Monthly Archives: January 2015

A Big Thank You From All Of Us At Asymptote!

Your $25,276 will help us fight for world literature another day

We are bowled over! Our crowdfunding campaign just closed on the gorgeous number of  $25,276 and we made our target (just in time!). Thanks to 287 AMAZING donors, we will be able to continue our passionate work in world literature. Thank you, 谢谢, dankjewel!!


Where Are We Going, Where Have We Been?

With 6 hours remaining, we're closing in on the gap with less than $1,000 to go!

In true Asymptote fashion, the script for the following video was written in Berlin and edited and polished in Taipei, Singapore, New York, London, and many other cities. The talking heads were recorded in Ithaca and then edited together in Virginia, all the while being sent all over the globe in various stages of completion so other team members could chime in with their two cents—we could think of no better way to not only explain why we we do what we do, but also to showcase how.

Presenting world literature to a wide audience all over the world is our main goal, but our main strength is our team, which works tirelessly behind the scenes all over the world to showcase that otherwise obscured poet or this overlooked writer in the best possible light and style. Please help us — all 70 of us — keep Asymptote alive beyond January 2015 and for many more years to come by donating to our Indiegogo campaign here.

—Lee Yew Leong, on behalf of the entire Asymptote team


Meeting Our Readers in the Flesh! (Part II/II)

With 12 hours remaining and just $1,480 to go, Rosie Clarke gives us a dispatch from our anniversary event in New York

The theme of our fourth anniversary event in New York was ‘Why Retranslate the Classics?,’ and three leading figures in contemporary translation—Edith Grossman, Susan Bernofsky, and Damion Searls—shared their perspectives with us, speaking eloquently and insightfully on their different approaches to retranslating some of the greatest works in European literature.

Columbia University’s Director of Literary Translation Susan Bernofsky started things off, addressing the topic of retranslation by saying that one should take it on when “you have something to say about a text that hasn’t been said before.” She then recalled the formative experience that inspired her to translate–reading Siddhartha at the age of 14—and how, when returning to Hesse’s novel as a translator, she had been transported back to her younger self, feeling the essence of the text as “a statement and meditation on promise and dreams, and a hope for the future.” Thus, retaining this sense of harmony and balance is crucial to a faithful translation. Later, after giving a beautiful reading of a favorite passage from her own translation of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Bernofsky highlighted the way her translation slowed down the action in order to depict the “dramatic horribleness,” and to be as “gruesome as possible.” Despite this, she described her fondness for Kafka’s “bittersweet comedy,” and the importance of translation to capturing Gregor’s melodramatic nature.


Meeting Our Readers in the Flesh! (Part I/II)

With 18 hours remaining and a mere $2,843 left to raise before we reach our goal, Ellen Jones gives us a dispatch from our recent anniversary event in London

Being an online journal, we at Asymptote rarely get to meet our readers, or even our colleagues. Living in a large city like London makes it slightly easier—I’m lucky to have four or five other contributors and editors currently based here, all of whom have wide networks within magazine publishing, translation and the wider literary world. But nevertheless, the opportunity to have so many Asymptote enthusiasts in one room is a rare privilege.

Our reasons for hosting anniversary events each year are the same reasons why we continue to publish the magazine for free every quarter: our aim is to spur the transmission of literature to and from all corners of the world; to counter a lack of diversity in literature, and promote a global conversation.

This year’s London event went a long way to help us achieve those aims. For the second year running, the Free Word Centre in Farringdon generously hosted our celebration, and we were pleased to see a full house despite the cold weather. Stefan Tobler, translator from Portuguese and German as well as Founder of And Other Stories—a young publishing house with a majority of translated titles—kindly agreed to chair the evening’s discussion. He was joined by Adam Thirlwell, twice one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists; Daniel Hahn, a writer, editor and translator (from Portuguese, Spanish and French) with over forty books to his name; and Deborah Smith, translator from Korean, who is setting up a non-profit publishing company to promote titles originally written in Asian and African languages.

The model for the evening’s discussion was that each speaker would “praise” a favourite translated book, reading from it and explaining their admiration. These books were not the speakers’ own, nor were they even from a language they could read. This, I believe, is Asymptote’s forte: encouraging people to think and talk about books they would probably never have come across before.


Our 48hr Liveblogging Continues With Hungary EaL Ágnes Orzóy!

230 donors have now stepped forward. Won't you join them in support of world literature, with just 24 hours and $3,000 to go?

Ágnes Orzóy (editor-at-large, Hungary): Looking to the past: when Borbély’s voice was recorded for the July 2013 issue of Asymptote, we couldn’t know that the 50-year-old poet would be dead within a few months. Except that the demons of death had been hovering around him for a long time—as Gábor Schein put it so eloquently in his obituary on Asymptote blog. Readers may get a glimpse into the unique world of Borbély (whose oeuvre was just beginning to be appreciated outside Hungary when he committed suicide) from an interview in our forthcoming January issue. There are not many interviews in which the gory details of a brutal murder stand together with well-reasoned and sensitive ideas on evil and the human condition, as well as on how ancient literary traditions may become proper vehicles for the account of modern experience.

And looking forward: The Stuffed Barbarian by Gergely Péterfy was hailed by critics and readers alike as the best Hungarian novel of 2014. Told by the wife of Ferenc Kazinczy, the leading figure of the Hungarian-language reform of the 18th century, the novel is centered around the figure of Angelo Soliman, a black slave who rose to become a prominent member of Viennese society. An extremely erudite person and a high-ranking freemason, Soliman was skinned and stuffed after his death and exhibited in a museum. The motifs of Kazinczy’s own story are echoed in that of his friend Soliman: both strived to transcend their circumstances by adhering to high ideals, and both failed because, no matter what they achieved, they always remained strangers and outcasts. A fascinating and well-crafted story, Péterfy’s novel sheds a new light on some of the harrowing dilemmas and suppressed conflicts at the root of modern Western civilization.

So that we can continue beyond our January 2015 issue and introduce Gergely Péterfy and other Hungarian writers in our pages one day, please consider joining 230 donors in support of our Indiegogo campaign now! With 24 hours left to close the remaining gap of $3,000, the situation is urgent. Thank you so much!

Unveiling Our Winter 2015 Issue Video Trailer!

Get excited for Friday with this high-octane sneak peek at our 4th Anniversary issue, out January 30!

From the sparkly trailers for previous issues that you’ll find below to our beautifully designed website, with its gorgeous illustrations and immersive slideshows of visual art, Asymptote is committed to presenting and promoting its writers and artists in great style. If you like what we do, please consider donating to our campaign—only 30 more hours to go!


Our 48hr Liveblogging Continues With Cuba EaL Ezio Neyra

Getting closer and closer...with just 36 hours and less than $4,000 to go!

Ezio Neyra (editor-at-large, Cuba): Reina María Rodríguez—whose brilliant work was featured in our April 2011 issue—is a Cuban poet, narrator and editor who, although well known and recognized within Cuban (literary) territory, is only just beginning to gain an international audience. Thanks in part to receiving the Premio Iberoamericano de Poesía Pablo Neruda—one of the most important literary prizes in the Spanish language—as well as to the exposure afforded by Asymptote‘s own international reach, Rodríguez’s sensitivity, which frequently focuses on the Centro Habana area where she lives, is now reaching readers all around the world.


Our 48hr Liveblogging Continues With Romanian EaL MARGENTO

We now have 42hrs left to raise $7,669 and hit our goal! Please keep your fingers crossed for it to happen.

MARGENTO (editor-at-large, Romania): Eutychia,” from our July 2012 issue, has been identified by Simona Popescu—poet, critic, and the foremost authority on Romanian poet Gellu Naum’s (1915 – 2001) work and life—as the Naumian poem par excellence, not in the sense that the rest of his huge oeuvre is contained in it, but because it stands out as one of the most comprehensive and emblematic expressions of the poet’s creed and poetics. And, more importantly, it highlights the unmistakable way in which his work was not only an art but a mode of existence.

A visionary, a great shaman—le grand chaman de Roumanie, as a French critic once called him—whose poems have always worked as Pythic oracles, Naum was also an incredibly shrewd and inclusive craftsman. The very personable and humorously playful person that he was in everyday life was the same as the artist who integrated biographical details, political critique, and popular culture (along with erudite and alchemically-oneiric intertexts) into his mesmerizing rhythms, expansive diction, and enthralling imagery. Although—or rather particularly because—he was a true poeta vates, a poet-prophet, he did not look down on the trivialities of common existence. His corrosive ironies never settled upon postmodern detachment, and, instead of rendering the verse flat, his absorption of the ‘insignificant’ actually turned the everyday into something magical, miraculous, and overwhelming.


Our 48hr Liveblogging Begins NOW!

We now have 48hrs left to raise $7,799 and hit our goal! Please keep your fingers crossed for it to happen. First up, let's hear from Mexico editor-at-large, Sophie Hughes.


Sophie Hughes (editor-at-large, Mexico): The grim truth is that most auto-fiction written by contemporary writers who have grown up and live in Mexico is likely to disturb international readers who haven’t themselves experienced endemic violence at a local level. But Julián Herbert’s Tomb Song (a remembered and fictionalized account of his childhood spent drifting through Mexico with his prostitute mother), excerpted in our 2014 Latin American special feature, possesses a warmth, wicked sense of humour and acuity which rightly upends the reductive association of narcolit with purely harrowing-lit.


How Asymptote Can Teach You

Teachers of literature, culture and writing: rejoice! Asymptote will soon offer free lesson plans

“If there were any journal that should have an educational branch, Asymptote would be it.”

So said a fellow poet, teacher, editor and friend, when I mentioned that we at Asymptote are launching an online bank of teaching plans and materials. For anyone to use, for free.

Why Asymptote? Because of its quality, depth, and range. As a truly global literary journal—we’ve featured work from 95 countries and 67 languages, at last count—that also publishes writing of many genres, Asymptote is already a veritable goldmine for teachers of literature. World literature (not to mention translation, creative writing, composition, cultural studies, and multimedia). Online, at no cost, students and teachers can read (and often listen) to both the original work and the translation, then explore links about the writer/translator(s) and their work.

Now, it’s even easier. Members of the Asymptote educational team (themselves teachers and professors) have compiled themed ‘units,’ complete with readings and assignments. Designed with both high school and post-secondary students in mind, these resources can easily be adapted to the needs of each classroom and instructor. Writing prompts, discussion questions, and small group activities are meant to stimulate discussion and debate by comparing and contrasting readings, questioning their place in global contexts, and recognizing the role of language and translation throughout.


The Men in My Life

A dispatch from our "Writers on Writers" editor Luisa Zielinski

One sad summer—possibly in 2010—I came across Vivian Gornick’s The Men in my Life. The book’s premise is simple. Gornick’s essays, written with characteristic clarity and poise, profile writers such as such as H.G. Wells, Loren Eiseley, and James Baldwin. From works and lives so very diverse, Gornick discerns one common thread: loathing, especially of the self, was often a potent inspiration. Loneliness, too.

The book’s title is less playful—and more literal—than one might think. Gornick’s men here are not just any men, nor just any literary men. They are, indeed, the men in her life. Each of her essays resounds as a conversation between two minds; the kind of conversation that doesn’t so much blur the distinction between life and letters as it nullifies the need for it. The book, for me, sparked a lasting fascination with essays by writers on writers—the very best of which open up the conversation to a third party, a sort of kindly voyeur: the reader.

And then a friend introduced me to Asymptote, an online journal with a whole section devoted to precisely that format. What better way to introduce writers little known in the Anglophone world than through the unique voice of another? However intimate the relationship between a writer and their mentor, colleague, rival, or translator, and however close or far apart they may be in age or geography—publishing these essays in English exposes these networks of admiration and craft, revealing tantalizing lines of further inquiry and further reading.  READ MORE…

A Weekend Treat

Start your weekend right by grabbing these new perks! Hurry, as there are very limited copies available!

Reif Larsen, author of the New York Times best-selling The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet and frequent contributor, made us the following brilliant lighthouse-themed video in support of our fundraiser. It’s a scream, really.  After getting your fill of laughs, head over to our Indiegogo campaign to check out the newest perks that have been created just in time for the weekend! Yes, it’s true! We’re giving away the very latest titles by our illustrious supporters—other than Reif Larsen, Adam Thirlwell and Deborah Smith, who recently  joined us in London for our anniversary event (photos already up here), are also lending a hand. Our Singaporean editor-in-chief couldn’t resist creating the perk “Gateway to Singapore Lit!” comprising a pair of the latest titles by two of the best Singaporean writers today: Desmond Kon and Christine Chia. These books are specially autographed for the campaign; in fact, some are personalized even further—e.g., Reif has said he will even create diagrams for 10 lucky donors! Hurry, as there are limited copies!

blogat2 READ MORE…

Why Asymptote Matters Today

Every time a new journal or small press launches, it is a major event for literature; every time one closes, it is a disaster.

It is a rare person who will affirm that things in English-language publishing are exactly as they should be. The #readwomen 2014 campaign emphasized the scandalous gender bias in publishing, promotion, and reviewing; the translation database at Three Percent tracks abysmal figures for foreign fiction in translation; and anecdotally, anyone who has dealt with large publishers cannot help but lose heart at their willingness to lose millions on lavish advances for famous has-beens while refusing the relatively minor risk of publishing foreign writers of great stature.

The situation is hardly better with journals and magazines. While a cornucopia of poorly funded, university-based journals offers prospective writers and translators next-to-no visibility, more famous outlets, many of which state in their masthead a willingness to publish the new, the daring, and the uncategorizable, go on cranking out one mind-numbing workshop story after another. Then, up in the ether, are the Atlantic, the New Yorker, the Paris Review, and their ilk, at the gates of which the translator clamors like poor K. before the portal of Kafka’s castle.     READ MORE…

Spotlight on Asymptote’s Partner: Hong Kong’s Fleurs des Lettres

Testimonials from Asymptote's global literary partnership in Hong Kong, with journal "Fleurs des Lettres"

One thing that Asymptote certainly delivers is fresh literature. That is, we don’t just sit back and wait for submissions to ping! in our inbox, and make do with whatever we get. In fact, submissions—which we do take seriously, with five dedicated slushpile readers sifting through works that come in over the transom throughout the year—probably make up less than 20% of our published content, if we go by wordcount. Some sections, such as Drama, Interviews, Visual, Criticism, Writers on Writers are heavily commissioned/solicited sections. These need very resourceful/persistent section editors, who can convert the most tenuous of leads into actual contributions. An entire blog post or probably even a book could be written about how we wooed author X or publisher Y or translator Z or guest artist A to come on board.

Even with very resourceful section editors, however, given our mission of diversity, no one editor can cover his or her section for too long and still do his or her job well. That’s where our supporting cast comes in:  we have a jet-setting commissioning editor who is able to network on our behalf at writers’ festivals, we have contributing editors to pitch and contribute content, and as mentioned previously, we have an assistant editor researching hitherto unpublished languages, as well as editors-at-large with their fingers on the pulse of their regions’  literary scenes. Today we’ll talk about one facet of editorial work undertaken by editors-at-large that few of our readers may be privy to: journal partnerships.

It makes sense to partner with journals because as the first gatekeepers of literature everywhere, journals publish the freshest and most cutting-edge literature being produced in its region. As for how the partnership works: we take an article or a set of articles from a foreign language (i.e. non English-language) print journal and translate it into English to present in our quarterly issues. In return, the foreign language print journal then takes an article that we have published and commissions a translation of that article to be presented in its pages. All rights are cleared with the author of the article before proceeding. This is a model that stimulates the transmission of literature (in both languages) and benefits magazines, readers, authors, and translators alike.

A list of our journal partners to date can be found on our map here—two more slated for 2015 are Steaua in Romania and Writer in Thailand—but today we’ll only feature testimonials that shed light on one journal partner, the very stylish 《字花》from Hong Kong (also Fleurs des Lettres).

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief