The brand new Fall 2018 issue of Asymptote was released last week and we are still enjoying its diverse offerings from 31 countries, including a Special Feature on Catalan fiction. After the blog editors posted their highlights two days ago, the quarterly magazine’s section editors share their favorites from this season’s haul:
What good is French today? After years of patient apprenticeship, and years of mastery, perhaps writing in French was only a means of escape, or a way of doing battle. These are the questions that Abdellah Taïa battles with, in ‘To Love and to Kill: Why Do I Write In French?’ Beautifully translated by Hodna Bentali Gharsallah Nuernberg, Taïa’s essay attacks the French language, with great vigor and style, and—of course—in French. In a succinct essay, Taïa adroitly sets out the class politics of speaking French in Morocco, and the satisfactions (and oblivions) of conquering a language and a place, and all the complicated forms of hatred (and self-hatred) that come with it.
—Joshua Craze, Nonfiction editor
The Fall issue of Asymptote, “Transfigurations,” is now live. Our nets cast wide, we showcase never-before-published work by some of the most beloved figures working in world literature: Jon Fosse, Osama Alomar, Breyten Breytenbach, and Margaret Jull Costa. In our Catalan Fiction Special Feature, we present celebrated writers J. V. Foix, Cèlia Suñol, and Manuel Baixauli alongside emerging voices that represent the future of Catalan literature: Najat El Hachmi, Marta Rojals, and Neus Canyelles.
This edition’s many protean forms are deftly fixed in photography by New York-based guest artist Olaya Barr. In Korean playwright Sam-Shik Pai’s hilarious drama, the narrator morphs mid-sentence into a hairy beast while in Mexican author José Revueltas’s hypnotic fiction, apes turn into people then back into apes again. Hong Kong visual artist Chan Sai-lok and his Brazilian counterpart Guga Szabzon both transform writing into image into word. In a generous interview, Phillip Lopate reflects on the metamorphic affective life of the essayist.
Nguyễn Đức Tùng’s moving account of memory loss in exile opens a powerful nonfiction section that bears witness to a swiftly changing world. In this issue’s poetry, George Prevedourakis adapts Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” into his own vision of contemporary Greece while Elvira Hernández weaves fragments of the story of Chile into her vision of the Chilean flag, swelling up “like an ulcerated belly.” READ MORE…
This September, we interrupted our usual blog programming to celebrate Asymptote’s 30 issues since our debut in January 2011 and draw awareness to National Translation Month while we are at it! Whether you discovered Asymptote early on or just recently, we invite you to join us as we retrace the steps that brought us here. Beginning with the inaugural Winter 2011 issue, we will work our way chronologically through the archive, weighing in both as editors, shedding new light on how our editions are assembled, and as readers, drawing connections within each issue. Finally, don’t forget that you too can play a part in catalysing the transmission of world literature: share this #30issues30days showcase (and the actual issues themselves) far and wide!
—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief
Revisit every issue before reading about our 30th issue below:
ANATOMY OF AN EDITOR’S NOTE
World literature is the literature of many worlds, intersecting on one “endlessly rotating earth” (Chen Li). This summer, come play Spin the globe! with the only magazine that could assemble never-before-published writing from 27 countries and 21 languages in one issue. Alongside an interview with Michael Hofmann, fiction by master story-teller Mercè Rodoreda, poetry by Ghassan Zaqtan and Marosa di Giorgio, essays on Bohumil Hrabal and Tove Jansson, and reviews of the latest titles, we celebrate the very best the canon has to offer via a showcase of contest winners picked by judges David Bellos and Sawako Nakayasu. While new words pave the way for new worlds, every one of these gems, to quote repeat contributor Ko Un, also represents “[a] world…in want of the world.”
Noemi Schneider’s Life as Trauma introduces us to Binjamin Wilkomirski, the author of a fabricated Holocaust memoir, and hence a man who has never existed. In Orshina, Hanit Guli’s poignant drama, a promise to the family is revealed to be empty when, all packed up, the father remembers he has no address to provide the movers. And in Mercè Rodoreda’s Aloma, remembrance of childhood loss punctuates a woman’s mundane existence, just as Ah-reum Han’s tribute to Kerascoët’s “dazzling, ruthless worlds” is interwoven with the mourning for a deceased teacher. While Samudra Neelima’s narrator plants “black seeds” in order to grow a “beloved black tree,” Alejandro Albarrán desires to “write the amputation”—both poets sketch writing’s failure, but, through performing failure, succeed.
What follows is some lightly edited magazine correspondence leading up to the Spring 2017 edition:
Subject: A thought on what we might do as a magazine
I’m sure many of you are unhappy about Trump’s outrageous ban on refugees and residents from seven Muslim countries; it woke up the activist in me (and also literally kept me awake, which is why I’m writing this at 7 a.m. on a Sunday). Since we happen to have a slot open anyway, I’d like to dedicate our Spring 2017 Special Feature to authors from these countries—Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen—and perhaps we could increase the percentage of work originating from these countries in our regular sections as well—that is, if the section editors are willing and able.
To spread the word, we could tap our network of volunteer translators and commission translations into other languages as we’ve done many times before… Publishing the work in our weekly showcase at The Guardian could also get them more attention… as a matter of fact, thanks to Tomás, our editor-at-large for Chile, we have already lined up a Syrian-born poet next Tuesday.
We’d have to fundraise for this Feature to happen—and I’ll need help. To that end, I’ve added two more questions to the internal questionnaire due this coming Wednesday.
Now, I hope to set up the crowdfunding page as soon as possible, so if you feel very strongly that you’d like to be part of this effort, please email me offlist and let me know how you might contribute. For those of you who just joined, you can find an example of a previous crowdfunding effort undertaken by the magazine here (it’s usually very stressful). If support is not forthcoming, I don’t think I will go through with this Feature, as I’m already carrying a lot of magazine work and probably can’t take on the fundraising alone (which is what I did last year for our fifth anniversary events).
“World literature” often gets a lot of attention in the months leading up to each year’s Nobel Prize announcement, but what do we really mean by it? Is it simply all the literatures of the world? Is it a status that applies to texts that circulate in a certain way? As the editor-in-chief of an international journal, I see “world literature” as a shifting aggregate of the literatures that have been translated into any given language. It’s clear to me, writing from Taipei, that an English “world literature” is vastly different from a Chinese one. Upon his passing in June 2012, for example, I discovered that Ray Bradbury had never been translated into Chinese — an omission made more perverse by the fact that translations make up an impressive 50% of all books published in Taiwan, compared to the woeful 3% in the United States. And if Taiwanese readers had been denied the genius of so well-loved an author, one can only imagine what American readers are missing out on.
This asymmetry was what motivated me in May 2012 to initiate a translation project that would introduce to Anglophone readers the newest crop of Chinese writers—a “20 Under 40,” if you will, of the Chinese-speaking world. Such a feature, modeled after Granta’s “Best British Novelists,” consisting of 20 medium-length essays introducing 20 of the most promising authors not only from China — but also from Hong Kong, Taiwan and Malaysia — had just been published that month by the leading Taiwanese journal Unitas and I thought Asymptote would be uniquely positioned to showcase it in English. Leveraging a connection, I made a few enquiries; the response from Unitas was positive. Tapping volunteer translators from the And Other Stories Chinese Reading Group and, crucially, proceeding with Unitas’ assurance that we would have free rein in editing the texts, my team and I decided to commit to turning the translation project around in five months: the first ten essays would appear in our Summer 2012 issue, followed by the other ten in the Fall 2012 issue. READ MORE…
“When I’m having trouble writing something, I often close the document and compose the passage as email. I imagine I can feel the tug at the other end of the wire, and this creates in me a needed urgency. The letter always arrives at its destination.”
—David Shields, excerpted in our Winter 2012 issue
Dear indignant scholar concerned that Taiwanese literature is always overlooked in favor of Mainland Chinese authors (e.g. when Mo Yan took the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2012),
This issue, spotlighting Taiwanese Fiction, is for you. Six months in its making, it is a showcase of contemporary Taiwanese art and letters sans pareil. In addition to fiction, there is nonfiction by Jing Xianghai that I rolled up my sleeves to translate five days before the issue launch. There is Antonio Chen’s roundup of Taiwanese novels in 2011 (for which I had to painstakingly format and upload image files for 26 book covers). There is even a fabulous piece of noise art accompanying poetry by Hsia Yü, the most acclaimed Taiwanese poet of her generation. Famously reclusive, Hsia Yü had only ever agreed to two interviews in a career that spanned thirty years, and we would go on to publish her third interview, conducted in Chinese and translated into English, in our Spring 2012 issue.
“Congratulations on taking on the formidable task of launching a journal dedicated to translation. You’re a brave man!” said the translator of Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera to me in December 2010. So I can’t say I wasn’t forewarned.
The idea for Asymptote had come out of a meeting at Singapore’s National Arts Council in June 2010. How to turn Singapore into a hub for literary translation? was the topic du jour. I mooted the idea of a platform that would identify and showcase talent in translation. Several seemed enthusiastic, but in the end, no one lifted a finger. Supposedly the go-to person for literary translation in Singapore, D., who was one of ten people at the meeting, did not deign to reply to the two emails I sent him.
The original team I assembled around July 2010 was lackluster, lackadaisical. Admittedly, I didn’t know these Singaporean team members very well, nor it seemed they me. Having just returned from eight years of overseas study (I owe much to my teachers Robert Coover, Mary Gaitskill, Dale Peck, and Michael Hofmann, but it was the lovely Sidney Wade who turned me on to literary translation), I was trying to connect with the local literary scene. Although the dispatches written by our current Singaporean editor-at-large might suggest otherwise, there really was not much of a scene back then, around a decade ago. The main players were aloof. Although I contributed to nine consecutive issues of the Quarterly Literary Review of Singapore—Singapore’s only literary journal back then—no one seemed to have read my work.
With just two months left to the deadline of Close Approximations, our annual international translation contest, there’s still time to polish up your translations (especially of female authors, since we’ve just entered Women in Translation Month) and submit to our contest!
Awarding a total of $3,000 in prizes to six winners this time are Edward Gauvin (Fiction) and Eugene Ostashevsky (Poetry). Entrants have until October 1 to submit their work for a chance of winning up to 1,000USD, in addition to publication in our Winter 2019 issue, joining a roster of translators we have published that includes J.M. Coetzee, Lydia Davis, Michael Hofmann, and Jennifer Croft. We are encouraging early submissions by taking 15% off the entry fee for contest submissions on or before September 1.
To further pique your interest about the contest, here’s more about our wonderful judges and what they think of translation.
Fresh from working on the fabulous Summer 2018 issue of Asymptote, our team members have been busy with their own creative endeavors. Read on to find out what we have been writing, doing, and learning!
Contributing Editor Aamer Hussein recently judged the McKitterick Prize. The prize, which honors the first novel by a writer over the age of forty, went to Nigerian writer Anietie Isong for his debut novel, Radio Sunrise.
Communications Manager Alexander Dickow has had quite a summer: other than publishing poetry in Place de La Sorbonne, he also recently wrote for Paragraph and Plume (which also ran his translations of Max Jacob’s poetry). His work also appeared in La Revue des Sciences Humaines, Littérature, and larevue*.
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
Old maps often feature cherubs blowing gusts of wind, baroque allegorical figures—or sea monsters lurking in unknown waters. But for the reader of world literature, there are no known lands, for even the familiar deserves to be explored with fresh eyes—including sea monsters! Now you too can join Asymptote’s intrepid explorers: just apply to our mid-year recruitment drive! From Assistant Blog Editor (yes, of this Blog no less!) and Copy Editor to Social Media Manager and Graphic Designer, check out all available volunteer positions here, and then be sure to submit an application by June 18th! Summer internships are available for most positions as well.
Don’t wait! Apply to join the Asymptote team today!
We are delighted to reveal that the inaugural title for the Asymptote Book Club, as chosen by our editorial team, is César Aira’s The Lime Tree. Aira has previously been a Man Booker International finalist, and translator Chris Andrews received the Valle-Inclán Prize for his English version of Bolaño’s Distant Star. The Lime Tree is published by not-for-profit translation champions & Other Stories.
On January 2, 2018, we will be launching our members-only online discussion space where subscribers can talk about César Aira’s The Lime Tree. An interview with translator Chris Andrews will also be posted on the Asymptote blog shortly thereafter. In the meantime, we invite you to tweet about your first reactions on social media using the hashtag #AsymptoteBookClub!
For more on the newly launched Asymptote Book Club, or to start your subscription in January 2018, see details here. We’re already preparing the next exciting title, so don’t delay!
What an overwhelming ten days since the launch of the Asymptote Book Club! We received queries from as far afield as Australia and Canada—so much interest from Canada, in fact, that we decided to open our book club to Canadians four days ago. But why a book club in the first place? some asked. Well, in a nutshell: the idea was to take the important work we have done with our award-winning, free online journal and our Translation Tuesday showcases at the Guardian—that is to say, showcasing the best new writing from around the world, and giving it a physical presence outside of the virtual arena. We also wanted to celebrate (as well as support) the independent publishers who work hard behind the scenes to make world literature possible.
What sets your book club apart from others?
Curation is a big part of what makes the book club special. We have a large team of editors based in six continents to research and pick the best titles available from a wide variety of publishers. Subscribers will receive a brand-new (just published or, in many cases, not even in the bookshops yet), surprise work of fiction delivered to their door each month. This is another thing that distinguishes us from a few other book clubs before us: we choose from new releases only—nothing from a backlist that readers may already have on their bookshelves.
Subscriptions are for three or 12 months (for as little as USD15 a month, shipping included!) and, depending on the package the subscriber picks, they may receive additional perks in the form of Asymptote merchandise and ebooks (see below), but the real focus here is on creating a serious book club for a dedicated reading public. Many subscription services focus as much on the gifts as the books themselves, but we do not see ourselves as experts in tea or socks, so we’re concentrating rather on ensuring our readers get their hands on the most amazing literature we can source, applying the same curatorial instincts that won us a London Book Fair Award in 2015. READ MORE…