Language: Greek

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.

READ MORE…

Translator Profile: Jennifer Scappettone

The notion of a unitary, homogenous, and monolingual “America” is as much an alternative fact as Spicer’s attendance numbers at the inauguration.

Former Asymptote blog editor Allegra Rosenbaum interviews translator and scholar Jennifer Scappettone, whose profile appeared in our Winter 2016 issue. Her translation of Italian poet Milli Graffi was featured on the Asymptote blog last week and her translation of F. T. Marinetti’s futurist poetry appeared in our Spring 2016 issue. 

Who are you? What do you translate? (This is just a preliminary question! To be taken with an existential grain of salt.)

I am a poet and scholar of American and Italian nationalities who grew up in New York, across the street from a highly toxic landfill redolent of the family’s ancestral zone outside of Naples (laced with illegal poisonous dumps). I translate Fascists and anti-Fascists; Italian feminists and a single notorious misogynist; inheritors of Futurism and the historical avant-garde; and contemporary poets who are attempting to grapple with the millennial burden of the “Italian” language by channeling or annulling voices from Saint Francis through autonomia.

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In Conversation: Daniel Mendelsohn on his new memoir, An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and An Epic

What I’m interested in creating is something that combines all the things that I do in my life as a reader and writer and teacher

Memoirist, critic, and translator Daniel Mendelsohn is perhaps best known for the application of mythic paradigms from the Western classics to the analysis of popular and literary culture. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2006 for The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, and finalist again in 2012 for his essay collection Waiting for the Barbarians, his criticism frequently graces the pages of The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books. The forthcoming release (Knopf, September 12) of his new memoir, An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and An Epic—about his octogenarian father’s experience auditing his Odyssey freshman seminar at Bard College and their subsequent voyage aboard an Odyssey-themed cruise—occasioned this conversation with Asymptote Interviews Editor Henry Ace Knight.

Can you tell me about the genesis of the book? Was it taking shape in your mind as early as your dad’s request to sit in on the Odyssey course?

No, not at all. The sequence was that early in 2011, before the semester began, he approached me about taking my course; I knew that he was interested in rereading the classics in his old age, and I said, “Well, I’m doing this Odyssey course in the spring…” And he said, “Oh, can I take it?” It didn’t occur to me at the time that it might be something that I would write about. Then, about halfway through the course, at which point so many interesting and funny things were happening, I started taking notes—his interactions with the kids, the things he said about the text. Much of the book is based on the notes I took right after class, memorable exchanges I recorded. Around the midterm, I thought, “OK, somehow I’ve got to write about this,” although I hardly envisioned a book at that point. In fact, at the end of the semester, when Froma [Zeitlin, a Classics professor at Princeton and Mendelsohn’s mentor] told me about the “Retracing the Odyssey” cruise, I called a friend of mine who was the editor of a travel magazine, and I said, “My dad and I are going on this Odyssey cruise and I think I want to write about it.” But I only thought I was going to write a magazine article! Then, when my dad fell ill, I started thinking all of this was…suddenly it took on a shape, you know: the class and the cruise and his illness. And so I started thinking, in a sort of inchoate way, of how all of this could add up to something: him taking the class, us going on the cruise, and him suddenly having a stroke and thereby raising the question of whether he could be his old ‘self’—a very Odyssean question indeed. I started to see it all as one event moving along an arc and that that arc was the arc of the Odyssey.

Did you start to draw more and more parallels between the Odyssey and your relationship to your father as the semester progressed?

I’ve done this with several books now, this entwining ancient texts and personal narratives. I did it in my first memoir, The Elusive Embrace, in which I wrapped exegeses of various classical texts around a story about me and my family and being a gay man who decided to become a father—my story was interwoven with musings on classical texts about desire and parenting and so on. And then I did it in The Lost, in which the intertext is not a classical text but a biblical text: I used Genesis, with its memorable narratives about fratricide and global destruction and wandering and miraculous survivals, as a kind of foil for this family story about the Holocaust. Once you start thinking about a text, these parallels to your life start to present themselves. So in this case, because my mind was on the Odyssey, everything about what happened to Dad and me, the course, the cruise, started presenting itself as “odyssean,” as potential material, and the parallels between the personal narrative and the text started to make themselves felt. So, for instance, the first major section of my book, which recreates the first weeks of the Odyssey course and our discussions of the first four books of the Odyssey, which are about Odysseus’s son Telemachus going on a sort of fact-finding mission to learn what happened to his absent father, twines around flashbacks to my childhood in which I too am a boy searching for his father, trying to understand who he is. And so on.

What happens when I start thinking about a memoir is that I’ll have an intuition about how a certain text is going to structure the memoir, and then once I’m thinking that way it just takes off. But of course it’s only in the writing that you can really carefully work out the parallels and draw attention to them in a rather purposeful, literary way; so in this sense I’m also creating the parallels, I’m establishing them in my text for the reader. I know the Odyssey intimately, so as things were happening in real life I would think, “Oh my God, this is so Odyssean!”—like the guy on the boat with the scar. [A major revelation in An Odyssey turns on an encounter between Mendelsohn and an elderly fellow passenger who had a scar on his thigh dating to an incident in World War II. In Homer’s Odyssey, a climactic moment is linked to the history of a scar on Odysseus’s thigh.] When I met that old gentleman with the scar I thought, “You cannot make this stuff up!”—as it was happening, I was thinking that no one was going to believe this, it was just too good to be true. But it really happened!

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Translation Tuesday: Archilochus on the Solar Eclipse, 648 BC

All that we human beings have assumed will be in doubt

In tribute to the total solar eclipse that was visible across the United States on Monday, we’re excited to present a poem written nearly 2500 years ago on April 6, 648 BC by Archilochus, a Greek lyric poet from the island of Paros who was well-known for composing poems based on his emotions and experiences. What remains of the poem Archilochus composed is a fragment that recounts a solar eclipse, where, needless to say, things get very weird very quickly. Translated by Aaron Poochigan. 

Nothing’s unreasonable, nothing too much, nothing stunning,

now that Zeus the Father of the Gods has cloaked the light

to make it night at noontime, even though the sun was shining.

Terrible dread has fallen upon men. From here on out

all that we human beings have assumed will be in doubt,

and no one should be shocked to see, in briny acres, land

animals, walking creatures, having sex with dolphins, when

their four legs come to love the sounding waves more than the sand,

and dolphins with their flippers come to love a mountain glen.

*****

Aaron Poochigan is the author of the thriller in verse Mr. Either/Or (www.mreitheror.com) and the poetry collection Manhattanite (www.aaronpoochigian.com).

*****

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

Today we delve into the literary goings-on in USA, UK and Singapore

New week, new happenings in the world of literature. President Trump continues to make headlines (read our Spring Issue for an exploration of literature in the Trump era). Madeline Jone, Editor-at-Large for USA reports how it has affected the publishing industry. Across the Atlantic, Cassie Lawrence, Executive Assistant at Asymptote, relays heartening news about women in publishing and the buzz of literary festivals in London this weekend. Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek reports how Singapore’s novelists are fighting back, and more.  

Editor-at-Large Madeline Jones gives us the round-up from USA:

US media narratives have been deluged with news of presidential catastrophes. No surprise, then, that this is reflecting in the publishing world, from book publishers struggling to understand how to talk about Trump to children, to books about the electoral process. With timing that seems ominous, in the light of the very popular TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale, the book has edged its way between a Danielle Steel and a James Patterson on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Another notable that has been on the list is Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign.

Speaking of which, the annual Book Expo America, popularly known as the BEA, is scheduled from May 31 to June 2, and Hillary Clinton is one of its top draws this year. A gathering of publishers, booksellers, agents, librarians, and authors in New York City, the Book Expo is the biggest event of its kind in North America.

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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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Monthly Update from the Asymptote Team

New year, same busy Asymptote members! Check out what we've been up to, from the page to the stage.

Poetry Editor Aditi Machado‘s translation project, ‘Sentences / Sententiae’, has been published in its current form in the latest issue of Almost Island. Her work also appears in Folder Magazine‘s latest print collection, and you can read a section of her recently-published translation of Farid Tali’s Prosopopoeia in The Guardian. 

‘After Orlando’, a theatre action piece co-led by Drama Editor Caridad Svich, was performed in New York and London, and featured in Exeunt Magazine. Her review of Chris Goode’s The Forest and the Field: Changing Theatre in a Changing World, was also published in the Contemporary Theatre Review. 

India Editor-at-Large, Poorna Swami, has a poem in the third issue of Prelude Magazine. Her interview with art critic and photographer Sadanand Menon on ‘Nationalism and Dance’ has also been featured in Ligament. 

A new short story by English Social Media Manager Sohini Basak has been published in the latest issue of Out of Print, and another was published earlier in December in 3:AM Magazine. 

Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek‘s New Year’s Eve round-up on ‘2016: A Year in Translation’ was published in The Oxford Culture Review. He also has a new poem in the current issue of The London Magazine. 

Indonesia Editor-at-Large Tiffany Tsao appeared on a segment of ABC iview’s ‘Bookish’ programme to discuss the question, “What is ‘Asian’ Literature?” Her novel, The Oddfits, appears on 2016’s ‘Top 5’ list of Superhero Novels 

Chile Editor-at-Large, Tomás Cohen, helped to present ‘Hafen Lesung #9‘, a multilingual literary evening in Hamburg. His poem, ‘Andarivel’ (from his collection, Redoble del ronroneo), was featured on Vallejo and Co., while a Greek translation of the same poem was also published this month in Vakxicon. 

Finally, if you missed it in December, check out Asymptote‘s lovely feature in The Hindu, and read the full version of our Editor-in-Chief Lee Yew Leong’s interview on our blog!

*****

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Translation Tuesday: “The War is Coming” by Jazra Khaleed

“On the 7th of January 2014, the United Nations stopped counting Syria’s dead.”

In this sobering poem, Chechnya-born Greek poet Jazra Khaleed vividly depicts a war “so trite and pedestrian, filled with similes and ornate adjectives, its history is written in the font Comic Sans.” For most of us in the settled world unable to imagine what it is that Syrian refugees go through, these words encompass a different but now less unknowable spectrum of the human experience.

 

The War is Coming

For Ghayath al-Madhoun
and his million Arab poets

1.

I decided to leave Syria the day a stray bullet passed in front of my eyes. That day I realized my homeland was not my homeland, my blood not my blood, and my freedom belonged to a freedom fighter who didn’t think to ask my permission before he shot me: a lack of courtesy we encounter often in war time.

2.

If they are going to kill me, better to kill me in a foreign language.

3.

On the road from Damascus to Berlin I met an old soldier from Dara’a who couldn’t carry his nightmares anymore. I wrapped them and put them in my suitcase; at the airport I paid the fine for excess baggage.

4.

Whoever is not afraid to cross the border carries the war on his back.

5.

Swap your best shirt for a bulletproof vest, your poems for the first chapter of the Koran and your house in Athens for a throne atop Mount Aigaleo so you can survey from on high the coming war.

6.

This war is trite and pedestrian, filled with similes and ornate adjectives, its history is written in the font Comic Sans, violence so limitless the war doesn’t know where to put it, one grave for every thousand corpses, one shadow for every thousand survivors, it’s an indelicate war, barrels vomiting explosives, steel cylinders filled with accessories for washing machines and car parts, the death that disseminates is an earthy death, this war is rightfully ours because in it we have buried all our loved ones.

7.

On the 7th of January 2014, the United Nations stopped counting Syria’s dead. This decision certified mathematics as the science of quality, not quantity, of living labor, not shapes, of time, not space—in other words, mathematics is the science that studies the material relations among all countable objects.

8.

By the end of 2015, according to Facebook, 311 friends of mine had died since the start of the war. I decided to shut down my account: death must have a beginning, middle, and end. I can’t spend my life in its wake.

9.

I, Ahmed, son of Aisha, although nothing more than a humble migrant, wish to apologize on behalf of the Syrians to Greek men and women for filling their televisions with our deaths as they eat their dinners and wait for their favorite shows, I wish to apologize to the municipal authorities for leaving our trash on their beaches and polluting their shores with tons of plastic, we are uncivilized and we have no environmental awareness, I wish to apologize to the hotel owners and tour operators for damaging the island tourist industry, I wish to apologize for shattering the stereotype of the miserable migrant with our mobile phones and clean clothes, I wish to apologize to the coast guard who have the thankless task of sinking our boats, to the police for standing in disorderly lines, to the bus drivers who have to wear surgical masks to protect themselves from the diseases we carry, I also wish to make a most humble apology to Greek society for exceeding the capacity of their detention camps and for sleeping in their squares and parks—finally, I wish to apologize to the Greek government who had to request additional funds from the European Union in order to pay the purveyors who stock the detention camps, as well as the bus drivers, the police, the coast guard, the tour operators, the hotel owners, the municipal authorities, and the television stations.

10.

“Don’t worry,” said the bullet, “I’ll go in and out.” I explained to her that I couldn’t allow it since when she left she was bound to take some of my memories—like the face of the girl I loved in the fifth grade, the voice of the imam the first time my father took me to pray, the smell of the freshly baked bread in my grandmother’s house, the fingers of my teacher as she taught me to write the word الحرب and Van Basten’s final goal in the Euro of ’88.

11.

It’s well known that no organization can buy arms on the black market without American authorization. This is one of the reasons I never managed to understand the difference between enlightenment and genocide.

12.

If you don’t want to be canon fodder, if you don’t want the war to catch you with your pants down, put on that thinking cap, double down the class struggle, get organized, triple down the class struggle, fight, fill your pockets with rocks, stick to your guns.
Out with the Left! Bring back the Spartacists!
Out with the NGO’s! Bring back Garibaldi’s brigades!
Out with the Humanists! Bring back the Italian Autonomists!
The slaughter is about to begin.

Translated from the Greek by Karen Van Dyck

For more perspectives on the refugee crisis, we suggest Jan Dammu in the current issue of Asymptote, and Theophilus Kwek on reading the refugee crisis at the Asymptote blog.

Jazra Khaleed (Born Chechnya, 1979) lives in Athens, writes exclusively in Greek, and is known as a poet, editor, and translator. His works are protests against the injustices in contemporary Greece, especially the growing xenophobia and racism. His poems have been widely translated for publications in Europe, the US, Australia, and Japan. As a founding co-editor of the poetry magazine Teflon, and particularly through his own translations published there, he has introduced the works of Amiri Baraka, Keston Sutherland, Etel Adnan, and many other political and experimental poets to a Greek readership. His debut collection Grozny was published in spring 2016, while his newest short film “Gone is Syria, Gone” has been selected for the Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur, the Kasseler Dokfest, and L’Alternativa . His poetry blog can be found at jazrakhaleed.blogspot.gr.

Karen Van Dyck is Professor of Modern Greek Literature in the Classics Department at Columbia University. She writes and teaches on issues of gender, diaspora, and translation. Her books include Kassandra and the Censors (Cornell, 1998), The Rehearsal of Misunderstanding (Wesleyan, 1998), The Greek Poets: Homer to the Present (Norton, 2009), and The Scattered Papers of Penelope: New and Selected Poems by Katerina Anghelaki-Rooke (Graywolf, 2009). Her bilingual anthology Austerity Measures: The New Greek Poetry (Penguin, 2016), a New Statesman Book of the Year pick, will be published by the NYRB in the US in March. She discusses the anthology as well as this new poem by Jazra Khaleed in her essay “What’s Found in Translation” (forthcoming, PN Review 234).

*****

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In Conversation with Gazmend Kapllani

The desire to speak other languages invaded my mind. I, too, wanted to look strange, mysterious and attractive...

Gazmend Kapllani is an Albanian-born author, journalist, and scholar. He lived in Athens for over twenty years. He received his PhD in political science and history from Panteion University in Athens, with a dissertation on the image of Albanians in the Greek press and of Greeks in the Albanian press. In addition, he was a columnist for Greece’s leading daily newspapers. Kapllani has written his first three novels in Greek, which is not his native language. His work centers on themes of migration, borders, totalitarianism, and how Balkan history has shaped public and private narratives.

Kapllani’s first novel A Short Border Handbook (Livanis, 2006) has become a best-seller and has been translated into Danish, English, French, Polish and Italian. His second novel, My Name is Europe (Livanis, 2010), has been published into French. The Last Page (Livanis, 2012) his most recent novel, has been translated into French and was short-listed for The Cezam Prix Litteraire Inter CE 2016. Since 2012 he has been living in the US, where he was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, Visiting Scholar at Brown University and Writer in Residence at Wellesley College. Kapllani currently lives in Boston and teaches Creative Writing and European History at Emerson College.  

Gigi Papoulias has a chance to sit down and talk to Kapllani on his work, language, and borders.

Gigi Papoulias (GP): You seem to have a passion for languages. You are fluent in five languages. Were you born into a multilingual family?

Gazmend Kapllani (GK): Actually I was born in a shack. My father’s family was persecuted by the communist regime and was driven out of their house in the countryside and punished—sent to live in a shack on the outskirts of my hometown Lushnje. They were considered “enemies of the regime” because they were wealthy landowners. Stalin did the same with the so-called “kulaks” in the Soviet Union.

I grew up surrounded by a large group of monolingual relatives whose discussions always led to the glory days of their aristocratic past. I grew up surrounded by joyful uncles and aunts—all of them impressively good looking. I’m amazed today that in my memories that miserable place comes as a place of joy and love. I remember the flowers that were planted all around. My grandmother was an extraordinary woman—she had lost three brothers in the war against the Nazis in Albania—she did everything possible to make life in the shack seem normal. What has remained with me is the extraordinary love that I was given in that shack. I also learned what resilience and human dignity mean. But I refused the rest: living with the glory of the past. I understood though that when people are denied a present and a future they take refuge in the past.

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What’s New in Translation? August 2016

Fresh off the printing press, here are Asymptote's must-reads in translation this month!

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Limbo Beirut, by Hilal Chouman, tr. Anna Ziajka Stanton. Center for Middle Eastern Studies, The University of Texas at Austin. Review: Claire Pershan, Assistant Director, Educational Arm

Beirut is a city of collisions. Bad drivers, sudden friendships, graffiti in a mess of languages. And yet, when enough chaos collides, it produces its own order—the way a sprawling city looks from far away.

This is the effect of Hilal Chouman’s latest novel, Limbo Beirut, recently translated from Arabic into English by Anna Ziajka Stanton, and published by University of Texas Press. Chouman’s novel fills the space between history and memory. Six narrative chapters document the fighting that broke out in the city in May of 2008, as it was experienced by the city’s residents. These clashes, between Hezbollah and pro-Syrian militias on one side, and members of the Sunni-supported Future Movement on the other, didn’t gain much attention from western media, but for the Lebanese people, they were a frightening echo of the Civil War that devastated the country between 1975 and 1990.

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Translation Tuesday: “Hedgehogs” by Amanda Michalopoulou

How do hedgehogs do it? She imagined them upright, then lying down, going at it all aquiver, jabbing each other with their spines.

They could hear them in the night. From the communal garden came a rasping, booming sound like an electric coffee maker empty of water.

“What the hell?” Martha said.

“It’s the hedgehogs,” Klaus answered.

“How do you know?”

“I know.” He muttered as he turned on his side.

She got up and opened the door to the balcony to hear better.

“Have you any idea what I do for a living?” Klaus shouted from under the covers.

Martha sighed and returned to bed. She lay down on the very edge, trying not to touch him. When he spoke to her like that, angrily and loudly in German, she punished him by increasing the distance between them.   At times, in the middle of the night she’d ask herself: Are we really sharing the same bed? Are we really Martha and Klaus?   She’d reach out with her hand, touch his knee to double-check and then immediately pull her hand away. The closeness they’d shared at one time now seemed unfathomable. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Prologue to Bacchae by Euripides

"I have compelled this town to rant and howl, / dressed it in fawnskin, put my pine-cone-tipped / and ivy-vested spear into its hands"

Dionysus:

Here I am, Dionysus, Zeus’s son,

the god whom Semele, the daughter of Cadmus,

birthed, with a bolt of lightning for a midwife.

I am back home in the land of Thebes.

 

My sacred form exchanged for this mere mortal

disguise, I have arrived here where the Springs

of Dirce and the river Ismenos

are flowing. I can see my lightning-blasted

mother’s tomb right there beside the palace,

and I can see as well her former bedroom’s

rubble giving off the living flame

of Zeus’ fire—Hera’s deathless rage

against my mother. I am pleased that Cadmus

has set the site off as a sanctuary

to keep her memory. I am the one

who covered it on all sides round with grape leaves

and ripe grape clusters.

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Translation Tuesday: “The Space Between” by Christos Asteriou

“We slip between the spaces left by bodies, through the holes in the teeth, and slide down the subway escalators upside down.”

I’ve been living with Lata since the beginning of the summer. It’s true that I’m only fifteen and she’s around the same age, that we don’t have a single thing to call our own yet—no money, no nothing—but what’s the big deal? Lata and I, we know how to make things work no matter what. We haven’t found a long-term place yet, that’s true, too. We’re usually all over the map—on rooftops, in warehouses—but not every day of the week because we go back home often. I go to my mom’s and she goes to hers. She’s the one that really makes a scene, screaming and crying and saying a whole bunch of things I can’t understand. Of course, she always ends up cooling it and putting her arms around Lata; once she starts in with her broken Greek, everything goes back to normal. My mom, on the other hand, cooks dinner whether I’m there or not in the evening, and waits for me to show up with my stories about the outside world. It’s hard out there, I tell her, the old buildings are really tough and they chase us away. Her eyes open wide and she gives me a strange look. They put up scarecrows and wooden signs on the rooftops, as if we were unwanted birds, and if, after all this, we don’t heed their warning and lie down to sleep up there, there’s always someone who busts in and breaks it up with a gunshot in the air. On the other hand, you’ve got to have real balls to vault the obstacles on those new places, they’re super difficult, and they too want us out of there. I show her with my hands how you’re supposed to do the moves, how to jump over obstacles rhythmically, one-by-one. Like a primitive beast lost in the crowds of civilization, a mad rabbit let loose in the megalopolis. My body taut, my calves like stone, my lungs full of grimy air: that’s how I make it through the heart of the storm, see? That’s how the mind opens when you jump into space, how your thoughts breathe in oxygen. She starts yelling at me about how if I don’t shape up and get it together I will never find a job, about how I’ll get killed one day—all the usual babble. Don’t shout, I tell her, you don’t know what you’re talking about. How could you? Don’t worry—there’s no reason to. Everything will be fine: you see me now, there’s no obstacle anywhere that scares me anymore. And you know what, I like living like this; I like having you and Lata; I like walking on air. And if anyone asks me, I’ll tell them straight to their face: I don’t want to change anything at all, I want to stay like this forever.

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