Place: Germany

Translation Tuesday: An excerpt of Kruso by Lutz Seiler

If he were lucky, no one would take exception to his disappearance.

Today, we’ve partnered with Scribe Books to introduce the majestic German Book Prize winner Der Spiegel calls “the first worthy successor to Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain to appear in contemporary German literature.” It is also the debut novel of Lutz Seiler, a major German poet we’ve published in our pages before. In the novel excerpt below, our protagonist has just arrived at a seaside town after an unspeakable tragedy. The true subject of this chapter is revealed to be Ed’s unsettled inner state—dive in and read all the way up to its heart-stopping end.

He smelled the sea even before he got off the train. From his childhood (memories of their only trip to the Baltic Sea), he remembered the Hotel am Bahnhof. It lay directly across from the station, a big, beautiful attraction with oriels built as round towers, and weather vanes in which the numerals of the years crumbled.

He let a few cars pass and hesitated. It wouldn’t be wise, he thought, especially as far as money was concerned. On the other hand, there was no point in arriving on the island in the afternoon, since there probably wouldn’t be enough time left to find a place to stay—if he could find one at all. He had about 150 marks on him; if he were careful, he could make it last for three, maybe even four weeks. He had left ninety marks in his bank account for rent transfers, enough until September. If he were lucky, no one would take exception to his disappearance. He could have fallen ill. Summer holidays would begin in three weeks. He had written his parents a card. They believed he was in Poland, in Katowice, for the so-called International Student Summer, as he had been the year before.

The reception desk was built unusually high and looked as if it had been swept clean, no papers, no keys; but what did Ed know about hotels? At the very last moment, the heads of three women appeared, rising like the pistons of a four-stroke motor in which the fourth spark plug has failed to ignite. Impossible to discern from exactly which depths the receptionists had suddenly surfaced; maybe the high shelf of the desk was connected to a back room, or maybe over the years the women had simply got used to staying under cover as long as possible, quiet and still, behind their dark veneered barrier.

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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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Monthly Update from the Asymptote Team

New year, same busy Asymptote members! Check out what we've been up to, from the page to the stage.

Poetry Editor Aditi Machado‘s translation project, ‘Sentences / Sententiae’, has been published in its current form in the latest issue of Almost Island. Her work also appears in Folder Magazine‘s latest print collection, and you can read a section of her recently-published translation of Farid Tali’s Prosopopoeia in The Guardian. 

‘After Orlando’, a theatre action piece co-led by Drama Editor Caridad Svich, was performed in New York and London, and featured in Exeunt Magazine. Her review of Chris Goode’s The Forest and the Field: Changing Theatre in a Changing World, was also published in the Contemporary Theatre Review. 

India Editor-at-Large, Poorna Swami, has a poem in the third issue of Prelude Magazine. Her interview with art critic and photographer Sadanand Menon on ‘Nationalism and Dance’ has also been featured in Ligament. 

A new short story by English Social Media Manager Sohini Basak has been published in the latest issue of Out of Print, and another was published earlier in December in 3:AM Magazine. 

Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek‘s New Year’s Eve round-up on ‘2016: A Year in Translation’ was published in The Oxford Culture Review. He also has a new poem in the current issue of The London Magazine. 

Indonesia Editor-at-Large Tiffany Tsao appeared on a segment of ABC iview’s ‘Bookish’ programme to discuss the question, “What is ‘Asian’ Literature?” Her novel, The Oddfits, appears on 2016’s ‘Top 5’ list of Superhero Novels 

Chile Editor-at-Large, Tomás Cohen, helped to present ‘Hafen Lesung #9‘, a multilingual literary evening in Hamburg. His poem, ‘Andarivel’ (from his collection, Redoble del ronroneo), was featured on Vallejo and Co., while a Greek translation of the same poem was also published this month in Vakxicon. 

Finally, if you missed it in December, check out Asymptote‘s lovely feature in The Hindu, and read the full version of our Editor-in-Chief Lee Yew Leong’s interview on our blog!

*****

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Translation Tuesday: “The War is Coming” by Jazra Khaleed

“On the 7th of January 2014, the United Nations stopped counting Syria’s dead.”

In this sobering poem, Chechnya-born Greek poet Jazra Khaleed vividly depicts a war “so trite and pedestrian, filled with similes and ornate adjectives, its history is written in the font Comic Sans.” For most of us in the settled world unable to imagine what it is that Syrian refugees go through, these words encompass a different but now less unknowable spectrum of the human experience.

 

The War is Coming

For Ghayath al-Madhoun
and his million Arab poets

1.

I decided to leave Syria the day a stray bullet passed in front of my eyes. That day I realized my homeland was not my homeland, my blood not my blood, and my freedom belonged to a freedom fighter who didn’t think to ask my permission before he shot me: a lack of courtesy we encounter often in war time.

2.

If they are going to kill me, better to kill me in a foreign language.

3.

On the road from Damascus to Berlin I met an old soldier from Dara’a who couldn’t carry his nightmares anymore. I wrapped them and put them in my suitcase; at the airport I paid the fine for excess baggage.

4.

Whoever is not afraid to cross the border carries the war on his back.

5.

Swap your best shirt for a bulletproof vest, your poems for the first chapter of the Koran and your house in Athens for a throne atop Mount Aigaleo so you can survey from on high the coming war.

6.

This war is trite and pedestrian, filled with similes and ornate adjectives, its history is written in the font Comic Sans, violence so limitless the war doesn’t know where to put it, one grave for every thousand corpses, one shadow for every thousand survivors, it’s an indelicate war, barrels vomiting explosives, steel cylinders filled with accessories for washing machines and car parts, the death that disseminates is an earthy death, this war is rightfully ours because in it we have buried all our loved ones.

7.

On the 7th of January 2014, the United Nations stopped counting Syria’s dead. This decision certified mathematics as the science of quality, not quantity, of living labor, not shapes, of time, not space—in other words, mathematics is the science that studies the material relations among all countable objects.

8.

By the end of 2015, according to Facebook, 311 friends of mine had died since the start of the war. I decided to shut down my account: death must have a beginning, middle, and end. I can’t spend my life in its wake.

9.

I, Ahmed, son of Aisha, although nothing more than a humble migrant, wish to apologize on behalf of the Syrians to Greek men and women for filling their televisions with our deaths as they eat their dinners and wait for their favorite shows, I wish to apologize to the municipal authorities for leaving our trash on their beaches and polluting their shores with tons of plastic, we are uncivilized and we have no environmental awareness, I wish to apologize to the hotel owners and tour operators for damaging the island tourist industry, I wish to apologize for shattering the stereotype of the miserable migrant with our mobile phones and clean clothes, I wish to apologize to the coast guard who have the thankless task of sinking our boats, to the police for standing in disorderly lines, to the bus drivers who have to wear surgical masks to protect themselves from the diseases we carry, I also wish to make a most humble apology to Greek society for exceeding the capacity of their detention camps and for sleeping in their squares and parks—finally, I wish to apologize to the Greek government who had to request additional funds from the European Union in order to pay the purveyors who stock the detention camps, as well as the bus drivers, the police, the coast guard, the tour operators, the hotel owners, the municipal authorities, and the television stations.

10.

“Don’t worry,” said the bullet, “I’ll go in and out.” I explained to her that I couldn’t allow it since when she left she was bound to take some of my memories—like the face of the girl I loved in the fifth grade, the voice of the imam the first time my father took me to pray, the smell of the freshly baked bread in my grandmother’s house, the fingers of my teacher as she taught me to write the word الحرب and Van Basten’s final goal in the Euro of ’88.

11.

It’s well known that no organization can buy arms on the black market without American authorization. This is one of the reasons I never managed to understand the difference between enlightenment and genocide.

12.

If you don’t want to be canon fodder, if you don’t want the war to catch you with your pants down, put on that thinking cap, double down the class struggle, get organized, triple down the class struggle, fight, fill your pockets with rocks, stick to your guns.
Out with the Left! Bring back the Spartacists!
Out with the NGO’s! Bring back Garibaldi’s brigades!
Out with the Humanists! Bring back the Italian Autonomists!
The slaughter is about to begin.

Translated from the Greek by Karen Van Dyck

For more perspectives on the refugee crisis, we suggest Jan Dammu in the current issue of Asymptote, and Theophilus Kwek on reading the refugee crisis at the Asymptote blog.

Jazra Khaleed (Born Chechnya, 1979) lives in Athens, writes exclusively in Greek, and is known as a poet, editor, and translator. His works are protests against the injustices in contemporary Greece, especially the growing xenophobia and racism. His poems have been widely translated for publications in Europe, the US, Australia, and Japan. As a founding co-editor of the poetry magazine Teflon, and particularly through his own translations published there, he has introduced the works of Amiri Baraka, Keston Sutherland, Etel Adnan, and many other political and experimental poets to a Greek readership. His debut collection Grozny was published in spring 2016, while his newest short film “Gone is Syria, Gone” has been selected for the Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur, the Kasseler Dokfest, and L’Alternativa . His poetry blog can be found at jazrakhaleed.blogspot.gr.

Karen Van Dyck is Professor of Modern Greek Literature in the Classics Department at Columbia University. She writes and teaches on issues of gender, diaspora, and translation. Her books include Kassandra and the Censors (Cornell, 1998), The Rehearsal of Misunderstanding (Wesleyan, 1998), The Greek Poets: Homer to the Present (Norton, 2009), and The Scattered Papers of Penelope: New and Selected Poems by Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke (Graywolf, 2009). Her bilingual anthology Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry (Penguin, 2016), a New Statesman Book of the Year pick, will be published by the NYRB in the US in March. She discusses the anthology as well as this new poem by Jazra Khaleed in her essay “What’s Found in Translation” (forthcoming, PN Review 234).

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In Absentia: Photo Journals from Readings Abroad

Catch what you missed from two special events, plus the details on what's next

Happy Monday, Asymptote readers! We kick off the new week with two literary dispatches from South Africa and Germany.

Asymptote Editor-at-Large Alice Inggs attended the launch of the latest Ons Klyntji issue in Cape Town:

publicity-image-alice-inggs-outside-the-book-lounge

Alice Inggs outside the Book Lounge

“What is Ons Klyntji?” is a question often asked of its editors. The answer? Complicated: the unconventional pocketbook anthology has been through several incarnations throughout its 120-year history. First published in 1896 as the first ever Afrikaans-language publication, it has transformed into a modern literary zine, currently under the editorship of Toast Coetzer, Erns Grundling, and Asymptote Editor-at-Large Alice Inggs, featuring predominantly English and Afrikaans poetry and prose, but also multilingual pieces, translations, and works by graphic designers and fine artists.

Over the years, Ons Klyntji has published a number of celebrated South African writers, including Rian Malan (My Traitor’s Heart), Breyten Breytenbach (Confessions of an Albino Terrorist), and musician-author Koos Kombuis (who also edited Ons Klyntji in the 1990s). Recent editions have featured work by established poets Nathan Trantraal (Chokers en Survivors) and Moses Mtileni (ed. Ntsena Loko Mpfula A Yo Sewula); writer Jaco van Schalkwyk (The Alibi Club), and controversial artist Anton Kannemeyer (Bitterkomix), as well as a new generation of poets like Sindi Busuku-Mathese (Loud and Yellow Laughter), Genna Gardini (Matric Rage), and Rosa Lyster (Modern Rasputin).

erns-grundling-ons-klyntji-editor-reading

Editor of Ons Klyntji, Erns Grundling

Since 2015, Ons Klyntji has hosted an annual event at the Book Lounge, an independent bookstore in Cape Town. The event acts as a platform for writers featured in Ons Klyntji to share their work with a live audience, as well as a way of promoting the zine to readers and future contributors. The event also helps to underscore the main aim of Ons Klyntji: to encourage South African writers to write—be they eminent authors, emerging poets or even teenagers penning their first, awkward verse.

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What’s New in Translation? October 2016

Asymptote reviews some of the best new books translated from the Arabic, Korean, and Spanish.

the_ninety-ninth_floor_cover

The Ninety-Ninth Floor, by Fawaz Elhassan, tr. Michelle Hartman. Interlink Publishing.

Review: Saba Ahmed, Social Media Manager, UK

Shortlisted last year for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, The Ninety-Ninth Floor is Jana Fawaz Elhassan’s third book: an ambitious, multi-voiced novel, spanning the topographies of the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in 1980s Beirut, and New York in the New Millennium. It is also the first of Elhassan’s works to be translated, by Michelle Hartman, from the Arabic into English.

The plot centers around Maj’d, a successful video-game designer whose life among the dizzying skyscrapers of Manhattan, and the subterranean depths of its subway system, bears a haunting resemblance to the cramped, vertical heights of the refugee camps he has fled where “garbage piled up in alleyways”. Palestine, reflects Maj’d, is “a land that inhabits me that I have never stepped foot on”. It occupies his deepest memories, the walls of the camp where the displaced mark the distance from imagined homelands, and is framed—in the present-day narrative—as a map in Maj’d’s apartment in New York. It is an imagined space where Maj’d’s father obstinately believes his dead wife and Maj’d’s mother is waiting for them with their unborn child.

The spatial dimensions of the novel mirror this hyper-reality. The text is littered with a cast of characters who are attempting to navigate life in the wake of war and political trauma. Consequently, the plot is distended by a lack of closure, permeated with repetitive strains of absence and loss. Maj’d’s relationship with Hilda, a dancer who is also trying to build her life anew, away from her Orthodox Christian family in Lebanon, becomes a battle-space for negotiating distances and originary points from which to examine notions of identity, belonging, and worth. Is the love they share true and authentic, or is there a more complex conflation of the female body and nationhood at play here?

There are certainly echoes of recent political fiction from the Middle East in The Ninety-Ninth Floor, such as of the spare, Kafkaesque political allegory The Silence and the Roar by Syrian writer Nihad Sirees. Yet, Elhassan is less interested in form, and more invested in dissecting the emotional vicissitudes of love. There is a certain sagginess to the novel which gestures to the so-called ninety-nine floors or levels of the book. When Hilda returns to Lebanon, to the home she has left behind, she thinks back to the home she has created with Maj’d. “Perhaps,” she considers, “I also came back to occupy this memory, to tell it that we can arrive at some kind of settlement: to expand into all places and be done with our enmity toward our roots”. It is hard not to read these words without a degree of skepticism, to wonder whether this resolution papers over the allegorical implications of difference and attachment. But perhaps it is more fitting to hear these closing lines echo like the one-note sonic beeps of an Atari or PlayStation video game, like the kind designed by Maj’d. In this simulated fantasy, Elhassan suggests, love is creative and imaginative work in a world where our collective national consciousness consigns us to love and live in very specific ways.

 

a_greater_music_cover

A Greater Music, by Bae Suah, tr. Deborah Smith. Open Letter Books.

Review: Theophilus Kwek, Chief Executive Assistant, UK/Singapore

It is perhaps inevitable that Deborah Smith’s new translation of Bae Suah’s novel A Greater Music—forthcoming this October from Open Letter Books—will be compared to her recent prizewinning translations of Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and Human Acts, both of which are suffused with Han’s unique voice and vision. But Bae is a compelling, inventive, and significant author in her own right, and Smith’s ability to match these qualities with a stylish and highly readable translation leaves no doubt about her contribution to the growing canon of Korean literature available in English.

A Greater Music, which records the experiences of a young Korean narrator’s relocation to Berlin through her relationships with Joachim, her boyfriend, and M, her first German language teacher, draws at least in part from its author’s own journey. Bae Suah, a former civil servant with a degree in Chemistry who made her literary debut in 1988, lived in Germany for 11 months in 2001, learning the language there. Though she has since moved back to Seoul, she has also previously translated various works by Sebald and Kafka into Korean.

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Asymptote Podcast: Multilingual Writing

A new installment goes live!

In this episode, we crack a window into the creative impulses behind the multilingual writing in our Summer issue. There, Spanish and German, French and Arabic, Romanian, Sanskrit and Afrikaans all find their way woven in with English in poems and a story you don’t want to miss. Here, in this latest installment of the podcast, Omar Berrada and Klara du Plessis allow us a deeper understanding of how their linguistic backgrounds and travels shaped their current writing; while Greg Nissan uncovers other origins for his multilingual creations. So how does a translator go about translating a text already leaping across languages? And what does it take to write in the multilingual mode; does it create its own form, its own genre? What makes a writer feel driven and compelled to step outside the bounds of one language without leaving it entirely? To help us continue down this rabbit hole, Asymptote editor-at-large for Romania and Moldova, MARGENTO (Chris Tănăsescu), uncovers more about his process of translating Șerban Foarță’s poem “Buttérflyçion” for the Summer issue. We’ll explore radical nomadism, emotional chunks of language and more. This is the Asymptote podcast.

Podcast Editor and Host: Layla Benitez-James

Audio Editor: Mirza Puric

 

Translation Tuesday: An Excerpt of “Good People” by Nir Baram

Frau Stein had been stabbed in every part of her body. She lay face down, her head cradled in her folded arm.

Good People is a globe spanning, wide-canvass novel that probes the depths of one of history’s darkest hours; its heroes are those members of the educated middle classes who sit behind office desks. With riveting narrative force, based on thorough historical research, this extraordinary novel spans World-War II Europe across time and space, boldly sketching an unflinching portrait of men and women and their times. In the extract presented below, our protagonist, Thomas Heiselberg, a Berlin adman, discovers a Jewish woman violently murdered in his home.

***

That night he returned home into a white cloud of feathers. He heard glass splinters grinding under his shoes. The windowpanes, china bowls, lamps, mirrors—almost nothing was intact after the visit by Hermann and his friends. Even the door hinges had been jimmied off. Wooden cabinets and dressers were smashed with hammers, the gas and electricity lines ripped out. At least a dozen jars of fruit preserves had been hurled against the bathroom wall, and flour mixed with soap powder and blood was strewn all over the sink and lavatory.

Frau Stein had been stabbed in every part of her body. She lay face down, her head cradled in her folded arm. He leaned down and turned her over. When he saw her face, coated with a layer of blood-soaked flour, he realised that after stabbing her they had smothered her in the sink with a mixture of flour and soap powder. She looked like a sad clown in the circus. They hadn’t even let her die with that stern expression of hers, well versed in suffering, that had always aroused people’s respect. He gathered some feathers and covered her face with them.

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Translation Tuesday: “Well, then?” by Lutz Seiler

"He looked at the bird through the windshield and the bird looked at him in the car. He didn’t move."

When K. went home early in the morning and turned his car into the short, ice-coated driveway, he saw the bird. It was a blackbird. It was standing on one of the posts without moving. Its bird feet were sticking in a thin layer of snow, which made it look as if it didn’t have any feet and was just lying there, in the snow, motionless, like a disoriented tennis ball that has been knocked a long way out of bounds. READ MORE…

The Lives of the Translators: the Whence and the How

"Kafka’s fluent homelessness began to look more and more prescient to the Muirs as the years passed..."

Translation, like marriage, is the art of making things work; so it should be no surprise that some of the best translations in literary history were made by married couples.

Frequently this is a matter of convenience, or at least begins that way. One partner is fluent in one language; one is a better writer; one has more time. Talents assert themselves and sacrifices are made, until eventually the two sides work things out enough for the garbage to get taken out and the dog fed. The book gets done, in other words, which is another way of saying that the labor that produced it disappears behind a finish so perfect that it confuses pets and makes guests wish their own lives were so spotless.

For Willa and Edwin Muir, the Scottish couple whose translations of Franz Kafka, Hermann Broch and many others introduced English-language readers to some of the greatest German modernists, translation was a gift and a curse. On the one hand, it offered them money and a sense of accomplishment; on the other, it encroached on the writing that both of them, at different points in their lives, considered a true calling. But no matter how they thought about it, translation remained a means of survival for the couple: a lifeboat in which they bobbed, happily or at odds, through some of the most treacherous waters of the 20th century.

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Translation Tuesday: “A Little Love Story” by Ödön von Horváth

The fact of the matter was, I wanted every girl I saw, I wanted to possess her. God knows I never felt any “spiritual” connection.

How quiet it is in autumn, a strange and unearthly quiet.

Everything is just as it always was, it seems nothing has changed. Neither the marsh nor the farmland, not the fir trees on the hills, not the lake. Nothing. Only that summer’s gone. October’s end. And already late in the afternoon.

A dog howls in the distance, and the earth smells of sodden leaves. It’s rained heavily in the last few weeks, soon it will snow. The sun is gone, and twilight shuffles over the hard ground. It rustles in the stubble as if someone were skulking around in it. And as the clouds come in, so does the past. I see you again—oh days of yesteryear! Your mountains, your trees, your roads—we can all see each other again now.

And the two of us, you and I. Your light-color summer dress gleams in the sunlight, joyful and wanton as if you had nothing on under it. The stalks of grain swayed back and forth, the earth breathed in and out. It was hot and humid, do you remember? The air buzzed like an army of invisible insects. In the west, a storm threatened. And the two of us far from the village on a steep, narrow path, then walking through the sheaves of corn, you ahead of me—but good heavens, what has this got to do with you? Yes, I mean you, dear reader! Why should I tell you about this? Come on now, don’t be like that! What’s it to you if two people once disappeared into a cornfield? After all, it doesn’t affect you. You have other things to worry about than someone else’s love affair—and it certainly wasn’t love anyway.

The fact of the matter was, I wanted every girl I saw, I wanted to possess her. God knows I never felt any “spiritual” connection. And her? Well, I thought she trusted me completely. She told me so many stories, both colorful ones and dreary, about her work, about going to the movies, about her childhood—the sort of things that happen in every life. But it all bored me, and once in a while I wished she were deaf and dumb. I was a brutish fellow then, conceited out of a roguish emptiness. READ MORE…

Begging Pardon in Berlin

Punctuality is the highest German virtue, and with each passing minute, I felt my chances of making a good impression dribble away.

Berlin seemed like the obvious choice. I had taken German classes for three years, and had been incubating visions of myself as an artistic, experimental person. Based on breathless reports from friends, the city seemed a stand-in for New York in the 70’s and 80’s. Cheap rent, temporary galleries, nightclubs that never closed—I pictured a city covered in the graffiti Giuliani had scrubbed away, yet cleansed of students from NYU—and paved with black leather catsuits and crushed bottles of pilsner.

To justify the trip, I had taken time off from school and secured an internship with a local arts magazine, called BPIGs, which somehow stood for Berlin Independents Guide. After a jet-lagged night in a hostel, I planned to wake up, drop off my giant backpack across town in my sublet room and then head to the magazine’s office. Without a smart phone, or even a cell phone that worked in Germany, I relied on print-out directions from Google. By the time I arrived at my sublet apartment on Weichselstraße, I realized I would soon be late for what was supposed to be my first official meeting. I threw my bag by my bed and ran out the apartment door, back to the U-bahn.

When I emerged from the station an hour later, I found myself on the gray banks of the Spree, in a neighborhood that seemed oddly starchy for an underground arts magazine. I ran up and down the empty street, tucking my chin against the January cold, scanning the building’s blank facades for the address, but none of them were quite right. It was now 3:00 in the afternoon, and I hadn’t managed to find the place. More than honesty or integrity, punctuality is the highest German virtue, and with each passing minute, I felt my chances of making a good impression dribble away. This internship was my only ostensible reason for being in the city, and it seemed I was going to squander it. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “Barefoot Through the Temple” by Albert Ostermaier

a sticky pressure / on my soles crusted / animal blood ash red blossoms / charred at the edges

nice shoes he pointed to
my shoes i took them
off i know you he smiled
you’re a movie star i
smiled back camera
switched on he rolled his
eyes you can take a
picture of me i counted
the money out he put the
notes in his breast pocket
bowed briefly &
took me by the hand
where do you come from
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This Monster, the Volk

At the Pegida demonstrations, the soul of Dresden has been revealed: reckoning with the mentality of my native city

Monika Cassel translates Durs Grünbein’s op-ed, which appeared on the front page of Die Zeit’s weekly magazine on February 12, 2015, the day before the 70th anniversary of Dresden’s bombing. 

Every year, the city I was born in falls again. On the one hand this is a ritual (of commemoration), and on the other hand it is a reality (of history). All over the world, people know what happened to Dresden in February 1945, just before the great turning point in history when Germany was given the opportunity to better itself. The city lost nearly everything that had once made her charming and was from then on condemned to live on, severely handicapped, hideously deformed, and humiliated. Where once courtly splendor and stone-hewed bourgeois pride had delighted the eye, now desolate wastelands unfolded as I wandered through my city as a child. It is hard to imagine that this was where Casanova contracted a venereal disease and Frederick the Great, when he was still the crown prince, lost his virginity. According to legend, one of the delectable ladies-in-waiting pulled him through a concealed door and initiated him into the Saxon mysteries of love. I still remember imagining the Marquis de Sade visiting the city on the Elbe. In one thing, at least, historians are in agreement: what was supposedly once the most beautiful Italian city north of the Alps was a paradise on earth for all of the libertines of aristocratic Europe.

But it all turned out differently. Lately I have seen a monster in Dresden—it calls itself das Volk (the People) and thinks it has justice on its side. “We are the Volk,” it yells, shamelessly, and it cuts anyone off mid-sentence who dares disagree. It presumes to know who belongs and who does not. It intimidates those from foreign lands because—in the extremity of their plight—they have nowhere else to go, those who come in search of a better life. I can identify with these asylum-seekers. I was once a person who felt trapped in his country, in his native city. Who wanted to escape from a closed society—precisely the kind some wish we could return to again. Was I an economic refugee, driven by political dissent against the system that had planned my whole life for me, was it a yearning for foreign cultures, or all of these? Who can say?

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