain something in his place it would be better to let him say it. And so, looking at the biography, you’ll find that I often intersperse my voice with Lima’s. Those were the methods I used working in the contact zones between disciplines.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Probably the best source of global literary news available.

It’s the official start of Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere and Spring in the South―the beginning of a new season where minor plans and promises are made that we desperately try to be faithful to. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just the temperature that changes. Nonetheless, here at Asymptote we’ll always fulfill our promise of bringing you the latest news from around the globe, just in time for the weekend, with this week’s reports from Argentina, Romania and Moldova, and Taiwan. 

Lara Norgaard, Editor-at-Large, brings us the news from Argentina:

August in Argentina was a month for reading. Buenos Aires celebrated Jorge Luis Borges’ birthday on August 24 by organizing a walking tour tracing Borges’ most notable haunts. The 24th is also the country’s annual Día del Lector, commemorating the renowned writer.

On August 23, the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires (MALBA) hosted a conversation between North American policy analyst David Rieff, and Argentine novelist Luisa Valenzuela on the topic of collective memory. Valenzuela is known for her novels that recall state violence, written during and after Argentina’s brutal last military dictatorship. The topic of historical memory is especially relevant right now as the Argentine public protests the alleged disappearance of indigenous rights activist Santiago Maldonado, who went missing at a protest in Patagonia on August 1.

In the midst of September’s Bienalsur, a major visual art biennale, literary events still abound in Buenos Aires: one upcoming highlight is the celebration of Latin American women writers, El silencio interrumpido, to be hosted at MALBA on September 6. The free event includes speakers such as Argentine novelist Reina Roffé and poet Tamara Kamenszain, as well as Cuban critic José Quiroga.

Such literary events are not limited to the city of Buenos Aires proper. The province of Buenos Aires partnered with cities Lanús and Quilmes on August 26 to host Un día de libros, a wide-ranging event series featuring everything from free lectures on literature to the release of Diez lugares contados, an anthology of stories about life in the province. Between September 18-23, FIDEO (Festival Intergaláctico de Escritores (Oficial)) will take place in San Miguel de Tucumán in northern Argentina. The festival, organized by cultural organization EsCuchara with support from the National University of Tucumán, is a free, open, and experimental space for writers to meet.

Finally, readers across the country celebrate a new translation of Polish author Witold Gombrowicz’s diaries into Spanish. Gombrowicz, who lived in Argentina from 1939-1963, had significant influence on 20th century Argentine literature. Translators Bozena Zaboklicka and Francesc Miravtilles’ rendering of Diario make the author’s personal insights available to the Spanish-speaking world.

MARGENTO, Editor-At-Large, gives us the latest from Romania and Moldova:

The second edition of the Gellu Naum Festival, co-organized by the Romanian Literature Museum and Gellu Naum Foundation on August 4-5, has as its MCs the poet and Naum critical authority Simona Popescu and French-Romanian poet and translator Sebastian Reichmann, and feature over twenty poets (from big names such as Emil Brumaru and Angela Marinescu to rising stars like Asymptote past contributors Emilian Galaicu-Păun and Radu Vancu, and Elena Vlădăreanu) reading to the jazz music performed live by pianist Mircea Tiberian. Naum (1915 – 2001), is an outstanding representative of European surrealism.

Poet and translator Paul Vinicius, this year’s winner of Le Prix du Public du Salon du Livre des Balkans, has announced a forthcoming critical anthology of English-language poetry edited and translated by himself, excerpts of which he has already published in major literary venues, while also editing the collected works of Vintilă Ivănceanu, a foremost representative of the oneiric poetry school who spent most of his life in political exile. Vinicius has also recently started an independent writers association in opposition to the central one (led by Nicolae Manolescu) dating back to communist times and marred by nepotism and abuse.

Iulia Militaru is the Romanian poet invited to read and perform at the Brussels Poetry Festival whose 4th international edition scheduled for Sept 8-10 has as a theme the work of surrealist painter René Magritte and his “La Trahison des Images.” Militaru is also currently writing a series of articles to Arta on censorship in/as literature interspersed with and commenting on illustrative “pop-up pastorals” from past Asymptote (journal and blog) contributor Jennifer Scappettone’s latest collection The Republic of Exit 43.

Claudiu Komartin and his editorial team have launched the 19th issue of Poesis International, the longest running international poetry journal in Romania to date, showcasing Danish, Bulgarian, American (Frank Bidart), Albanian, French, Hebrew, Argentinian (Alejandra Pizarnik)—and much more—poetry in translation alongside Romanian literature in a bulky 236-page issue.

In Moldova, the editors of Metaliteratura journal, Aliona Grati and Nina Corcinschi have just launched an impressive and much awaited Literary Theory Dictionary.

Vivian Szu-Chin Chih, Editor-At-Large, reporting from Taiwan:

Taipei has been welcoming international athletes for the  2017 Summer Universiade since mid-August. The opening ceremony performances featured multifaceted Taiwanese cultures including the aboriginal ones, and the event has attracted more attention from around the globe to the island.

The Taiwanese writer Shu-Hau Liao (廖淑華), whose novellas and essays won several literary awards, published her first collection of novellas, Cotton Milkbush (《唐棉》) in early summer, with the funding from the National Culture and Arts Foundation. From her own life experiences in a small town in Yunlin County of central Taiwan, Cotton Milkbush is a representative of Taiwan’s “town literature” (小鎮文學), in which the writer vividly depicts daily lives of the town people, dialect spoken by these people, as well as the landscapes and architectures of the small town. In a realistic tone, Liao puts more emphasis on her female characters and has carried forward the legacy of Taiwanese town literature.

One of the oldest literary magazines in Taiwan, Wenhsun (《文訊》), has published an excerpt of the novelist Li Yongping’s unfinished wuxia novel, A New Picture of the Swordswoman (《新俠女圖》) in its August issue. The renowned Malaysian-born novelist, professor, and translator, who has lived in Taiwan for decades and retired here, has been composing his first wuxia novel in illness. Wenhsun decided to pay their tribute to the writer with its first-ever double covers, one of which has been dedicated to Li’s long-awaited wuxia novel.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

No matter where you are, we've got you covered.

Since 2013 we’ve been bringing you the latest news in the literary world, and we’re not about to stop anytime soon! This week our Executive Assistant, Cassie Lawrence, showcases the latest exciting books being published and prizes being awarded in the UK; our new Editor-at-Large from Brazil, Lara Norgaard, focuses on racial and gender diversity in festivals across the country, as well as newly published work that had been previously lost; finally, our Editor-at-Large for Taiwan, Vivian Szu-Chin Chih, fills us in on the latest prizes as well as film festivals happening right now! 

Cassie Lawrence, Executive Assistant at Asymptote, reports from the UK: 

An unpublished manuscript from the late author Maurice Sendak (known for Where the Wild Things Are) has been discovered. The manuscript is complete with illustrations and is said to date from twenty years ago, according to Publishers Weekly. A publisher for the new title has not yet been announced.

June 20-23 saw twenty British writers and over fifty literature professionals from around the world gather in Norwich as part of the International Literature Showcase. An online platform that allows the showcasing and collaboration of international literature organisations, the live event included panel discussions and readings from Elif Shafak, Graeme Macrae Burnet, David Szalay, and more.

Good news for libraries finally! Following the cuts that have taken place across the country in recent years, The Bookseller brings news that 14 libraries across Lancashire are set to reopen later this year and early next year. These will be partly run by community groups, but with the majority still being run by the council.
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