Language: Czech

Spring 2014: The Space Between Languages

Translation requires an inner urgency that will make that which is different as close to the original as possible.

By April 2014, Asymptote has snowballed into a team of 60. Though I never signed up to lead so many team members, expansion is a matter of inevitability for a magazine that publishes new work from upwards of 25 countries every quarter (and that prides itself on editorial rigor). After all, if Asymptote section editors only relied on personal connections, it would only be a matter of time before available leads dried up. There is simply no substitute for local knowledge and, more importantly, local networking, since getting the author’s permission to run or translate his or her work is often the hardest part. (For the English Fiction Feature in the Spring 2014 issue alone, I sent solicitations, directly or indirectly, to Rohinton Mistry, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jhumpa Lahiri, Ha Jin, Chang-rae Lee, Tash Aw, Akhil Sharma, and Tao Lin—all in vain alas.) An entire book could probably be written about how Asymptote wooed author X or translator Y or guest artist Z to come on board as contributor. One particularly memorable (and—I assure you—not representative of the way we operate) episode comes to mind: When her phone call to an author was intercepted and met with a flat rejection by his secretary, a particularly persistent team member signed up for a two-day workshop conducted by said author. At an intermission, she casually makes the ask. The author agrees to discuss the matter the next day, at a restaurant. During dinner, our team member is subjected to intensive grilling before permission is finally granted to run and translate his work. Here to recount how we managed to ask Nobel laureate Herta Müller to come on board as contributor (and to give us permission to translate her moving essay into 8 additional languages) is editor-at-large Julia Sherwood:

I was invited to join the Asymptote team as editor-at-large for Slovakia after volunteering to translate into Slovak Jonas Hassen Khemiri´s Open Letter to Beatrice Ask, which appeared in 20 languages in the Spring 2013 issue of Asymptote. The journal had only been around for two years, but it had already established a reputation for featuring translations from a staggering array of languages and authors who had never been published in English. Slovak, my native language, had yet to make an appearance, so I immediately set out to source suitable texts in high-quality translations. My first success came when “Where to in Bratislava”, a story by Jana Beňová and translated by Beatrice Smigasiewicz, was chosen for the Winter 2014 issue. Soon after that I managed something of a scoop: bringing to AsymptoteThe Space Between Languages,” an essay by Nobel laureate Herta Müller. READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Print houses and jury panels are busy, autumn is coming.

Fall’s footsteps can already be heard in literary circles. As summer hosts its last open-air festivals, prize organizers and publishers are gearing up for a new season of surprises. In today’s dispatch, our Editors-At-Large from Europe tell us more about what is going on in the Czech Republic, Portugal, and France in this transitionary period. Come back next week for this summer’s last dispatch. 

Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large, reporting from the Czech Republic:

Held from 1 July to 4 August at venues in five cities – Brno, Ostrava, Wrocław, Košice and Lviv – across four countries, Authors‘ Reading Month (ARM) may well be Europe’s biggest literary festival. It is certainly a major logistical feat: now in its 19th year, the festival featured 100 authors from six countries. Turkey alone, this year’s guest country, was represented by more than thirty authors, including Nedim Gürsel,  Murathan Mungan, Ayfer Tunç and Çiler İlhan. A strong Czech contingent featured prize-winning novelists Bianca Bellová and Josef Pánek, bestselling writers Michal Viewegh and Alena Mornštajnová, as well as a plethora of poets.

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Translation Tuesday: An Extract from “To The Border” by Ondřej Štindl

Remembering the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, exactly 50 years ago to this date

50 years ago on 21 August 1968, the armies of five Warsaw Pact countries marched into Czechoslovakia, crushing the short-lived experiment with democratic socialism known as the Prague Spring. This brutal clampdown marked the beginning of “normalization”: within months of the invasion, before the borders were sealed, thousands of people fled the country. Tens of thousands of Czechs and Slovaks who refused to pledge allegiance to the new regime and declare their support for the Soviet-led “fraternal assistance” lost their jobs. Free expression was stifled, scores of writers, film and theatre directors, artists, musicians and other artists were banned from publishing or performing. Some, like Milan Kundera or Miloš Forman, were driven into exile, while of those who stayed, dozens were imprisoned, and their children punished for their parents’ “sins.” (My own parents were among those silenced and later jailed, while I was barred from access to higher education). Playwright Václav Havel, who would spend years in prison for his outspoken opposition to the new regime before becoming the country’s first post-communist President following the 1989 Velvet Revolution, articulated the devastating impact of normalization on the people of Czechoslovakia in an open letter addressed to Communist Party Secretary-General Gustáv Husák in 1975:

“Despair leads to apathy, apathy to conformity, conformity to routine performance—which is then cited as evidence of ‘mass political involvement’. All this goes to make up the contemporary concept of ‘normal’ behaviour—a concept which is, in essence, deeply pessimistic…  Order has been established. At the price of a paralysis of the spirit, a deadening of the heart and devastation of life. Surface ‘consolidation’ has been achieved. At the price of a spiritual and moral crisis in society?”

Lest we forget the hard-fought lessons of history that still hold great relevance today, let’s remind ourselves of them again and again through great works of literature, such as this vivid description of a political awakening in the aftermath of this invasion, in Ondřej Štindl’s novel translated for the first time into English by Tereza and Mike Baugh for Asymptote.

—Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large for Slovakia

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Our weekly roundup of literary news brings us to the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tunisia.

It is literary prize season and recent news that the Nobel Prize for Literature will not be awarded this year along with growing excitement for forthcoming award announcements have kept the literary community on our toes! This week we bring you the latest news from the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Tunisia. Enjoy!

Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-large, reporting from the Czech Republic:

April 4 saw the announcement of the winners of the most celebrated Czech literary prize, the Magnesia Litera. For the first time in four years the title “book of the year” went not to a work of fiction but to an analysis of contemporary Czech politics against the backdrop of recent history, Opuštěná společnost (The Abandoned Society) by journalist Erik Tabery. The fiction prize was awarded to Jaroslav Pánek for his novel Láska v době globálních klimatických změn (Love in the Time of Global Climate Change), the story of a scientist  forced to confront his own prejudices while attending a conference in Bangalore.

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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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Fear Everywhere: European Literature Days, Spitz/Krems Austria, 16–19 November 2017

“We live in societies which do not want a future; we just want to endlessly extend the present.”

A few days ago, just as the busy Christmas shopping season in London got underway, Oxford Circus underground station was evacuated with thousands of people fleeing from one of the city’s busiest spots. Soon it turned out that what triggered the panic weren’t shots fired but rather an altercation between two men on one of the platforms. Fear has now pervaded our everyday lives.

Fear is Everywhere. European Literature Days couldn’t have chosen a more apt theme for the time in which we live. “Fear of those who flee and fear of refugees; anxiety about poverty and collapse; fear of religious fundamentalism and the implosion of values; fear of technology and of technology making humans obsolete; fear of permanent communication and language loss; fear of disorientation as well as of total control—the list could go on endlessly.” This is how the Artistic Director of the European Literature Days, Austrian writer Walter Grond (whose latest book, the historical novel, Drei Lieben/Three Loves, was published earlier this year), defined the headline theme of the gathering of leading European authors, this year held from 16 to 19 November in Spitz on the bank of the Danube in Austria’s wine region.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The most important literary news from the US, Australia, and the Czech Republic.

In addition to our usual roundup this week of the latest and most exciting prizes and competitions, our Editor-at-Large in the USA, Madeline Jones, shares some important news about sexual harassment in the nation’s media and publishing industry; Editor-at-Large Tiffany Tsao draws our attention to the online harassment of an Indigenous poet, just over a week before the start of Australia’s first Indigenous literature festival; Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood fills us in on the most exciting new works being released in Czech Republic, and pens a short obituary for a legendary and fearless translator who rubbed shoulders with some of the mid-century’s greatest authors and defied the Czech Soviet authorities. We hope you find this week’s news informative, and we express our solidarity with all women around the world who are standing up to abuse.

Madeline Jones, Editor-at-Large, reporting from the USA: 

The American publishing and media industries have been rocked by an outpouring of sexual harassment and assault accusations against powerful men who have used their standing and infl-uence—and in some cases millions of dollars—to silence women’s complaints. The New York Times and The New Yorker reported the first stories implicating Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein in a number of harassment and assault charges on October 5th, which sparked a revolution. Over fifty women have since come forward with complaints about Weinstein’s behavior, he has been fired from his own company, and Hachette Book Group promptly shut down Weinstein Books. The hashtag #metoo sprung up in the wake of these first accusations, demonstrating the sweeping extent of harassment across all areas of work and life, and a list started circulating among women in journalism and media called “Shitty Media Men” where women shared specific names of male perpetrators who had made unwanted advances or offered quid pro quos and who are still employed at prominent magazines and newspapers.

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Editors in Slovak Publishing Houses: An Endangered Species?

It cannot be repeated often enough that the editor’s work on a book is as important as the work of those responsible for its physical production.

No longer plagued by censors and paper shortages since the end of communism, the publishing industry in former Czechoslovakia has faced other kinds of constraints that it shares with much of the commercially-driven world in which we live. Literary scholar and critic Ivana Taranenková shares with Asymptote’s Slovak editor-at-large Julia Sherwood the findings of a survey comparing editorial practices in Czech and Slovak publishing houses before and after 1989. The survey was carried out by the web journal Platform for Literature and Research, which Taranenková runs together with her colleagues Radoslav Passia and Vladimír Barborík.

Recent publications of new literary works by Slovak authors as well as works in translation have exposed a trend that is trivial yet irksome. While the number of published books continues to grow and their visual quality is improving, pundits have increasingly noted the declining standard of manuscript editing. This is a problem not just for literary reviewers, but also for those who judge literary awards when they assess each year’s literary output.

Editorial standards are often so dismal that these poorly edited manuscripts can no longer be seen as just isolated instances of incompetence or failure on the part of individual editors (as some reviewers have suggested), but rather as a systemic issue. Other than in some major publishing houses, the profession of editor appears to be waning, a victim of the drive for “increased efficiency” in publishing, and a growing reliance on outsourcing that requires a smaller investment of time and money per book, ultimately resulting in dilettantism. The same also applies to emerging independent publishers.

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Translation Tuesday: “The Lost” by Jan Čep

“Quite a detour,” said the old man shaking his head. “You must have gotten lost.”

Today we’re thrilled to present a story by Jan Čep, a Catholic Modernist whose stories depict characters lost both spiritually and geographically. Weaving together deep mysticism and delicate realism, his style of writing has earned him a reputation as one of the most distinctive voices in twentieth century Czech prose.

That afternoon the house emptied out, the voices in the neighboring rooms fell silent, the wagon of a child stood overturned in the yard, and inside the half-open gate peeked someone’s goat. Clouds covered the sky and hills encircled the ravaged and vindictive countryside; the trails led nowhere and the steel surface of the pond shimmered with hostility.

Petr Kleofáš left the house and set out on the first trail he found without meeting a single soul. On a marshy meadow with dry grass, stumps of old willows stood over black pools. Grey groves, blasted by the breath of age and death, bit maliciously into the barren hillsides. Past the pond on the other side, crooked roofs from the village hunched beneath the dismal sky.

Petr Kleofáš found himself in a grassy ditch below an empty stubble field with two stunted pine trees. A bit further stood a forest, full of dry needles and fallen cones. The only sounds were the rustle of dry grass and the bloodless whisper, like fire consuming paper, inside Petr Kleofáš. He half-knelt, half-lay on the cold earth; eyes closed, he silently counted the beat of his slowing heart. The sense of sheer nothingness and the proximity of death caused a poisonous and grotesque sweetness to spring inside him. Damp and cooling colors flowed before his eyes…

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

The international literary news you won't find anywhere else.

It’s Friday and we’re back with the latest news from our Editors-at-Large, providing us with their personal roundups of the most exciting literary developments in their region. We kick off with Jessie Stoolman in Morocco, where there’s never a shortage of intriguing events and publications; Julia Sherwood in Slovakia takes us on a tour of the various cross-cultural literary encounters that have been occurring recently in the Czech Republic; and finally, Omar El Adl gives us some insight into the latest talks, discussions and publications that are taking place right now in Egypt. 

Jessie Stoolman, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Morocco: 

July was filled with literary events throughout Morocco, starting with a conversation between two Moroccan Prix Concourt winners, Leila Slimani and Tahar Ben Jelloun, at the Minzah Hotel, where they discussed “Comment écrire et publier un livre?” (“How to write and publish a book”) Another star Moroccan author (and painter), Mahi Benibine, whose novel Horses of God, inspired by the 2003 suicide attacks in Casablanca, was made into a critically-acclaimed film, presented his newest novel Le fou du roi at Librairie les insolites in Tangier.

Speaking of new publications from major Moroccan authors, Dar Toubkal’s newly released publication of the poet Mohammed Bennis’ الأعمال النثرية (Works of Prose) was just reviewed in Al-Hayat.

Still staying within the Tangier region, the Galerie Delacoix hosted artists, academics, and students for the الجسد الإجتماعي والمحيط الحضري (Espace urbain & corps social) program and internal working week. Among the participants was Moroccan-French artist and co-founder of the Cinémathèque du Tanger, Yto Berrada. Given continued action from the Al-Hoceima-based protest movement (حراك الريف), the geographer William Kurtz’s talk on “La Globalisation de la Région Tangier Al-Hoceima et son impact sur les inégalites sociales et spatiales” (“Globalization of the Tangier Al-Hoceima Region and its impact on social and spatial inequalities”) was particularly timely.

If that was not enough activity in Tangier, Librairie des Colonnes hosted Zahra Al-Khamleshi, who presented her most recent work, الحدود في شمال المغرب: آمال وآلام النساء الحمالات (Borders in Northern Morocco: Hope and Suffering of Women Porters) on the women who carry products between Ceuta (a Spanish enclave/colony in northern Morocco) and Morocco.

Moving further south, in Casablanca, Kabareh Cheikhats was back again. Their travelling show aims to shed light on the history of Cheikhats, who are often mischaracterized as exotic dancers. Historically, Cheikhats throughout the Maghreb were skilled poets, improvising verses on such controversial topics as resistance to colonization, which they sang and set to music at community gatherings.

Lastly, check out the “Lilipad” project, started by young Moroccan activist Sara Arsalane, which aims to collect books and distribute them to underserved schools throughout Morocco.

Julia Sherwood, Editor-at-Large, with all the latest news from the Czech Republic: 

On August 4, as we go to press, Czech poet and literary historian Petr Hruška and Georgian poet and musician Erekle Deisadze are reading from their works in the Ukrainian city of Lviv. Their performance brings to a close a 31-day long marathon tour of five cities, comprising Authors’ Reading Month (Měsíc autorského čtení or MAČ 2017), Central Europe’s largest literary festival. The readings, by two or more authors each day, are broadcast live and the recordings are available online. The festival’s founder Petr Minařík, whose publishing house Větrné mlýny is based in the Czech Republic’s second largest city Brno, has given a wide berth to capital cities, instead locating the festival in four other cities of similar size: Ostrava near the Polish border, Wrocław on the other side of the border in Poland, Košice in eastern Slovakia and, more recently, Lviv in Ukraine.

The guest country of this year’s festival, which kicked off in Brno on 1st July, is Georgia. This country in the Caucasus is fast becoming a trendy tourist destination, yet its literary riches are not all that well known in Central Europe. Thirty-one Georgian writers joined the tour, accompanied by acclaimed Czech authors, among them Ivan Klíma, Arnošt Goldflam, Ivan Binar, Marek Šindelka, Martin Reiner, Michal Viewegh and Jáchym Topol (whose 1995 novel Angel Station, just out from Dalkey Archive Press in Alex Zucker’s English translation, was reviewed by James Hopkin in last week’s Times Literary Supplement). A traditionally strong Slovak contingent was represented by poets Peter Repka and Ivan Štrpka, and fiction writers Balla, Monika Kompaníková, Ondrej Štefánik, Michal Havran, and Silvester Lavrík. Several Ukrainian and Polish writers and poets also took part in some of the readings.

One of the Polish festival participants, Zośka Papużanka, arrived in Brno fresh from another appearance, in Prague, with Czech writer Ivana Myšková. The two women read from their works at the (A)VOID Floating Gallery, a boat moored on the Vltava Riverbank, which serves as an art gallery and a venue for music, theatre and literary readings. Other writers reading there this summer include Ben Aaronovitch and Czech horror story writer Miloš Urban. The gallery provided a more than fitting venue for the launch of a bilingual Czech and English anthology, A Giant Barrel of Rotgut, that “celebrates the Vltava as a river of slain crocodiles, viziers and rotgut.” If that sounds intriguing, you can find out more in this interview with poet Sylva Fischerová on Radio Prague.

And, finally, emerging translators from the Czech (and Slovak) will be interested to hear that Underpass.co, an online journal for modern literature in translation, is seeking submissions specifically from these two languages. The journal aims to offer English-speaking readers a window into new countries, neighbourhoods, cultures, perspectives, and they are especially interested in stories with a strong sense of place.

Omar El Adl, Editor-at-Large, giving us the latest scoop from Egypt: 

Alia Mossallam presented a talk on August 3 in the Townhouse gallery in Downtown Cairo. The talk featured her text RAWI which deals with motherhood, writing, and revolutionary politics, according to Mada Masr. Mossallam has collected oral history testimonies in Nubia, Alexandria and Port Said, has been involved in alternative pedagogical structures in Cairo, and her dissertation focused on a popular history of Nasserist Egypt through stories and songs by people behind the 1952 revolution. The text was created as part of a long form essay workshop held in Cairo by 60pages, which describes itself as an international network of writers, artists, thinkers and scientists, based in Berlin. Other texts produced for 60pages include Arab Porn by Youssef Rakha (which will be published as a book featuring Rakha’s photography by Matthes and Seitz Berlin), Migrating the Feminine by Nora Amin and a forthcoming text by Amr Ezzat. The talk was held in Arabic, with a reading of the text in English.

Youssef Rakha is also to write a column as the central character from his Book of the Sultan’s Seal, Mustafa Çorbacı, according to his bimonthly newsletter. Rakha describes this development on his newsletter as follows:

“First, that mad newspaperman Mustafa Çorbacı has resolved to write a column. You may be familiar with Çorbacı from a certain, overrated Book of the Sultan’s Seal. In hopeless pursuit of the same meme, he has named his ephemeral effusions, “Postmuslim.” Raising vaguely relevant questions only to leave them grossly un-dealt with would not be untypical. But if mildly psychotic speculation on being in Cairo today holds some promise of amusement, do humour the unfortunate lunatic by reading and sharing his 400 words.”

According to Rakha, the column will appear printed in Al-Ahram Weekly as well as on this site every Friday starting from July 7.

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Sustaining Diversity: Translating the Literatures of Smaller European Nations

A new study investigates whether the growth in translations from literatures of smaller European countries is matched by an increase in diversity.

Smaller European literatures don’t necessarily come from geographically or numerically small nations, but they are generally clustered in what for, say, English, French, or German readers, are European peripheries like the Balkans, the Baltic, Central and Eastern Europe, the Low Countries, the Mediterranean and Scandinavia. They are written in less widely spoken languages, come from less familiar traditions and depend on translation to reach an international audience. A project called ‘Translating the Literatures of Small European Nations’, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, aimed to understand both the challenges and opportunities that exist for these literatures as they try to break into the cultural mainstream in the UK, and in June 2017 we finally published a report on our findings.

Our project brought together four academics from the UK who promote very different smaller literatures―not only through their teaching and research, but also through various kinds of public engagement and publisher collaboration: I work on Czech and Slovak at Bristol, Rhian Atkin on Portuguese at Cardiff, Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen on Scandinavian and Zoran Milutinović on South Slav at UCL. We sensed that we work quite similarly, in parallel or even in competition, without much opportunity to discuss how our smaller literatures perceive and promote themselves internationally and how they are received by readers. We suspected that this parallel, competitive experience applied more generally to other professional advocates of smaller European literatures, whether translators, publishers, literary agents or state and third-sector promoters.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

A trip around the literary world, from USA to Latin America to the Czech Republic.

The weekend is upon us—here’s a detailed look at the week that was by our editors-at-large. In the United States, Madeline Jones reports directly from the trenches of the Book Expo in New York City. A gathering of publishers, booksellers, agents, librarians, and authors, the event is the largest of its kind in North America. We also have Sarah Moses filling us in with tidings from Colombia and Argentina, and updates on the Bogotá39, a group of thirty-nine Latin American writers considered to be the finest of their generation. Finally, Julia Sherwood brings us some hot off the press literary news from the Czech Republic. Settle in and get reading.

Madeline Jones, Editor-at-Large, reports from the United States:

Last week in New York City, Book Expo (formerly Book Expo America) set up shop at the famously-disliked Javits Center on western edge of Midtown Manhattan. Publishers, literary agencies, scouts, booksellers, and readers gathered for discussions about the future of publishing, meetings about foreign rights deals, publicity and media “speed-dating” sessions, and more. Authors and editors spoke about their latest books for audiences of industry insiders, and lines trailed from various publisher booths for galley signings.

Though the floor was noticeably quieter than previous years, and certainly nothing compared to the busy hub of foreign rights negotiations that the London and Frankfurt book fairs are, Asymptote readers will be pleased to hear that multiple panel discussions and presentations were dedicated to foreign publishers, the viability of selling translations in the U.S., and indie books (which more often tend to be translations than major trade publishers’ books). READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your one-stop spot for all you want to know about world literature

This week we bring you news from Spain, Slovakia, and Brazil. We will begin our journey with Editor-at-Large Carmen Morawski who captures the excitement leading up to the Madrid Book Fair. We will land next in Slovakia where Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood updates us about the buzz surrounding the country’s most prestigious literary prize, Anasoft Litera. We will finish our journey across the world in Brazil to read Maíra Mendes Galvão’s report of writers’ protests against the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. 

Carmen Morawski, Editor-at-Large from Spain, reports:

In its seventy-sixth year, the Madrid Book Fair (Feria del Libro de Madrid) has yet again marked the transition from spring to summer for Spanish book lovers. Taking place in the Buen Retiro Park in Madrid from May 26 to June 11, this year’s fair will open with a lecture by Eduardo Lourenco, the Portuguese essayist and philosopher, in the Pabellón Bankia de Actividades Culturales.

Although a detailed schedule for this year’s fair isn’t available yet, a glance through last year’s schedule should give Asymptote readers a flavor for the lectures, readings, and other events typical to the fair. Whether on the look out for children’s literature, YA or adult fiction, non-fiction reportage, essay collections, philosophy, specialty and minority literatures, visitors to the fair can browse a wide array of contemporary offerings from the Spanish publishing scene, take advantage of special discounts, and even meet a favorite author at one of the many book signing sessions. If you want to learn more about the  history of the fair and are interested in sampling previous years’ fairs, you may enjoy this brief video of the 2014 fair.

Asymptote readers interested in more historical literary fare might prefer to visit the Spanish National Library’s (Biblioteca Nacional de España) special exhibition, Scripta: Tesoros manuscritos de la Universidad de Salamanca. Intended to commemorate the 800-year anniversary of Alfonso IX’s order to create ‘Schools in Salamanca,’ that in turn led to the founding of the first universities in Europe, the exhibition showcases 23 pieces spanning the history of the manuscript in Europe, from medieval Visigoth codexes belonging from the eleventh and twelfth centuries through the sixteenth century. The exhibition is on loan from the University of Salamanca and is divided into four main sections. It includes a section devoted to Humanism and the Vulgate languages, thereby acknowledging the prominent role of romance languages derived from Latin as vehicles for literature and scientific works. The exhibition runs from May 4 to June 4.

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A Lexicon Like No Other

“The crushing of the Prague Spring was followed by another communist party crackdown. Dozens of translations...were banned."

Oľga Kovačičová, PhD is a Slovak literature scholar and specialist in old Russian literature and translation studies. She works at the Institute for Literary Studies at the Slovak Academy of Sciences where for the past few years she has been the driving force behind a unique project, “The Lexicon of 20th century Slovak translators,“ which she co-edited and contributed some 80 of the total 400 entries. She has agreed to share some reflections on the special role literary translation played in shaping Slovak language and culture with Asymptote’s Editor-at-large Julia Sherwood, who then translated her insights into English.

Translated literature necessarily plays a more important role in smaller countries compared with bigger nations where much of the reading public’s literary and general cultural needs are met by local literary output. When it comes to a really small country like Slovakia, even without citing statistical data it is obvious that the ratio of translated to domestic literary production is roughly the converse of that in Western Europe, where translations represent 12% (Germany) or 20% (Italy) of book publishing overall, let alone English speaking countries with the notorious 3-4% of translated books.

Lexicon cover

Another big difference is that while the major European cultures have had access to the great works of world literature in their own language for many centuries, in Slovakia the process of reception was basically condensed into the 20th century, since Slovak as a literary language was only constituted in the second half of the 1840s.  Volume I of the Lexicon of Slovak 20th century Literary Translators (Slovník slovenských prekladateľov umeleckej literatúry 20. storočia), published in 2015 by the Slovak Academy of Sciences (volume II is almost complete), provides a fascinating glimpse of this frantic catching up process.

There are lexicons and then there are lexicons. Unlike pragmatic manuals of the “Who’s Who” type, the profiles of some 400 translators featured in The Lexicon aim to chart the trajectory of literary translation in the 20th century and through this, the history of reception of world literature in Slovakia. Individual entries are between three and five pages long, and apart from basic biographical details and each translator’s bibliography, they look at the works each of them translated and how he/she translated them.  The fruit of the painstaking labour of over 30 linguists and translation studies scholars, the book includes Katarína Bednárová’s comprehensive introductory essay on the history of literary translation in Slovakia and its international context, a bibliography of secondary sources, and an index. Volume II will feature an illustrated supplement, showcasing a selection of around 200 book covers, which doubles as a comprehensive survey of the evolution of Slovak book design, as well as lists of translators by source country.

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