Monthly Archives: September 2019

Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

In Romania and Albania this week, literature abounds.

Any occasion to celebrate language is a happy one, as demonstrated in this week’s dispatches from Romania and Albania. With events honoring Romanian Language Day and an emphasis on Albanian literature in Italy, the forces propelling the continuation and evolution of literary language are well and alive. Read on for the news, reported from the ground by our committed editors.

Andreea Scridon, Assistant Editor, reporting from Romania

Romanian Language Day has officially been celebrated on August 31 since 2011. This year, I had the privilege of being in Romania to observe this holiday, more specifically to find myself in Cluj-Napoca, a city with a powerful literary scene thanks to its academic and historical tradition. The event dedicated to this occasion (held one day before, on August 30) was held in an interwar casino revamped into an art gallery in Cluj’s central park, and the general public ranged from the city’s literary elite to a group of kids in baseball caps.

Horia Bădescu, one of the representative literary figures of the 1960s (available in English and French translation) and historian and writer Ovidiu Pecican spoke on the history, significance, evolution, and particularities of the Romanian language, while professor of journalism and writer Ilie Rad and translator Gabriela Lungu (who has translated books like Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa’s The Leopard and Alessandro Baricco’s Mr. Gwyn, among many others, from Italian to Romanian) discussed the originality, richness, and their own intimate perceptions of the Romanian language.

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“I Feel Free When I Write”: Linda Boström Knausgård on Her New Novel, Welcome to America

I am my dark, inner twin when I write.

Linda Boström Knausgård’s second novel, Welcome to America, is set not in the United States, but within the confines of a Swedish apartment swollen with family secrets and contrarian silence. Following the death of her father—a tragedy she is convinced she engineered through prayerBoström Knausgård’s child narrator, Ellen, stops speaking. While the trauma inciting Ellen’s selective mutism is palpable, the young protagonist synchronously radiates power, wielding her silence as the only means of maintaining control in the face of a self-absorbed mother, her increasingly volatile brother, and the specter of impending adulthood. Meticulously translated by Martin Aitkin, Welcome to America is Boström Knausgård’s defiantly pithy portrait of a family disconnected and consumed by grief. On the eve of the novel’s publication in the United States, we asked the Swedish author, poet, and radio documentary producer about writing bravely, the experience of being written into someone else’s narrative, and the unexpected power of silence.

 Sarah Timmer Harvey, August 2019

Sarah Timmer Harvey (STH): Welcome to America is your second novel to be translated into English. Did you collaborate with Aitken on the translation?

Linda Boström Knausgård (LBK): I didn’t work with Martin on the translation. In fact, I didn’t hear from him while he was working on it. Martin is a very good translator, and I think that he’s produced a beautiful translation. I’ve read it twice in English, and I am very happy with it. I believe that if I had started to concentrate too much during his work and asked him all my questions before he was ready, I’d be exhausted. Our languages have a lot of differencessentences do not start, or end, in the same way. I know Norwegian and Danish very well, and when it comes to translating work into these languages, it can be difficult not to intervene too much. When I finally had a book translated into Finnish, it was a relief because I didn’t understand a word. I think it’s best to let go as much you can, but you then must also be happy when you finally read it. If you have a good translator, you should stick with him or her!

STH: When you are writing, do you consider the language in which you are writing? For example, how Swedish might shape and contain the narrative? 

LBK: I write in Swedish and could not write in any other language, never! The language forms the story; it is my frame, and so I cannot abandon it. I love to write in Swedish. I like how it presents itself on the page, almost like a surprise. READ MORE…

Flowing Speech: On the Complexities of Audiovisual Translation

It’s really beautiful to get carried away by your emotions while translating.

Over the course of its four-season run, U.S. television show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend won acclaim and awards for its groundbreaking musical format, treatment of mental illness, and reinvention of romantic comedy tropes. Plus, it’s funny—really funny. Every episode contains jokes, quick banter, songs, and a slew of puns and double-entendres. Audiovisual translator Alicia González-Camino, who translated the scripts for Spanish dubbing, knew she’d have her work cut out for her. I spoke with González-Camino via email. Her responses to my questions, compiled below, illustrate her translation process and relationship to this project. Here she is, in her own words, discussing the show’s challenges and whether audiovisual translation counts as a literary art.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity and translated from Spanish.

—Allison Braden, Editor-at-Large for Argentina

As a translator, I started out doing any translation that fell into my hands, mostly technical, and it was so boring. I didn’t enjoy translating at all. Audiovisual translation, on the other hand, allows me to be more creative. I have fun translating, and I can feel proud of the result when I successfully make a scene or especially complicated speech flow well and sound natural. It’s a kind of translation where, on the same day, you can have animated drawings with rhymes and little made-up names, something with mafiosos, full of cursing, and something funny and comedic. And in my case, since I translate from five languages, you can also change from one language to another in one day. The result is that you can have really engaging days thanks to the variety.

Plus, in the case of dubbing, the translation comes to life in the voice of the actors. And if you’re lucky, a translation of yours can become part of the whole country’s vocabulary when a show or movie is really well-known and some phrase takes hold in the popular lexicon for posterity. That hasn’t happened to me yet with my translations, but leaving my footprint through language seems incredibly fun to me, in addition to being an honor.

I guess audiovisual translation is somewhat literary, because we’re all tied to a style we have to respect. We approach works that have existing souls and, in some sense, we create works with new souls that our respective audiences can understand, provoking the same emotions and reactions as the original.

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Translation Tuesday: An excerpt from “Death is vertical (Pain: chanted)” by Normand de Bellefeuille

because there is no economy / of pain / nothing but thunder

These poems by Quebecois luminary Normand de Bellefeuille take the swelling rhythm of the sea as their guide. Translator Hilary Clark skillfully brings out the crash of waves beneath the verse, and this pulse of continuity is used to mirror the throbs of pain—and the bursts of poetry that spring from it. The tension between pain in life and the recording of pain is brought to the surface—a surface that is both the broil of the sea and the page, which covers and gives evidence to the drownedness of silence and the forgotten excesses of speech and sexuality that the poem can only trace. The impossibility of poetry to reify the body in pain is a hopeful one, though: as the poems give evidence of the subject, distilled, the inability to ever truly capture the depths of the body becomes the poem’s “inadmissibility.” The reader is tasked with trying to uncover the shining positive of that deficit.

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There are other pains
even on the rivers
one thinks of Dante’s boat
or of the little crabs
in Ophelia’s hair
of the blind one’s swim
against the heavy wave
there are other pains
even under the sea
the seahorses’ grotesque gallop
the drowned women amorous
dead, still amorous
with breasts opened by the narrow teeth
of fat monkfish
for there are other pains
without screams, under the sea
one thinks of the children under the sea
lead at the ankles
mouth full of seaweed
anus full of seaweed

for there are also pains
that are unspeakable.

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Transcribing Spoken Dialects: Sharidan Russell on Language Ideologies in Morocco

I often think back to the famous saying that a language is a dialect with an army and a navy.

Sharidan Russell is a Rabat-based researcher who studies language ideologies. After graduating with a BA in Arabic and Middle East Studies from Dartmouth College, she was named a Fulbright fellow to Morocco, where she conducted research on transition of Darija, the dialect of Arabic spoken in the Maghreb, into a written language. Keenly interested in the ways new writing practices evolve, Russell’s work draws on sociolinguistics and the field of linguistic anthropology as she seeks to understand changing social practices through the lens of literature.

Hodna Nuernberg (HN): Morocco, where you have been conducting your research, has a very rich linguistic landscape. Could you please describe how Morocco’s languages interact and describe the role of Darija specifically?

Sharidan Russell (SR): Morocco has both official languages and what I refer to as “de facto official languages”. After its independence in 1956, Morocco began the process of Arabization by re-introducing Arabic as the language of government and education. By Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA)—or Fusha—was meant. Today, MSA is the kingdom’s official language, but French, which is not in the constitution, functions as a de facto official language. There are very high standards for “fluency” in France and there are many ideologies around the continued use of French. In 2011, Tamazight—the name of a family of languages spoken by the Amazigh, or indigenous peoples of the Maghreb—became an official language in the constitution. Morocco is also home to a range of dialects, which are—or have been—largely unwritten. Darija is the most widely spoken of these dialects and it varies from region to region. Darija is also a de facto official language, in a sense, because it is so widely used for communication at a variety of levels, though it has no official status. Hassaniya, which is spoken in the south, is another dialect that is so different from Darija as to be mutually unintelligible. Hassaniya is recognized in the constitution—not as an official language, but as an important aspect of Morocco’s culture and diversity. Darija is the only of these that is not mentioned.

My research looks at the concept of language ideology against the backdrop of Morocco’s linguistic context. A language ideology refers to the thoughts and feelings we all carry about the languages we speak (or do not speak). For example, we sometimes see a stereotype in the U.S. about people who speak with a southern accent as being less educated. While stereotypes like this aren’t necessarily true, for research like mine it is important to understand where these ideologies come from and how they reflect other parts of the culture.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

Follow our editors through France, Japan, and Vietnam as they bring a selection of literary news of the week.

This week, our editors are bringing you news from France, Japan, and Vietnam. After quiet summers in the literary world for many countries, September brings the literary scene back to life. In France, the anticipation is building ahead of the most prestigious literary prizes being awarded. In Japan, a new edition of a historic quarterly is uniting Japanese and Korean literature through a shared feminist voice. And in Vietnam, the launch of a new anthology, as well as events held by prestigious translators, celebrate the ties that are created through translation.

Sarah Moore, Assistant Blog Editor, reporting from France

September in France marks the rentrée littéraire, with hundreds of new titles published before the big award season starts in November. The prix Fémina, prix Renaudot, prix Interallié, prix Médicis, and the prix de l’Académie française will all be contested, as well as the prestigious prix Goncourt.

Amongst the French titles announced for the rentrée, Amélie Nothomb’s Soif (Albin Michel, 21 August) is highly anticipated, although not at all unexpected—an incredibly prolific author, she has consistently featured in the rentrée littéraire every year since the publication of her debut novel, Hygiène de l’assassin, in 1992 (Hygiene and the Assassin, Europa Editions, 2010). With a narrative that takes the voice of Jesus during the final hours of his life, Soif is sure to be as audacious, controversial, and successful as ever for Nothomb.

Marie Darrieussecq’s new novel, La Mer à l’envers (P.O.L, 2019), examines the migration crisis, narrating an encounter between a Parisian woman and a young refugee, rescued from a capsized boat. Many of Darrieussecq’s novels have already been translated into English, including her first novel Pig Tales (Faber & Faber, 2003), and, most recently, The Baby (Text Publishing, 2019). An interview with her translator, Penny Hueston, for Asymptote can be read here and an extract of her translation of Men was part of Asymptote‘s Translation Tuesday series for The Guardian.

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“Unintentional Unity”: Deborah Woodard and Roberta Antognini on translating Amelia Rosselli’s Obtuse Diary

Translating Rosselli’s prose is not different from translating her poetry. Her language is equally challenging, her syntax equally subversive.

Amelia Rosselli’s work is deeply marked by her family and personal history. Born in 1930 to a British activist and a martyred Italian-Jewish antifascist, she lived as an eternal outsider in France, the US, the UK, and Italy. A polyglot with persistent depression, her poetry challenges. It challenges the confines of genre and conventional syntax, it challenges the society with which she was ever at odds, and it challenges the reader to accompany her through her brave literary wanderings. Rosselli ended her own life by jumping out the window of her fifth-floor apartment in Rome in 1996.

Obtuse Diary, published by Entre Rios Books in late 2018, is the first and only collection of Rosselli’s prose. The writing spans a number of years and is organized into three sections and two illuminating afterwords, one by the author and one by one of the translators. Asymptote’s Lindsay Semel spoke with Deborah Woodard and Roberta Antognini, two of the collection’s three translators, about the joys and challenges of rendering Rosselli’s stunning and difficult Italian into English.

Lindsay Semel (LS): Tell me about the origin of this project. How did you come to translate this text together? What was the collaboration process like?

Deborah Woodard (DW): Translating Amelia Rosselli’s Diario Ottuso into Obtuse Diary was quite the saga. It’s a little book, but it took forever to translate. Giuseppe Leporace, my first co-translator, and I brought out some sections of the Diary in The Dragonfly, a selection of Rosselli’s poetry, back in 2009. After we finished The Dragonfly and brought it out through Chelsea Editions, I decided to rework Obtuse Diary and publish it in its entirety.  When Giuseppe became too busy to review it with me, he graciously stepped down from the project. On Giuseppe’s suggestion, I worked on the Diary with Vanja Skoric Paquin, a talented young linguist with a particular gift for unraveling snarled syntax. When Vanja gave birth to her daughter she, in turn, stepped down. A year or so passed, and then I recommenced with Dario De Pasquale. Dario and I tore the earlier translation apart, sentence by sentence. When Dario became too busy to continue to translate with me (do we see a pattern here?), I was extremely fortunate to join forces with Roberta, my current—and from here on out, sole—co-translator on the final version. READ MORE…

Celestial Troubles: Love and Transition in Oman

In Celestial Bodies, Alharthi takes us on a bewildering journey that is both specific to Oman and relatable in its experiences.

Jokha Alharthi’s Celestial Bodies was awarded the Man Booker International Prize earlier this year, making her the first author from the Arabian Gulf to win the prize. She was also the first Omani author ever to have her novel translated from Arabic into English. In the following essay, writer and anthropologist MK Harb examines how Oman’s overlooked history as an imperial dynasty, and its rapidly changing society are integral to the force of Alharthi’s novel.

The internal monologue of Abdallah is unnerving, and often unsettling. Lost between trauma and nostalgia, he repeatedly reflects on his fractured relationship with his father, a notorious merchant and slave owner. Situated in the balmy village of al-Awafi, Abdallah is one of the many members of an Omani family encountering the upheavals and changes of modernity brought on by the state. To some, Oman is an obscure country with an eccentric Sultan, whilst to others, its green pastures and monsoons represent a luscious geographic rarity in the Arabian Peninsula. Unknown to many is Oman’s long and complex history as an imperial dynasty. Oman’s history is as much African as it is Arab; with Zanzibar as its capital, the Sultanate ruled in East Africa from 1698 until the bloody revolution of 1963. Oman’s rule in East Africa represents a history of vernacular and mercantile economic systems that existed prior to the arrival of modern capitalism, but it also represents a racial history of manumission and slavery. Jokha Alharthi’s award-winning novel, Celestial Bodies, tells this history, unravelling the ghosts of an empire, and the precariousness of modernity in Omani society. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “At the Hotel” by Tripura

Soft, dark, infant-faces. Secret fox-faces. The faces of a tiger, who had just killed a buffalo and was stripping it to the bone.

This week’s Translation Tuesday features a befuddling slice-of-life translation from the Telugu Writer Tripura. The movement of the dialogue is through a flow of floating statements and people that occurs over an hour in the dinning room of a hotel. As if the hotel itself is listening, snippets of conversation drop readers into mid-century southern India. The effects of modernism inform the layout of this story, and the semi-public space of the hotel demonstrates the use—and imposition—of English in speech, as well as the untranslatable cultural particulars of the Telugu. It is a statement to the density of subjectivity and the messiness of codes. Sparse narration and memorable voices place the reader well within the confines of a time of great change and exploration in this genre-bending piece. 

At the Hotel

Eight in the morning. The patter of rain above. Wet inside.

“My pop said he’d bury me if I did shit like this. Brainless.”
“That’s old people, ra. These old hags need to be shot by a firing squad, like Hitler
massacred the Jews.”
Empty cups in front, cigarettes at the ends of lips.

#

“Have you guys read Dharma Bums?”
“Leave it. These Beatniks are just rootless fellows. The Angry Young Men seem better.”
In the cups, coffee getting cold.

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“Fucking idiot. Said there was no touching the file if I didn’t give him a tenner. And a kid, an upstart to boot. Got him to sign it after throwing the ten at his idiot face. What to do. Can’t die, no.”
“Idiots nowadays are like that only. Work’s done only if the money’s in their hands.”

Empty idli plates on the table. The first man’s pockets are searched for a beedi. READ MORE…

All That Makes a Life: Jennifer Croft on Writing Her Memoir

Translation requires striking a balance between two people’s voices that can be very difficult, if not impossible, to achieve.

From being the co-winner of the 2018 Man Booker International Prize alongside the writer Olga Tokarczuk, Jennifer Croft has just been announced as a judge of the 2020 International Booker Prize. Croft works across Polish, Ukrainian, and Argentine Spanish, and is currently translating The Book of Jacob, a nine-hundred-page epic by Olga Tokarczuk. She is the recipient of Fulbright, PEN, and National Endowment for the Arts grants, as well as the Michael Henry Heim Prize.

In Homesick, Croft’s memoir, words and their meanings shift and shine through in unusual, tender, and life-transforming ways as the subject moves from a family home, to being the youngest person to be enrolled in her undergraduate class, to going through tragic heartbreaks. A most engaging read, the memoir itself has shape-shifted in interesting ways, having started as a Spanish novel and as a blog. The English-language version (Unnamed Press, September 2019) too is accompanied by photographs, which operate as their own language system, bringing, by turns, softness and sharpness to the storytelling. On the occasion of the release of Homesick, poet and previous Social Media Manager of Asymptote, Sohini Basak, spoke to Jennifer Croft over email.

Sohini Basak (SB): I want to start with the photographs. Could you tell us a bit more about the role of photography in childhood and consequently in your memoir?

Jennifer Croft (JLC): Although photography played an enormous role in my childhood and adolescence, I didn’t really remember that until I started writing Homesick. Because I was living in Buenos Aires, Argentina when I wrote the book, I wrote it in my strange Spanish, which is both foreign (since I started learning Spanish only in my late twenties) and very local (since I’ve only ever studied and spoken porteño Spanish in Buenos Aires). In that first Spanish-language version (called Serpientes y escaleras, coming out next year with Entropía), that language provided a sense of suspense about where this character from Tulsa, Oklahoma was going to go next, and how she was going to end up speaking the way she did. READ MORE…