Announcing the Winter 2018 Issue of Asymptote

Celebrate our 7th anniversary with this new issue, gathering never-before-published work from 30 countries!

We interrupt our regular programming to announce the launch of Asymptote‘s Winter 2018 issue! Here’s a tour of some of the outstanding new work from 30 different countries, which we’ve gathered under the theme of “A Different Light”:

In “Aeschylus, the Lost,” Albania’s Ismail Kadare imagines a “murky light” filtering through oiled window paper in the ancient workroom of the father of Greek tragedy. A conversation with acclaimed translator Daniel Mendelsohn reveals the “Homeric funneling” behind his latest memoir. Polish author Marta Zelwan headlines our Microfiction Special Feature, where meaning gleams through the veil of allegory. Light glows ever brighter in poet Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s “syntactically frenetic” “Arachnid Sun”; and in Erika Kobayashi’s fiction, nuclear devastation blazes from Hiroshima to Fukushima.

The light around us is sometimes blinding, sometimes dim, “like a dream glimpsed through a glass that’s too thick,” as Argentine writer Roberto Arlt puts it, channeling Paul to the Corinthians in The Manufacturer of Ghosts. Something dreamlike indeed shines in César Moro’s Equestrian Turtle, where “the dawn emerges from your lips,” and, as if in echo, Mexican writer Hubert Matiúwàa prophecies for his people’s children “a house made of dawn.” With Matiúwàa’s Mè’phàà and our first works from Amharic and Montenegrin, we’ve now published translations from exactly 100 languages!

We hope you enjoy reading this milestone issue as much as everyone at Asymptote enjoyed putting it together. If you want to see us carry on for years to come, consider becoming a masthead member or a sustaining member today. Spread the word far and wide!

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An Inventory of Resistance: Notes on Catalan Language Politics in Literature

Perhaps part of the uniqueness of Catalan comes from this awareness of its influence on and disconnection from Castilian and European traditions.

Part I: The Nineteenth Century

At first, I was hesitant to write an article on the uses of the Catalan language in literature throughout recent history. After the referendum for Catalan independence held this past October 1, which was deemed illegal by the Spanish government, and the subsequent episodes of violence that occurred in the region, the topic has come to be a sensitive matter for any national. However, where there is a language, there is a literature, and the history of Catalan is one of stubborn resistance. It is my contention that the history of a language is somehow lived out in those who speak it, insofar as a sentiment of ambiguity still informs contemporary critical debates on the usefulness and adaptability of Catalan literature. “Is Catalan literature diverse enough? Can it cultivate all genres? Is it economically viable?” are questions that have resonated among critics and the public alike. Catalan literature inherits a sense of shame from its own fruition, and it is this feeling that I want to explore with this genealogy of usages.

This is not a history of Catalan literature and the texts featured here have not been selected according to an aesthetic canon. This is an archive of perceptions of Catalan language and literature as experienced throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, from the literary resurgence known as La Renaixença in Catalan literary history (parallel to which political Catalan nationalism as we know it unfolds) to the relatively normalized literary field in existence today. While certainly not the only appropriate approach, in what follows I present a succession of events from the nineteenth century that Catalan historiography has employed to explain the evolution of the uses of the language.

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Translation Tuesday: “I’m Scared of Those Dots” by Mirka Szychowiak

Somebody said that the healthiest ones die most easily.

Today’s Translation Tuesday comes from the Polish writer Mirka Szychowiak. “I’m Scared of Those Dots” is a haunting ellipsis of a story, concealing just as much as it reveals.

I came earlier today, let’s spend as much time together as we can, let’s enjoy each other’s company, stock up on it. As usual, we won’t be able to answer the same questions, but they will be asked nonetheless.

Zbyszek, who pushed you out of that dirty train? Your bloody blonde mop on the tracks, it still hurts. Who did it to us? How are you, Basia, do tell. What’s up? You were the fastest among us, made us so proud. Somebody said that the healthiest ones die most easily. You didn’t want to be an exception, did you? You passed away at a faster pace than when you broke the 100-metre record. Rysiu, your last letter made us angry. You better all come, you wrote. Your life with us was filled with laughter, but you were alone when you shot yourself for some strange girl. We were furious, but almost all of us did come. Almost, because Bolek had left by then, as was his custom, quietly. He fell over and that was it. Two hours after his death, he became a father. Both prematurely. Youth gave us no guarantees, we understood it early on and only Adam didn’t get it in time—it was the youth, which tore his heart apart, like a bullet. It was so literal it stripped him of all romanticism. It poured out of him, ripped him inside and that was it. Later it was Bożenka and Janusz. The two of them and the carbon monoxide from the stove. A potted fern—a nameday present—withered and then somebody called to say that there were less of us yet again.

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In Conversation: Daniella Gitlin on translating Rodolfo Walsh’s Operation Massacre

"Walsh is relevant for American readers now, even if they don’t necessarily understand the nitty-gritty of the political situation of his time."

One challenge of translation is finding a text that appeals to an audience separated geographically and culturally from the author. Finding a nonfiction text with that kind of currency is all the more difficult. The translator of nonfiction is faced with a text tied to local events and often steeped in a historical, social, and political context. Why should the average international reader care about nonfiction in translation? Today, Asymptote sits down with Daniella Gitlin, the translator of the famous 1957 Argentinian reported novel, Rodolfo Walsh’s Operación Masacre (Operation Massacre), previously excerpted in our Summer 2013 issue, to discuss her encounters with a masterpiece of nonfiction and outline the urgent relevance of a text six decades old. 

Lara Norgaard (LN): Tell me a bit about how you came to translate Operation Massacre.

Daniella Gitlin (DG): I spent the year after college in Buenos Aires working for a nonprofit, Poder Ciudadano, with a Princeton in Latin America Fellowship. I was back in Argentina for a visit and told my friends there that I was applying for the nonfiction writing program at Columbia. Before I left, my friend Dante gave me a copy of Operación Masacre with a dedication in it. He wrote, “Dani my dear, a little ‘Argentinian nonfiction’ will do you good. I hope you like it.” I took the book back with me. I had heard of Walsh, but I didn’t really know anything about him.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The first dispatches of 2018 bring us the literary news from Albania, Argentina, and the U.K.

As the new year gets underway, we are back with more literary news from all over the world. Barbara Halla updates us on the progress of the National Library in Albania. We learn about events in the Argentinian literary scene from Sarah Moses. Finally, Alice Fischer shares several articles highlighting the best books of 2017 and updates us about a new literary agency in the UK.

Barbara Halla, Editor-at-Large for Albania:

2017 proved a difficult year for the field of Albanian studies: Prominent Albanologist Robert Elsie passed away in October 2017. Elsie left behind a vast bibliography on Albanian history and language, not to mention hundreds of English translations spanning centuries of Albanian literature, all available for free on a dedicated website. Despite the loss, some good news awaits his fans and researchers in this field. I.B. Tauris, an independent publishing house based in London, will issue in early 2018 two of Elsie’s never-before-published works: “Albanian Bektashis” and “The Book of Kosovo.” No definitive publication date is available yet, but interested readers can find many of Elsie’s previous books for sale on I.B. Tauris’s catalogue. Updates on the upcoming publications will be published on Elsie’s personal page, now maintained by his life-partner, Stephan Trieweiler.

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Asymptote Book Club: An Interview with Chris Andrews, Translator of The Lime Tree

Style seems to give Aira direct access to a past that hasn’t passed.

We begin a new series of monthly interviews for the Asymptote Book Club with a conversation between Asymptote Assistant Editor Lizzie Buehler and Chris Andrews, translator of César Aira’s The Lime Tree. For more about this sparkling novel, check out Emma Holland’s December review.

Josh Honn, reviewing an earlier Aira novel, suggested that Aira moves forward in straight lines only in “an attempt to make the line come back upon itself.” In the interview that follows, Chris Andrews discusses Aira’s “sinuous” writing technique, The Lime Tree’s links with Proust, and the way the novel depicts everyday racism in Perón-era Argentina.

Lizzie Buehler (LB): Tell us a little bit about how you came to translate The Lime Tree. How did the novel’s intensely self-reflective nature affect your process of translation?

Chris Andrews (CA): I read The Lime Tree (or The Linden Tree as it will be in the US edition) when it first came out in Spanish in 2003, and it has been one of my favourite Aira books since then. So I was very pleased to get the chance to translate it.

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Tracing Szilárd Borbély’s Poetry in The Dispossessed

To lay bare the inarticulate self as it is thrown into the violent mould of the world—and to uphold the captured encounter without commentary.

Because language is like night-time. Moist,
an indecipherable series of grunts. Pure dread, and
inchoate visceral shrieking. It is inhuman.

from “On the wings of freedom”

The Dispossessed, Szilárd Borbély’s first novel, was published in Hungary in 2013, just a year before he took his own life. Its reception was exalted, the scope of its success overwhelming and somewhat unexpected. Until then, Borbély had been primarily known as a poet, whose voice stood starkly apart from the literary mainstream’s travesties, veneration of subjectivity, and l’art pour l’art games with language. Instead, Borbély reached back to Baroque liturgical forms, motives of Hasidic folklore, and he crafted a depersonalised voice so as to hone in on the roots of the self: the stuttering of fear, grief, hope. In other words, he fused the interpersonal and the formalised with barely articulate and verbal intimacy. The relationship between language and the body was at the heart of this fusion: he wrote about the physicality of speech, the sequence of ageing that connects birth and death, about the immediacy of sensory life and the brutality of this immediacy.

This poetic voice was not simply an aesthetic choice for him. Rather, it stemmed from a realisation that the world is fundamentally different from “the language we live by” and that much of it “cannot even be expressed as questions, or formulated as problems.”[1] For him, the world existed in a rawness that defied legal and moral constructs, be they about human rights or divine redemption. It defied the very rules of language. Crime—raw and immediate—is only arbitrarily linked to punishment, and only when it is too late. Law alone could never prevent the killer from entering the room. Imre Kertész—the Holocaust survivor novelist who won Hungary’s only Nobel in literature—saw no reason not to expect that you can be shot anytime, anywhere. Similarly, Borbély was acutely aware of how thin the coat of law was and how in vain it existed in the face of brutality, especially after the house-break that led to his mother’s homicide.

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Translation Tuesday: “The Future Perfect” by Paolo Zardi

You are sitting up straight, and don’t know that in less than a minute you are going to die.

The narrator of “The Future Perfect” is riding the bus, listening to the Beatles on an iPod, when a tragic accident occurs on the street outside. Paolo Zardi doesn’t tell us which album it is, but perhaps we can speculate that it is Sgt. Pepper. As a shattering portrait of parental loss and a terrifying vision of the randomness and finality of death, Zardi’s story recalls the songs “She’s Leaving Home” and “A Day in the Life,” respectively. Like those songs, the reverberations of “The Future Perfect” stay with us long after the final line.

I’m sitting on a plastic chair on the number 7 bus, on Corso Stati Uniti, heading towards the station, laptop case in hand, and a sense of satisfaction for the great deal I just closed. You are riding a scooter, an Aprilia SR, with a black leg cover over your legs, a bunny-eared helmet on your head, and a windshield to protect you from the rain. You are sitting up straight, a common female stance, and don’t know that in less than a minute you are going to die. Opposite me, there is a woman who is the carbon copy of a girl who was in elementary school with me, but ten years older; you, in the meantime, drive up alongside the huge window where I’m watching Padua’s drenched industrial area flash by—I can also see a Seat León waiting to exit a side road, five hundred meters ahead of us—and I smile when I see the huge bright “Serramenti Cacco” sign; then, I look down at you, but the visor of your helmet is dark, and I can’t see the lines of your face. You continue driving in your lane, next to us, under a trickle of rain, while on the bus a black kid offers his seat to a man who had no idea he was that old. We will pass you soon, and you, trailing behind us, will crash into the front of a car that will not have yielded the right-of-way; we will only hear the muffled sound of sheet metal buckling, and we will ask ourselves what the noise was; someone will say it was two cars crashing; someone else will add, in the dialect of Padua, “That was some crash!” and then we will all go back to reading our books, to listening to the Beatles on our iPods, to asking ourselves why we hadn’t noticed we had aged. While your mother is preparing the pasta for dinner, a doctor will be trying to reanimate you, pressing his hands down on your chest 103 times a minute, the time it takes to cook the Barilla farfalle noodles; they will be throwing in the towel just as your mother is draining the pasta and is starting to ask herself why you are so late. At eight thirty, sweaty-palmed, she will call you on your cell phone, and on the other end a man will sit down and wait for it to ring just once more, just one more time before working up the courage to answer and explain to the person who brought you into this world what has happened to you; and on this side of the world your mother will slip to the ground and will scream, without understanding, “Oh God, oh my God!” Your father will get up off his armchair, where he had started watching the news of Obama’s victory on channel 2 and, heavy-hearted, he will go to the kitchen; and when he sees his wife sitting on the floor, he will understand everything, immediately; then he will kneel next to the woman he has always loved, and he will hold her as if she were made of fine glass, and, incredulous, they will cry, together; your mother will remember the day she gave birth to you and your father the first time you told him you loved him. Then, in time, your room will become a shrine and your things small relics; your mother will spend her next years listening to your CDs, stuck forever in 2009, hugging the first teddy bear she ever bought for you; your father will slip into a silence that is more and more dismal. But in the meantime, we, the passengers on the bus, will have already arrived home: when your mother was dialing the phone, I had already eaten dinner; when she slipped to the floor, I had finished brushing my teeth; when your parents were driving to the hospital, accompanied only by the sound of their sobs, I was finishing the book on my night stand. And while they were identifying your face, disfigured by death, I had just closed my eyes, thanking the Lord for such a beautiful day.

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What’s New in Translation: January 2018

The new year kicks off with new releases from Japan, Germany, and Italy.

Every month, our staff members pick three notable new releases in world literature to review. The first month of 2018 brings us short fiction from Japan and novels from Germany and Italy.

bear and the paving stone

The Bear and the Paving Stone by Toshiyuki Horie, translated from the Japanese by Geraint Howells, Pushkin Press

Reviewed by Theophilus Kwek, Editor-at-Large for Singapore

Mention ‘contemporary Japanese fiction’ to the average reader and bestselling names like Haruki Murakami, Ruth Ozeki, and Keigo Higashino might come to mind; or indeed last year’s Nobel laureate, the British novelist Kazuo Ishiguro. From that perspective, at least, Toshiyuki Horie can be considered one of the modern Japanese canon’s best-kept secrets, happily resurfaced for an Anglophone audience by the ever-intrepid Pushkin Press. A critic, translator, and professor of literature, Horie has garnered numerous accolades for his fiction and essays, and is also—as the three novellas collected here reveal—a masterly prose stylist, a ruthlessly effective narrator, and a seasoned traveller between the real and imagined geographies of experience and history, dream and memoir, and past and present.

The first and longest section of the volume contains Horie’s novella “The Bear and the Paving Stone,” which won the Akutagawa Prize in 2001, and lends this volume its title. The tale opens in a strange, allegorical dream-sequence that ends just as abruptly when the narrator wakes, alone, in a rural farmhouse in Normandy. Drawing on Horie’s own time as a graduate student at the Sorbonne, the story unfolds with exquisite pacing into a long-awaited reunion between two unlikely college pals: the narrator (then a student from Japan, now a professional translator) and Yann, a free-spirited, petánque-playing photographer. As they embark on a breakneck drive to see the sun set over Mont St Michel from Yann’s favourite spot on the coast, we are plunged as if into another dream: this time, comprising the layered narratives of French intellectual history, the Holocaust and its aftershocks, and a post-modern, international friendship. Ghostly historical figures such as Émile Littré, Jorge Semprún, and Bruno Bettelheim haunt these pages with a sense of driving, almost teleological purpose, but the two friends’ conversation somehow remains light, and movingly human, throughout.

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2018: A Year of Reading Adventurously

In 2018, I’ll be making an effort to trace my inheritance as an Anglophone, Southeast Asian poet of faith and colour.

After the recently concluded blog series in which we looked back on 2017’s literary discoveries, we bring you our New Year’s reading resolutions.

Chris Power, Assistant Editor:

I work in French and German, so I’ll start with my French literary resolutions: I’m reading Marx et la poupée (Marx and the Doll) by Maryam Madjidi with my friend and former French professor, the psychoanalytic literary theorist Jerry Aline Flieger. Excerpts of the novel of course appear in our current issue. If it isn’t my favorite work we’ve published, then it stands out for being the one that overwhelmed my critical faculties. I couldn’t write about it in the disinterested manner that I prefer. Instead I wrote a confused, gushing blurb listing my favorite scenes and describing how it brought tears to my eyes. An emphatic “yes” was all I could muster. Next on my list is Réparer le monde (Repair the World) by Alexandre Gefen, to which Laurent Demanze dedicated a beautiful essay in Diacritik in late November. I’m looking forward not only to an insightful survey of contemporary French literature, but also to a provocative anti-theoretical turn in the history of literary theory, namely a theory of the utility of literature (to repair the world) which cites pragmatist philosophers like John Dewey. Gefen introduces this theory enticingly through a reading of Barthes in his lecture “A quoi bon ? Les pouvoirs de la littérature (La tentation de l’écriture)” / “What’s the use? The powers of literature (the temptation of writing)” which is available online, but I must admit that I’m reminded of a Baudelaire quote dear to me: “Être un homme utile m’a toujours paru quelque chose de bien hideux.” (“To be a useful man has always appeared to me to be particularly hideous.”) In 2018 I’ll also continue exploring the work of Sarah Kofman, who seems to me to be a diamond in the rough of historical amnesia and a potential dissertation topic. She’s exactly the kind of Nietzschean, Parisian philosopher-poet of the 1960s who worked at the intersection of philosophy and art that we’ve grown so comfortable labelling a “theorist,” but she hasn’t (yet) acquired the cult following of her dissertation advisor Gilles Deleuze or colleague Jacques Derrida.

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A Counter-Interview with Heriberto Yépez

A (counter)interview is closer to an audacious conversation in which words are thrown like knives at a spinning reader.

I am not experimental

By Will.

English is not my mother

I cannot be but experimental

Inside Empire.

— “2001”

If an interview is a polite conversation wherein the interviewer thoughtfully poses questions and the interviewee eagerly answers, not unlike a racquet sports match, a (counter)interview is closer to an audacious conversation in which words are thrown like knives at a spinning reader.

A regular interview won’t do, especially if the knife-thrower is none other than Heriberto Yépez. Yes, his name is struck out, indicating recently deleted information, in this case, traditional authorship.

pez was born in Tijuana, the world’s busiest land border crossing, in 1974. During his teens, he worked in a maquiladora and later studied under German philosopher Horst Matthai Quelle. Since the early 90s, pez has been on the frontline of experimental writing and radical politics on both sides of the border.

His ruthless criticism has brought him admirers and detractors in English and Spanish. Controversies include the Olson Affair, in which Il Gruppo (Benjamin Hollander, Amiel Alcalay, et. al.) accused him of deliberately misreading Charles Olson in The Empire of Neomemory (ChainLinks, 2013), and regular Twitter-based confrontation with members of the American and Mexican cultural establishments.

When his weekly column of cultural journalism, Archivo Hache, was shut down, he finished off by saying: “I was critical in all directions. If I did not critique someone, I apologize for the oversight.” Ever since, Heriberto has favored blogs, social media, and other alternative options to traditional publishing. Last year, he worked on Mexiconceptual, a month-long project that involved him posting a different poem reflecting on the museum as an institution every day on a website. The texts would disappear 24 hours after being displayed and could only be read afterward through links shared on social media. It is now available in book form.

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Roberto Piva, a Living Library

When a library such as Roberto Piva’s is reborn—especially through each reader bringing his legacy to the present—, a shaman is reborn with it.

It’s four in the afternoon and I step out to walk through the streets of downtown São Paulo, looking for what is left of a city I have not actually experienced but have imagined from Roberto Piva’s books. With a sense of nostalgia, I identify mythic street corners, revamped bars, buildings, parks, and statues, but time keeps grinding on and it weighs heavily on the landscape. That boy walking through Praça República, listening to that song “Deu Onda” for the umpteenth time, looks nothing like the kids who wandered around here sixty years ago, always carrying with them a book by Lorca, Artaud, Ginsberg, or Jorge de Lima. In a final, delirious attempt, I pause on a detail of the landscape: I look up, to the top of Edifício Copan, but Polén and Luizinho, spewing all the semen in the universe, aren’t there, either. The little that remains of that nostalgic delirium borne of reading a book may perhaps be found in the place where I’m headed, the second floor of number 108 on Avenida São João: the Roberto Piva Library. There they assemble the books, manuscripts, and other traces of an important poetic oeuvre that is more widely known because of its eccentric author’s cult status than because of a systematic study of his texts.

If we try to insert him in the history of Brazilian poetry beginning in the 1960s, Piva resists, a dissonant voice. But perhaps the silencing of his work ought to be reevaluated. When we read much of the bibliography about the author, we are left with the impression that the reception following the launch of Paranoia turned out to be a fairly isolated case: first, in the 1960s, there was a moralizing silence from critics in which they agreed to read him in direct association with Surrealism. Later, in the 1970s, there was the strange inclusion of his writing in the anthology organized by Heloísa Buarque de Hollanda with twenty-five other poets. In the following decades, there was the “co-optation” of his poetry by homoerotic literature. Finally, he would come to occupy his current position with the launch of his “Collected Works” by Editora Globo, which won over a far wider public and continues to be rediscovered.

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Asymptote Podcast: Favorite Readings of 2017

Start out 2018 right by taking a listen to our favorite readings published over the last year.

One of the most unique features of Asymptote is that, with almost every piece published, a reading in the original language is published along with it. So start out 2018 right by taking a listen to our favorite readings published over the last year. Hear work read by Swedish author Ida Börjel, leading Uyghur poet Tahir Hamut, rising French author Maryam Madjidi, and Syrian poet Omar Youssef Souleimane. Podcast Editor Dominick Boyle puts each piece in context, including a special interview with Hamut’s translator, Joshua Freeman.

 

Music used under a Creative Commons License from the Free Music Archive.

Translation Tuesday: Two poems by Maung Day

Khine Khine Monkfish doesn't like the deaf physicians.

We are back with our first Translation Tuesday of 2018! Today, we showcase two short poems by Burmese writer Maung Day wherein he imagines worlds without mysteries or poets. Enjoy!

Fire Alarms Are Real

All the poets in the world

Will be gone in a day or two

After singing of roses and naked monks.

Then we can start our celebration

With giraffes sitting on top of poles

And people eating curries with green rice

While their souls defecate on their heads.

 

Since when did our gardens become markets

Teeming with walking wardrobes and skeletal birds

Buying music cds from deaf physicians?

Maybe nothing’s too surprising anymore

Now that our place has become a willow tree,

Our houses the innards of a violent vegan,

And our genitals electronic cigarettes.

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