Place: London

Asymptote Podcast: Opera and Translation

Translating opera is a multimodal undertaking.

Starting off the new year fresh, we’re taking a look at opera, an art form that purports to have it all: poetry, music, costumes, and lots of drama. Opera in translation is ubiquitous, and what originally started as a private performance for Florentine nobles quickly spread beyond the palace walls and around the world with the aid of translation. With so much going on, translating opera is a multimodal undertaking. Our new podcast editor Dominick Boyle talks with Lucile Desblache, a professor at the University of Roehampton in London who led the project Translating Music. She guides us through the history of opera, explaining that translation has been there all along—just in different costumes. We also talk to Amanda Holden, a practicing opera translator who specializes in creating sung translations. She talks about how our image of opera as a boring and staid art form is a problem of translation, and how its true power can be revealed. With enough twists and turns to fill an opera, this is the Asymptote podcast.

Podcast Editor and Host: Dominick Boyle

Music provided under a Creative Commons license from freemusicarchive.com and copyright free from museopen.org and europarchive.org.

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week's literary updates from the Czech Republic, Iran, and England

This Friday, we present three very distinct reports from the world of literature. Slovakian Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood looks back at what was a great year of Czech literature in translation and gives us a sneak peek at what to look forward to this year. Her Iranian colleague Poupeh Missaghi reports on language-related issues in a human rights Twitter campaign. And finally, the UK Editor-at-Large M. René Bradshaw tells us where to head for great readings in London this month and next.

Julia Sherwood, our Editor-at-Large for Slovakia, has good news from the publishing world:

Last year proved to be a big year for Czech literature in English translation, with no fewer than eighteen publications from eight different presses at the latest count. They include, to mention just a few, Worm-Eaten Time, poet Pavel Šrut’s elegy for his homeland after the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, translated by Deborah Garfinkle, and symbolist poet Jaroslav Durych‘s (1886-1962) 1956 novella God’s Rainbow on the expulsion of the German-speaking population from Bohemia after World War II. First published in censored form in 1969, it is now available in full in David Short’s translation as part of Karolínum Press’s Modern Classics series, which also features Eva M. Kandler’s translation of the World War II literary horror The Cremator by Ladislav Fuks, a study of the totalitarian mindset that still resonates today (extract in BODY Literature), and served as the basis for one of the key films of the Czech new wave, directed by Juraj Herz.

Stoppard_and_Bajaja,_photo_by_Pavel_Stojar

On 30 November, a packed audience at the launch of Antonín Bajaja’s Burying the Season (also translated by David Short) at Waterstones Piccadilly in the heart of London included the playwright Tom Stoppard. Stoppard’s father came from the town of Zlín, the setting for this novel depicting the early years of communism in Czechoslovakia. Czech literature scholar Rajendra Chitnis introduces the book as part of an Istros Conversations podcast on Audioboom, while Michael Tate of Jantar Publishing discusses on Czech radio the challenges of bringing Central European literature to English readers.

World Literature Today picked Czech writer Magdaléna Platzová’s The Attempt as one of its Notable translations of 2016, characterizing it as “historical fiction at its best”. In an interview with the Czech cultural bi-weekly A2, the novel’s translator Alex Zucker points out that while more books by Czech authors are now being published than ever before, they don’t necessarily reach many more readers since—like translated literature in general—quite a few are brought out by small independent presses and are therefore not visible in major bookshops and rarely reviewed.

In 2017, we can look forward to Zucker’s translations of two the most acclaimed contemporary Czech writers: Jáchym Topol’s Angel Station is due from Dalkey Archive in May, and Petra Hůlová’s taboo-breaking Plastic Three Rooms will be brought out by Jantar Publishing. Budding UK translators keen to be part of this unprecedented boom in Czech literature in English can participate in the fourth annual international competition for young translators, who this year are asked to tackle an excerpt from Bianca Bellová’s The Lake by 31 March (see their call for submissions). Budding Czech-to-English translators can also dip into the treasure trove of tricky issues, complete with solutions generously shared by Melvyn Clarke, in his blog post Translating Hrdý Budžes.

Acclaimed writer Zuzana Brabcová, who sadly passed away in 2015, was posthumously awarded the Josef Škvorecký prize for her haunting last novel Voliéry [Aviaries]. And as the year drew to a close, scores of students and literature lovers mourned the loss of the legendary Fišer bookstore in Kaprova Street near Prague’s Old Town Square, which closed its doors after selling books since the 1930s.

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Mid-autumn News from the Asymptote Team

From poetry to graph theory to dance, we've been keeping busy.

Poetry Editor Aditi Machado‘s poem ‘Route: Desert’ was recently published in Poor Claudia.

Drama Editor Caridad Svich‘s new play, Archipelagopremieres in the UK on 24th November at the Lighthouse in Poole, directed by Stephen Wrentmore. Her essay, ‘Six Hundred and Ninety-Two Million: On Art, Ethics and Activism’ recently appeared on Howlround.

Romania and Moldova Editor-at-Large Chris Tanasescu, aka MARGENTO, co-authored an academic article on artificial intelligence with Bryan Paget and Diana Inkpen that has recently been published in the Journal of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. This is part of an ongoing research project, The Graph Poem, led by MARGENTO that applies graph theory to poetry computational analysis and poetry composition or generation.

Contributing Editor Ellen Elias-Bursac‘s translation of Hotel Tito by Ivana Bodrožić will be published by Seven Stories Press. Read an exclusive excerpt in Asymptote‘s Spring Issue! She has also just been elected Vice-President of the American Literary Translators’ Association.

Assistant Editor K.T. Billey, who also edited Asymptote‘s recent Special Feature on Canadian Poetry, has three new poems in the latest issue of the Denver Quarterly

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week's literary news from the Nordic countries, the UK and Israel.

The week is nearly over, which not only means it’s the weekend but also that it’s time for our literary catch-up! For this edition, Blog Editor Hanna Heiskanen shares updates on the upcoming awards season, among other news from Scandinavia. Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood then reports on literary happenings from the UK. Rounding it all up is our correspondent for Israel, Alma Beck, currently residing in New Orleans, where she teaches philosophy for children.

Obligatory reminder: After you’ve caught up with all the news, head over to our just-launched Fall 2016 issue here!

First up, Blog Editor Hanna Heiskanen has the latest from the Nordic countries:

Lars Huldén, the Swedish-speaking Finn poet, has passed away at the age of 90. Born in Pietarsaari, Finland, Huldén was a much loved and highly regarded writer, scholar, translator, and recipient of the Swedish Academy Nordic Prize in 2000. He grew up among a tradition of oral storytelling in the local Swedish dialect and worked tirelessly throughout his adult life, publishing a large collection of poetry, prose, plays, and sonnets, among other works. He also produced Swedish translations of Finnish and English classics, such as the Finns’ national epic, Kalevala, and Shakespearean texts.

Finnish Literature Exchange (FILI) is accepting applications for grants until November 1. If you are a publisher, translator, author, or event organizer interested in working with Finnish literature, FILI has a handy guide on their site to guide you through the options. FILI, founded in 1977, hands out approximately 700,000€ worth of grants annually, in addition to hosting translator residencies and maintaining a database of translations of Finnish literature.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week's literary news from Egypt, Bangladesh, the ALTA conference and on the recent Nobel Prize list.

Welcome to this edition of Asymptote’s weekly update, a hop, step, and jump tour de force bringing you the latest from three continents of literature in translation. To kick off, our Egyptian Editor-at-Large Omar El Adi sends us his bulletin, including news on literary prizes and an upcoming event in London. We then zoom in on Bangladesh, where Editor-at-Large for India Naheed Patel reports on recent festivals and the passing of Bangla authors. Also, US-based Assistant Editor Julia Leverone visited the ALTA conference so you didn’t have to. And finally Assistant Managing Editor Janani Ganesan gives us the round-up from the literary world on the Nobel Prize in Literature being awarded to Bob Dylan. 

Editor-at Large Omar El Adi has the latest literary news from Egypt:

The inaugural annual lecture of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation will be given by Palestinian author Anton Shammas at the British Library in London on 14 October. The jury for this year’s prize includes last year’s winning translator Paul Starkey, professor of Arabic Zahia Smail Salhi, writer and journalist Lucy Popescu, and literary consultant and publisher Bill Swainson. Paul Starkey’s 2015 win came for his translation of Youssef Rakha’s The Book of the Sultan’s Seal: Strange Incidents from History in the City of Mars (2014). An excerpt of Rakha’s third book Paulo (forthcoming in English) was featured in the Spring 2016 issue of Asymptote. The winner of the prize will be announced this December.

In Alexandria, Tara Al-Bahr, an interactive online platform, is launching its second print edition with original essays as well as translations into Arabic on the topics of cultural and artistic practices and urban change in contemporary Alexandria. Tara Al-Bahr launched in May this year, and its second printed edition came out on Thursday, 6 October.

The Facebook group Alexandria Scholars is commencing a series of talks, titled “The City Dialogue Series”, with the support of the Swedish Institute in Alexandria, and curated by the sociologist Amro Ali. The first lecture, “Alexandria and the search for meaning”, was on 10 October and explored solutions to the city’s problems “through the terrain of historical, urban, and philosophical analysis”. Future events involving writers, academics, political figures, and researchers have already been planned for November and December.

In publishing news, Mohamed Rabie’s Otared (2016) was released in English translation in September by AUC Press. The novel was shortlisted for the International Prize in Arabic Fiction in 2016 and is set in a dystopian post-revolutionary Egypt. An excerpt is available here.

Halal If You Hear Me, a forthcoming anthology of writings by Muslims who are queer, women, gender nonconforming or transgender, is calling for submissions. Editors Fatimah Asghar and Safia Elhillo are looking for submissions of up to five poems or two essays, including a cover letter with contact info and a short bio. Those interested should email halalifyouhearme@gmail.com before 1 December, 2016.

Editor-at-Large for India Naheed Patel shares some stories from the neighbouring Bangladesh:

Next month sees Bangladesh’s capital revving up for the annual Dhaka Literary Festival, which runs from November 17-19.  The festival has been held at the historic Bangla Academy since 2012, and is directed and produced by Sadaf Saaz, Ahsan Akbar, and K. Anis Ahmed. In the face of numerous recent Freedom of Expression violations in Bangladesh, the festival marks a resurgence of Bangladeshi literary culture, reaching across a number of different disciplines and genres: from fiction and literary non-fiction to history, politics and society; from poetry and translations to science, mathematics, philosophy and religion. The festival has more than 20,000 attendees and past contributors include Vikram Seth, Tariq Ali, Rosie Boycott, William Dalrymple, Ahdaf Soueif, Shashi Tharoor, Jung Chang, and Pankaj Mishra as well famous writers of Bangla literature like Hasan Azizul Huq, Selina Hossain, Debesh Roy, and Nirmalendu Goon.

In August and September Bangladesh mourned the passing of two prominent Bangla poets. Author, poet, and playwright Syed Shamsul Haq died at the age of 81 in Dhaka on September 27, 2016, and renowned Bangladeshi poet Shaheed Quaderi passed away in New York at the age of 74 on August 28, 2016. Haq was given the Bangla Academy Award in 1966 and the Ekushey Padak, the highest national award of Bangladesh, in 1984. He was also honored with a Swadhinata Padak in 2000 for his contribution to Bangla Literature. Payer Awaj Paoa Jay’ [We Hear the Footsteps] and Nuruldiner Sara Jibon [The Entire Life of Nuruldin], his most popular plays, are considered to be cornerstones of Bangladeshi theatre. Shaheed Quaderi received the Ekushey Padak in the category of Language and Literature in 2011 and was previously awarded the Bangla Academy Award in 1973. Prominent Bengali scholars such as Kabir Chowdhury, Kaiser Haq, and Farida Majid have translated his poems into English.

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What’s New With the Asymptote Team

We've been keeping busy!

Contributing Editor Anthony Shugaar has been shortlisted for the American Literary Translators Association (ALTA)’s Italian Prose in Translation Award 2016. The winner will be announced at ALTA’s annual conference in Oakland from October 6 to October 9.

Contributing Editor Ellen Elias-Bursac’s new co-translation of Noemi Jaffe’s novel from the Portuguese, What Are The Blind Men Dreaming?, was published on September 20 by Deep Vellum and featured in Words Without Borders’ watch list for the month.

Criticism Editor Ellen Jones spoke at the British Library’s annual International Translation Day event. She and fellow panellists Simon Coffey, Elin Jones, and Fiona Sampson responded to the question, ‘What does multilingual creativity mean for translators?’ and Ellen discussed her experiences editing Asymptote’s Special Features on Multilingual Writing in 2015 and 2016, as well as her own research.

Commissioning Editor J.S. Tennant was interviewed for The Guardian’s recent feature on Fiction in Translation, on the state of world literature and translated book sales in the UK.

Editor-at-Large for Slovakia Julia Sherwood’s new co-translation of Uršuľa Kovalyk’s novel The Equestrienne will be launched on October 6 at Waterstones Piccadilly in London.

Editor-at-Large for the UK Megan Bradshaw, who organized Asymptote’s International Translation Day celebration in London last week, will be chairing a conversation with the prolific Japanese author and translator Mitsuyo Kakuta on October 26 at the Japan Foundation in London.

Assistant Managing Editor Sam Carter’s new translation of the Spanish poet Benito del Pliego’s collection Fábula/Fable (bilingual edition, Díaz Grey Editores) launched at a McNally Jackson event in New York on September 16.

Finally, Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek’s essay on writing about history and difference in poetry was published by The Lonely Crowd on September 25. Some of his poems were published in the latest issues of The London Magazine and The North.

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Read More News:

Looking Ahead to International Translation Day in London, with Jonathan Ruppin

Brexit has brought our relationships with other nations to the forefront of public debate, so some readers might seek to broaden their horizons.

Ahead of Asymptote’s celebration of world literature in the UK on September 29th at Waterstones Piccadilly, the founder of the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club—and our event’s chairman—reflects on the last year of reading and publishing literature in translation. Get all of the event details, RSVP to attend, and invite your friends here

Megan Bradshaw (MB): The title of a recent article from The New Statesman asks, “Translated fiction is not a genre. Why do bookshops tell us it is?” Would you say that giving translated fiction its own category—and a separate Man Booker prize—is counterproductive?

Jonathan Ruppin (JR): I don’t think this is true: it’s almost never shelved separately. But it’s certainly worth pulling out in regular promotions, because this boosts visibility and sales, and there are many readers who are drawn to translated fiction for the broader horizons it offers. The new Booker Prize is doing a wonderful job highlighting the importance and relevance of the novel as a global art form, something that matters a great deal given the safe and parochial nature of what is usually promoted in reviews and in shops.

MB: Last March, the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club tackled Pushkin Press’s reissue of a short story collection by the Russian writer Teffi: Subtly Worded. Many native Russian speakers forewarn that her signature wit will get lost in translation. How did the Book Club receive her?

JR: The book was definitely one of the best-received selections in our first year or so of existence, although everyone seemed to prefer a slightly different selection of the stories. But, more than any other book, we were aware that her intricate use of wordplay had to mean that a lot was lost in translation. But she’s still an extremely rewarding writer to read in English.

MB: A survey commissioned by the Man Booker International Prize found that translated fiction is outselling its English-language counterparts. The same survey also noted that UK sales of Korean books has increased, from 88 copies in 2001, to 10,191 in 2015—many of those sales were for Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, from Portobello. Is the rise of Korean literature here to stay?

JR: That depends almost entirely on whether publishers commit to it. Independent publishers are forging ahead with titles from outside Western Europe, but the bigger companies still rarely do so. And any greater interest in Korean books will come with greater exposure for translated literature overall, or perhaps Asian literature.

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Asymptote Celebrates International Translation Day in London

On September 29, join Asymptote in London for a special celebration of world literature.

Book lovers wary of what Brexit will mean for the arts and culture in the United Kingdom can take some small comfort: British readers are going international.

This year, a survey commissioned by the Man Booker International Prize found that literary fiction in translation is outselling its English-language counterparts. Right now, translation seems more important than ever—suddenly, it seems, world literature has taken root in this island nation, where fiction sales are stagnating overall. How did this happen? Is the movement permanent? Mindful of this year’s celebration of Women in Translation Month (#WITMonth), the release of the first Kurdish novel translated into English, and the globalization of Korean literature, how are publishers continuing to surface underrepresented voices?

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Ask a Translator with Daniel Hahn

Translation, like any kind of writing, depends on instinct, you mustn’t forget that. But remember, too, that even instinct can be trained.

We’ve been hungry for more since Daniel Hahn made an appearance at the Asymptote Literary Salon in London two weeks ago. This week, we’re back with translation advice from the author, translator, and editor answering the following question from Singapore-based Asymptote reader Michelle Loh.

What can a translator do to improve?

I’m writing this answer from a mid-week lull at the British Centre for Literary Translation summer school. It’s an intensive, six-day residential course for literary translators and would-be literary translators, which I’ve taken part in annually since more or less the start of my own career. (Alarmed to discover, upon quick calculation, that this is my tenth… Hmm…) The BCLT summer school is mainly structured around language-specific workshop groups, but this year I’m leading one of a pair of unusual “multilingual” workshops; the nine participants in my group for the week are all excellent literary translators into English, but from a wide and wonderful range of source languages. (Between them, my lot speak Polish, Italian, French, Spanish, Latvian, Hungarian, German, Armenian, Russian, Portuguese, Dutch, and probably one or two others I’ve forgotten.) So how do you examine the translation process all together if you can never look at a single common source? To put it another way, what the hell was I supposed to do all week? READ MORE…

Plunge into the Multilingual Writing Feature from the July 2016 Issue

Readers must ask themselves whether they are entitled to a full understanding —or indeed if such a thing is ever possible.

The past two Mondays here at the Asymptote Blog, we’ve brought you highlights from the July 2016 issue, THE DIVE. This week we’re back with Ellen Jones, editor of the vibrant and provocative multilingual writing section.

The Asymptote July issue special feature on multilingual writing is the second of its kind. The more than two hundred pieces of original poetry and fiction received in response to last year’s call for submissions—many, many more than we were able to publish—opened our eyes to the wealth of new writers who are experimenting with language mixing, and persuaded us that it was necessary to run the feature again.

What I love most about this work is its variety. There are seven contributions, from writers as far afield as Peru, South Africa, and India that, between them, incorporate English, German, Spanish, French, Romanian, Sanskrit, Afrikaans, Italian, Nahuatl, and Arabic. But more importantly, they also make use of the spaces in between these languages: unique cross-lingual sound combinations and associations, and spoken varieties that are thriving but have yet to be documented. There is some poetry, some prose. Some written by well-established literary figures and some by poets who are only just finding their voices. Some pieces for readers of only English, others best left to the true polyglots among us.

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An Interview with Eleanor McDowall of Radio Atlas

Finding a way to understand the language without destroying the poetry of its delivery seems key to me.

Radio Atlas is an exciting new project gathering together subtitled audio from around the world – introducing listeners to a whole slew of inventive, genre-bending documentaries, drama and sound art made in languages that they may not necessarily speak.

Eleanor McDowall is an established radio documentary maker and producer with Falling Tree Productions, an independent production company based in London. She has helped to pioneer “animated radio” productions at home in the United Kingdom, and produces BBC Radio 4’s much-lauded series,‘Short Cuts’, with the British comedian, Josie Long.

***

David Maclean: Can you give me a brief history of Radio Atlas, i.e. how it came together and its origins?

Eleanor McDowall: Radio Atlas emerged out of a desire I had for a platform that didn’t exist—an easy, accessible way of engaging with interesting audio in languages I didn’t speak. I’d had a lot of experience listening to documentaries with big wads of paper on my knee, flicking through a translation as the audio played out, and desperately hoping that I hadn’t lost my place. A few years ago I saw an early event by the wonderful In The Dark where they played a Norwegian audio documentary in a cinema with subtitles and I was struck by how natural the experience was. This was the first time that I got away from feeling I was ‘reading’ a documentary and felt like I was really ‘hearing’ it. Radio Atlas is an attempt to make the most sympathetic subtitling experience I can for the audio—so hopefully you stop thinking about the text and start listening.

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Live Today! Ask A Translator: The Best Tips

"...my aim is to take one superb piece of writing, and make another superb piece of writing that can stand in for it with a new set of readers."

Since we launched our ‘Ask A Translator’ column last December, award-winning writer, editor and translator Daniel Hahn has been on hand to remedy the translation woes of Asymptote readers around the globe. Given the overwhelming love that our readers show for the column and Daniel (seriously, you guys are the best), we can’t wait to welcome Asymptote fans to our very first literary salon today at Waterstones Piccadilly, London on July 20th. The event will be hosted by our Editor-at-Large, Megan Bradshaw and will see Daniel fielding questions from the audience and our readers via Twitter. You can find out more about the event and reserve your place here, or if you can’t attend the event, tweet us your translation question with #AskATranslator.

In anticipation of the event, we’ve put together a shortlist of the six most important lessons for aspiring translators:

  1. Don’t be starstruck by authors (and don’t be afraid to stand your ground)

“Imagine approaching pretty much any writer and saying, “Look, here’s the plan, we’re going to change lots of things in your book—no, I really mean lots of things, like all the words—then we’re going to publish it all over the world in your name, but you won’t get to see what it actually says… Sound OK?” They’d be within their rights to feel more than a little uneasy about it.

[…]

But just as I don’t always understand what they’re doing, they don’t always understand what I’m doing either. And their English is sometimes not quite as good as they think it is. (Or at least I hope it’s typically less good than mine, otherwise I might as well pack the whole thing in.) While I want them to be reassured, I’m the person who signs things off for the publisher, and I have to be happy with the English text—my name’s on it, too, and if something sounds funny that will end up being my fault.”

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Dear Britain: Notes of an Adopted Daughter

"Poking your ribs aside, Britain, we do not need to see our various hyphenations as fracture."

“Look, I admit I came to Paris to escape American provincial, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready for French traditional.”
—Audrey Hepburn, Charade

Dear Britain,

In spite of Murakami and the rural male youths of my mongrel pubescence informing me otherwise, I still prefer to think of a “morning glory” as a cat licking its paws through choppy rays of light—just at the moment when “rosy-fingered” dawn neatly vivisects your eyes and the living room in two (if the postmodern turn has accomplished anything worthwhile, it has bestowed scalpels on Homeric metaphors), leaving little else to do than bat the sand from your lashes and gulp down that third cup of coffee.

It was during of one these scenes from my everyday homeostasis, Britain, when I began to realize, at first rather absently, that for all legitimate reasons, my cat is British. READ MORE…

Notes from the 2016 London Book Fair

"There is something unavoidably, well, icky, about book fairs: it is the necessary monetization, and inevitable corporatization, of art."

If we took Lemony Snicket creator Daniel Handler’s cautionary advice at face value—“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them”—then, at the least, we should not fear the Book Fair as a den of thieves and our attendance an exercise in tiptoeing above and around winking blades.

Quite the opposite: we are among the international literati of the first order, and we are free to ecstatically smile and sniff the books and promotional materials—like an American woman visiting a French perfume shop. On opening day, Guardian columnist and high-flying London salonnière Damian Barr dispensed more practical guidance particular to British connoisseurship. “#LBF16 have a great fair everyone! Remember to sneak out for gin/fags/sunshine,” he tweeted. READ MORE…