Language: German

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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What’s New with the Crew? A Monthly Update

Stay up to date with the literary achievements of the wonderful Asymptote team!

Contributing Editor Adrian Nathan West has two new translations out: Rainald Goetz’s Insane published by Fitzcarraldo Editions, and reviewed in The Economist; and Juan Benet’s Construction of the Tower of Babel, published by Wakefield Press.

Writers on Writers Editor Ah-reum Han‘s flash fiction, “The Last Heifer,” was published in Fiction International, for its 50th Issue.

Copy Editor Anna Aresi’s translation of Gifts & Bequests by Carol Aymar Armstrong was published on the Italian poetry blog InternoPoesia (IP). She also edited “Poetry in Translation,” the 2017 issue of Mosaici: Learned Online Journal of Italian Poetry, which went live in November.

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Translator’s Diary: Vincent Kling

If it’s true that every translation must inevitably fail, this passage would be Exhibit A.

In this final installment of Vincent Kling’s translation column, En Route, Up Close, Kling discusses the difficulties of translating complicated works and considers whether one should remain loyal to meter at the expense of feel and fluidity. Kling explores translation in all its layered complexity, demonstrating with characteristic erudition and generosity the reasons why literary translation as a form resists the confines of any universally accepted code.

Two Hurdles for Translators

1. The Relatively Easy One. Two newly acclaimed releases, Emily Wilson’s translation of the Odyssey and David Ferry’s of the Aeneid, have prompted some discussion about what elements can and should be reproduced as closely as possible and what should—or indeed must—be altered. Reviewers are mainly concentrating on meter, because it is usually agreed that Homer’s and Virgil’s dactylic hexameters come across awkwardly in English; even a technical virtuoso like Longfellow couldn’t always make six-beat dactylic lines work in Evangeline. Both Wilson and Ferry have opted for blank verse (beautifully rendered in both cases), and even strict Augustans like Dryden and Pope knew better than to espouse a line that’s too long for flexibility in English. It was Dryden, after all, who adopted the idea of “imitation,” of the need to respect the nature of the target language. Later, Richard Wilbur shrewdly recast Molière’s alexandrines into pentameter, a decision that finally made the French dramatist’s work performable, even palatable, in a meter that best follows the contours of English accentuation. Anthony Hecht similarly forged vigorous, muscular heroic couplets out of Voltaire’s six-stress lines in his “Poem upon the Lisbon Disaster,” an idiomatic, fast-moving translation that is at its most ‘faithful’ in changing six beats to five.

Perhaps my thesis is distorting my judgment here, but those “faithful” German homages to the Greek and Latin dactylic hexameter sound forced, belabored, artificial in all the wrong ways; Klopstock’s Messias and Goethe’s Römische Elegien have their passionate admirers, but I feel obligated to be honest about what I’m hearing. The hexameter couplets called Xenien that Goethe and Schiller composed together are memorable for the masterfully governed fury of their polemic—worthy of Mac Flecknoe or the Epistle to Doctor Arbuthnot—but their power seems diminished by what I can only hear as labored meters.

Fairly general agreement about hexameter to pentameter may be the closest our ornery tribe of literary translators is likely to get to embracing a rule or even a best practice. David Bellos points out in Is That a Fish in Your Ear that the craft cannot be understood by trying to develop universal principles or procedures of translation; it’s not that rules were made to be broken, but that literary translation calls for too many pragmatic, ad hoc solutions to accommodate rules at all. In fact, I’d bet someone right now is—just for spite, as it were—at work on an English Klopstock that keeps the meter of the German, or writing a sequel to Evangeline in dactylic hexameters as a tribute to Longfellow.

2. The Invariably Tough One: Though awed by what our predecessors have accomplished, we can still envy them something like a standard approach metrically, in contrast to a problem I find no way around and always confront in (warranted) fear and trembling and a (realistic) sense of defeat. The whole point of an idiom is that it eludes literal translation and must be significantly recast. But what happens when an author playfully extends the literal meaning? A decent translator can work around “a horse of a different color” (just watched The Wizard of Oz again), but what if the author erects a whole set of observations around horses and colors? What if we’re asked to hold our horses before we start horsing around in the horse latitudes so as to avoid being given the horse laugh? These playful variations can’t transpose, but they have to. Then add another layer; the narrator is so exuberant in his high-flying, convoluted, Baroque application of the literal that he makes the passage even more ornate with a madcap interweaving of far-fetched comparisons.

The German idiom “Das kommt mir spanisch vor” (“It seems Spanish to me”) implies that some behavior or topic is peculiar or hard to understand, with a hint that something isn’t adding up or is off kilter. The idiom has its origin in the minutiae and extreme elaboration of Spanish court ceremonial in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, highly baffling to the uninitiated. Most German reference works caution that the English “It’s Greek to me” isn’t quite a fair equivalent, since the latter connotes that there is no understanding whatever, whereas the German means more that what is being observed is strange or odd but not beyond all comprehension.

The problem arises when the narrator of Strudlhofstiege is talking about that dedicated retired public servant Senior Councilor Julius Zihal, whose entire existence was defined by and devoted to an ideal vision of the Austrian civil service, following whose rules—directly descended from Spanish court ceremonial!—grounds the mystical meaning of his life. In that context, the narrator has a field day describing Zihal’s elaborate language and ultra-punctilious behavior as strikingly peculiar, and he is able to sum it up by apostrophizing Zihal as being very Spanish—not only in the idiomatic but also in the literal meaning. The idiom therefore can’t be changed, because the narrator uses it as the basis of a whole character study involving “Higher Zihalism” of the “austriaco-hispanic” variety, a way of describing Zihal’s very being, inner and outer. The occasion prompts the narrator to develop one of the wildest Baroque riffs in all of literature, using antiquated terms, throwing in one allusion after another to high culture in recognition of the “Higher Zihalism,” the only force capable of holding at bay the upstarts, vulgarians, troglodytes.

I quote the paragraph in German and then in my translation—such as it is. If it’s true that every translation must inevitably fail, this passage would be Exhibit A. I herewith say goodbye to my Asymptote readers by repeating an action I’m very familiar with: throwing in the towel. Thanks for following me over these past months!

Und nur der höhere Zihalismus kann ihnen entgehen, durch Restringierung des Unfugs bis auf ein äußerstes Minimum, diesfalls, hieramts, und überhaupt. Dieser höhere Zihalismus wird dort, wo sich auch bei genauester Perlustrierung keine Möglichkeit zeigt, den Atomkern einer Haupt- und Staatsaktion, mindestens aber einer diesfalligen Amtshandlung, zu implizieren, und also zu Dekor, zu Form zu gelangen, auf den Rest stolz verzichten und ihn durch geeignete Maßnahmen allenfalls inhibieren. Es ist genau das, was den Menschen heute fehlt: Würde. Der höhere Zihalismus austriaco-hispanicus ist die äußerste Fronde gegen die sogenannte Jetzt-Zeit und gehört in’s Museum der Gegenbeispiele zu Herrn Kriegar-Ohs (dem v. Korff bei Christian Morgenstern für diese Anstalt ein Partitur-Examplar von “Figaros Hochzeit” überreicht). Herr Amtsrat! Ihr kommt mir spanisch für. Habet acht, daß man Euch nicht nur Lerchenfelderisch mehr komme am Ende. Es wäre wirklich das Ende.

And only the Higher Zihalism can deflect them, parrying through adroit counterthrusts that turn back the tomfoolery and reduce it to an absolute minimum—in every given instance, by virtue of its charge, and as a matter of principle, to go fully bureaucratic here. This Higher Zihalism—even where scrutiny of the most punctilious would appear to present no possibility of containing, even by implication, the atomic nucleus of a formal, stately Baroque political drama (whereby it could attain to outward coherence of design, to form, that is)— will proudly forego everything else and systematically interdict the tomfoolery through resort to appropriate measures. That, after all, is exactly what people are lacking today: dignity. The austriaco-hispanicus variety of the Higher Zihalism is the ultimate force of opposition able to counter what is known as “the present day”; hence it belongs in the Museum of Counterexamples, curated by Herr Kriegar-Ohs (the character in Christian Morgenstern’s Gallows Songs to whom von Korff presents that august institution with a copy of the score of The Marriage of Figaro). Dear Senior Councilor, you strange bird! If an ancient and honorable air of lofty Spanish ceremonial is not what animates you, then your ways are just Greek to me. Please remain on your guard so you don’t end up allowing them to come at you jabbering their uncouth demotic tongue. That would be the end for certain.

*****

Read more from Vincent Kling:

The Nobel’s Faulty Compass

After all, it seems hard to believe that the magnetic north of the literary lies in Europe or in the languages that have emerged from it. 

In the will he signed in Paris on November 27, 1895, Alfred Nobel established five prizes in the fields of physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and the promotion of peace. In the sciences, the key characteristic of a laureate’s contribution to the larger field was that it should be the “most important” discovery or improvement, while the peace prize was intended to recognize “the most or the best work” performed in pursuit of fostering what he called the “fraternity between nations.” Yet when turning to the award for careful work with language, Nobel would distinctly modify his own: he specified that the literary prize should go to whichever writer had produced “the most outstanding work in an ideal direction.”

From 1901 to 2017, women have exemplified that ideal direction a mere fourteen times. Although that dismal distribution has somewhat improved in recent years, it is nothing to brag about: only five women have won since 2004, and only six in the past twenty-one years. Such disappointing diversity continues when we turn to languages: of the 113 laureates in that same period, twenty-nine have written in English. That number does not even include three laureates who each wrote in two languages, one of which was English: Rabindranath Tagore, the songwriter who won a century before Bob Dylan and who also wrote in Bengali; Samuel Beckett, whose most famous work is titled En attendant Godot in the original French; and Joseph Brodsky, whose poems appeared in Russian and whose prose was written in the same language as the documents certifying the American citizenship he had acquired a decade before winning.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Your news from the literary world, all in one place.

This week, our Editors-at-Large bring us up to speed on literary happenings in South Africa, Central America, and Brazil.

Alice Inggs, Editor-at-Large, South Africa: 

South Africa has eleven official languages, a fact not often evident in local literary awards and publications, which generally skew towards English and Afrikaans as mediums. However, the announcement of the 2017 South African Literary Awards (SALA) has done much to change this perception.

In addition to including five contributors to narratives in the extinct !Xam and !Kun languages (drawn from the Wilhelm Bleek and Lucy Lloyd archives), a biography in Sepedi (Tšhutšhumakgala by Moses Shimo Seletisha) and poetry collections in isiXhosa (Iingcango Zentliziyo by Simphiwe Ali Nolutshungu) and the Kaaps dialect (Hammie by Ronelda S. Kamfer) have been shortlisted.

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The Unity of Contradiction: At the Burning Abyss and its Political Poetics

In its embrace of paradox, the poetic word unites what the political word divides.

[He] gave us, the lost and confused, exactly what we needed: the stability of a direction leading out of the past…. The world fell into black and white; it was ‘all perfectly simple’ … This completely dualistic picture of the world … was precisely herein a counterpart to the worldview which had formerly dominated our thinking, but it passed itself off as a complete break with the Old, and the only possible break at that.… [H]e stood behind the lectern, both hands raised adjuringly, exclaiming to the auditorium with the solemnity of one announcing a truth of faith: “Tertium non datur! There is and can be no third way!”

(Franz Fühmann, At the Burning Abyss: Experiencing the Georg Trakl Poem, 1982)

The year was 1946, the scene was an “antifascist school” in the USSR where denazified German POWs were schooled in socialist ideology to prepare for leadership roles in the fledgling East German state. Franz Fühmann (1922-1983) arrived in East Germany in 1949 with the fervor of the born-again and established himself as a cultural apparatchik. His short story cycle The Jew Car (1962) examines his youthful embrace of Nazi ideology and the gradual moral awakening that culminated in his socialist conversion–a “happy ending” which he revisited, sadder and wiser, in his last book, At the Burning Abyss. A firm believer in the socialist idea, Fühmann was bitterly disillusioned by its dictatorial practice: vaunted as the sole humane alternative to fascism, socialism had proved to be cut from the same cloth, “a soiled coat turned inside out.” Fühmann’s painful journey between ideological extremes resonated with unexpected force as I translated At the Burning Abyss amidst escalating political polarization in Europe and the US.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Traveling the world, one book at a time!

Your weekly shot of global literary news is here! Today we travel to Austria, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Morocco to find out about the latest prizes, performances and literary festivals. 

Contributor Flora Brandl reporting from Austria: 

In the southern state of Styria, the oldest Austrian festival for contemporary art, Steirischer Herbst (Styrian Autumn), recently opened with a powerful speech by the Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas. Styrian-born, Haas is one of the most renowned figures of the international New Music scene and currently teaches at Columbia University.

In his opening speech, Haas reflected on the dynamics of the remnants of Nazism and the burgeoning avant-garde art scene in Styria. While Nazism was always at the forefront of fighting so-called “degenerate art”—“for they knew: art is dangerous for them”—it also provided fertile grounds for a creative form of resistance: “We [artists] were spurred by the pain and the rage and the grief,” Haas recounted. He ended with an invocation that the role of artists today is to “spread the virus of humanitarianism” in the wake of a worldwide rise of fundamentalism. A political speech with a very personal note, the entire speech can be read in the original German here.

Fittingly, a symposium entitled Hoffnung als Provokation (Hope as Provocation) will explore the resistive potential of hope in response to nationalism and authoritarian political systems—how can hope go beyond its connotations of passivity? One of the invited guest speakers is Aslı Erdoğan, a female Turkish writer who was recently imprisoned for her connections to a Kurdish newspaper. The city of Graz has granted her permanent asylum, and the festival organisers hope she will be permitted to leave Turkey and attend the symposium on September 28.

Ending with another Styrian-born contemporary Austrian artist, experimental documentary filmmaker Michael Glawogger once described the task of a filmmaker as to “drift with no direction except one’s own curiosity and intuition.” In 2014, during a shooting in Liberia for his documentary Untitled, Glawogger tragically died of malaria. The film, which was completed by his long-term collaborator Monika Willi, will be shown at the BFI London Film Festival on October 11 and 13.

Editor-at-Large for Guatemala, José García, on events in Central America:  

Recently the committee of the Miguel Ángel Asturias National Prize in Literature announced its latest recipient: the writer, literary critic, and journalist Francisco Alejandro Méndez. Author of over ten books, Francisco joins Mario Monteforte Toledo, Augusto Monterroso, Rodrigo Rey Rosa, and many others who have received Guatemala’s most prestigious literary recognition. Francisco will receive the award on October 19, the birth anniversary of Guatemalan author Miguel Ángel Asturias. The ceremony will also serve as part of the celebrations of the fiftieth anniversary of Asturias’ Nobel Prize win.

Last week Guatemala’s National Symphonic dedicated a show to Miguel Ángel with music written by Joaquín Orellana, Igor de Gandarias, and Sergio Reyes Mendoza, and visual interventions by the photographer and visual artist Daniel Hernández Salazar. Among Asturia’s most famous works are El Señor Presidente, and Men of Maize. Miguel Angel Asturias was the second Latin American writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature and remains the only Central American to do so.

Additionally, F&G Editores recently released Valeria Cerezo’s debut novel La Flor Oscura, which was shortlisted for this year’s BAM Letras Novel National Prize. Cerezo’s story The Cage, translated into English by David Unger, was recently featured on Asymptote Translation Tuesday. The Cage is part of Valeria’s short story collection La muerte de Darling that also got shortlisted for the 2016 edition of the BAM Letras National Prize, in the short story category.

Finally, in Costa Rica, Uruk Editores released Neblina Púrpura, the latest novel of the Aquileo J. Echeverría National Short Story Prize winner, Vernor Muñoz. Neblina Púrpura revolves around the golden era of rock music in Costa Rica.

Hodna Nuernberg, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Morocco:

In September 2014, Morocco and Algeria celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the closing of the 1,600 kilometer-long land border by building twin walls; in September 2017, the inaugural Maghrebi Book Fair, Lettres du Maghreb, took place in Oujda, a city of about half a million some fifteen kilometers west of the walls. 200-odd intellectuals, for the most part from the Greater Maghreb, but also representing Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa, gathered for four days of roundtable discussions, readings, and workshops, united by co-organizer Abdelkader Retnani’s rallying cry: “For us, the future is Maghrebi!” Here’s hoping that the festival’s symbolic opening of borders translates into a real rapprochement.

Morocco’s rentrée littéraire, the new publishing season, has been in full swing, with a regional book fair in Sidi Kacem featuring a strong showing of local publishing houses and writers from September 19 to 24, and the promise of a 40-author-strong literary extravaganza organized by Nadia Essalmi at Salé’s Quai des créateurs on October 7.

Meanwhile, we’re all on tenterhooks awaiting the November announcement of the 2017 laureate of the prestigious Prix Renaudot—two Moroccan authors are in the running: Mahi Binebine for his novel Le Fou du Roi (The King’s Jester), and Leïla Slimani for her essay collection Sexe et mensonges: La vie sexuelle au Maroc (Sex and Lies: Sex Lives in Morocco).

*****

Read more dispatches:

Translator’s Diary: Vincent Kling

Vocabulary and pronunciation, and even spelling, mark larger histories of settlement and local adjustment

We return with another installment of Translator’s Diary where Vincent Kling, winner of the 2013 Schlegel-Tieck Prize, takes us through the nuances of translation. Today he discusses the intricacies of vocabulary and pronunciation and how history and geography combine to fashion complex, unique identities. 

Hoagie? Hero? Sub? Some weeks ago I was staying in the Rhineland, near the Dutch border, where I developed a pesky summer cold. When I told a close friend who lives in the area that I was “verkühlt,” he grinned and said my Austrian side was showing, since a German would say “erkältet.” This reply reminded me of those popular posts on social media that ask if you drink “soda” or “pop,” if your sandwich is a “hoagie” or a “sub” or a “hero,” if you call those luminous insects “lightning bugs” or “fireflies,” if you drive around a “rotary,” a “roundabout,” or a “traffic circle.” Then there are the arguments about pronunciation; do you wade in the “crick” (like brick) or the “creek” (like meek)? Vocabulary and pronunciation, and even spelling, mark larger histories of settlement and local adjustment, which might explain why amature language lovers also enjoy reading about Samuel Johnson’s vs. Noah Webster’s lexicography, or about the perceived level of crudity or finesse in this or that regional expression (quick disdain for Southern “y’all” or “might could”).

Translators from German likewise need to be aware of geographical and cultural forces; I confine myself here to differences between standard German in Germany (Bundesdeutsch) and Austrian German. (Swiss German is fascinating but outside our framework.) I know from experience through making my own mistakes (some of them in print!) what bloopers can arise from ignorance or inattentiveness. Of course, one approach to this topic would be to list variances in grammar and syntax, vocabulary (especially food), idioms, and the like; I’d rather recommend Robert Sedlaczek’s fine book Das österreichische Deutsch to readers of German and move on to a more comprehensive insight, one that traces a truly characterizing difference.

L’Académie allemande. German novelist Martin Mosebach reviews pertinent history about the German language in an essay about Doderer warning readers not to overlook vital cultural differences. Regrets are occasionally expressed, he remarks, that there was never an institution in the German-speaking world comparable to the norm-setting, regulating Académie française. But in fact there was, he claims: Martin Luther’s translation of the Bible regularized and unified German. Aside from its religious import, the Luther Bible is one of the essential documents in the history of the language, reconciling divergent regional usages, harmonizing dialects, fixing idioms, introducing needed abstract neologisms, and creating a normative language balanced between literary derivation and colloquialism and accessible to all German speakers. What we know as modern “High German” derives very largely from this one book; as Mosebach says, “German [meaning “High German”] is a Protestant dialect,” and “The Reformation was the German Academy.”

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What’s New in Translation: September 2017

Looking for reading recommendations? Here are three releases—a book-length essay about translation, a German novel, and an experimental anthology.

Summer is drawing to a close and our bookshelves are groaning with the weight of new releases. Asymptote team members review three very different books—a genre-bending meditation on the practice of translation, a German bestseller about African refugees in Berlin, and an anthology of monologues that were once performed on the streets of Quebec City. There is much to delve into. 

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This Little Art by Kate Briggs, Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Reviewed by Theophilus Kwek, Editor-at-Large, Singapore.

It is in 1977, as he begins lecturing as Professor of Literary Semiology at the Collège de France, that Roland Barthes realizes he is no longer young: an “old and untimely body,” on a “new public stage.” But to speak to the students gathered—with their “new concerns, new urgencies, new desires”—he will have to “fling [himself] into the illusion that [he is] contemporary with the young bodies present before [him]”; he must, in Kate Briggs’s memorable words, forget the distances of age and time, and be “carried forward by the force of forgetting, which is the forward-tilting force of all living life.”

Briggs’s new book-length essay on translation, published this month by Fitzcarraldo (who surely must produce some of the most elegant books around) joins the ranks of treatises that ponder how we, as practitioners, should “properly register what’s going on with this—with [our]—work.” It’s an important question, she argues, not only because translation is a little understood (and hence undervalued) enterprise, but also because the process of translation itself sheds light on what it takes to make meaning, and art. Her answer, pursued over seven interlocking chapters, runs parallel to Barthes’s realization. Just as the old professor must “be born again,” translation is the work of making new: of bridging time and language to “make [literature] contemporary with [our] own present moment.” READ MORE…

Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

This just in—the hottest news in the literary world from the corners of the globe!

Who said being an armchair traveller is no fun? It’s Friday, which means it’s time for a literary trip around the world with Asymptote! From a digital archive of poetry and innovations in Afrikaans literature to Brazilian literary festivals and summertime opera in Austria—our correspondents have lots to fill you in on!

Editor-at-Large Alice Inggs reports from South Africa:

Badilisha Poetry X-change—an online archive and collective of African poets—has announced a tour aiming to document poets who write and perform their work in languages indigenous to South Africa. A previous tour in 2015 visited cities in Botswana, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and South Africa, and recorded material from 186 poets, of which 100 are featured on the Badilisha website. Tour dates will be announced imminently on social media.

Another literary event to look forward to is the Open Book Festival (September 6 to 10, Cape Town). The program list covers topics ranging from small publishers to sci-fi, writing urban spaces, the politics of tertiary institutions, and activating queer spaces in Africa. Top local writers speaking at the event include Achmat Dangor (Bitter Fruit), Etienne van Heerden (30 Nagte in Amsterdam), SJ Naudé (The Alphabet of Birds), Damon Galgut (The Good Doctor), Gabeba Baderoon (A Hundred Silences) and Sindiswa Busuku-Mathese (Loud and Yellow Laughter), as well as award-winning translator Michiel Heyns and playwright Nadia Davids. 2016 Man Booker winner Paul Beatty (The Sellout) will also participate, along with Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Tram 83), European Union Prize winner Carl Frode Tiller, Nigerian author Yewande Omotoso (Bom Boy) and 2017 Caine Prize winner Bushra al-Fadil.

Nthikeng Mohele has been awarded the University of Johannesburg Prize for South African Writing in English for Pleasure, his fourth novel, while Mohale Mashigo picked up the debut prize for The Yearning. Previous UJ Prize winners include Zakes Mda in 2015 and Ivan Vladislavić in 2011.

Three new publications are making waves in Afrikaans publishing. Acclaimed novelist Eben Venter’s Groen Soos Die Hemel Daarbo (soon to be published in translation) explores modern sexuality and identity. It is the author’s first offering since Wolf, Wolf (2013, translated by Michiel Heyns). Radbraak, a debut poetry collection by Tjieng Tjang Tjerries author Jolyn Phillips, presents a new approach to writing Afrikaans, while Fourie Botha’s second (at times surreal) collection, Krap Uit Die See, addresses masculinity, using the sea as metaphor, and medium—that is, a channel between states of being.

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When There’s No Wind, the Sounds of the Past are Audible Over the Danube

On opposite banks of the Danube in Hungary and Slovakia, separated peoples find a way to talk in many languages across the ancient river.

Today we profile a unique literary gathering, AquaPhone Festival, that takes place on both banks of the Danube. It not only features literature from Hungary and Slovakia but also acts as a cultural bridge between the nations that have been isolated from each other’s shared histories by totalitarian rule. It serves as a powerful symbol against the rising tide of xenophobia, as a conversation with Karol Frühauf reveals. 

it could be done by us just shouting
just talking to each other over the water
and not by me going over to you by boat
you going angling? I’d shout into the wind
and your voice would echo across the water
no! I’m going angling! oh, right! I’d shout
all right I thought you’re going angling

— From ‘Modalities of Crossing’ by Dániel Varró, translated from the Hungarian by Peter Sherwood

From the southwestern part of the Danubian Hills, poetry drifts above the waves of the Danube. Lines of verse bounce from one side of the river to the other, hard on each other’s tails yet in accord, dissolving in the air.

lehetne az is hogy csak kiabálunk
hogy csak beszélgetünk a víz fölött
és nem megyek át hozzád ladikon
horgászni mész? kiáltanám a szélbe
és hangod visszaringna a vizen
nem! horgászni megyek! ja! kiabálnám
ja jól van azt hittem horgászni mész!

— From ‘az átkelés módozatai’ by Dániel Varró

Someone is reciting poetry. It takes a while for the words, carried by sound waves, to cross the river. This is how poetry behaves when a poem is recited aloud above a river. The author of this year’s poem, “Modalities of Crossing,” is the wonderful Hungarian poet and children’s writer, Dániel Varró.

dá sa aj tak že si len zakričíme
len si nad vodou pohovoríme
a neprejdem za tebou cez lávku
ideš na rybačku? volal by som do vetra
a tvoj hlas by sa na vode prihojdal
nie! idem na rybačku! aha! volal by som
aha dobre myslel som že na rybačku!

— From ‘možnosti prepravy’ by Dániel Varró, translated from the Hungarian into Slovak by Eva Andrejčáková

Varró’s poem is read out in several languages: first in Hungarian (the poet’s native tongue), then in Slovak, and finally in German. You have to wait patiently for the lines to reach you from the far shore before you can send your version back by the same route. The extraordinary dialogue is accompanied by live cello, saxophone, and clarinet. There is no wind, the June sunshine is reflected in the water, bathing the majestic domes of the basilica in the distance in its soft light. This is what the AquaPhone festival is like.

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Section Editors’ Highlights: Summer 2017

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 Orshinatranslated 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.

—Caridad Svich, Drama Editor

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

A literary jaunt around the globe!

The literary world is having a buzzing summer—or winter, depending on your hemisphere. From literary festivals in Singapore, non-traditional methods of distributing poetry by indigenous poets in Mexico to daring theatre in Austria, there is a lot to discover his week. 

First stop—Singapore, with Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek:

Singapore’s literary scene is gearing up for its annual Poetry Festival held for the third time this year over the last weekend of July. The festival incorporates a full-day conference jointly organized by the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, and PoetryWalls, a cultural non-profit. The winners of this year’s National Poetry Competition will also be announced on Saturday afternoon, kicking off a day and a half of readings, book launches and discussions featuring both new and established names— from Cultural Medallion-winner Edwin Thumboo to Pooja Nansi, recipient of the Young Artist Award for 2016. READ MORE…

Translator’s Diary: Vincent Kling

​Like most other translators, I’m plagued by the feeling that it can be done better, though not by me, not here, not now.

This week we bring you the sixth installment of Translator’s Diary, a column by Vincent Kling, winner of the 2013 Schlegel-Tieck Prize. As Kling translates the 909-page  Die Strudlhofstiege by Heimito von Doderer for New York Review Books, he allows us to peek into the translation process, including the anxieties of the translator. You might like to revisit the first, second, thirdfourth, and fifth installments to follow his progress.  

Same Thomism, Different Place: Last month I wrote from Ghent, New York, where ten translators had gathered for a week of all-day workshop sessions. Warm thanks to Shelley Frisch and Karen Nölle for their expert guidance. Now I’m in Straelen, Germany until late June, at the European Translators’ Colloquium, meeting colleagues from all over (Turkey, Japan, Italy, Albania, Canada, and more) and free to concentrate on Strudlhofstiege. That’s just as well, because I’m at a very difficult place, working even more slowly than usual. My colleagues keep saying, “Es wird schon”—“It’ll turn out fine,” but it doesn’t feel that way.

And while I want to get back to specifics of Doderer’s novel, I’m finding more to say about Thomism, since I’m starting to consider the influence of Aquinas more and more central to my understanding of what happens in Strudlhofstiegewhat happens and how it happens.

The Word Made Flesh: To a Thomistic-minded creative writer, every use of words is an incarnation (capital ‘I’ included), an exercise in logos. All creation came about through God’s words: “‘Let there be light’: and there was light” (Genesis 1:3-5). No gap, no sequence, no first and second steps. Logos makes the word and the deed, the name of the thing and the thing itself, indissolubly identical. From the moment God gave Adam the power of naming the animals, a shadow of logos (Genesis 2:19-20); in the rapture empowering Coleridge’s Kubla Khan simply to “decree” a pleasure dome and make it rise; in the all-encompassing mythic vision of the America Hart Crane created in The Bridge; in the hermetic compression of Paul Celan’s late verse—threatening to enter a black hole of linguistic density—the dream of all writers has been to make the utterance the actuality, to make the word flesh. (The opening of John’s gospel is a kind of refresher course.)

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