We are proud to present “Body Memory,” our most diverse issue ever, featuring new work from a record-breaking 35 countries! Etel Adnan, Steinn Steinarr, and Argonauts author Maggie Nelson join us in celebrating our eighth anniversary and the six winners of our international translation contest picked by Edward Gauvin and Eugene Ostashevsky. Top honors go to two translators of underrepresented languages this year: Olivia Hellewell, who works with Slovenian fiction, and Daniel Owen, Indonesian poetry. Who else won a slice of USD3,000 in prizes? Find out here.
If you believe in our work, help us spread word of it in the physical realm with our Winter 2019 flyer (pictured above), or join us on Facebook and Twitter over the next two weeks especially as we push the glorious art and writing entrusted us out into the world. If you’re inclined to tweet, here’s a suggestion:
NEW ISSUE! Please RT @asymptotejrnl’s Winter 2019 “Body Memory” feat. Maggie Nelson, Etel Adnan, and Steinn Steinarr, among new work from 35 countries! Find out who took home $3,000 in prizes in the magazine’s annual translation contest, unveiled here: http://asymptotejournal.com/jan-2019
On social media, many have been posting before and after photos in response to a ten-year challenge. At Asymptote, we take this ten-year-challenge to mean something else altogether: the challenge is see through what we’ve done for a full ten years, at least. It may beggar belief that we have done all that we’ve done in the service of world literature (events, educational guides, podcasts, blog posts, newsletter dispatches, and even a Book Club) on little to no institutional funding. Truth is, it has been every bit as hard as you suspect it to be behind the scenes, as we recounted in last year’s #30issues30days showcase. Although we are one of the most generous resources for out there for world lit, chronic ineligibility for nation-based grants means we’re stranded without support. High-visibility literary festivals apply for and receive sponsorship all the time, but who will support the very private act of literary discovery on a computer screen? As we enter our ninth year, the last leg of this challenge, we hope you’ll stand with us and sign up either as a sustaining member or a masthead member. We need your support more than ever. Become a part of our global movement—join the Asymptote family today!
As we welcome the New Year in, join our Editor-in-Chief, Yew Leong, and one of our Assistant Managing Editors, Janani, as they review the latest in world translation news. From the trials and tribulations faced by indigenous languages to new literary journals and non-mainstream literature, there’s plenty to catch up on!
Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief:
Though it was actually in 2016 that the UNESCO declared this year, 2019, to be the Year of Indigenous Languages, recent unhappy events have revealed how of the moment this designation has proven to be. A 7-year-old Guatemalan girl who was unable to communicate how sick she was died while in U.S. Border Patrol Custody—only one of several thousands of undocumented immigrants who speak an indigenous language like Mayan, Zapotec, Mixtec, Triqui, Chatino, Mixe, Raramuri or Purepecha, according to The Washington Post. Jair Bolsonaro, the new Brazilian president who has made insulting comparisons of indigenous communities living in protected lands to “animals in zoos,” wasted no time in undermining their rights within hours of taking office and tweeted ominously about “integrating” these citizens. On a brighter note, Canada will likely be more multilingual this year as the Trudeau administration looks set to enforce the Indigenous Languages Act before the Canadian election this year. The act will not only “recognize the use of Indigenous languages as a ‘fundamental right,’ but also standardize them,” thereby assisting their development across communities. Keen to explore literary works from some of these languages? With poems from indigenous languages ranging from Anishinaabemowin to Cree, Asymptote’s Fall 2016 Special Feature will be your perfect gateway to literature by First Nations writers.
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