Posts by Paul Worley

Collective Memory: Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s Human Matter: A Fiction in Review

An exercise in the resilience of human memory, the novel integrates a broad swath of literary and global cultural touchstones . . .

Human Matter: A Fiction by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, translated from the Spanish by Eduardo Aparicio, University of Texas Press, 2019

As noted over the years by scholars such as Arturo Arias, Central American cultural production remains largely at the margins of academic study. As Arias points out in Taking Their Word, because popular knowledge of the region is so sparse, and because geographic ignorance (particularly in the United States) is so widespread, Central American immigrants will often identify Mexico as their country of origin, both for reasons of Latinx solidarity, and to protect themselves from discrimination and prejudice. This erasure is not even a recent phenomenon: the protagonists of the 1983 film El Norte, the Guatemalan-Maya brother and sister Enrique and Rosa Xuncax, are told to tell people that they are from the heavily Indigenous state of Oaxaca, Mexico, to avoid being taken advantage of in both Mexico and the US. However, from the United Fruit Company in the early twentieth century to the practices of Canadian mining companies, and even US president Donald Trump’s facilitating, in the words of the Guatemalan-American author Francisco Goldman, “organized crime” in Guatemala’s 2019 presidential elections, global forces have always played, and continue to play, an outsized role in the region.

Despite its apparently marginal status, the region has made a number of enduring contributions to world literature. Foremost among them is one of the fathers of Latin American modernism, the Nicaraguan Rubén Darío, and the Guatemalan Nobel Laureate Miguel Ángel Asturias, not to mention one of the most important works of Indigenous literature in the Americas, the K’iche’ Maya Popol Wuj. Outside of these points of reference, however, much of the region’s vast, rich literature remains untranslated, which makes Eduardo Aparicio’s translation of Rodrigo Rey Rosa’s El material humano as Human Matter all the more important.

Rey Rosa, perhaps Guatemala’s most important living novelist, has had an eclectic literary trajectory. Having gone to New York in the early 1980s, he eventually became the protégé of the US-expatriate author Paul Bowles, spending a good deal of time with the author in his adopted home of Tangier, Morocco, and even becoming executor of Bowles’s literary estate upon the author’s death in 1999. Tellingly, one of Rey Rosa’s previously translated novels, the magnificent The African Shore, deals with the intersection of tourism, privilege, and migration in the border zone not between Guatemala and the US, or even between Guatemala and México, but between Morocco and Spain.

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Translation Tuesday: “I fell in love with a poet . . . ” by Manuel Tzoc

I fell in love like you fall in love with silence / and darkness (fears I’ve never conquered)

This week’s Translation Tuesday features the work of the Indigenous/Queer poet Manuel Tzoc. “I fell in love with a poet” comes from Tzoc’s theatrical poetry El jardín de los infantes locos y la escafandra de oro (The Garden of Insane Children and the Golden Diving Helmet). The poem, imbued with a strong, imaginative voice that comes through even in translation, is a love address to a poet—a poet that exists only within Tzoc’s address itself. This imagined lover/poet is a pastiche of Guatemalan and international attributes, past and future stories, and complex desires. Identity is woven together from what the addressed poet does and does not do, what he wears. To a certain extent, the poet as the subject of address in Tzoc’s poem is an ideal subject, but not an idyllic or stereotypical one. Desire is expansive, and by imagining and versifying the poet/lover, Tzoc is able to birth the ideal made possible in poetry to encompass the specificity and the variety of a intersectional Indigenous Central American/urban/Queer poetics.

I fell in love with a poet
a boy poet
with the attitude of a horrible little prince
I fell in love like you fall in love with silence
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What’s New in Translation: April 2019

The latest in translated fiction, reviewed by members of the Asymptote team.

Looking for new books to read this April? Look no further with this edition of What’s New in Translation, featuring new releases translated from Thai, German, and Brazilian Portuguese. Read on to find out more about Clarice Lispector’s literature of exile, tales of a collection of eccentric villagers, and a comic book adaptation of Bertolt Brecht.

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Tales of Mr. Keuner by Bertolt Brecht and Ulf K., translated from the German by James Reidel, Seagull Books, 2019

Review by Josefina Massot, Assistant Managing Editor

If Brecht’s bite-sized, biting tales of Mr. Keuner can be thought of as a corpus, it isn’t by virtue of their “what,” “when,” “where,” or “how”: they deal with everything from existentialism to Marxist politics, have often hazy settings, and run the gamut from parable to poem; it’s the titular “who” that pulls these sundry musings together.

Until recently, their fellowship was purely formal: Mr. Keuner (also known as Mr. K) was practically nondescript, a mere “thinking man” whom Walter Benjamin traced back to the Greek keunos and the German keiner—a universal no one. This seemingly baffling figure would have made sense given the original tales’ fifth W, their “why”: since they were meant to edify general audiences, they would have gained from as null a champion as possible. After all, a man stripped of his traits is stripped of individuality, untainted by bias; he is the ultimate thinker, the voice of global truth. READ MORE…

Ambiguity and Bilingual Art: Pavel Arseniev’s Reported Speech in Review

Through art like Arseniev’s poetry, we gain a toehold, however momentary, from which we are better able to grasp the present and prepare a future.

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Reported Speech by Pavel Arseniev, Cicada Press, 2018

Reviewed by Paul Worley, Editor-at-Large

I tell my students that literature does things, but I prefer to do so in even less polished terms. From a more abstract perspective, I see current attacks on the humanities (especially literature) in the United States and elsewhere as being so vicious precisely because of the fact that literature does do things. It changes how we, as humans, relate to and understand others, as well as ourselves.

That said, there are moments when I profoundly doubt this. For example, I was recently discussing the fabricated crisis at the US-Mexico border and Trump’s wall with someone I had just met. During our discussion, this person informed me that Stephanie Elizondo Griest’s nonfiction All the Agents and Saints: Dispatches from the US Borderlands, a work that gives a nuanced, highly sensitive portrait of the US-Mexico border, actually serves to justify that border’s further militarization. It was like being told by someone with a very serious face that Shelley’s “Ozymandius” is a laudatory poem on the subject of indelible human achievement or that Swift’s A Modest Proposal provided a brilliant roadmap for the betterment of the Irish economy. And yet, even when my doubts about literature and its power dominate my thoughts, events like the murder of Iraqi novelist Alaa Mashzoub snap me back to reality. Literature matters, so much so that in other parts of the world literature can get you killed, even as I safely type this up in my home in the United States. Perhaps this will soon be the case here, too.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news focuses on Latin America.

It was a busy week for literature in Latin America. Festivals, conventions, and prize ceremonies brought writers and translators together, and our team members are soothing our fomo with their reporting. Find the latest news about world literature on the Asymptote blog every Friday!

Lara Norgaard, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Brazil:

The hottest summer I ever saw was the winter I spent in Rio de Janeiro. That is likely what writers and readers say as they flock to the tropical state for major literary festivals this July and August.

Brazil’s most important literary event of the year, the Paraty International Literary Festival (Flip), took place from July 25–29 in Paraty, Rio de Janeiro. The festival organizer, Joselia Aguiar, explains in an interview that this year’s edition focused on interiors—“love, death, desire, God, transcendence.” Aguair also sought to include other artistic genres at the event, inviting guests such as actor Fernanda Montenegro. Also in Paraty and simultaneous to Flip, a group of publishers hosted book releases and even more literary programming in an event called Casa Paratodxs.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news brings us to Romania, Mexico, and Singapore.

We are in the thick of the World Cup, but that does not mean that everything else stops! We are back with the latest literary updates from around the world. MARGENTO reports from Bookfest Bucharest on the latest of Romanian publishing and Romanian-US connections that emerged during the festival. Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn discuss the latest publications from the Yucatan Peninsula, focusing on indigenous writers. Finally, Theophilus Kwek tells us about recent news in the Singaporean literary world. Happy reading!

MARGENTO, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Romania: 

Bookfest Bucharest is one of the largest international book festivals in Europe, growing larger and larger by the year. This year it featured over 150 publishers. Although expanding, the festival seemed less loud this time for a quite mundane reason: the organizers placed the beer patios further away from the pavilions than they did in the past. The atmospherics and the events felt really animated, though, and sometimes even intense. The guest of honor was the United States, with a centrally placed and welcoming space hosting four to six events every day. One of the most popular panels was chaired by the ambassador himself—HE Hans Klemm—on the life and work of Romanian-born American critic and fiction writer Matei Călinescu (and the dedicated Humanitas series).

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On Translating Indigenous Languages

The translator bears a particular kind of ethical responsibility towards the text, the poet, and poet’s community.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but in 2018 translating Indigenous literatures in the Américas from Indigenous languages and/or Spanish is a political act. Even prior to now, at dinner parties and other settings for droll conversation in the United States, people have often perked up when I mention that I study Mesoamerican languages and cultures. With an interest typically grounded in lost civilizations, ancient mysteries, and, occasionally, UFOs, they usually then follow up with an inquiry as to why, if I study dead languages, I didn’t opt to study Latin, ancient Greek, or Biblical Hebrew instead. When I assert that no, Maya languages such as Yucatec and Tsotsil are far from dead, many people refuse to believe it and are more than happy to contest the point.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news brings us to Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, and Indonesia.

June is upon us and we are settling in for some summer reading. Join us as we catch up with our international correspondents about the literary happenings around the world. This week brings us the latest on indigenous literature from Colombia and Mexico, book fairs in Argentina, and new artistic endeavors in Indonesia!

Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, Editors at Large, reporting from Colombia and Mexico:

From April 25 to 29 in Bogotá, Colombia, indigenous writers and scholars and critics of indigenous literatures from throughout the Américas came together in the 5th Continental Intercultural Encounter of Amerindian Literatures (EILA). The theme for this iteration of the bi-annual conference was “Indigenous Writing, Extractivism, and Bird Songs.” The centering of these concerns reflects a turn in the field of Indigenous literatures towards recognizing indigenous ways of writing that take place beyond Latin script, as well as ongoing ecological concerns that are at the heart of a good deal of indigenous literatures and Indigenous activism. In addition to literary readings and panels held at the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, writers and critics presented to the general public at Bogotá’s International Book Festival (FILBO), and indigenous poets gave a reading in the town of Guatavita, home to a lake sacred to the Muisca people. Among the writers in attendance were (K’iche’) Humberto Ak’abal, (Yucatec) Jorge Cocom Pech, (Wayuu) Vito Apüshana, (Wayuu) Estercilla Simanca, (Wayuu) Vicenta Siosi, and (Yanakuna) Fredy Chicangana.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This week we report from Mexico, Guatemala, and the UK.

We’re still elated over the launch of our Spring 2018 issue, but that doesn’t mean the work of compiling literary news ever stops. Our weekly roundup brings us to Mexico, Guatemala, and the United Kingdom.

Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, Editors at Large, reporting from Mexico

April has been an exciting month for the Tsotsil Maya poetry collective Snichimal Vayuchil. First, on April 12 the collective participated in a transnational indigenous poetry reading with Kimberly L. Becker, a poet of mixed Cherokee, Celtic, and Teutonic descent. Poems were read in English, Spanish, and Tsotsil, with collective coordinator Xun Betán translating several of Becker’s works into Tsotsil. The event was sponsored by Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina, United States, and Abuelita Books in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news brings us to Guatemala, Mexico, and Poland.

Wondering what is going on around the literary globe? You are in luck! This week we have reports from our amazing Editors at Large from Guatemala, Mexico, and Poland. Keep on reading! 

José García Escobar, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Guatemala:

We’ve got new winners and new publications coming from Guatemala!

F&G Editores just announced the latest winner of their biannual short-story collection award, BAM Letras, Marlon Meza with his book Coreografía del desencanto. Additionally, the jury suggested the publication of Hijos del pedernal y la brea by Gerardo José Sandoval and Voices aisladas by Mario Alejandro Chavarría. Sadly, the BAM Letras award, which has recognized the work of great writers such as Arnoldo Gálvez Suárez and Valeria Cerezo has come to an end, according to F&G Editores’ director, Raul Figueroa Sarti.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Bringing you the latest in world literature news.

Never is there a dull period in the world of literature in translation, which is why we make it our personal mission to bring you the most exciting news and developments. This week our Editors-at-Large from Mexico, Central America, and Spain, plus a guest contributor from Lithuania, are keeping their fingers on the pulse! 

Paul M. Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, Editors-at-Large, reporting from Mexico: 

On February 21, numerous events throughout Mexico took place in celebration of the International Day of Mother Languages. In San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, CELALI (the State Center for Indigenous Language and Art) held a poetry reading featuring Tseltal poet Antonio Guzmán Gómez, among others, and officially recognized Jacinto Arias, María Rosalía Jiménez Pérez, and Martín Gómez Rámirez for their work in developing and fortifying indigenous languages in the state.

Later in San Cristóbal, at the Museum of Popular Cultures, there was a poetry reading that brought together four of the Indigenous Mexican poetry’s most important voices: Mikeas Sánchez, Adriana López, Enriqueta Lúnez, and Juana Karen, representing Zoque, Tseltal, Tsotsil and Ch’ol languages, respectively. Sánchez, Lúnez, and Karen have all published in Pluralia Ediciones’s prestigious “Voces nuevas de raíz antigua” series.

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In Review: The Blind Man

That is, beyond the words themselves, the textuality of the work does justice to the playfully serious attitude of the original.

The Blind Man: 100th Anniversary Facsimile Edition edited by Marcel Duchamp, Henri-Pierre Roché, and Beatrice Wood (Ugly Duckling Press, 2017). Translated from the French by Elizabeth Zuba. 

With all of the uncertainties of the current geopolitical climate, it is fitting that in the beginning of 2018 we turn our attention to the past for historical context and a better sense of the wider context of recent events. In Sophie Seita’s insightful essay that accompanies Ugly Duckling Presse’s one hundredth anniversary facsimile collection of Dadaist zines and ephemera associated with The Blind Man (referred to in Hyperallergic as “a trove of Dadaist fun”), the critic encourages readers to understand Ugly Duckling’s reissue of these magazines precisely within their broader context, with “a facsimile reprint like ours attempt[ing] to recreate the original print context and…forg[ing] new dialogues with contemporary literary and artistic communities today.” Of course, in 1917, Europe was in the throes of World War I, and the artistic movement which the The Blind Man is most closely associated, Dada, is frequently held up as “an artistic revolt and protest against traditional beliefs of a pro-war society.” Rather than simply the considerable achievement of reproducing a one hundred-year-old, self-consciously cheeky avant-garde magazine in a beautiful collector’s edition, I’m keenly interested in the dialogues Seita claims the re-edition seeks to cultivate, meditating as much on what The Blind Man tells us about the present as it tells us about the past. In my view, Ugly Duckling more than delivers.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Bringing this week's greatest hits from Mexico, the Czech Republic, and France!

Still happily reading through all the amazing pieces included in the brand new Winter 2018 issue, we bring you the latest literary news from around the world. Up first is Paul Worley with news about recent publications and translations. Julia Sherwood then fils us in on the latest from the Czech Republic. To close things out, Barbara Halla reports from France. 

Paul WorleyEditor-at-Large, Reporting from Mexico:

From Quintana Roo, Mexico, The Maya cultural site La cueva del tapir (The Tapir’s Cave), announced the forthcoming publication of a new Maya arts and culture magazine, Sujuy Ts’ono’ot: El arte de los territorios en resistencia. The unveiling of the issue will be held February 3 at 7 PM in Bacalar’s International House of the Writer. According to the information released on Facebook, contributors to the first issue will include Maya writers from the region, in addition to writers from Guatemala (Walter Paz Joj) and Bolivia (Elías Caurey).

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your weekly literary news from around the world.

Our team is always keen to keep you up to speed on the most recent prizes, festivals, and publications regarding the most important writers around the world. With this in mind,  we are excited to bring you the latest news from our editors-at-large in Mexico, Central America and Indonesia. Stay tuned for next week! 

Paul Worley and Kelsey Woodburn, Editors-at-Large, reporting from Mexico: 

The Tsotsil Maya poetry and book arts collective Snichimal Vayuchil held a book presentation for its latest publication, Uni tsebetik, on November 30 at the La Cosecha Bookstore in San Cristobal de las Casa, Chiapas, Mexico. A collection of works by the group’s female members, the volume was introduced by the Tsotsil sculptor and multimedia artist Maruch Méndez and anthropologist Diane Rus. The event is part of a big month for the group, which includes the publication of their selected works translated into English, and a reading of works from Uni tsebetik at the Tomb of the Red Queen in the Maya archeological site of Palenque.

The same night, the State Center for Indigenous Languages, Arts, and Literature (CELALI) held a book presentation for its latest publication, Xch’ulel osil balamil, by poet and artist María Concepción Bautista Vázquez. The anthology Chiapas Maya Awakening contained her work in an English translation by Sean S. Sell, who was interviewed in Asymptote in April.

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