Posts featuring Jorge Luis Borges

Translation Tuesday: “Blind Spot” from Brief Cartography for Places of No Interest by Marcílio França Castro

"We banished from cartography all lions, mermaids, pygmies, and dragons. The sterilization of maps only confirms the disdain we have for nature."

When I first met Marcílio França Castro at a coffee shop in Brazil during the winter of 2016, he showed up toting a bag full of presents for me. When he dumped the bag onto the table, out came books, like he was some sort of combination of Jorge Luis Borges and Santa Claus. What most impressed me was his eagerness to promote Brazilian literature in general; several of the books were from his peers and not just ones he had authored. And perhaps Borges is a good comparison for Marcílio; indeed, his writing is in line with the likes of Borges, Calvino, and Cortázar. Yet he does not simply imagine other worlds, he perceives with brilliance unsuspected oddities in places of absolutely no interest. In his short stories, which range from traditional length to flash fiction, and with a prose that is at once economic and yet never lacking in precision, Marcílio França Castro transforms his culture’s most unsuspecting spaces into fantastic reading. The author and I have worked together in producing translations for many of his stories, overcoming differences in idioms, metaphor, sentence structure and other obstacles found in the passage from Portuguese to English. Most importantly, this project kept the translator sane during the subsequent North Dakotan winter of 2017. 

—Heath Wing. 

The manuals say such devices are made to take anything. Bumps, turbulence, high winds, lightning. Even crashes and hurricanes. It’s said they come out unscathed from the most intemperate of weather. You know the protocols. For every inconvenience there is a plan, an automatic fix. An aircraft like this one, with all its resources, ought to be, according to the manuals, practically uncrashable. That’s why, if it were up to manuals and manufacturers, our role would be merely to maintain course and keep her steady, taking advantage of the dignity of flight and the charm of our profession. And that’s really what we do here, before this gorgeous instrument panel, full of buttons and colorful lights: with the prudence it conveys, we relax and commend our fate and everyone else’s to the invisible wisdom of the display.

Look ahead. The sky’s magnificent, full of stars; someone might say it’s a painting commissioned to decorate the cockpit. A captain, from the moment of departure, always has his beard well-groomed, his uniform impeccable; he pilots the plane with swan-like indifference. That’s how the passengers see you. We fly calmly. The seats are anatomic and dinner well-balanced. An almost anesthetic experience. The Pacific is nothing more than an enormous tapestry of black silk that clips the horizon. We think and act as if the world outside no longer existed, as though the clouds and the ocean below us were but unfailing radar bleeps or a set of geographical coordinates. In truth, as we fly we simply ignore the substance found in Earth’s elements. Try this coffee, it’s wonderful.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Probably the best source of global literary news available.

It’s the official start of Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere and Spring in the South―the beginning of a new season where minor plans and promises are made that we desperately try to be faithful to. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just the temperature that changes. Nonetheless, here at Asymptote we’ll always fulfill our promise of bringing you the latest news from around the globe, just in time for the weekend, with this week’s reports from Argentina, Romania and Moldova, and Taiwan. 

Lara Norgaard, Editor-at-Large, brings us the news from Argentina:

August in Argentina was a month for reading. Buenos Aires celebrated Jorge Luis Borges’ birthday on August 24 by organizing a walking tour tracing Borges’ most notable haunts. The 24th is also the country’s annual Día del Lector, commemorating the renowned writer.

On August 23, the Latin American Art Museum of Buenos Aires (MALBA) hosted a conversation between North American policy analyst David Rieff, and Argentine novelist Luisa Valenzuela on the topic of collective memory. Valenzuela is known for her novels that recall state violence, written during and after Argentina’s brutal last military dictatorship. The topic of historical memory is especially relevant right now as the Argentine public protests the alleged disappearance of indigenous rights activist Santiago Maldonado, who went missing at a protest in Patagonia on August 1.

In the midst of September’s Bienalsur, a major visual art biennale, literary events still abound in Buenos Aires: one upcoming highlight is the celebration of Latin American women writers, El silencio interrumpido, to be hosted at MALBA on September 6. The free event includes speakers such as Argentine novelist Reina Roffé and poet Tamara Kamenszain, as well as Cuban critic José Quiroga.

Such literary events are not limited to the city of Buenos Aires proper. The province of Buenos Aires partnered with cities Lanús and Quilmes on August 26 to host Un día de libros, a wide-ranging event series featuring everything from free lectures on literature to the release of Diez lugares contados, an anthology of stories about life in the province. Between September 18-23, FIDEO (Festival Intergaláctico de Escritores (Oficial)) will take place in San Miguel de Tucumán in northern Argentina. The festival, organized by cultural organization EsCuchara with support from the National University of Tucumán, is a free, open, and experimental space for writers to meet.

Finally, readers across the country celebrate a new translation of Polish author Witold Gombrowicz’s diaries into Spanish. Gombrowicz, who lived in Argentina from 1939-1963, had significant influence on 20th century Argentine literature. Translators Bozena Zaboklicka and Francesc Miravtilles’ rendering of Diario make the author’s personal insights available to the Spanish-speaking world.

MARGENTO, Editor-At-Large, gives us the latest from Romania and Moldova:

The second edition of the Gellu Naum Festival, co-organized by the Romanian Literature Museum and Gellu Naum Foundation on August 4-5, has as its MCs the poet and Naum critical authority Simona Popescu and French-Romanian poet and translator Sebastian Reichmann, and feature over twenty poets (from big names such as Emil Brumaru and Angela Marinescu to rising stars like Asymptote past contributors Emilian Galaicu-Păun and Radu Vancu, and Elena Vlădăreanu) reading to the jazz music performed live by pianist Mircea Tiberian. Naum (1915 – 2001), is an outstanding representative of European surrealism.

Poet and translator Paul Vinicius, this year’s winner of Le Prix du Public du Salon du Livre des Balkans, has announced a forthcoming critical anthology of English-language poetry edited and translated by himself, excerpts of which he has already published in major literary venues, while also editing the collected works of Vintilă Ivănceanu, a foremost representative of the oneiric poetry school who spent most of his life in political exile. Vinicius has also recently started an independent writers association in opposition to the central one (led by Nicolae Manolescu) dating back to communist times and marred by nepotism and abuse.

Iulia Militaru is the Romanian poet invited to read and perform at the Brussels Poetry Festival whose 4th international edition scheduled for Sept 8-10 has as a theme the work of surrealist painter René Magritte and his “La Trahison des Images.” Militaru is also currently writing a series of articles to Arta on censorship in/as literature interspersed with and commenting on illustrative “pop-up pastorals” from past Asymptote (journal and blog) contributor Jennifer Scappettone’s latest collection The Republic of Exit 43.

Claudiu Komartin and his editorial team have launched the 19th issue of Poesis International, the longest running international poetry journal in Romania to date, showcasing Danish, Bulgarian, American (Frank Bidart), Albanian, French, Hebrew, Argentinian (Alejandra Pizarnik)—and much more—poetry in translation alongside Romanian literature in a bulky 236-page issue.

In Moldova, the editors of Metaliteratura journal, Aliona Grati and Nina Corcinschi have just launched an impressive and much awaited Literary Theory Dictionary.

Vivian Szu-Chin Chih, Editor-At-Large, reporting from Taiwan:

Taipei has been welcoming international athletes for the  2017 Summer Universiade since mid-August. The opening ceremony performances featured multifaceted Taiwanese cultures including the aboriginal ones, and the event has attracted more attention from around the globe to the island.

The Taiwanese writer Shu-Hau Liao (廖淑華), whose novellas and essays won several literary awards, published her first collection of novellas, Cotton Milkbush (《唐棉》) in early summer, with the funding from the National Culture and Arts Foundation. From her own life experiences in a small town in Yunlin County of central Taiwan, Cotton Milkbush is a representative of Taiwan’s “town literature” (小鎮文學), in which the writer vividly depicts daily lives of the town people, dialect spoken by these people, as well as the landscapes and architectures of the small town. In a realistic tone, Liao puts more emphasis on her female characters and has carried forward the legacy of Taiwanese town literature.

One of the oldest literary magazines in Taiwan, Wenhsun (《文訊》), has published an excerpt of the novelist Li Yongping’s unfinished wuxia novel, A New Picture of the Swordswoman (《新俠女圖》) in its August issue. The renowned Malaysian-born novelist, professor, and translator, who has lived in Taiwan for decades and retired here, has been composing his first wuxia novel in illness. Wenhsun decided to pay their tribute to the writer with its first-ever double covers, one of which has been dedicated to Li’s long-awaited wuxia novel.

*****

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In Review: Conversations (Volume 3) by Jorge Luis Borges and Osvaldo Ferrari

“Ferrari and I tried to let our words flow through us, perhaps despite ourselves" - Jorge Luis Borges

“What else remains for an 85-year-old to do but repeat himself?” asks Jorge Luis Borges in the first volume of these conversations between the author of Ficciones and the poet and essayist Osvaldo Ferrari. Still playful a mere year before his death in 1986, Borges then offers a sly nod to the listener of these radio dialogues that can now reach English readers: “Or try variations, which comes to the same thing.” Such a remark recalls a classic Borges piece like “The Library of Babel,” with its intricately intertwined ideas of repetition and variation, and in his preface Ferrari even alludes to Borges’ “zenithal perception of everything,” suggesting that the author of  “The Aleph” or “The Zahir” might resemble his own creations. Detecting such subtle intersections between page and personality can certainly serve as one entertaining way into this newly released—and both occasionally and charmingly repetitive—third volume of radio conversations published by Seagull Books. But these pages become truly fascinating as we encounter not one Borges but many: the poet, the critic, the writer of fictions that tend toward the philosophical, and, perhaps most importantly, the attentive reader capable of discovering some delight or insight on every page.

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Borges, the Quixote, and Two Street Markets

The author of "The Antiquarian" tackles Borges, contextual understanding… and the singular joys of book shopping

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.

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The Joys and Dangers of Translating Asian Dictionaries: Part II.

"An encyclopedia already performs one dangerous act of translation: it translates the language of things into that of man."

When last we left off (read part I here!), I was discussing an imagined translation of an ordering system devised by a (fictitious) king of Siam in the mind of the (very real) W. Somerset Maugham. This time, I will jump to a different author.

Jorge Luis Borges, like Maugham, takes us once again to a land East of Eden, more precisely, somewhere East of Suez (where the best is like the worst, where there aren’t no Ten Commandments). In his essay “The Analytical Language of John Wilkins,” Borges introduces us to “a certain Chinese encyclopedia entitled ‘Celestial Empire of Benevolent Knowledge’” that was discussed by one “doctor Franz Kuhn.” Borges writes:

In its remote pages it is written that the animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (l) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off look like flies.

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