Place: Argentina

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your Friday update from Spain, Morocco, and Slovakia!

This week, we begin our world tour on the Iberian Peninsula in the midst of political unrest—Podcast Editor Layla Benitez-James is on the ground in Spain with the full report. Then south to Morocco: we’ll catch up with Editor-at-Large Jessie Stoolman about the latest book fairs and literary trends. And finally, we’ll wrap up in Slovakia with Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood, who has the scoop on the latest Slovak poetry available to English readers and more.

Podcast Editor Layla Benitez-James reports from Spain:

Political actions and gestures have been more overtly woven through the Spanish literary scene as writers seek to speak back against increasingly divisive governments. Writers called for remembrance of fifteen people killed in Tarajal on the two year anniversary of their deaths on February 6, 2014; a documentary about the tragedy was made to both inform the public and denounce such instances of institutional racism in the country.

Amidst celebrations of women’s roles in science, Bellver, the cultural journal of the Diario de Mallorca, highlighted three recent anthologies written by women: Poesía soy yo, 20 con 20,  and (Tras)lúcidas.

Another recent book has been getting a lot of attention not for its political weight, but because of the strange circumstances under which it’s being published. Michi Panero, who came from a very literary family but died young in 2004 has had his first book, Funerales vikingos, published by Bartelby Editores. La Movida madrileña called him the writer without books, as he had famously shunned the writing life. He wrote in secret, however, and eventually entrusted the work to his stepson, Javier Mendoza, who has finally sought to publish the unedited stories, together with his own work narrating his relationship with Panero. The product is bound to be an interesting read.

Similarly mysterious and posthumously discovered is a recent gift to the Madrid art world: drawings and sketches by the painter Francis Bacon that were previously unascertained. Bacon had also famously declared that he did not sketch or plan in this way, but some nearly 800 drawings were given to Cristiano Lovatelli Ravarino, the journalist and a partner of Bacon’s for some years. The works will be on display in the Círculo de Bellas Artes in Madrid until May 21.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Updates from Brazil, Argentina, Germany, and Austria

Would you believe we have already reached the end of January? We’ve already brought you reports from eleven different nations so far this year, but we’re thrilled to share more literary news from South America and central Europe this week. Our Editor-at-Large for Argentina, Sarah Moses, brings us news of literary greats’ passing, while her new colleague Maíra Mendes Galvão covers a number of exciting events in Brazil. Finally, a University College London student, Flora Brandl, has the latest from German and Austrian.

Asymptote’s Argentina Editor-at-Large, Sarah Moses, writes about the death of two remarkable authors:

The end of 2016 was marked by the loss of Argentinian writer Alberto Laiseca, who passed away in Buenos Aires on December 22 at the age of seventy-five. The author of more than twenty books across genres, Laiseca is perhaps best known for his novel Los Sorias (Simurg, 1st edition, 1998), which is regarded as one of the masterworks of Argentinian literature.

Laiseca also appeared on television programs and in films such as El artista (2008). For many years, he led writing workshops in Buenos Aires, and a long list of contemporary Argentinian writers honed their craft with him.

Some two weeks after Laiseca’s passing, on January 6, the global literary community lost another great with the death of Ricardo Piglia, also aged seventy-five. Piglia was a literary critic and the author of numerous short stories and novels, including Respiración artificial (Pomaire, 1st edition, 1980), which was published in translation in 1994 by Duke University Press.

The first installments of Piglia’s personal diaries, Los diarios de Emilio Renzi, were recently released by Anagrama and are the subject of the film 327 cuadernos, by Argentinian filmmaker Andrés Di Tella. The film was shown on January 26 as part of the Museo Casa de Ricardo Rojas’s summer series “La literatura en el cine: los autores,” which features five films on contemporary authors and poets, including Witold Gombrowicz and Alejandra Pizarnik.

On January 11, the U.S. press New Directions organized an event at the bookstore Eterna Cadencia in anticipation of the February release of A Simple Story: The Last Malambo by Argentinian journalist Leila Guerriero and translated by Frances Riddle. Guerriero discussed the book, which follows a malambo dancer as he trains for Argentina’s national competition, as well as her translation of works of non-fiction with fellow journalist and author Mariana Enriquez. Enriquez’s short story collection, Things We Lost in the Fire (Hogarth), translated by Megan McDowell, will also appear in English in February.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your literary updates for the turn of the year from Brazil, India, Mexico, and more!

Before we jump into our weekly world news tours of 2017, here at the blog we wanted to look back at the waning days of 2016 and give the literary achievements that closed such an eventful year their full due. There is already so much we’re looking forward to in the year ahead, but no piece of writing or writer exists in a vacuum; each new publication, reading, and translation takes from and makes space within the existing cultural consciousness. To be able to understand the developments in the literary scenes around the world this year, we have to see the full scope of 2016’s progress. Luckily, Asymptote has eyes and ears in every hemisphere!  

First stop on the map: India, where we check in with our first contributor this week, PhD student of postcolonial literature Tanushree Vachharajani:

2016 saw a huge uprising across India for Dalit rights. The suicide of Hyderabad PhD student Rohit Vemula in January 2016 and the assault of a Dalit family of cow skinners in Una, Gujarat in June 2016 have led to a resurgence of Dalit identity in social and literary fields, along with much dissent and unrest about the government’s attitude towards lower castes. The Gujarat Dalit Sahitya Akademi in Ahmedabad issued a special edition of their literary journal Hayati, on Dalit pride this fall under the editorship of Dr. Mohan Parmar. Also in September, under the editorship of Manoj Parmar, literary journal Dalit Chetna published a special edition on Dalit oppression, featuring works written by Dalit as well as non-Dalit writers.

The well-documented human rights violations continue to inspire a flood of responses. For the first time last month, Delhi saw a literary festival dedicated entirely to Dalit protest literature, offering a platform for Dalit regional literature and its translations into English, French, and Spanish to increase accessibility and broaden the demographic of its readers.

Dalit literature is also no longer in the realm of the purely literary. Inspired by the death of Rohit Vemula, three young activists from Mumbai—Nayantara Bhatkal, Prem Ayyathurai, and Shrujuna Shridhar—have set up the unofficially titled Dalit Panther Project for which phone numbers were collected on December 6, Babasaheb Ambedkar’s death anniversary. Through the popular social messaging app WhatsApp, they will transmit four videos on the origins and legacy of the Dalit Panther literary movement. The videos were shot at the homes of Dalit Panther supporters, and are in Hindi. The creators are also looking to bring out a full-length feature film on the subject this year.

Hearteningly, the Dalit community is pushing back strongly against abuse of any members of the lower castes. From threatening a sanitation strike to bringing Dalit literature into mainstream circles and creating inclusive literary institutions and awards, Dalit protest movements across India only seem to be getting stronger as the New Year begins.

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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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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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Translation Tuesday: “A Fence” by Patricio Pron

She thinks, if God were a just writer, he would create a fence made of words so that his characters wouldn't wander off and wind up lost.

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One morning (it doesn’t really matter which, but it’s March, it’s Saturday, it’s the year 2010, it’s the twenty-seventh) a young man is jogging with his dog down a quiet street in a residential neighborhood south of the German city of Hanau when something happens—the dog runs ahead or lags behind or darts off in search of something that caught its eye and is hit by a car. When the car’s bumper strikes the dog’s ribs, the bottom of the bumper, which is particularly sharp, slits the animal’s stomach open and turns red; immediately afterward, the rest of the dog’s body is swallowed by the car, which stops after a few meters, when it’s already too late. When the dog’s owner rushes to the car and sees that the animal has been run over, he quickly calculates that the chances of saving the dog are zero; nevertheless, the animal is still panting softly and tries to stand, all the while looking up at him, its eyes nearly popping out of its head. The dog, of course, is unable to stand since its body has been sliced in half, and the dog’s owner kneels next to it and begins to pet it and whisper soothing words as tears stream down his face. The animal stops breathing seconds later, and, when the young man goes to pick up the dead body, he notices its intestines are full of Argiope spider larvae; since the young man is studying to be a veterinarian, he is able to identify the larvae on the spot, and then remembers two things he recently learned in one of his classes: first, that the females of the species simulate coitus with each other to entice the males to mate; and second, that after consummation the males release their sperm-filled sex organs inside the females and try to flee, but are typically caught and devoured by them. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “Okinawa, Mon Amour” by Betina González

In Japan everything always happened in reverse: wolves did not eat people, kamikazes were not afraid of death, grumpy people smiled.

It’s #Giving Tuesday! If you’ve enjoyed our Translation Tuesday posts, please consider a $25 donation to our newly launched fundraising drive today! Every little will help us bring you more of what you love.

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In Japan everything always happened in reverse: wolves did not eat people, kamikazes were not afraid of death, grumpy people smiled, and Cinderella was a stoker’s son named Mamichigane.

Every day, Miriam thought about that typhoon-exhausted island she had never seen: Shuri Castle cloaked in flames, the drowned children of the Tsushima Maru, and the woman who came down from Heaven and had to stay on Earth because some man stole her magic kimono.

Every day, Miriam fed her fish, dusted off the glass cases of her tragic geishas, and cursed, with much gentility, her destiny as a South American. Her big brother’s explanations didn’t help much. As Kazuo so often reminded her, the Ryukyu Kingdom had little to do with Japanese traditions, and the people of Okinawa ever fled their island. Okinawa had to be the one place in the world with a commemorative statue of the Father of Immigration: Kyuzo Toyama, the hero who arranged the flight of the first Okinawan-Hawaiian citizens in 1899. For Kazuo, the argument reinforced a historical truth: their ancestors were in fact the first settlers of the Americas and, according to him, merely completing their millennia-long task. The Indian-American was practically Japanese; if Kazuo had any talent, he would draw a manga of the second wave of continental population, destined to perfect a race of supermen through dry-cleaning and karate. READ MORE…

Thirst is the Force of Gravity: Ferreira Gullar’s “Dirty Poem” in Review

"The poem’s necessity makes me bitter."

Much has already been said about exile. Losing a country or losing a home is “like death but without death’s ultimate mercy,” “a kind of ripping apart,” “a condition of terminal loss.” Ferreira Gullar wrote Dirty Poem (newly translated by Leland Guyer for New Directions) in 1975 in Buenos Aires, while in political exile from the Brazilian dictatorship. Like the author himself, the speaker of Dirty Poem imagines his return home, an attempt to recover the São Luís do Maranhão of his childhood.

The opening stanzas of this 80-page poem are filled with gaiety and fond memories of youth in the northeast region of Brazil. But just a few pages later, the speaker “preaches subversion of political order” and is banished to Argentina. In a fine translation from the Portuguese, Leland Guyer captures the richness of language of Gullar’s poetry—from local idioms to the language of displacement. The book culminates in saudade, alienation, and decay. READ MORE…

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

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

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

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

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

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