We're looking for someone to join our blog team! Could it be you?
The Asymptote blog is the journal‘s hyper on-the-pulse younger brother:
Showcasing new translations and daily writings on world literature and culture, it is on the constant look out for voice, probing analysis, and topicality in our postings. We have published pieces on topics ranging from pop music and children’s books to political calls-to-action. Apart from essays, we run dispatches from international literary events, interviews, weekly new translations, book reviews, and more. All that we do we do to connect writers from all over the world to readers like you.
If you have what it takes to bring us to the next level, and would like to be a part of an exciting, dynamic blog team (working with our wider volunteerteam, whose members are based across six continents), check out our final recruitment call of the year! Although the call’s stated deadline is 11 Sep 2017, we will extend it by one week to 18 Sep 2017 just for our blog readers.
So don’t wait, send in your application today! We look forward to hearing from you.
From an essay investigating a literary hoax to new art responding to Trump's xenophobia, our editors share their favorites from the new issue!
Asymptote’s glorious Summer issue is chockablock with gems. Some of our section editors share their highlights:
“To assert that Tove Jansson’s invention of the Moomin world may be partially rooted in ancient lore is, for this writer, to fear performing an act of sacrilege,” confesses Stephanie Sauer in her essay on renowned Finnish author-artist, Tove Jansson. This confession is the crux of Sauer’s questionings. Journey with Sauer from the moment the Moomins were conceived, to its unlikely, subversive evolution. Hold tighter still as she dives into Jansson’s personal life, her questions of war, artistry, womanhood, and sexuality, and the fearless, unconventional course she cut through history.
—Ah-reum Han, Writers on Writers Editor
This issue features excerpts from two plays that deal with aspects of “disappearance” and surveillance. In Blanca Doménech’s The Sickness of Stone, translated from the Spanish by William Gregory, we take a look at a cold, dark world where random pieces of text read from discarded books become a kind of key to unlocking society’s ills or sickness. Gregory’s eloquent, tart translation finds the humor, bite and despair in this fascinating play.
In Hanit Guli’s Orshina, translated from the Hebrew by Yaron Regev, a father must decide how he will disappear from his family’s life and what he will or will not tell them. An odd, compassionate family drama, Regev’s translation of Guli’s one-act is evocative and clear.
They push at these familial forces, the draw of the origin story, and the magic and tragedy as they try on and define new selves...
In this email interview conducted by Editor-in-Chief Lee Yew Leong, award-winning poet and translator Katia Grubisic took time out of her busy schedule to discuss the state of Canadian literature (in English and in French) as well as the challenges she faced translating David Clerson’s lyrical novel, Brothers (recently featured in our Translation Tuesday showcase at The Guardian), including “the ‘bitch’ problem.”
Lee Yew Leong (LYL): David Clerson’s haunting novel Brothers, in your outstanding translation, would not be out of place in the fiction section of our Winter 2017 edition, not only because of the seaward-facing figures connecting many of the pieces but also because of the strong animal motifs. Among the other elements that make up this story’s poetic permutation: brothers and fathers, dreams, the very act of story-telling. As the translator—and therefore arguably the closest reader of the novel—what do you think David Clerson is trying to say with Brothers, and how do you think these elements come together to fit the overall arc?
Katia Grubisic (KG): Thank you for your kind words.
Yes, the novel’s sea-journey theme, the search for the father, the pretty far-out cynanthropy, the origin story, the twin motif—it almost feels mythological, and David’s baroque style in this book lends it a kind of timeless timbre.
As the translator, I may, in fact, be the worst placed to comment on what it’s about, second perhaps only to the author himself! What drew me to the narrative was first the landscape, the way the sea and the briny hills become almost their own character, anchoring and tormenting the brothers (who try to escape their identity as determined by the place they’re from), and drawing them to their inevitable return. Brothers explores how who we are and who we become is shaped by those who make us, including in this case, literally the knife-wielding though well-intentioned mother, who wants to give her firstborn son a companion as a buffer against the cruel world. The brothers are shaped also by their absent “dog of a father,” or rather—and this is telling—by the often conflicting stories told about him. Yet they push at these familial forces, the draw of the origin story, and the magic and tragedy as they try on and define new selves, and their own universe, has such compelling pathos. You don’t want to be them, but you can’t look away.
LYL: The novel at once reminds me of The Return, a film by Andrey Zvyagintsev about two brothers waiting for their father’s return, and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, which not only involves an odyssey on a boat, but also similarly injects a magical realism into the story-telling. What other literary ‘predecessors’ might I, as a non-Canadian, have missed?
KG: I don’t know that Brothers’ ancestry is nationally bound. When I first read the book, it reminded me of Agota Kristof’s Le Grand cahier—the brothers, the old mother, the violence. Pas du tout, David told me; in an interview, he said he had been reading a lot of Cormac McCarthy at the time! He wrote it too at the height of the Printemps érable student and popular uprising in 2012, which subtly tinged the narrative. Though I agree that both The Return and Life of Pi could be seen as kin, in terms of devices and preoccupations.
The wonderful thing about fiction is that it can belong to whichever reader happens to crack the spine. The region David evokes spoke to me so vividly of the Baie des Chaleurs shores in eastern Quebec and northern New Brunswick, but when I asked him about it, he conceded that many had pegged his setting as the Gaspésie region, but spoke instead of the imprint left by work he had read in his youth, including Golding and Stevenson, and even of a dream he once had, in which he saw himself fishing a dead dog out of a lagoon.
Thanks to the 77 backers of our Indiegogo campaign who’ve contributed $12,736 so far, there’s already enough for us to launch a call for a Feature on Literature from Banned Countries. As new work from these affected countries will have to be specially commissioned as well as promoted, we will be directly constrained by what we manage to raise. If you’d like to see a huuge showcase to answer Trump’s new travel ban, due to be released any day now, please pitch in with a donation of whatever amount you can afford or help us spread the word about our fundraiser!
Asymptote seeks hitherto unpublished literary fiction, literary nonfiction and poetry from the seven countries on Trump’s banned list (i.e. from authors who identify as being from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen) that have been created in response to Trump’s travel ban, or can be interpreted as such. If selected for publication, the work will run either in our Translation Tuesday showcase at The Guardian or in our Spring 2017 quarterly edition (or both). Submissions of original English-language work will only be considered for publication in our Spring 2017 edition. For works in English translation, the decision as to where the work will be placed rests entirely at the discretion of our editor-in-chief, who curates Translation Tuesdays at The Guardian and who will be assembling this Special Feature.
While other guidelines from our submissions page apply, contributors to this Feature only will be paid at least USD200 per article.
To make sure that the articles from this Feature are circulated widely, we will leverage on our eight social media platforms in three languages, and, depending on whether our crowdfunding campaign meets its target, paid ads in high-profile media outlets to promote them for maximum impact.
Submissions can be sent directly to email@example.com with the subject header: SUBMISSION: BANNEDLIT (Country/Language/Genre). Queries, which can be directed to the same email address, should carry the subject header: QUERY: BANNEDLIT
Help us bring you literature from the seven countries Trump intends to ban!
Johnny Depp was reported to have spent three million dollars firing Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes out of a canon; our endeavour is modest by comparison: we are aiming to raise at least $30,000 for an urgent showcase of marginalised voices to happen both in our Spring 2017 edition and at The Guardian (here’s an example of what you can look forward to). 20% of all proceeds will be donated directly to ACLU or Refugees Welcome. The more we raise the more we can do: e.g. a printed anthology of the work, a large-scale free event featuring these authors.
But wait, there’s more: support our campaign and you’ll receive specially autographed books by Junot Díaz, Yann Martel and George Szirtes, among others! Apart from the wide selection of books below, we’ll also give away, among our wide range of Asymptote memorabilia, a newly designed AsympTOTE—featuring artwork by the guest artist of our current issue, Dianna Xu. If you’re a loyal Asymptote supporter, you’ll certainly want to add this AsympTOTE to your collection. Don’t wait—donate to our fundraiser today!
2016, a year of promoting global consciousness through world literature
6. We launched ‘Around the World with Asymptote’—a uniquely unfiltered weekly window on world literature
In many ways, 2016 was a year of promoting global consciousness through world literature. For a while now, we’ve been uniquely equipped to identify and present literary discoveries from around the world. This year, after blog editor Allegra Rosenbaum stepped down, we decided to tap our invaluable network of editors-at-large for a new initiative: weekly global briefings aggregating localized dispatches from around the world. Below is an exhaustive list of all 29countries from six collective continents we have reported on and from (click on the hyperlinks to revisit!):
8. Massive publicity coordination leads to unprecedented spike in traffic for Fall 2016 issue
With Anita Raja, László Krasznahorkai, Stefan Zweig, György Spiró and Nobel Prize winner Halldór Laxness in our lineup, as well as the need to publicize our upcoming translation contest judged by David Bellos and Sawako Nakayasu, we decided to announce the release of our Fall 2016 issue in a big way via:
Extensive social media promotion setting us back by about $500 USD
Video trailer (that I personally produced)
Newsletter announcing launch of issue
Publicity blitz on the day of launch
4,000 postcards printed (with the contest announcement on the other side) and distributed in six continents (including at the annual American Literary Translators Association conference), costing around $500 USD
A quarter-page color ad in the print edition of The Times Literary Supplement (Oct 14 edition) and an online ad in their newsletter for the reduced rate of £900 ≈ $1,100 USD
To be honest, this was not money (or time) we could afford to spend (yes, we were going to receive a one-off grant of $8,400 USD from the National Arts Council of Singapore—our first and only grant in all these years—but this money was supposed to go toward covering the yawning deficit incurred from many years of promoting world literature). And who does video trailers for magazine issues anyway? Why bother? (*silent, eloquent gesture.* Tell us to unroll the red carpet elsewhere and we’ll do it.) Still, the issue got quite a bit of media attention (and hits) especially for the Anita Raja article, and that made it worth it.
9. We launch our first publicity packages specially tailored for publishers of world literature (or institutions invested in the promotion of their country’s literature)
15 March 2016 was a momentous day: I did something with Paypal that I’d never done before. I created an invoice from the Asymptote Journal account, charging for the first publicity package we ever sold. The idea for our business model was this: we would leverage our Translation Tuesday showcases at The Guardian, as well as the combined reach of our social media and our newsletters (more than 50,000 followers) to help publishers raise the visibility of their forthcoming or new releases, directly impacting book sales. Although the revenue received from partnering with 13 publishing houses in three continents all through 2016 is still nowhere near providing a full-time salary for any individual, the modest success of these publicity packages gives a glimmer of hope for Asymptote‘s long-term sustainability. If you belong to this specific target demographic and would like to take advantage of the channels we offer to raise the visibility of foreign authors in 2017 (while also supporting our mission), please take a look at this informational slideshow and get in touch! If you mention reading about this publicity package from this blog post, I’ll even offer you the 2016 introductory rate.
10. A year of invitations
In one of Lydia Davis’s very short stories, “The Fellowship,” she writes, “It is not that you are not qualified to receive the fellowship, it is that your patience must be tested first. Each year, you are patient, but not patient enough. When you have truly learned what it is to be patient, so much so that you forget all about the fellowship, then you will receive the fellowship.”
Being Singaporean, there’s no arts fellowship I’m eligible for (editing is still not recognized as a fundable activity according to the Singapore government, let alone an activity for which one receives a fellowship), but I have, in my capacity as Asymptote‘s editor-in-chief, received quite a few lovely invitations this year. Among them:
I judged the PEN International 2016 New Voices Award.
I spoke at a London Book Fair panel—my first—on “Discovering New Stories from Asia, Turkey, and Africa.” Although travel and accomodation were not part of the invitation, I was able to crash on the sofa of a university friend; the Translators Assocation of the Society of Authors in the UK also helped out with a travel subsidy for the onward part of the Taipei-London flight.
SUTD then paid for my onward flight from London to Singapore so that I could participate in a three-day conference on “The Art and Politics of Translation.” They also paid for my trip back to Taipei, which was great!
I make a point of mentioning all these travel arrangements (without which I am not able to take up the invitations), because I often get asked well-meaning questions along the lines of, “Asymptote‘s doing an event in ____; will I get to see you?” Yes, I’ve helped organize many global events (33 of them in fact), but I’m never actually present for them (unless I’m part of the panel itself), because of lack of funds. Back to the problem of perception I brought up in a prior blog post then: it must seem to our readers that we are coping financially, or even thriving, because we keep expanding our team and increasing our offerings. Ah, if only that were the case…
Thank you for keeping me company at the blog all through these three days, and a big thank you to all who were inspired to sign up as sustaining members over the past few days. Your generosity will give Asymptote extra lives to stay in the game. For those of you who are tempted to sign on, but vacillate still, please know that each additional sustaining member brings us closer to being able to operate beyond April 2017. And on top of everything your donation represents, it will also give us an invaluable psychological boost; that what we are doing makes a difference.
To end, here’s Forrest Gander on why Asymptote “contains the DNA for 21st century literary magazines.” A happy year-end from all of us at Asymptote!
This year, Asymptote celebrated its fifth anniversary by meeting readers in the flesh in three continents and five cities (New York, London, Ottawa, Chicago, Belgrade, and Hong Kong; photo documentation and event summaries can be found here). Attracting the biggest turnout with 165 attendees was the New York event held at The New School, featuring Ann Goldstein and Natasha Wimmer in conversation with Frederic Tuten. On the other side of the Atlantic, 2016 saw three Asymptote events at Waterstones, Piccadilly, in March, July, and September. The last, organized in honor of International Translation Day, had Adam Freudenheim, Laura Barber, Deborah Smith, and Laura Barber speaking to a sold-out room of 70, with moderator Jonathan Ruppin saying afterwards that Asymptote had become “a real force in London.”
3. Our partnership with The Guardianturns one
Promoted to The Guardian’s international readership, beyond the small circle of world literature aficionados,Asymptote’s showcase at The Guardianrepresents, for translators, an unparalleled reach in the English-speaking world. As editor of Translation Tuesdays, I either commissioned new work or partnered with publishing houses to present fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from five continents and twenty-nine countries (including underrepresented ones like Andorra, Uzbekistan, Singapore, Iran, and Congo). In curating for diversity, I attempted to correct a Eurocentric bias that has hitherto characterized the canon (European work accounted for just 41% of this year’s lineup; find the full breakdown by continent and country here). Watch this space for our final Translation Tuesday showcase of 2016 next week, where we present an extract of “Mountain of Light” by Akutagawa Prize winner Gen’yū Sōkyū, translated especially for the occasion by contributing editor Sim Yee Chiang.
4. We gave away $4,500 to six emerging translators
This year, we upped the ante and added one more category to our translation contest: Nonfiction. Awarding $4,500 USD (up from $3,000 in 2014) in prizes to six best emerging translators working into English were esteemed judges Michael Hofmann, Ottilie Mulzet and Margaret Jull Costa; additionally, we arranged with The Guardian to present the top entries in each category over three consecutive Tuesdays (one of them, Sean Gasper Bye’s translation of Filip Springer’s extraordinary History of a Disappearance, was even shared 2,275 times, attesting to the newspaper’s incredible reach). Note: this is now an annual contest, with the deadline for the next edition coming up Feb 1, 2017! As with the 2016 edition, we will also be arranging for the winning entries to be showcased in The Guardian, allowing them to be noticed the world over, and possibly launching careers. Find the details here.
5. Daniel Hahn became our resident Agony Uncle for a year
Fielding questions from curious/mystified international readers, Daniel Hahn presided over a monthly column for one entire year. (His last contribution here contains hyperlinks to all previous columns.) Along the way, he ruffled feathers and sparked controversy by opining that translators’ names needn’t necessarily be featured on covers. But mostly, Daniel’s very popular ‘Ask a Translator’ edified and entertained. When I reached out personally to thank Lin Falk van Rooyen for signing up as a sustaining member recently, she even singled out Daniel’s feature for praise:
As a translator I have personally benefitted greatly from Asymptote’s in-depth, inspiring, informative (esp. ‘Ask a Translator’ by the ever sincere, ever astute Daniel Hahn), essential and yes—ambitious!—endeavour to promote and disseminate world literature.
A year of wanderlust in fiction, poetry, nonfiction, drama, visual art, and interviews!
Thanks for joining me at the blog! Before we get into the highlights proper, I thought it fitting to take a look at the number of countries we featured this year, or, rather, will have featured this year.
The matter-of-fact, even slightly cheerful, answer: "Have your characters come to the US!"
Hello! (Taps mic…) Our regular blog editors Madeline, Hanna and Nina are on leave today, so I’ll be guest-blogging to continue our daily programming. My name is Yew Leong (yes, that’s two words for my first name) and I’m the Singaporean editor working behind the scenes of the magazine since 2010. I’m thirty-nine this year (the photo of me, above, was taken in a yakisoba restaurant when I was thirty-six).
Some details of how I came to found the journal are mentioned in the interview I share below, so I won’t get into that here. What I will say to preface my breaking the fourth wall is this: After July 2011, I stopped signing the quarterly issues’ editor’s notes at least partly because, as the only full-time member at Asymptote, I didn’t want to overshadow the team’s collective efforts (for the same reason, I also declined to be videoed for our first-ever Indiegogo campaign). For several years thereafter, all editor’s notes were simply ascribed to “The Editors.”
In July 2016, I decided to sign my name after the editor’s note again: Prior to that, I’d seen Asymptote being written off as a mere “platform” by a prominent translator, but specifically in the derogatory sense of “editor X used the platform Asymptote to do Y” (Y being a massive translation project, requiring coordination across the different roles), as if all I had done was create a free-for-all Facebook or Twitter-like interface for providers of world literature. That could not be further from the truth: there is someone leading the magazine (although hopefully not off a cliff!), someone with a vision to boot, not merely a loose collective of editors, contributing whatever they’d like to contribute.
Secondly, I’d started wondering if, by not putting myself out there a little more, I had become complicit in, let’s just say, a certain racial oppression. This year, after six years of editing the magazine, I was happy to be invited to my first London Book Fair panel (actually any event not organized by Asymptote, although, as its editor-in-chief, I have played varying roles toward making 34 world literature events happen in four continents), and I remain eternally grateful to the Translators’ Association of the Society of Authors in the UK for subsidizing my trip there (as I could not afford the flight ticket otherwise).
But, few know that, in 2014, about five years into helming the magazine, and surviving those five years by wearing many different hats to keep the journal going, an invitation was received by someone on the team to represent Asymptote at an international conference, with the offer to be flown in from wherever. The invitation was sent to a part-time White Assistant Managing Editor who’d been on board less than seven months, who actually lived further away from the conference than me, based on her current city at that time. I’d left the US many years ago to avoid being an invisibilized person of color, specifically in a literary environment (Junot Díaz and Ken Chen talk about this issue very eloquently), and suddenly there I was being overlooked again.
For me, this anthology presents a great lesson of humanity.
Today, we feature editor-in-chief Lee Yew Leong in conversation with Polina Barskova, scholar of the devastating Siege of Leningrad, in which as many as one million perished from famine. Working with a team of historians and translators on “miraculous” archival material, Barskova produced Written in the Dark, an important human testament of its time. After reading this interview, be sure to check out a selection of works from the anthology which we arranged with The Guardian to showcase on a recent Translation Tuesday.
Your project presents a literary phenomenon that has been “unknown even to Russian readers for 70 years,” according to the introduction accompanying the anthology. Can you give our (mostly non-Russian) readers a bit of background into the dire circumstances that resulted in the writing gathered here? Why was it unknown for 70 years, even in its native Russia?
The Siege of Leningrad (1941-1944) was a complex disaster indeed, resulting in around one million deaths from famine. But yet another dire consequence was Soviet power doing everything possible to conceal the humanitarian catastrophe that happened in the city. For decades, only the Soviet version of the heroic fight could be published; all other voices and opinions were suppressed. The poems collected here present the human suffering, not the official version of heroism.
Your work as a scholar on the Siege undoubtedly helped you unearth these important poems, whose survival has been called a “miracle.” Can you shed some light on the discovery, and the process of presenting an English anthology?
This anthology is a collective effort: many scholars worked to unearth and preserve and interpret these texts. My job was mainly to put them together, to organize them into one coherent poetic and historical statement. It is mainly due to the families and disciples of these poets that these texts have survived. In every case, their survival is a miracle.
And with this feeling of awe I’ve been talking about the anthology both in the West and in Russia, and curiously very different audiences receive the book with equal enthusiasm.
all fallen leaves are destined to return to their branches
Today is #GivingTuesday! If you’ve been enjoying our Translation Tuesday showcases at the Asymptote blog and on The Guardian, consider signing up to be a sustaining member at just $5 a day. We’re still several members short of reaching our target; each additional membership helps us get closer to being able to continue beyond April 2017.
For today’s showcase, we’re thrilled to present poetry by the celebrated poet Chou Meng-tieh, named the first Literature Laureate by Taiwan’s National Culture and Arts Foundation in 1997. But his literary achievement belied a lifetime of monastic poverty, decades of which he spent selling books out of a roadside stall. Two years after Chou’s passing in 2014, without any surviving family, our editor-in-chief presents a new translation of one of Chou’s seminal poems, marked by his characteristically ascetic vision.
It's that time of year, and we're proud to recognize six wonderful pieces of literature!
We are thrilled to nominate the following six articles published during the past year for the Pushcart Prize. Please join us in giving a round of applause to both the authors and translators behind these incredible pieces.
At 997 words, Pedro Novoa’s devastating short story, “The Dive”, won Peru’s “Story of 1,000 Words” contest. Translating this nautical thriller cum family saga into English, George Henson made it an Oulipian exercise by keeping the English text under 1,000 words as well. Shimmering with poignancy, the multi-layered story delivers a powerful allegory about the blood ties that bind even when broken—the concatenation of islands we will nevertheless always be.
“To translate means, therefore, not only to exercise extreme vigilance over the movements of the original text, but above all to scrutinize the limits of one’s own language, as it creeps up to the original.” Via co-translators Rebecca Falkoff and Stiliana Milkova, Anita Raja’s magnificent essay frames “Translation as a Practice of Acceptance” and argues that the translator’s greatest resource must be her own inventiveness.
Selected highlights in the new issue from Asymptote section editors!
Last week, we launched “Verisimilitude,” our star-studded Fall 2016 edition. Since then, we’ve been overwhelmed by the critical reception: A Public Space called the issue “a gold mine of work from 31 countries” while The Chicago Review of Books proclaimed it “f**ing gorgeous.” Among the never-before-published work by both well known and emerging translators, writers, and visual artists we presented in this quarterly issue, Anita Raja’s essay on translation made The Literary Hub‘s Best of the Week roundup. Thank you so much and do please keep spreading the word so we can connect our authors with even more readers! This week, to guide your exploration of the new issue, some of our editors contribute highlights from their respective sections. Follow them from Ireland to Iraq to Mexico to Korea and back again.
Using sources as various as a Japanese translation of The Little Prince, Samuel Beckett’s Molloy, or a U.S. government redacted report on “enhanced interrogation techniques,” artist Stefana McClure slivers printed matter and re-employs it as material with which to construct her enigmatic objects: stones wrapped in paper; a ball wound of the paper shreds of a novel; a nearly black “drawing” knit from redacted texts. Carmen Hermo’s conversation with McClure delves into the thinking and process behind the artist’s “tactile translations.”
Our editor-in-chief talks with Jeffrey Green, the translator of Nir Baram's Good People
First of all, congratulations on the very fine translation, which I can recommend to Asymptote‘s readers without the slightest reservation. I was quite impressed by the deftness of your rendering; I found the book ‘unputdownable,’ riveted as I was by your skillful reconstruction in English of Nir Baram’s adman, and the meteoric ascent of his career in 1930s Germany. In fact, other than the odd German word or two every page, the writing didn’t seem to bear any trace of translation, for me at least, as I found it working perfectly well in English, both in terms of the story’s sitcom-like pacing and the sharp, precise English. I’m curious to know how much was lost in translation?
I’m grateful for your compliments, and I’m also very grateful to the editors at Text Publishing in Australia, who went over the manuscript with meticulous care and fine literary judgment. I always had the feeling that they were working with me (and Nir), not against me, with the aim of producing the most readable book possible. I’m glad you think that we succeeded.
With regard to this translation, I benefited from Nir’s input. Translators into English are fortunate, in that the authors they translate usually known the language, so they can correct misunderstandings, notice sentences that one has skipped, etc. Of course, this has a downside as well, because some writers (even Nir on occasion) think they know English better than their translator. Also, the writer always has the feeling that something has been lost, his voice, in the transition into another language. It must be somewhat distressing to hear one’s voice differently from the way one imagined it. On the other hand, sometimes writers discover things about their work when they see it in translation. But they have to accept loss of control inherent in the process of translation.