Posts by Adrian Nathan West

What We’re Reading in July

What members of Asymptote's team have been reading—juicy, super-sweaty summer edition!

Adrian Nathan West (Contributing Editor): German writer Hans Henny Jahnn is one of the least classifiable writers of the twentieth century, and the relative paucity of his work in English translation is perplexing. Among his compatriots, his admirers included Bertolt Brecht, Thomas Mann, Peter Weiss, and Wolfgang Koeppen—the last of whom compared Jahnn’s prose style to Martin Luther’s Bible; Jahnn is one of the poets cited in Roberto Bolaño’s “Unknown University;” and more recently, he was the subject of a long blog post by Dennis Cooper. The philosophical currents underlying his work have much in common with Georges Bataille: the focus on the limit-experience, often attained through an agony that grazes against beatitude, the emphasis on the organic substrate of conscious life, and an unsettling combination of orgiastic excess and monastic quietude characterize both men’s work, though Jahnn’s precise and involuted language is far more innovative than Bataille’s. 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…

DISPATCH: ¿Por qué leer? Warum lesen? Why to read?

A report from the Frankfurt Book Fair

It was thanks to a phenomenon lying somewhere between chance and merit that I ended up attending the Frankfurt Book Fair. In mid-June I signed a contract for the publication of my translation of Josef Winkler’s When the Time Comes (this is a plug, but not a shameless one). Shortly thereafter I came to Berlin. Among other things, I had hoped to meet Dr. Petra Hardt, the foreign rights directress from Suhrkamp, who had been far more encouraging than one would expect from a person of her stature when I wrote her spontaneously two years back asking to translate a Büchner Prize-winning house author from one of the world’s most redoubtable publishing houses. At the lunch, attended as well by her charming colleague Nora Mercurio and Rainer J. Hanshe from Contra Mundum Press, I was asked whether I would be going to Frankfurt. Luckily the facial expression corresponding to the thought I’m still deciding is not very different from the one for I wonder what I’m supposed to say. “I’m not sure yet,” I said, playing it cool, and Petra said that if I decided to, I should come to Suhrkamp’s party. READ MORE…