Posts by Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan

Fall 2015: Taking the Spaceship Back

Time, the fourth dimension of our existence, threads through the whole Fall 2015 issue as its unifying motif.

The third quarter of 2015 is thorny with developments. On July 31, we announce the second edition of our international translation contest judged by Michael Hofmann (Poetry), Ottilie Mulzet (Fiction), and Margaret Jull Costa (Nonfiction—a new category), this time awarding a total of $4,500 in prizes. Technical Manager József Szabo (also one of the editors behind the fabulous Tumblr blog Writers No One Reads) completes a laborious site migration that has taken almost two years. Our website is now both adaptable to mobile devices and optimized for search engines. On October 1, I receive an invitation from The Guardian initiating a partnership that would see Asymptote simultaneously running our blog’s Translation Tuesday articles on their site for 76 weeks, starting from October 27. (Of the 11 Guardian Books Network Members announced on October 21, we are the only magazine dedicated to translation and also—I can’t help noting—the only one from Asia.) This turns out to be the first of three partnerships that we formalize in October (the other two being with PEN America and Lithub), all three of which we announce proudly via our first-ever Fortnightly Airmail, launched on October 29, thanks to then Communications Manager Matthew Phipps and then Graphic Designer Berny Tan (who valiantly turns around a new newsletter design within 24 hours after I veto the first). This inaugural newsletter doesn’t yet spotlight PEN/Heim grant winners (the first boatload of these would arrive on November 13). Instead, it carries Jennifer Croft’s essay “When the Author You Translate [i.e., Olga Tokarczuk] Gets Death Threats,” which Lithub republishes on their website on November 2. (We would also go on to be the first to excerpt Olga Tokarczuk’s 2018 International Man Booker Prizewinning Flights in our Winter 2016 edition before it hit bookstores anywhere.) October 2015 also ushers in our first-ever virtual event featuring Mexican author Albert Chimal’s “The Time-Traveller.” Originally composed in Spanish as a series of tweets, the English translation by George Henson, which also respects Twitter’s character limit of 140, is published twice: first, as a headliner in our Fall 2015 issue, and then via our English Twitter channel as a long string of tweets pushed out (by then Marketing Manager David Maclean) to the world over a span of 40 hours. If you were there for the tweetathon, thank you for being a part of the work. Here to introduce our Fall 2015 issue is Hong Kong editor-at-large Charlie Ng Chak Kwan.

If I were able to travel back to 2013 and meet my younger self, I would enthusiastically tell her that she was about to become part of a community devoted to breaking cultural and linguistic borders in the literary world and that she would never regret joining a journal whose mission was translating and publishing works written by people far and wide. It is unbelievable that I have now been a Hong Kong Editor-at-Large for Asymptote for more than five years. The many issues of Asymptote have seen me face a few life hurdles—graduating from my Ph.D., securing my first job as a translator, and becoming a full-time university teacher—and still I stay with Asymptote. Time definitely changes a lot of things—for good or for bad—but the ever-expanding archive of Asymptote tells me there are some things that remain constant, like the journal’s perseverance.

Time, the fourth dimension of our existence, threads through the whole Fall 2015 issue as its unifying motif. The issue’s pieces transport us to a wide range of times, from the Armenian genocide in Gostan Zarian’s “The Traveler and His Road” to the forensic anthropological investigation of the dead in Leila Guerriero’s “The Trace in the Bones”. We are not restricted by conventional time frames that confine our experience as words allow us to exist in the past, the present and the future simultaneously. The first line of Alberto Chimal’s “The Time Traveller” actually says it all: “Good morning, afternoon, evening, says the Time Traveller when his machine is moody and doesn’t ask him where (or to when) he’s going.” The Time Traveller’s trouble, in other words, is not where to go but rather the lack of a good temporal compass. Chimal’s story—comprised of a series of the Time Traveller’s wild and witty Tweets—portrays a compassionate titular character with ample knowledge of history and literature. Although its protagonist is no Gulliver—he is much more sophisticated than that 18th century traveller—Chimal’s story amuses and fascinates as much as Swift’s, even as it avoids the latter’s satiric bitterness. READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Music, art and linguistics have been knocking on literature's door around the world this week. Asymptote members bring you the scoop.

Literature is interdisciplinary by nature, and the world showed us how this week. From visual art exhibitions and a reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Hong Kong to a music festival infiltrated by writers in Slovakia and a commemoration of the late sociolinguist Jesús Tuson in Catalan, there is much to catch up on the literary world’s doings this week.

Hong Kong Editor-at-Large Charlie Ng Chak-Kwan brings us up to speed:

Themed “Fictional Happiness,” the third edition of Hong Kong Literary Season ran from June to late August. The annual event is organised by one of the most important Hong Kong literary organisations, the House of Hong Kong literature. This year the event featured an opening talk by Hong Kong novelist Dung Kai-cheung and Taiwanese writer Luo Yijun, a writing competition, an interdisciplinary visual arts exhibition, and a series of talks, workshops and film screenings. Five visual artists were invited to create installations inspired by five important works of Hong Kong fiction in response to the exhibition title, “Fictional Reality: Literature, Visual Arts, and the Remaking of Hong Kong History.”

Interdisciplinary collaboration has been a hot trend in the Hong Kong literary scene recently. Led and curated by visual artist Angela Su, Dark Fluid: a Science Fiction Experiment, is the latest collection of sci-fi short stories written by seven Hong Kong artists and writers. The book launch on September 2 took place at the base of Hong Kong arts organisation, “Things that Can Happen,” in Sham Shui Po. The experimental project was initiated as an artistic effort to reflect on recent social turmoils through scientific imagination and dystopian visions. The book launch also presented a dramatic audio adaptation of one of the stories, “Epidemic Investigation,” from the collection.

On September 6, PEN Hong Kong hosted a bilingual reading session (Cantonese and English) as part of the International Literature Festival Berlin (ILB) at Art and Culture Outreach (ACO) in Wan Chai. About twelve Hong Kong writers, journalists, and academics participated in “The Worldwide Reading of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights” by reading excerpts of their choice from works that deal with issues of human rights.

Amid the literary and artistic attention to Hong Kong social issues and history, local literary magazine, Fleur de Lettre, will take readers on a literary sketching day-trip in Ma On Shan on September 9. During the event named “August and On Shan,” participants will visit a former iron mine in Ma On Shan to imagine its industrial past through folk tales and historical relics. READ MORE…

The Day I Got Hit on the Head with Books by Chan Koonchung

"When the population of book readers shrank to a critical point, all book readers in the town realized that they had acquired a sixth sense."

Translator’s note: The story was inspired by an accident that took place on 4 February 2008, in which the owner, Law Chi-wah, of a famous independent bookshop in Hong Kong, Ching Man Bookshop, was buried alive by almost two dozen boxes of books when he was sorting the books in the bookshop’s warehouse. Law Chi-wah was a veteran Hong Kong culturati. He took over the running of Ching Man Bookshop in 1988. Ching Man Bookshop suspended its retail business in 2006 because of rental issues, and its book stock was moved to a warehouse while its publishing business continued. A new location for reopening the bookshop had already been arranged before the accident. Ching Man Bookshop was permanently closed upon the death of Law. The story also pays tributes to independent bookshops in Hong Kong, as running an independent bookshop is a very difficult task in the city with its high property rent. More independent bookshops have moved to higher floors in old buildings or even closed down due to financial stress.

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Deng3. Cantonese for hit, throw, strike, smash or toss with force 

At some point today, a pile of books fell on my head. According to the Society’s memorandum, if one of its members is hit on the head with books, that person is to report, record, and file his case immediately and go to the designated location for emergency treatment. The European grammar of the memorandum’s written Chinese phrases this in the passive voice as “being hit with books,” as if there is another subject, such as a person, who is doing the throwing. But this time, books simply fell on my head. The books themselves were the subject. Whether I was hit as defined is hard to say; I am not good at grammar. Maybe a certain unwitting action of mine triggered, or even my long-term habitual pretense eventually led to a chain reaction, the butterfly effect, quantitative and qualitative changes etc. that caused the books above my head inevitably to fall on me at a certain time. As such, I was the one who hit myself, I become the subject who threw the books. Although in this case, to say the books “hit” me is somewhat inappropriate; they “fell on” or, better, “smashed” me. But who cares about such a semantic trifle? The fact is, books have fallen on my head. My metamorphosis is about to take place.

I hesitate to disturb comrades of the Book Preservation Society. I don’t want to cause any trouble for them. They are accustomed to hiding in the city like phantoms. With only a few exceptions, most of them don’t enjoy interacting, let alone attracting attention. Only when they occasionally bump into each other do they greet themselves timidly, like hedgehogs in winter that can only touch each other hastily, who want to snuggle for warmth but are put off by a greater fear of being hurt by others’ spines. Sorry, passive voice again.

READ MORE…