Posts filed under 'writing'

Variations on a Theme: Carolina Schutti & Joanna Walsh on Poetic Prose

"Poets have long been questioning the usefulness/uselessness of the label 'prose poem.'"

When I was invited to create a miniseries of semi-regular author events as translator in residence at the Austrian Cultural Forum London, I wanted to make sure that the Austrian author would always be in dialogue with a British counterpart about something they have in common in their writing. My motivation is to juggle the foreignness and uniqueness of German-language literature with where it meets and overlaps with literature written in English in order to show that writing comes from a specific linguistic, cultural and literary context, but one that connects and communicates with others. As journalist Judith Vonberg summed it up in her review of the event for Literaturhaus Europa: “it’s a simple but unconventional idea. Instead of highlighting the differences between British literature and literature made on the continent, the starting point is similarity, which opens up far more interesting discussions.”

The first of these events brought Austrian writer and musician Carolina Schutti and author and illustrator Joanna Walsh together to discuss poetic prose and how poetry permeates their writing in terms of language, effect and form with me in the ACF London’s Salon back in February. As a writer of both poetry and short fiction, I’m interested in why sometimes one form does and then other times won’t do at all, and why it sometimes happens that I can read the poetry and prose of others interchangeably as if in the other form. What are the markers and where is the boundary? READ MORE…

Translating Magpies: A Writer’s Travails in Translation

Author Rachel Cantor on faking it until making it in Italian translation and her novel, Good on Paper

Shira, bless her heart, is a good but underachieving translator. She usually translates the lesser-known works of lesser-known writers (her relationship with translation is ambivalent, to say the least); more often, she temps in New York City’s outer boroughs. But because of a ground-breaking translation she wrote in grad school of Dante’s La Vita Nuova (using a Buber-Rosenzweig leitwort approach), the Nobel Prize-winning poet Romei commissions her to translate his latest work, which riffs off La Vita Nuova in ways he promises to explain. As Shira begins to translate his Vita Quasi Nuova, however, she begins to suspect that Romei has another agenda, one that involves her personally and has nothing whatsoever to do with poetry…

Shira is not real, of course: she’s the narrator of my novel Good on Paper. To do justice to her work, I read books about literary translation, theories of translation, the practice of translation, especially from the Italian. I used as much detail as I plausibly could, so that Shira’s work could feel real, and her translation dilemmas—essential to the plot—would seem both urgent and specific. She talks—knowledgeably, I hope!—about terza rima and the “eleven-syllable Italian line.” Research because I couldn’t draw on my own experience. Like Shira, I spent my formative years in Italy, but her skill with the language far exceeds mine. Asked to read Italian novels in school, I labored; asked to translate something (anything) once in high school, I chose a Petrarchan sonnet, and did a serviceable job, though there was one line in the octave I just couldn’t get right. READ MORE…

Interviewing Alexander Beecroft, author of An Ecology of World Literature

"The idea seems to be that globalization isn’t one simple story, but neither is it a collection of unrelated stories—it’s a tangle of narratives."

Alexander Beecroft is Associate Professor in Classics and Comparative Literature at the University of South Carolina. He teaches courses in Greek and Latin language and literature, ancient civilizations, both ancient and modern literary theory, and theories and practices of world literature. His key fields of research specialization focus on the literatures of Ancient Greece and Rome, and pre-Tang (before AD 600) Chinese literature, in addition to contemporary discussions regarding world literature. His second book, An Ecology of World Literature: From Antiquity to the Present Day, was published by Verso in January. In it, he argues for the benefits of an ecological, rather than the conventional economical, framework in the discussion of global literatures, shedding light on the difficulties involved in ascertaining, defining, and assimilating multifarious linguistic forms.

I spoke to Professor Beecroft through email about the intersections between world literature, politics, geography, and the advantages and disadvantages that literary translation can have on upholding minority languages.

Rosie Clarke: Could you begin by briefly outlining your academic background, and explaining what brought you to write An Ecology of World Literature?

AB: My earliest training, as an undergraduate, was in Classics, and from there I moved into an interest in early China. As I entered graduate school, I knew I wanted to combine those interests, but struggled for some time to figure out how. As I worked on my dissertation, I began to realize that, while many things about archaic and classical Greece and early (pre-220 BC) China were different, they did have an intriguing similarity. Both were politically fragmented regions within which circulated some sense of a shared culture. That first book explored that particular connection, but led me to think about how those kinds of structural similarities between literatures might be discussed in a more general way.

RC: Can you explain why you chose to structure the investigation here with an ecological framework?

AB: We’re very used to thinking about modes of cultural production, circulation, and exchange in terms of economic metaphors. Those metaphors have a real value: cultural recognition, like just about everything else, is in scarce supply, and so the language of markets and economic efficiency has much to teach us about culture.

I thought it might be helpful, however, to consider ecological models as an alternative. Ecology, like economics, deals in how scarce resources get distributed in a given context—but where economic models tend to suggest a single winner, and a single winning strategy, ecology suggests that there can be multiple strategies for surviving in different niches.

I think this is a particularly important point in today’s world. The power of English and of the English-language publishing industry worldwide makes translation, especially into English, into the most lucrative form of literary success—but in fact writers can and do thrive through other strategies, including by writing work designed for their own local context. Further, we need to recognize that the ecologies within which literatures operated in the past were different, operating for example under court patronage or with other kinds of relationships to the political and social order.

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Our January 2016 Issue is Live!

Blog editors Allegra Rosenbaum, Patty Nash, and Ryan Mihaly share their favorites from our glittering 2016 issue

It’s that quarterly, magical time of year again, guys: Asymptote is loud and proud with a stellar January issue. And this is not just any issue—it’s our fifth anniversary issue, “Eternal Return,” and that means Asymptote is practically old enough to head off to kindergarten and start finger-painting and writing poetry (after winning an award a the London Book Fair and becoming a member of the Guardian books network, of course).

It couldn’t be more fitting, then, that this issue features some of our most inventive, thrilling work to date: interviews with Yann Martel and Junot Díaz, a really, really cool experimental translation feature, work and an interview with Caroline Bergvall, and writing from authors that will be sure to capture your literary imagination—like Olga Tocarczuk, who was featured on the blog in a gripping essay by her translator Jennifer Croft—or this fascinating anonymous story called “The Legend of the Dakini Ray of Sunlight (White Tārā),” handily translated from the Mongolian by Ottilie Mulzet. Really, you can’t go wrong, but we can still try to point you toward our favorite issue picks this time around:  READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 4 December 2015: Best-Of Lists Of Best Lists

This week's (and year's!) literary highlights from across the world

Happy Friday, Asymptote friends! The end of the calendar year is nigh, and that means one thing: there are no more new releases (or—there are less of them, as you’ll see in next week’s New in Translation post), and there are a whole lot of year-end lists. Impressively, the New York Times’ famous top 10 includes three whole books (!) in translation (Magda Szabo’s The Door, translated by Len Rix, Elena FerranteThe Story of the Lost Child, translated by Ann Goldstein, and Asne Seierstad’s One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre of Norway, translated by Sarah Death). If you’d like the scope to zoom out a bit, look at the Times’ notable 100 in 2015, thirteen percent of which is composed of literature in translation (given sad stats of the past, this is actually pretty darn good!—though the translation statistics of the past two years, available at Three Percent, make us less giddily optimistic). Finally, take a look at another English-language publication across the pond: the Guardian asks famous writers what their favorite reads of the year proved to beREAD MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “Okinawa, Mon Amour” by Betina González

In Japan everything always happened in reverse: wolves did not eat people, kamikazes were not afraid of death, grumpy people smiled.

It’s #Giving Tuesday! If you’ve enjoyed our Translation Tuesday posts, please consider a $25 donation to our newly launched fundraising drive today! Every little will help us bring you more of what you love.

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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…

New Podcast Episode

In this month’s podcast, storytelling—from the factual to the fractured

In this episode, we look at divergent forms of storytelling in translationfrom the fact-centered world of literary reportage to the poetic proclamations of a third-millennium heart. Beatrice Smigasiewicz brings us coverage from Krakow’s Conrad Festival, where she caught up with one of Poland’s most prominent writers of literary nonfiction, Mariusz Szczygieł, and his award-winning translator, Antonia Lloyd-Jones. They discuss the legacy of 20th century reportage in Polish literature and the power of storytelling in dealing with the country’s wartime experience and postwar Communist era. Katrine Øgaard Jensen presents new translations of poems from Ursula Andkjær Olsen’s Third-Millennium Heart, an explosive collection that pushes story to the limitbreaking every rule of storytelling and yet bringing us a character who feels real. Olsen won the prestigious literary award Montanaprisen in 2013 for the book, excerpted here in its original Danish along with English translations.

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Weekly News Roundup, 20 November 2015: We’ve Got Ted to Thank

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Happy Friday, Asymptote! Do you have Thanksgiving reading? Distract from your family with novels from Korea—here are five Korean-language tomes (in translation) you should read now. Or you could use Jamaican novelist Marlon James’ recent Man Booker win as an opportunity to uncover more about today’s Caribbean writing. Belarusian Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich isn’t widely available in English—yet: three more of her nonfiction works will soon be published through Random House. And if you haven’t by now, you’ve no excuse anymore: check out new Azerbaijani literature through a new, super-easy online portal. READ MORE…

Asymptote Podcast: Home

In this month's podcast, how home is—and isn't—always where the heart is

In this episode, we look at the concept of home; how we shape it and how it shapes us. Yardenne Greenspan takes a look at literature of trauma, bringing us work by two Israeli authors Yonatan Berg and Ron Dahan, who recount the horrors they have seen (and have been a part of) in their country, as well as Yehiel De-Nur better known by his pen name, Ka-Tzetnik 135633, a Holocaust survivor who in bitter detail recounts his time in Auschwitz. What unites these authors is their experience with LSD. Flashbacks to their traumatic experiences directly inform upon their writing and present the reader with a complex portrait of trauma. Daniel Goulden brings us a report from the Brooklyn Book Fair with recordings of Jonathan Lethem, Vivian Gornick, John Leguizamo, Cecily Wong, and Chinelo Okparanta discussing their respective homes and how that informs upon their work.  READ MORE…

Translation as Firework: A Prismatic Rendition of Anna Weidenholzer

"The original is dead. Long live the original."

For my latest event as the Austrian Cultural Forum London’s guest literary curator, I commissioned and curated work for an exhibition presenting multiple translations of a short story by Austrian author Anna Weidenholzer in forms including sound, ceramics, textiles, video, sculpture, photography, text, and even tattoo designs and recipes. A reading and performance event in the ACF’s Salon celebrated and closed the exhibition this week and let the audience all be translators for an evening.

The incredibly affecting short story “Sessel und Sätze” (“Chairs and Sentences”) from Anna Weidenholzer’s collection Der Platz des Hundes (Where the Dog Sits) follows aging school caretaker Ferdinand Felser’s preoccupations with his passive position in the world. Having been mocked as a schoolboy by pupils and teachers for his dialect—and by his parents for trying to change it—Ferdinand is now secretly learning nine languages in his office and is troubled by the climate of xenophobia surrounding him at work, in the news, and among close friends. You can read the story tomorrow on the Asymptote blog.

Posing as a metaphor for the multiplicity of possible translations of any story, the exhibition on display in the ACF’s gallery encouraged the visitor to see how each “translation” altered and added to their reading of the story (which they also read in translation) or how the exhibition could be one multifaceted translation. It considered a translation as a personal reading, extension, destruction or an attempt at honing into an essence of the original text by a “translator,” and also explored the fallibility/adaptability of linguistic translation by further experimenting with alternative translations. READ MORE…

Issue Spotlight: Interviewing Uyghur Poetry Translator Joshua Freeman

"A lot of what's really vibrant and interesting in Uyghur poetry right now is happening primarily on the web, and even on phone messaging apps."

 

Your translation of Merdan Ehet’éli’s poem “Common Night” is Asymptote‘s first piece from the Uyghur. I want to point out two words from the poem: “pig iron” and “hellfruit.” Can you tell us about these words and how you translated them?

The Uyghur word choyun (also chöyün) refers to pig iron or cast iron, and for me it calls to mind something hard and rough. The connotations are much less positive than the words tömür (iron) and polat (steel), both of which are used in Uyghur personal names. In speaking of “a night poured into our spines like pig iron,” Merdan Ehet’éli may be alluding to Tahir Hamut’s well-known poem “Summer Is a Conspiracy,” in which Tahir refers to fear’s “pig iron voice”, which “seeps into the marrow / and hardens.”  READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “Breaking Through the Drum” by Bohumil Hrabal

"and everything suddenly seemed so bizarre I thought my ticket-taker’s demon must have come back to play with my mind."

I never felt better than when I was tearing the stubs off people’s tickets and showing them to their seats. In primary school, I loved to make seating plans for the teacher. Then during the war, a weird thing happened to me. A kind of ticket-taker’s demon lit on my back and right in the middle of the newsreel, when the voice announced that eighty-eight enemy aircrafts had been shot down over Dortmund and only one German plane had gone missing, the perverse little imp whispered something in my ear, and I said in a loud voice: “Aw shucks, it’s bound to turn up again.” My voice sounded like it belonged to somebody else, so I turned up the house lights and ordered the person who’d said it to come forward. The other ushers and I walked through the audience, but no one confessed and so, invoking our official powers—we actually had such powers—I declared that the entire program, including the feature film, was hereby cancelled, the tickets were null and void and, as punishment, everyone had to go home without a refund. READ MORE…

5 Must-Reads from Our October Issue!

The October issue is live—and with so much good content, you might be overwhelmed. Take a deep breath, and dive in:

Hot off the digital presses! Asymptote‘s new October issue is live—and completely, utterly alive and alight with literary voices from around the world. This season’s issue is especially star-studded—featuring star writers like Yves Bonnefoy, Sjón, and Thomas Stangl—but it’s equally stuffed with brilliant, lucid literary voices you simply haven’t heard of . . . yet. That’s where translation (and Asymptote) comes in.

But with so many gems of fiction, poetry, nonfiction, we get it—you might be overwhelmed at the prospect of so. much. reading. So if you’re sneaking a read at work (psst—we won’t tell), here are five quick reads sure to make the time pass more quickly:

1. Roland Glasser on translating Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83, by Roland Glasser

The difficulty of translating is something not only every budding translator but every writer can relate to all too well. The struggle of finding the right word, regardless of the language, is something that Robert Glasser iterates very clearly in the essay. Whether it’s a thin, overworked, minor-miner (known as a biscotte in French slang) or a slim-jim, as Glasser translates it—the right word at the right time can mean a world of difference.

Glasser understands this endeavor, and succeeds at illuminating the translation quagmires in Fiston Mwanza Mujila’s Tram 83. The scenes of “melting-pot” Parisian people, food, and culture flow throughout the piece, juxtaposing the worlds people have left behind with the world of the novel being translated. Reading this piece is a surefire way to get excited, not only about Glasser’s writing, but also his translation of Tram 83, released on September 8th, 2015, by Deep Vellum. —Allegra Rosenbaum, asssistant blog editor READ MORE…

Translating the Literatures of Smaller European Nations

Translators and scholars discuss stereotyping, globalization, and small sales in English-language literary markets.

Last September, three British universities—Bristol, Cardiff and UCL London—launched a two-year-long project on “Translating the Literatures of Smaller European Nations” in partnership with Literature Across Frontiers. The purpose was to “understand better the ways in which, through translation, these literatures endeavour to reach the cultural mainstream.” In addition to scholarly research, the project involves three public workshops and a conference.

The first of these workshops, held in February 2015 in Bath, explored the question of “Who Reads the Literatures of Small Nations and Why?”.  I had the pleasure of attending the second workshop, “Choreography of Translation,” which took place at the British Library in London as part of the European Literature Night in April 2015 (a third and final workshop, on promoting literature in translation, is planned for early 2016). Featuring publishers Vladislav Bajac of Geopoetika in Belgrade, Susan Curtis-Kojakovic, founder of Istros Books, translator (and Asymptote Close Approximations nonfiction judge!) Margaret Jull Costa, and Nicole Witt of the Frankfurt Literary Agency Mertin, the BL event ended up being more panel discussion than workshop, partly because the venue was not particularly conducive to the workshop format.

By contrast, a conference at Bristol University on September 9-10 provided many opportunities for lively discussions. The participants were a perfect mix of literature and translation studies scholars and practising translators from across Europe, covering a range of smaller European literatures from Catalan to Turkish. I’ll try to highlight some of the major issues covered, divided into often overlapping categories.

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