Posts by Rosie Clarke

Join Asymptote in New York City!

Here's what's what for Asymptote's fifth birthday party in the Big Apple!

This March 3rd in New York City, we’re thrilled to be holding an event to celebrate our fifth anniversary, where we’ll be joined by two multi-award winning superstars of translation: Natasha Wimmer and Ann Goldstein. Between them, these women have brought some of the biggest names in contemporary literature to English-language readers. In anticipation of our event, here’s everything you need to know about our extraordinary guests and host, Frederic Tuten.

Award-winning translator Natasha Wimmer is best known for her translations from Spanish to English of the work of Chilean novelist Roberto Bolaño, who was described by the New York Times as  “the most significant Latin American literary voice of his generation.”


Interviewing Alexander Beecroft, author of An Ecology of World Literature

"The idea seems to be that globalization isn’t one simple story, but neither is it a collection of unrelated stories—it’s a tangle of narratives."

Alexander Beecroft is Associate Professor in Classics and Comparative Literature at the University of South Carolina. He teaches courses in Greek and Latin language and literature, ancient civilizations, both ancient and modern literary theory, and theories and practices of world literature. His key fields of research specialization focus on the literatures of Ancient Greece and Rome, and pre-Tang (before AD 600) Chinese literature, in addition to contemporary discussions regarding world literature. His second book, An Ecology of World Literature: From Antiquity to the Present Day, was published by Verso in January. In it, he argues for the benefits of an ecological, rather than the conventional economical, framework in the discussion of global literatures, shedding light on the difficulties involved in ascertaining, defining, and assimilating multifarious linguistic forms.

I spoke to Professor Beecroft through email about the intersections between world literature, politics, geography, and the advantages and disadvantages that literary translation can have on upholding minority languages.

Rosie Clarke: Could you begin by briefly outlining your academic background, and explaining what brought you to write An Ecology of World Literature?

AB: My earliest training, as an undergraduate, was in Classics, and from there I moved into an interest in early China. As I entered graduate school, I knew I wanted to combine those interests, but struggled for some time to figure out how. As I worked on my dissertation, I began to realize that, while many things about archaic and classical Greece and early (pre-220 BC) China were different, they did have an intriguing similarity. Both were politically fragmented regions within which circulated some sense of a shared culture. That first book explored that particular connection, but led me to think about how those kinds of structural similarities between literatures might be discussed in a more general way.

RC: Can you explain why you chose to structure the investigation here with an ecological framework?

AB: We’re very used to thinking about modes of cultural production, circulation, and exchange in terms of economic metaphors. Those metaphors have a real value: cultural recognition, like just about everything else, is in scarce supply, and so the language of markets and economic efficiency has much to teach us about culture.

I thought it might be helpful, however, to consider ecological models as an alternative. Ecology, like economics, deals in how scarce resources get distributed in a given context—but where economic models tend to suggest a single winner, and a single winning strategy, ecology suggests that there can be multiple strategies for surviving in different niches.

I think this is a particularly important point in today’s world. The power of English and of the English-language publishing industry worldwide makes translation, especially into English, into the most lucrative form of literary success—but in fact writers can and do thrive through other strategies, including by writing work designed for their own local context. Further, we need to recognize that the ecologies within which literatures operated in the past were different, operating for example under court patronage or with other kinds of relationships to the political and social order.


Spotlight on Our Close Approximations Judges

Spotlight on our translation contest judges, who will be awarding $4,500 in prizes

With the deadline for the second edition of our Close Approximations contest fast approaching, we’ll be proudly revisiting the winning translations of our previous edition, selected by Eliot Weinberger and Howard Goldblatt, over the next three weekends starting from tomorrow, right here on the blog.

Awarding a total of $4,500 in prize money to six winners this time are Michael Hofmann (Poetry), Ottilie Mulzet (Fiction) and Margaret Jull Costa (Nonfiction). If you’re inspired by what you read here, there is still time to enter, and we are encouraging submissions via our Submittable portal. Entrants have until December 15 to be in with a chance of winning up to 1,000USD, in addition to publication in our April 2016 issue, joining a roster of translators we have published that includes J.M. Coetzee, Lydia Davis, Susan Bernofsky, Robert Chandler, Ros Schwartz, Daniel Hahn, Pierre Joris and Rosmarie Waldrop.

To further pique your interest, here’s more about our wonderful judges and what they think about the act of translation.


In Conversation: George Henson, Translator

Rosie Clarke chats with George Henson, translator of Sergio Pitol's "The Art of Flight"

George Henson is a senior lecturer at UT Dallas, where he specializes in literary translation, translation theory, Spanish language, 20th century Latin American poetry and narrative, and queer literature. His translations of short stories by Mexican author Elena Poniatowska have appeared in Nimrod, Translation Review, The Literary Review, and Puerto del Sol. His translation of Carlos Pintado’s short story “Joy Eslava” was published by Zafra Lit, and his translations of poems by Francisco Morán have appeared in Sojourn and The Havana Reader.

His translation of Sergio Pitol’s The Art of Flight, the first of Pitol’s “Trilogy of Memory,” was published last month by Deep Vellum. Recipient of the Cervantes Prize in 2005, Pitol is considered by many to be Mexico’s greatest living author, but this is his first appearance in English translation. I spoke with George via email about why this could be, and discussed his translation practice and the challenges of working with a multigeneric work like Pitol’s. READ MORE…

Asymptote Honored at London Book Fair 2015

Spoiler alert: we won the International Translation Initiative Award!

Greetings from sunny London!

This week is shaping up to be very exciting for Asymptote, as yesterday evening we were honoured with the 2015 London Book Fair’s International Literary Translation Initiative Award. This is undoubtedly a very momentous occasion for us, both personally and professionally, as this prestigious prize recognizes excellence in the field of literary translation, awarded to an organisation that has  “succeeded in raising the profile of literature in translation, promoting literary translators, and encouraging new translators and translated works.” Not only is this the first time a Singaporean organization has been honored at the London Book Fair, but also the first time Singapore has been represented altogether. READ MORE…

What We’re Reading in March

Experimental contemporary novelists, classic science fiction, and not-to-be-missed writings on art: Asymptote recommends!

Rosie Clarke (marketing manager): Last month I found that “torturous” reading need not mean “badly written.” I inadvertently spent February with books fixated on death, mourning, poverty, and disturbing desires. In anticipation of her new novel Gutshot, I raced through Amelia Gray’s AM/PM and Threats, in addition to a difficult digestion of Jane Unrue’s Love Hotel, and finally a more peaceful meander through Swiss-German proto-modernist Regina Ullmann’s The Country Road. Together, the intensity of these works had a simultaneously invigorating and exhausting effect.

Gray poses a rather exciting figure to me—of her own fragmentary and boldly inventive fiction, she commented in a recent interview with the New Yorker that “life is such a natural mix of horror and humor that it lends itself easily to the form.” AM/PM is a collection of interconnected vignettes: single page scenes and observations, made on relationships, loneliness, madness, all set in unsettling scenarios of ambiguous reality.

Threats extends Gray’s use of dark humor coupled with a troubling sense of dread. It takes you to a dark place, where loss and solitude manifest in ways almost too real to take. The novel begins with its protagonist, David, watching his wife bleed to death, then sitting with her body for days before intervention. His fragile mental state dissolves, and he loses all concept of time, with short chapters mimicking this to great effect. The titular threats are paper scraps inscribed with poetic, surreal warnings, which David tries to understand. I have never read a book that so effectively communicates the desolation and emotional destruction death can have on a person. This, interwoven with the mystery of his wife’s death and the anonymous notes, makes Threats bizarre and intoxicating.


Meeting Our Readers in the Flesh! (Part II/II)

With 12 hours remaining and just $1,480 to go, Rosie Clarke gives us a dispatch from our anniversary event in New York

The theme of our fourth anniversary event in New York was ‘Why Retranslate the Classics?,’ and three leading figures in contemporary translation—Edith Grossman, Susan Bernofsky, and Damion Searls—shared their perspectives with us, speaking eloquently and insightfully on their different approaches to retranslating some of the greatest works in European literature.

Columbia University’s Director of Literary Translation Susan Bernofsky started things off, addressing the topic of retranslation by saying that one should take it on when “you have something to say about a text that hasn’t been said before.” She then recalled the formative experience that inspired her to translate–reading Siddhartha at the age of 14—and how, when returning to Hesse’s novel as a translator, she had been transported back to her younger self, feeling the essence of the text as “a statement and meditation on promise and dreams, and a hope for the future.” Thus, retaining this sense of harmony and balance is crucial to a faithful translation. Later, after giving a beautiful reading of a favorite passage from her own translation of Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Bernofsky highlighted the way her translation slowed down the action in order to depict the “dramatic horribleness,” and to be as “gruesome as possible.” Despite this, she described her fondness for Kafka’s “bittersweet comedy,” and the importance of translation to capturing Gregor’s melodramatic nature.