Awarded first place in the CNCA’s Roberto Bolaño Prize for Young Literary Creation in the Poetry category, twenty-seven-year-old Francisco Ide Wolleter stands out from the latest generation of Chilean litterateurs. His “Poems for Michael Jordan” are miracles of observation, imbuing quotidian life with existential drama. You won’t ever watch basketball the same way again after this.
the ball’s porous plane
makes me think of human skin
a tactile nostalgia
though contact is always illusory
the facts are thus: we’re structured on emptiness
built of atoms,
atoms whose nature is to repel
and be repelled.
that’s why we don’t mix with things
that’s why when we touch
we haven’t really touched anything at all
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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…
Catch up on Part I of this fascinating interview here.
Steve Dolph is the translator of three books by the late Argentine novelist Juan José Saer, who died in Paris in 2005. All three were published by Open Letter Books, the most recent (June ’14) being Saer’s final, unfinished novel, La Grande. Mr. Dolph is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Hispanic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where his research treats Renaissance ecopoetics and the pastoral tradition. His most recent translation, of Sergio Chejfec’s “El testigo” / “The Witness,” is available in the July 2014 issue of Asymptote.
Jeremy Davies: I seem to recall reading, third hand, of Saer demolishing, in Le Monde, an apologist article by Vargas Llosa, likewise in Le Monde, in which the latter more or less put forward the notion that everyone should just “forgive and forget” regarding the “disappearances”… Are you familiar with that altercation?
Steve Dolph is the translator of three books by the late Argentine novelist Juan José Saer, who died in Paris in 2005. All three were published by Open Letter Books, the most recent (June ’14) being Saer’s final, unfinished novel, La Grande. Mr. Dolph is currently a Ph.D. candidate in Hispanic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, where his research treats Renaissance ecopoetics and the pastoral tradition. His most recent translation, of Sergio Chejfec’s “El entenado” / “The Witness,” is available in the July 2014 issue of Asymptote.
This interview was conducted via e-mail over the early summer months, rambling like “a long afternoon’s conversation,” as Dolph commented, which is perhaps the most apposite way to approach an author so devoted to the vagaries of unfocused thought, and the ways its wandering through time and space makes itself manifest in language.
—Jeremy M. Davies
Peruvian writer Ulises Gonzáles founded the thrice-yearly journal Los bárbaros in 2014. Gathering work from Spanish-language writers about New York, Gonzáles talks about the important role of New York City for contemporary writers in Spanish and his hopes for the journal’s future.
Eric Becker: How did the journal come to be?
Ulises Gonzáles: It’s a great story, actually.
Some of us were in a class at the CUNY Graduate Center and someone mentioned something about the poem “Waiting for the Barbarians” (by the Greek poet C.P. Cavafy). But that person connected it to the idea that now the barbarians are major figures in language and literature departments (throughout the world) and were creating their own literary theories and not leaving it just to the French anymore—because of people like Borges.
And today, for example, people in English departments are reading Borges and it was all about this idea that now the barbarians are in charge. The reach of English is still, of course, broad. But one thing that I like about these Latin American writers is that every one of them is going to tell you that among their favorite writers are maybe Faulkner, maybe Hemingway, maybe Wilde. There’s a big connection: it’s like “I got all this from English literature, I’m going to recycle it and I’m going to tell you about my world through what I learned and at the same time I’m going to teach you something about my world.” READ MORE…
Patty: The phrase “of-the-moment” is so annoyingly trite, but for lack of a better expression, Sergio Chejfec is perhaps one of today’s most of-the-moment writers, and the short fiction/systematic essay-musing “The Witness”—translated by Steve Dolph and published in Asymptote’s July issue as part of our Latin American feature—proves beyond a shadow of a doubt just why that is.
They say, more or less, that anyone who’s made the mistake of leaving can’t make the mistake of returning. READ MORE…
One summer I was at a beach in Mar del Plata with a group of young Argentine friends, around ten men and women, the majority attractive, at an age with more than enough time to spend hours arguing about unimportant matters as if they were the most profound things in the world. I remember that I was fresh out of University and had traveled to Argentina for the summer. My principal interlocutor, strangely, seemed older than I, although in reality he was quite young. He was bolder in the discussion, he seemed to know the names of many more books and authors, his hair was long, his voice husky, his face angular, his body athletic. He was drinking maté and his name was Julio. Everyone else was lying around on towels with dark sunglasses, bikinis, beers, CDs, and cigarettes. Every now and then one of them would enliven the discussion with a favorable comment for Julio or for me, with objections or laughter.
– No, loco, you’re wrong. Or, are telling me you want to write like Oliverio Girondo? Man, you’re bitter.
The first time I read “Pierre Menard, author of the Quixote,” I was seventeen and in my freshman year in college in Lima. As anyone who reads Borges for the first time, I was dazzled by the story of a fictional French writer who, at the beginning of the twentieth century, wants to write once again, without plagiarizing or recovering it from memory, Cervantes’s Don Quixote. The most memorable passage of the story comes when the narrator, a friend of Menard’s, and very likely a French fascist, analyzes one paragraph from the novel in two different ways. First, assuming that Cervantes is the author, he concludes that the paragraph is rhetorical and verbose, when written by a seventeenth-century Spaniard. Later, assuming the author is Pierre Menard, a contemporary right-wing surrealist poet, he finds that the same words are fantastically counterintuitive and herald a new form of understanding the world. Since the narrator is a fascist, one suspects that his interpretation is an overinterpretation, the grotesque imposition of ideas that were not there in the original text.
Hot off the e-press: Asymptote’s July issue is now live! The star-studded issue reads like a cool glass of water, and with good reason: the cold-as-ice cover is inspired by Latin America, currently in the dead of winter and the subject of this issue’s special feature.
Highlights in this Latin-American edition include writerly tributes to Osvaldo Lamborghini (by César Aira), Julio Cortázar (by Sergio Chejfec), and Gabriel García Márquez (by the legend’s very own Portuguese translator Eric Nepomuceno), alongside poetry from Chilean prizewinner Rául Zurita and fiction by Uruguayan author Cristina Peri Rossi. We’ve even got a video trailer for them!
Reading Luis Negrón’s award-winning debut short story collection, Mundo Cruel, one is struck by the author’s daring, his at-times startling insights, and his blistering sense of humor. It is a remarkable collection, and the first translated work to win a Lambda Literary Award for gay general fiction. In his interview with Asymptote blog, Negrón talks about melodrama and monsters in fiction, homophobia in present-day Puerto Rico, and his experience with acclaimed translator Suzanne Jill Levine.
Eva Richter: Your epigraph is a quote from Manuel Puig’s “A Melodramatic Destiny.” “So then, a melodrama is a drama made by someone who doesn’t know the difference, Miss?” / “Not exactly, but in a certain way it is a second-rate product.” How does the notion of melodrama as a second-rate or even naive drama play into your short stories?
Luis Negrón: There are two ways to answer this question. One, the most obvious one, is by explaining melodrama itself: it is a drama where destiny cannot be escaped. I played with and tried to transform this notion of melodrama in my texts, but not only with the structure of them, but with their aura, the environment of the melodrama, its false and perhaps fake way of suffering. It is also important to put the stories in context. In Latin America, melodrama is king. Our music is melodramatic; our politics are melodramatic, our sports, our way or conceiving love, romantic love, all kinds of love, are pure melodrama. It is our way of dealing with most situations. This is more the case in the working class population, where access to different forms of dealing with feelings are not at hand or are simply unknown. For this reason, melodrama is abundant in the book: it shows how my characters construct whole gammas of feelings, and how they make decisions or just follow the paths dictated by their destiny.
Luis Negrón’s short story collection Mundo Cruel, recently translated into English by Suzanne Jill Levine, has met the acclaim it well deserves. The first translated work to win a Lambda Literary Award for gay general fiction, Negrón’s debut book is an exceptional merging of absurdist humor (one story chronicles a man’s desperate attempts to have his dead dog stuffed), naturalism (the characters’ voices instantly take shape, come to life), and melodrama. In an interview with translator Suzanne Jill Levine, winner of PEN USA’s Translation Award, Levine discusses what drew her to Negrón’s work, and her career as a writer, translator, and educator.
Eva Richter: How did you first learn about Luis Negrón’s work, and how did you come to translate him?
Suzanne Jill Levine: Out of the blue I received an email from a young editor at Seven Stories Press, Gabriel Espinal, asking me to consider translating Mundo Cruel. The stories and the author, Luis—who is now a dear friend—were totally unknown. At first glance through the book, I was skeptical. Then Gabe invited me to visit him in NYC to talk about it. I was touched by his enthusiasm, the story of how he discovered Luis, and I felt admiration for the work of Seven Stories Press, and so I agreed to do a sample.
As I began translating, I found myself smiling and even laughing as I went along. A miracle: I had discovered a new writer who had a sly sense of humor, and who was dealing with such a destitute, sometimes sordid microcosm, which in his hands became a rich kasbah of living speech, ordinary yet extraordinary characters, depicted with pathos, wit and penetrating wisdom. I was sold.
Forthcoming from Ox and Pigeon Press is Megan McDowell’s English translation of Álvaro Bisama’s Dead Stars, which won the 2011 Santiago Municipal Prize for Literature and the 2011 Premio Academia, given out by the Chilean Academy of Language for the best book of 2010.