Posts filed under 'france'

In Review: Bye Bye Blondie by Virginie Despentes

It is imbued with the passionate discontent of the punk movement, thought to be dead, but clearly still bubbling under our collective surface.

‘Volatile’ isn’t a strong enough adjective for Gloria, the protagonist of Virginie Despentes’ novel, Bye Bye Blondie. This post-punk love story shocks and devastates with its disquieting exploration of personhood, womanhood, and human connection through Gloria’s manic gaze.

We meet Gloria in her middle age, newly homeless after the latest in a string of exes becomes fed up with her bottomless capacity for anger and violent outbursts. She begins making her way to the local bar. She’d smashed her phone against a wall in her final fight with her ex, but even if she had some change to call a friend for help, she realizes there are very few left willing to put up with her. But even in these first pages of the novel, her despair doesn’t quite seem isolated. She wanders her dreary town, passing by posters for vapid films and the sterile bubblegum storefronts of international chains. Her ferocity takes on the flavor of rebellion in the context of the anaesthetized materialism of her surroundings.

READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 26th February 2016: Digi-Musee

This week's literary highlights from around the world

Happy Friday, Asymptote. We missed it last week, but here it is: friend of the blog (and source of a great deal of the roundup’s news), Michael A. Orthofer (of the Complete Review) is finally recognized as the meticulous literary heavyweight he is.

Is the future now (or never)? Here’s what robots might learn from literature, according to the Guardian (harumph). And in Paris, France, the City of Light (and Egregious Museums) is set to open a “museum of digital reading” (harumph, indeed).

In Iran, forty different media outlets have (allegedly) pooled money for British author Salman Rushdie’s fatwa, adding over six hundred thousand (!) pounds to the already-hefty sum. Meanwhile, here’s Rushdie on literature and politics—in his own words. The “Free the Word!” event at PEN International might be worth a gander for all this censorship. (Meanwhile, at the Eurovision song contest: is the Ukraine‘s submission an attack on Russia?).

Every once in a while, the non-translation media makes a revelation we knew all along. This time, it’s what we can learn by comparing translations of the Bible (via an interview with Aviya Kushner, author of the absolutely awesome translation memoir, The Grammar of God). Speaking of non-translation (but translation-friendly) texts: Lispector translator Idra Novey’s first novel, Ways to Disappear, features a “disappearing translation superhero.” And the Armenian Weekly emphasizes the point: here’s why it’s important to translate (and re-translate!) the country’s most foundational texts.

In India, there are so, so many literary festivals—about 100! The New York Times argues that these fests are more than strictly literary affairs, but occasions in which “India talks to itself.”

You may have caught the blog’s recent graphic novel in translation—here’s another kind of translation, namely that of culture shock and pictograms, by Chinese visual artist Yang Liu living in Berlin, Germany. 

A*** And I: In Conversation With Emma Ramadan

"...it shouldn’t be that hard to write a genderless novel in English in the first person, but it’s really hard to translate one from French."

“If Garréta’s composition of Sphinx was a high-wire act, then Emma Ramadan’s task in carrying it over into a language with at least one crucially important constitutional difference is, near as I can figure it, akin to one tightrope walker mimicking the high-wire act of a second walker on a steeply diverging tightrope, while also doing a handstand.” —Daniel Levin Becker

If DJs are “the new rock stars” (Forbes, 2012), and if Emma Ramadan is correct—there did not exist, until now (2015), a genderless love story written in English—how can we trust in our vision as a supposedly contemporary, world-changing literary public after discovering that Anne Garréta’s debut novel was published thirty years ago?

Sphinx (1986) is a love story that is simultaneously hijacked and elevated by its own language. Originally guided by a Jesuit priest cloaked as Dante’s Virgil, the novel’s nameless and genderless narrator descends from the aristocratic literati into Paris’s crepuscular underworld, arriving at the gates of the discothèque Apocryphe to become DJ royale and a devotee of the beautiful, also genderless, A*** (in whose tragic character we may find our Beatrice). The Apocryphe is the abyssal incubator of their folie à deux. To say that Sphinx is “ahead of its time” sounds stale, but stale-sounding things are often true. (In 2002, Garréta won France’s prestigious Prix Médicis, which is awarded each year to an author whose “fame does not yet match their talent.”)

Garréta’s method and style allow her to pillage the French language generously, often playfully, and she makes it clear that society, self-prescriptive by nature, is begging to see itself outside of binary gender distinctions. Ramadan’s translation has also given us the first full-length work by a female member of the Oulipo. The experimental French literary group is renowned for its exclusions—whole novels don’t include the letter “e,” extended texts employ only one vowel, poetry is written to be sliced up and reshuffled. It must be remembered, however, that Sphinx’s publication preceded Garréta’s invitation to join the Oulipo by more than a decade. Now, what does it mean to read the first English translation of such a novel, which teases out all our assumptions about identity, love, desire, relationships, with almost sacramental intensity?

We can, at least, trust in the simple counsel of the novel’s translator, who (after Garréta) made our reading possible in the first place: “If our pre-conceived notions about all of these things are defied by this text, what does that say about our pre-conceived notions? Reading Sphinx is one way to think about these questions, to question our ways of thinking.” Whether in spite of or due to its preciousness, Sphinx serves to remind us that it is us who are still woefully behind the times.

***

MB: First, I want to enquire about the context that instigated an English translation of Garréta’s novel now. Sphinx was published in 1986—when Garréta was only 23 years old. What made the impetus for this translation—nearly thirty years later—so urgent?

ER: Well, when I first found out about Sphinx, I heard about it in the context of Daniel Levin Becker. He wrote a book about Oulipians, and he briefly mentions Sphinx, and I assumed that it had already been translated. And then I went looking for the translation and I couldn’t find it, and when I realised it hadn’t been translated yet it just sort of seemed wild to me, you know, that no one had tried to translate this book. It was pretty wild to me that, despite the past, however many years going by since this book was published, it still feels very relevant, maybe more so now than then, because people are more interested in talking about gender and the way gender influences our lives, and influences our identities, the ways it kind of constricts us, and I feel now more so than in 1984—at least in the States.

READ MORE…

The Afrofuture for the Time/Being: Traveling Black to the Future

"Of course, Black(s) to the Future isn’t about achieving Black supremacy—but every bit about counteracting the pigeonholing of Black art."

In 1941, Moïse Yehouessi was called to war. A young man from Benin, he’d studied at William Ponty, a military school housed in a old fortress about twenty miles east of Dakar, in Senegal. Yehouessi fought on France’s side against the Axis powers in World War II. After the war, he immigrated to France, swayed by the propaganda promise of affirmative reception within France.

Three decades later, in December 2015, I sat talking to his granddaughter over Skype. “He was treated like shit,” said Mawena suddenly, from her Paris apartment. France did indeed see a rise in immigration after WWII, from all over Africa. Take, for instance, the thousands of Algerian pieds noirs who fled to France at the end of the Algerian War. It didn’t take long for internal tensions to emerge in France between the nation’s French-Algerians and the larger French populace. In James Markham’s 1988 New York Times article, “For Pieds-Noirs, the Anger Ensues,” former French prime minister Jacques Chirac is reported as saying, “To reconcile France with its colonial past is to reconcile France with itself. […] As a lieutenant in Algeria, I did my duty. I shared your hopes and your agonies, and understood your élan.” The last word, élan, struck me as glib. READ MORE…

Spectacle Shopping

"They will wear the product and talk about it (and to it) incessantly. They will buy another one next year."

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…

Translation Tuesday: “Chairs and Sentences” by Anna Weidenholzer

"Ferdinand only likes the thin straws, and he likes it when a straw bobs back up after being submerged in a beer bottle."

A brown leather sofa, on it a man, below it a Lurch. A Lurch is a bundle of dirt made of dust, fluff and hair. A Lurch is what I call a Wollmaus. Because the chairs are never cleared away I have a lot to do, the man says. Because the chairs are never cleared away I get angry. But because the chairs are never cleared away I have a job to do. It’s better to have a job than not having a job. Because what would I do if I didn’t have a job. I would just sit at home, sitting at home is nothing, what do you do when you don’t have a job. It’s better to work even if I get the same money I would get if I didn’t work.

The man takes his left hand from his stomach, lays it behind his head, moves his thumb back and forth. Ferdinand watches the man move his left thumb back and forth. Ferdinand watches TV. It’s after ten pm, Ferdinand prefers serious programmes, he appreciates their seriousness and while watching he frequently looks past the television. Is there a hole in the air? A student asked him once; no, a lake, Ferdinand had answered.

READ MORE…

Au Comptoir, Au Terroir: Eric Rohmer’s Nadja à Paris

Nina Sparling's latest essay on foreignness, film, and fluidity between private and public spaces.

Eric Rohmer’s 1964 film, Nadja à Paris, follows a Nadja Tesich through the city. Tesich is an exchange student at the Sorbonne, living at the Cité Universitaire at the southern edge of the city. The film is short—just ten minutes. There is no plot; Nadja leads Rohmer, he in observation of her movement through the city. Nadja narrates the film in a voice-over. The film treats Nadja’s position as a habitual stranger, a regular foreigner. She is not French, nor does she desire to be. She learns the habits and patterns of the city and participates in them as she is: a Yugoslavian-American studying in a city that is not her own. The habits she adopts fixate on two spaces, le terrace and le comptoir. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 12th June 2015: What’s Pure Prose & Poetry?

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Happy Friday, Asymptote friends!

Big congratulations to the new poet laureate of the United States, Juan Felipe Herrera! Herrera attended the University of Iowa and his current gig is a direct update from his last one (he spent the past two years as poet laureate of the state of California, where he’s from).

Meanwhile, recommended reading abounds. The Millions reviews French-Algerian writer Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation, big winner of the Prix Goncourt and only recently appearing in John Cullen’s English translation (would have been nice to know this from the review—but, alas). In the Paris Review Daily, former blog contributor and all-around translator/thinker/writer extraordinaire Damion Searls argues for a lesser-known (stateside, at least) Norwegian writer: Jon Fosse. According to Searls: in the Beatles band of Norwegian lit, Fosse is George, “the quiet one, mystical.” Hmm. If Fosse is a pure/prose/poet, it’s important to remember the dutiful audacity of prose-at-large: how should we remember what and how prose writing accomplishes what it does? (I’d like to wager that translation plays a vital role in revealing the mechanics of language. But that’s just me). READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Poems by Boris Vian

Translated by Jeremy Page

THE SPIDERS 

To Odette Bost

 

Into the houses where children die

Go some very old people.

They sit down in the antechamber

Their sticks between their black knees.

They listen, nod their heads.

 

Every time the child coughs

Their hands clutch their hearts

And make big yellow spiders

And the cough, rising through the furnishings,

Is shredded, listless as a pale butterfly.

 

They have vague smiles

And the child’s cough stops

And the big yellow spiders

Rest, shaking,

On the polished boxwood handles

Of the sticks, between their hard knees.

 

And then, when the child is dead

They get up, and go elsewhere…

READ MORE…

In Review: “Self-Portrait in Green” by Marie NDiaye

Translated by Jordan Stump, and published by Two Lines Press

Let me talk about selfies.

Are you annoyed yet? I promise this isn’t a curmudgeonly thinkpiece about millennials; nor is it a listicle written by said millennials in defense of the selfie.* No, I’d like to talk about self-portraiture, which became conceivable as soon as mirrors and other reflective surfaces were available. (Narcissus may have enjoyed his reflection in antiquity, but he wasn’t real, and pools of water are never that smooth). The idea here is objectivity. A stable you that you can see.

Even without gadgetry (mirrors, glassy ponds, cameras et al)—I don’t think a selfie is a foray into solipsism. More the opposite: the way the self-it-self has been constructed is a result of the litany of selves surrounding it. We adjust to resemble, even when affirming our individual self-ness. Every selfie (can we say “self-portrait” now? I’m sorry!) exists as an algorithmic product of the selves around it, which, through refraction and contortion, inform whatever “self” is portrait-ed. This is true even sans Instagram.

This, at least, is my hypothesis after reading Two Lines Press’ 2014 publication, Self Portrait in Green, by French writer Marie NDiaye and meticulously translated by Jordan Stump. The slender novella is written in the first person against the stark relief of an ominous threat, one of a flood that is slated to destroy the village the narrator inhabits, by 2003. Through a series of recollections, Self Portrait in Green navigates a universe of threat, both environmental and interpersonal, through an interconnected series of engagements the narrator litanies against women afflicted by the color green.  READ MORE…

New in Translation: 33 Days by Léon Werth

“I recount the lowly; I tell, in the immensity of this war, the stories of insects.“

Every year, as Holocaust Memorial Day approaches, my husband and I begin looking for a film, a book, or an article with which to commemorate the day. Each year this tradition becomes more challenging and more exciting, as we move away from Hollywood epics and into the realm of small-scale, private stories. As I grow older and my mind expands, I become more interested in the minutia of this enormous tragedy: what people talked about, what mundane things preoccupied their minds, what made them laugh.

In his memoir 33 Days, Léon Werth chronicles the time he and his wife spent on the road fleeing Paris during the Fall of France in 1940. They move between farmhouses and through blockaded roads. They worry for their teenage son, who has left earlier with friends. They pilfer whatever remains in empty homes and abandoned vehicles, and sleep on hay bales. They are at war, but not in the Holocaust. They are Jews who do not yet know what their identity will come to mean.

READ MORE…

Au Marché, with Emile Zola

Nina Sparling finds Emile Zola's Les Halles in an NYC farmer's market. Part 3 in a series on food, literature, and translation

Runners zipped down the bike lane, out to beat the rising temperatures. We arrived at Skillman Avenue, just west of 43rd Street, a little after 7am. The sun was rising, the sky still lit with the glow reserved for early-risers and weekend revelers. It was opening weekend at the Greenmarket in Sunnyside, Queens. Ron parked the truck with a jolt and I almost spilled my coffee. The cider, oversized apple turnover, and apple farmers had not arrived yet. Patrick pulled up behind us, honking. He would unload crates of integrated pest management apples and tomatoes, challenging the expectations of seasonal produce. He works with Jesus and together they take home thousands, I’m sure. READ MORE…

Drinking with Boris Vian

Part II in a series on food, literature, and translation—this time featuring Boris Vian and his classic "L'ecume des jours"

There is a way a room full of people drinking cocktails feels. It is distinct from the stale fog that spills from a fridge packed with six packs, and it is altogether different from the rosy-cheeked stupor induced by a case of wine. There is a severe and attentive atmosphere to the room. The alchemy of balancing sweetness, bitterness, and bite in a few ounces is mysterious and tempting. There is a self-awareness that comes with drinking an old fashioned, an edge to the precarious glass that a Manhattan arrives in. There is also enormous satisfaction in drinking a good one. The pleasure doesn’t last long—the drinks are always short and expensive. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 19th December 2015: Noble/Nobel Buzz, University Navelgazing

This week's literary highlights from across the world

To most Americans, the announcement of most recent literary Nobel laureate French author Patrick Modiano spurred a collective reaction: “who?” But (thanks to translation!), readers are warming up to his noteworthy oeuvre, and he’s gotten a significant boost since the prestigious win. And if you’re heading vers la France in the next few weeks—Christmas in Paris does sound romantic—be sure to check out this walkable guide to the City of LIghts à la Modiano.  READ MORE…