Summer is drawing to a close and our bookshelves are groaning with the weight of new releases. Asymptote team members review three very different books—a genre-bending meditation on the practice of translation, a German bestseller about African refugees in Berlin, and an anthology of monologues that were once performed on the streets of Quebec City. There is much to delve into.
This Little Art by Kate Briggs, Fitzcarraldo Editions.
Reviewed by Theophilus Kwek, Editor-at-Large, Singapore.
It is in 1977, as he begins lecturing as Professor of Literary Semiology at the Collège de France, that Roland Barthes realizes he is no longer young: an “old and untimely body,” on a “new public stage.” But to speak to the students gathered—with their “new concerns, new urgencies, new desires”—he will have to “fling [himself] into the illusion that [he is] contemporary with the young bodies present before [him]”; he must, in Kate Briggs’s memorable words, forget the distances of age and time, and be “carried forward by the force of forgetting, which is the forward-tilting force of all living life.”
Briggs’s new book-length essay on translation, published this month by Fitzcarraldo (who surely must produce some of the most elegant books around) joins the ranks of treatises that ponder how we, as practitioners, should “properly register what’s going on with this—with [our]—work.” It’s an important question, she argues, not only because translation is a little understood (and hence undervalued) enterprise, but also because the process of translation itself sheds light on what it takes to make meaning, and art. Her answer, pursued over seven interlocking chapters, runs parallel to Barthes’s realization. Just as the old professor must “be born again,” translation is the work of making new: of bridging time and language to “make [literature] contemporary with [our] own present moment.” READ MORE…
Black Friday is not only a chaotic holiday for shoppers, but it is also an extremely exciting time for those in the media to represent the spectacle of this chaos to the public. The public then consumes this content at face-value, continuing the chaos online and in their homes. In light of Black Friday’s “festivities,” Guy Debord’s Society of Spectacle shone out to me as a great way to explain it. It’s not really a phenomenon, but an obsession in a society that perhaps values the commodity more than other areas. This personal essay explores the parallels I have seen between Black Friday and Guy Debord’s writing.
All citations are from Guy Debord in his work La Société du spectacle (Paris: Buchet-Chastel, 1967). Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: Zone Books, 1994).
“The world the spectacle holds up to view is at once here and elsewhere; it is the world of the commodity ruling over all lived experience. The commodity world is thus shown as it really is, for its logic is one with men’s estrangement from one another and from the sum total of what they produce.”
I’m a Search Engine Optimization Specialist in French and in English for a marketing company in Detroit. I like to say that I fix the Internet for a living, while getting to implement my French Literature degree. The reality is that I put the right words in the right places, and if the search engine algorithms take kindly to them, these words will rank better on Google. I describe it to my college advisor as, “writing French and English prose poems about the Chevrolet Silverado.”
I celebrate my anniversary at the company in November. My manager congratulates me. She was worried I wouldn’t make it this long, away from my family and friends in New York, in a field that isn’t as creative as one might hope. (Conversations with my manager include, “No Allegra, you can’t say that the Chevrolet Malibu is ‘making waves in Ottawa.’ I don’t think Canadians even know what Malibu Beach is.”) READ MORE…
A story that can be retold and rewritten, but can all the while retain its own thingness—a story that can evolve in the imagination—is a finger in the face of the insipid outpouring of gifs and memes we daily consume, like Technicolor marshmallows shot out of the all powerful maw of the Facebook-Disney machine.
We of the lower forty-eight are fortunate, then, that something like Samuel Archibald’s Arvida, has been recently translated from the French by Donald Winkler. We need stories. And these stories from a land we’ve all been living alongside our whole American lives will do nicely. These are American stories. But another America, a hidden America, maybe even more American than the America we think we know.
Canada. In Archibald’s Arvida, there is an echo of some of the wavering visions we have of our northern neighbor (evergreen, flannel), but they are woven into the fabric of a working-class town, both factual and fabulous, immediately calling up comparisons to Canadian filmmaker Guy Maddin’s evocations of Winnipeg. Both Maddin and Archibald tell their tales utilizing a personal history of a family and a discreet location, while at the same time breathing into them a dream logic and fairy tale or fable-like tropes.