Section Editors’ Highlights: Summer 2018

Our Section Editors pick their favorite pieces from the Summer 2018 issue!

The brand new Summer 2018 edition of Asymptote is almost one week old and we are still enjoying the diverse offerings from 31 countries gathered therein. Today, our section editors share highlights from their respective sections: 

2501 Migrants by Alejandro Santiago” is a powerful meditation on the US-Mexico border, compellingly written by Cristina Rivera Garza, and beautifully translated by Sarah Booker. Rivera Garza writes gracefully about sculptures made by Oaxacan artist Alejandro Santiago and his team. Each of these clay vessels contains the spirit of a migrant who, having tried their luck at crossing the border, now stands in mute testimony to the absences and deaths that striate both America and Mexico. In this essay, Rivera Garza explores the multi-faceted meanings of these sculptures and uses them to explore the intricacies of the border-condition—the nostalgia of those who leave Mexico, and the melancholy of those who remain. At this juncture in American history, I can think of no more valuable essay to read today than this one.

—Joshua Craze, Nonfiction Editor

The King of Insomnia, who first appeared as graffiti on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, has now become a central character in the fictional world of the Insomnia people, a creation of artist Tomaz Viana—known as Toz. Life-size three-dimensional Insomnia figures, with a history and traditions drawn from Brazilian and African sources, inhabited the Chácara do Cée Museum and its grounds in 2017. Lara Norgaard, Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large in Brazil, introduces the imaginary culture of Insomnia and interviews the artist who discusses his influences, including the Afro-Brazilian religion candomblé, and explains the evolution of these “fictional people with connections to the night, to the big city, but also to the jungle and the forest.”

—Eva Heisler, Visual Editor

Insomniacs also populate the fiction lineup this issue—insomniacs who have lost it or are close to losing it, or even, in one case (Pablo Ottonello’s vivid coming-of-age story set in a gym), insomniacs who worry about a loved one losing it. Of these, the narrator of Ror Wolf’s “A Discovery Behind the House,” a tragicomic portrait of mental breakdown, is the most impressively drawn. Even as we struggle to pin down the story’s diegetic reality, we’re swept up by the narrator’s pinballing emotions. Barbara Thimm, whose translation ambitiously hews close to the syntax of the original, said she “became increasingly excited by this language’s ability to capture aspects of a psychological experience that are elusive to the kind of experience we all  share and agree upon: the interior landscape depicted in Wolf’s piece is shifting in its awareness of reality, it is capable of simultaneously proclaiming two or more contradictory versions of the course of events.” Not to be missed.

—Lee Yew Leong, Fiction Editor

As sly as its subject, Peter Mitchell’s review of Dubravka Ugrešić’s Fox is a veritably vulpine piece of criticism, taking us through a text that also refuses to be pinned down. A novel “that’s both ferociously entertaining and formally spectacular,” Fox also offers something like a lesson in the ethics of awareness: as Mitchell points out, “The attention it demands in reading is the same furious, unsentimental, wary, and committed attention it wants you to pay to the world.” Always alert to what Ugrešić is up to, he tracks down the singular features of this work that draws readers in not to outfox them but to remind them of the elusiveness of the languages we use to shape our world.

—Sam Carter, Criticism Editor

“I pick at every sentence constantly until things are done,” Sarah Manguso explains in our conversation for the summer issue. “I practice no method of composition or revision other than constant picking.” Manguso’s prose, aptly described by Leslie Jamison as “whiskey twice-distilled,” is mordant, pellucid, cut to the bone. It does not pussyfoot around. Those familiar with her work know that Manguso’s books—The Two Kinds of DecayThe GuardiansOngoingness: the end of a diary, and 300 Arguments—defy summary or literary taxonomy. They demand to be read on their own terms. Here Manguso offers insight into 300 Arguments, a volume of short compositions, interrelated but self-contained, straddling aphoristic, anecdotal, and comic modes, as well as Ongoingness, a book-length treatment of the author’s relationship to memory and time through the lens of the eight-hundred-thousand-word diary she kept for more than two decades. 

Elsewhere in this issue’s interviews section, New Yorker staff writer William Finnegan and I discuss his Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir, Barbarian Days, and the formative surf escapade that led him to a distinguished reportorial career. “I’d be a different type of reporter if I had gone to J school and learned the rules, no doubt,” he tells me. “[I had] a longtime editor at The New Yorker, John Bennet, who used to reassure me when I was feeling like a journalistic fraud that, while I might not have worked my way up from the newsroom, I had in fact done a long and useful apprenticeship as a surf bum. ‘You spent your twenties wandering more or less blind into new places where you had to get the lay of the land, or the reef, quickly in order to find what you were looking for, and in the process put up with a lot of discomfort and uncertainty. You were looking for waves then. You’re looking for stories now. It’s the same—try to figure it all out fast, and then be in the right place at the right time, with your eyes wide open.’ The analogy wasn’t perfect, but it used to cheer me up.” 

—Henry Knight, Interview Editor

This issue features two fascinating extracts from full-length works. The first is from Olzhas Zhanaidarov’s The Store translated from the Russian by John Freedman. It is a sharp, astringent take on despotism and its costs. The second piece is Hamid Roslan’s translation from the Malay of his play Wali. A sensitive and melancholy piece about alienation and the inability of humans to connect.

Caridad Svich, Drama Editor

*****

Read more about the Summer 2018 Asymptote issue: