Welcome to our mega July issue, tagged: philosophy, happiness, Russian novel, mystery, Chinese reunion, Thai art, New York, Budapest, "meta-text", monks, and the afterlife.
And "Life is so short"—three of the authors we present in this issue died before the age of 35: Tang dynasty courtesan Yu Xuanji, Japanese modernist poet Sagawa Chika, and Taiwanese avant-gardist Lin Yaode(from, variously: capital punishment for murder, stomach cancer, heart attack). "Which of you died in autumn—the most beautiful season of them all?" asks Thai artist Rasdjarmrearnsook, addressing her students in her conceptual video "The Class, Death Seminar." In a similar intervention, Franco Arminio imagines postcards written by those already gone: "Before me, eighty billion people had already died". (Moved, our guest artist, Malaysian-born Sherman Ong, decided to pair the piece with a "postcard" from his grandmother, recently deceased.) Admirers of each other's work when they were alive, Lin Yaode and master of the lyric novel Shen Congwen reunite this issue.
"What does one fear in fearing death?" If you've ever come up short on that question, let Yoshimichi Nakajima, in Asymptote's very first philosophy offering, enlighten you with a Kierkegaardian reading of Adam in the Garden of Eden, via Singaporean Sim Yee Chiang's lucid translation. Sim, an ex-Fukushima resident himself, also translates Akutagawa prize-winning novelist and chief priest of a Fukushima temple Gen'yū Sōkyū for the first time into English in a despatch about the importance of fearing not too much, or too little, but just enough.
Elsewhere, Manit Sriwanichpoom and András Forgách offer other takes on Buddhism—the first, a critique of crass commercialism; the second, a pastiche composed of Zen Buddhist-style anecdotes that veer hilariously off-track. Translator of Forgách Tim Wilkinson also gives us a heroic translation from Bernhard admirer, Gábor Németh—for me the jewel of our Hungarian Fiction Special Feature, for parting the curtain to inner life. Assembling the Feature, I was struck by how often the texts referred to one another: the recurring character in Dezső Kosztolányi's fiction, Kornél Esti, is appropriated without qualm by Péter Esterházy, in Esti, which, like the Németh, also quotes Márai, a towering figure in Hungarian letters. At the other end of the spectrum, I have included what looks to be an exciting first novel in Yvette Bíró's Runner, whose original, released in April of this year, was much praised by Forgách, and which Ivan Sanders generously undertook to translate just for Asymptote. Balazs Gyore's muted and beautiful short fiction, "On the Road," rounds off the Special Feature as well as the entire (non-interview) issue, counterpointing our energetic opener, the truly excellent "Only In New York."
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the extraordinary lineup in our Criticism section this issue. Sven Birkerts's thrilling review of Bolaño's essays is a paean to the current "it" author; in the same category, contributing editor Aamer Hussein reviews two new translations from the Sindhi that question the meaning of home in the face of migration—one by a quitter, the other a stayer. Other articles take on the bigger questions surrounding translation: Azra Raza and Sara Suleri Goodyear's superbly distilled "Ghalib Redux" (illustrated with their own translations of the famous Urdu poet) makes the compelling case that translation is inseparable from the act of interpretation while Daniel Borzutzky challenges the cultural position of self-effacement that the translator traditionally occupies. The last piece is an essay by Adonis arguing that ambiguity in modern Arabic poetry arose as a necessary response to a changing Arab world—it is also the first article in Asymptote originally from the Arabic.
The section with the most number of such first-time appearances is the Poetry section, curated admirably by Aditi Machado. Along with a daring Upaniṣad translation (complete with diagrams!) by acclaimed translator Mani Rao, Poetry gives us our first work from the Urdu(romantic Hijab), the Slovenian(formidable Šalamun), the Yiddish(elegiac Celia Dropkin), and the Vietnamese(soulful Nguyễn Quốc Chánh), all reminding us, in their various ways, that poetry should be—in the words of Massimo Gezzi—like bricks. The translator of the last, Hai-Dang Phan, also gives us a run-down of contemporary Vietnamese poets in an unforgettable (and beautifully illustrated) Writers on Writers Special Feature.
This will be the first issue with new Drama editor Caridad Svich and new Interview editor Nazry Bahrawi on board; with their help, both sections have doubled from the previous. In Drama, we have an Algerian piece set in war time, and a Mexican one in airports—both about insatiable love. In the Interview section, Sun Kyoung Yoon faces off with the witty and very wise Brother Anthony of Taizé; I then conduct an interview with opposition politician Chen Show Mao, who won a watershed victory in Singapore's recent General Elections. Of special note, from the interview he gave on the intersection between language and politics, is his observation about the "whiff of the utilitarian and instrumental" in Singapore's language education, that came out of the country's bilingual language policy, which might explain the wanting reception (both atmospheric and institutional) to literary writers here.
So this will be the last issue that I will be editing out of Singapore, so to speak; my move to Taipei having been finally decided upon three weeks ago. Stay tuned for Asymptote's Special Feature, "The Case For Taiwan," in Jan 2012.
Special Announcement: If you like the cover for the July issue, consider supporting Asymptote by buying a 60cm x 100cm fine art print of the photo used to create it which guest artist Sherman Ong is selling in an edition of five (with one artist proof). A percentage of the proceeds will go to Asymptote. Enquire within here.
Editorial Team for Issue Jul 2011
Lee Yew Leong (Singapore/Taiwan)
Lee Yew Leong (Singapore/Taiwan)
Aditi Machado (India/USA)
Sayuri Okamoto (Japan)
Caridad Svich (USA/UK)
Florian Duijsens (Holland/Germany), Aamer Hussein (Pakistan/UK), and Anthony Luebbert (USA)
Masthead for Issue Jul 2011
Fiction/Criticism/Feature: Lee Yew Leong
Nonfiction/Poetry: Aditi Machado
Drama: Caridad Svich
Visual: Sayuri Okamoto
Interview: Nazry Bahrawi
Photo Illustrations and Cover: Sherman Ong
Design: Lee Yew Leong and fFurious
Legal Counsel: Lindy Poh
Asymptote would like to acknowledge the support and/or contributions of: Balkenende Chew & Chia (Advocates & Solicitors), Sim Yee Chiang, Rikey Cheng, Guo Bingxiu, Judith Sollosy, Tim Wilkinson, Ágnes Orzóy, Ivan Sanders, Nora Bojar, Mary Griffiths, Lin Ting, Huang Yin-Nan, Erika Sigvardsdotter, Leopold Lippert, Sascha Aurora Akhtar, Desmond Kon, Damiano Abeni, Moira Egan, Darryl Jingwen Wee, Francis Li Zhuoxiong, Wong Chee Meng, Deanne Tan, Jeremy Tiang and J. J. Fong.
Thanks go too to Dave Chua and Anonymous for their generous donations.