Section Editors’ Highlights: Winter 2018

Our editors choose their favorites from the Winter 2018 Issue.

Asymptote’s new Winter 2018 issue is replete with spectacular writing. See what our section editors have to say about the pieces closest to their hearts: 

It’s a struggle to pick ​just one poet to highlight from this momentous issue of our journal, but perhaps I will mention the Infrarealist Mexican poet José Vicente Anaya ​whose work Heriberto Yépez described as “revelation, a sacred practice against brainwashing and lobotomy” (source: translator​’s​ note). Much as each poet in this issue and ​the set of circumstances in which they write are distinct, I read all their works as sacred, necessary attempts to counter the forces of obliteration and oblivion against which they—and ​we—strive. In Anaya’s case, a core element of the ritual is híkuri (​”peyote” in ​the ​indigenous language of​ Rarámuri), the ingestion of which makes the speaker spiral, psychedelically, inward and outward​,​ so that nothing is quite separate from everything else. The revelation is this: we’ve overbuilt the world and left ourselves broken. Joshua ​Pollock’s translation recreates the visionary​ spirit​ of the hyperlingual source text to bring us the ferocity of lines such as these:

On Superhighways we hallucinate
in order to carry on living, Victor,
let’s build an anti-neutron bomb
that leaves life standing
demolishing suffocating buildings /
new machines working for everyone
so that time raises us
from joy
to Art
to joy / and
HUMANity governs without government

—Aditi Machado, Poetry Editor

“[there are also] a number of young writers who are emerging, for instance, in the Gambia, who are also catering a lot to the local market. They are to come.” — Tijan M. Sallah at an interview at the Library of Congress, Washington DC, 2012

It is impossible to think of Gambian literature without thinking of the poetry, short stories, and essays of Tijan M. Sallah. Sallah is The Gambia’s most renowned and prolific literary figure, but what makes him most remarkable is his generosity. Sallah, like many of the great Gambian writers before him, balanced his “day job” while continuing his tireless support of other writers and The Gambia’s burgeoning literary scene. For writers such as Lenrie Peters, it was being a medical doctor, while holding literary workshops for aspiring young Gambian writers; for Tijan M. Sallah, it was a successful career as an economist at the World Bank, while continuing to foster community among the Gambian diaspora’s literary voices, his early contributions to the Timbooktoo Bookstore, or even—lucky for us at Asymptote—his willingness to write this essay on some of The Gambia’s emerging poets. Sallah’s essay is both a tribute to the previous wave of Gambian writers and a passing on of the baton to the next generation of poets. In this essay, he spotlights three of the exciting new voices in the Gambian literary landscape today. It’s a must-read from this issue.

—Ah-reum Han, Writers on Writers Editor

This issue’s Drama section features dramatic work from Roberto Arlt in translation by Claire Solomon and Lukas Bärfuss in translation by Neil Blackadder. Both selections are from complex, inventive works of theatre that explore notions of identity, memory, and liminality from intimate perspectives. Both are offered here in supple translations by Solomon and Blackadder, respectively. Pay close attention to the way the linguistic exchanges in these two plays hint at dark secrets and intimate revelations of the heart.

—Caridad Svich, Drama Editor

This issue I’m particularly proud to be publishing Assistant Managing Editor Sam Carter’s joint review of Slum Virgin by Gabriela Cabezón Cámara (translated by Frances Riddle) and The President’s Room by Ricardo Romero (translated by Charlotte Coombe). These two books are some of the very first from Charco Press, a new independent publisher based in Edinburgh that has been making waves with its beautiful editions of new translations from Latin America. In an astute, measured review that reveals his extensive knowledge of Argentine literature and culture, Sam draws out the shared legacy of Julio Cortázar in these two short novels, discussing their preoccupation with space and its inevitable imbrication with the political.

—Ellen Jones, Criticism Editor

“Nonfiction writers always have this terrible problem—sorry, but this is one of my great hobbyhorses!—which is that it’s rare for reviewers to treat nonfiction writers as writers,” memoirist, critic, and classicist Daniel Mendelsohn laments in Asymptote’s winter issue. “Instead you’re always identified with the subject.”

The subject of Mendelsohn’s latest book, An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and An Epic—which graced end-of-year “best of” lists from NPR and LitHub—is his octogenarian, mathematician father’s experience auditing his freshman seminar on The Odyssey at Bard College. But the underlying threads he grapples with in the memoir are more longitudinal in nature, irreducible to the story of Mendelsohn arriving at new interpretations of his father through a close read of Homer’s epic. He canvasses the relationship between identity and narrative, parallelisms between ancient text and contemporary life (how elements of Greek myth subtend the “cultural and mental furniture” of modern consciousness), and the impingement of specific relational dynamics on the process of family epistemology—the ways in which kinship structures prevent us from fully knowing those closest to us. We talk about the plasticity of Greek myth and “experimental riffing on the classics,” the “crude wish-fulfillment” of the fiction Mendelsohn penned as a teenager, Homeric compositional technique, and much, much more in this lengthy, free-ranging conversation conducted at Mendelsohn’s home on the Hudson River.

—Henry Knight, Interview Editor

Our spring issue features an excerpt from an essay by the Albanian author Ismail Kadare, from a piece entitled “Aeschylus, the Lost.” The essay is deeply attuned to the experience of reading: the simple difficulty of settling in a chair and trying to understand an author—the Aeschylus of the title—who wrote so many centuries ago. Kadare lingers on the difficulties of understanding Aeschylus, and on the imaginative effort we must make to place his work in his own time, and in our own. It tracks, simultaneously, the heritage that Aeschylus bequeathes us, echoing through literary history, and the way his work resonates in the contemporary—in, for instance, the funerary and martial ceremonies of the Balkan world that Kadare knows so well. The essay reminds us of the power great literature has to be untimely, as Nietzsche would have it: its capacity, despite its age, its antiquity, to reveal more about the contemporary world than our contemporaries. Kadare’s essay is as fine an inquiry into the experience of reading as I have read for some time.

—Joshua Craze, Nonfiction Editor

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