Postcolonial Philosophy in Idlir Azizi’s Novel Terxhuman

Building Terxhuman on postcolonial thinking, hitherto absent in Albanian literature, Idlir Azizi has created a new literary genre.

By rebelling against his country’s dominant Euro-centric discourse and disobeying the fundamental rules of Albanian grammar, writer Idlir Azizi has created a new kind of Albanian literature. In today’s essay, researcher Adem Ferizaj analyzes Azizi’s Terxhuman and helps us understand the implications it might have for Albanian-language literature and Albania as a whole.

The pyramid crisis in Albania and the Kosovo Liberation War are the only two Albanian incidents that simultaneously made headlines in The New York Times, Le Monde, and Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in the 1990s. Since Western journalists’ interest in the Albanian lands depends on political turmoil in the Balkans that could ruin European “geopolitical stability,” this comes as no surprise. When Western editorial offices are urgently in need of articles about this region, the local who organizes meetings, provides information on the addressed issue, and translates interviews becomes indispensable for them.

In Albania, this local is often referred to as a “fixer,” although the word terxhuman (which shares a root with the English “dragoman”) is used as well. The latter is also the title of Idlir Azizi’s 2010 novel, which takes this profession as a starting point to address Western arrogance towards Albanians and to provide an unprecedented analysis of Albanian society. In a very original way, Azizi deconstructs the mainstream Albanian discourses that are based on Eurocentric concepts, or, to put it differently, on Western arrogance towards Albanians. In this way, Terxhuman (which has yet to be translated into English) interprets Albanian reality in an alternative and postcolonial way. Such an analysis did not previously exist in contemporary Albanian literature.

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Announcing Our July Book Club Selection: History. A Mess. by Sigrún Pálsdóttir

We forget that we are reading someone else’s testimony and begin to take speculation as hard truth.

This month’s Asymptote Book Club selection, History. A Mess. by Sigrún Pálsdóttir, asks us to reconsider our understanding of how history is constructed. The protagonist, an academic who “leads an almost unpunctuated domestic existence of solitude and paranoia,” makes a shocking discovery about the secret identity of a seventeenth-century writer—and then seems to disprove her own theory. As the protagonist becomes increasingly unstable, her erratic prose leads the reader to reflect on the tenuous boundary between stories and history.

Lytton Smith’s translation of History. A Mess. is the twentieth title selected by the Asymptote Book Club, which brings outstanding translated fiction to readers each month. You can sign up to receive next month’s book on our website or join the online discussion on our Facebook page.

Translator Lytton Smith told Splice that “the Icelandic language doesn’t have two distinct words for story and history. It uses the same word, saga, and so those two ways of writing are more closely connected for Icelanders than they are for us.” As such, they are more concerned with storytelling as a craft, fidelity to emotional truth above accuracy to facts. Yet Sigrún Pálsdóttir’s novel, History. A Mess., seemingly centers around historical fact: a text whose existence could make or break an academic career.

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Translation Tuesday: “Platini’s Free Kick” by Vassilis Alexakis

The more I studied the unbelievable curve of the ball, the more I found it sublime.

This week’s Translation Tuesday features work by Greek writer Vassilis Alexakis, who is known for his self-translation work: translating his own work from Greek to French and vice-versa in order to study the lived experience of moving through cultural and linguistic boundaries that recalls Beckett’s experimentation. “Platini’s Free Kick” offers a vision of a man obsessed with event and form. As the story twists on, the free kick is stripped of its content as it becomes the focal point for the speaker, a movement of concentration on an object that invokes idolatry and addiction. Rebecca Dehner-Armand’s apt translation brings out the mundane terror of Alexakis’ story, which offers a critique of the persistence of an object and the effects of transfer, wear, and social tension on the way that objects create meaning for the viewer and how that meaning can change and dissipate over time. This dissipation and wear hint at the anxiety of a text or concept being used and reused. Alexakis’ story forces us to ask: Can the original effect of an event or form hold its sway over an individual without both the viewer and the viewed dissolving?

Michel Platini scored the most beautiful goal I’ve ever seen in my life with a free kick against the Dutch team. I’m almost certain that it was the team from the Netherlands: on the videotape, there are still a few traces of orange, the color of the Dutch jerseys. It was not merely a magnificent goal: it seems, in fact, that it ensured the French team’s qualification for the World Cup, which must’ve been held that year in Mexico, or in Argentina. Or in Italy, maybe. No matter. It would not be an exaggeration to say that this historic goal changed my life.

I saw the match at home. I didn’t even regret not finding a ticket for the Parc des Princes, because some goals are shown exclusively on TV in slow motion. Fortunately, I thought to record the match, as if I’d sensed that it would be exceptional. I watched the match alone, because neither my wife nor my daughters like soccer. Was it during the first period that Michel scored? Actually, I think it was during the second half, I would even say during the last fifteen minutes, because things had grown very tense and anticipatory as much on the field as in the stands, as is always the case at the end of a game.

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Section Editors’ Highlights: Summer 2019

Standout pieces from the Summer 2019 issue of Asymptote, as selected by section editors!

Another issue of Asymptote means another dazzling array of voices, languages, and genres in translation. If you’re not sure where to begin, look no further than these recommendations from the editors who compiled this spectacular issue

From Lee Yew Leong, Fiction and Poetry Editor:

This issue’s Fiction section is memorable for being the first fiction lineup in an Asymptote issue (and there are now 34 of them!) that does not include a single European author. Naguib Mahfouz and Bernardo Esquinca have already been singled out by the blog editors last week, so I’ll touch briefly on works by Bijan Najdi and Siham Benchekroun—two ambitious short stories that are remarkable in different ways. Showcasing the acclaimed narrative technique for which he was known, Najdi’s heartbreaking story “A Rainy Tuesday” (translated beautifully by Michelle Quay) unravels the thin seam between memory and reality, leading us on a nonlinear journey through grief. Benchekroun’s “Living Words,” on the other hand, is also a personal essay that exults in the very richness of language. Kudos to translator Hannah Embleton-Smith who masterfully tackled a text that leans so heavily on French phonetics to make synaptic leaps—and gave us something in English that preserves the delight of the original French. My personal favorites from the Poetry section this issue are the new translations of The Iliad by James Wilcox, which inject vigor into an ancient classic, and Tim Benjamin’s introduction of Leonardo Sanhueza, 2012 winner of the Pablo Neruda Prize for career achievement. Benjamin’s evocative translations bring into English for the first time an extraordinary poetic voice that deserves to reach a wider audience.

From Joshua Craze, Nonfiction Section Editor:

Personal Jesus” by Fausto Alzati Fernández is a visceral study of the self that drugs make. Ably translated by Will Stockton, the prose slows down time, as we wait on the side of the highway, hoping for a fix, and then, finally, time stops, in the infinite space of the hit. Fernández explores an enchanted world, in which of all the dumb sad morass of the human animal is given the possibility of transcendence, and yet—cruelties of cruelties—it is this very transcendence that produces the animals living half-lives that stumble around his dealer’s living room. “Personal Jesus” is a love letter, written to a cleansing balm that leaves us only more pitiful than before.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

Awards, book sales, conferences, festivals—poetics in its varied forms span the globe in this week's news.

Our editors pull both national bodies of literature and international exchanges into focus this week with a melange of events alive with tribute, celebration, and solidarity. In Toronto, a wide ranging arts and culture festival bring Iranian New Wave poetry and theatre to its stages. Valencia Poetry Festival proves a worthy debut with enthralling performances, experiments, and urgent messages. Tibetan literature and academia is featured with a comprehensive translation of a classic Buddhist text and a rich anniversary conference. This week’s dispatches are not to be missed!

Poupeh Missaghi, Editor-at-Large, reporting from New York City

Tirgan Festival, a celebration of Iranian art and culture, is held between July 25 and 28 in Toronto, Canada. This year’s festival includes some fifty events with participation of two hundred thirty guests, including performers, musicians, writers and poets, scholars, and others.

One of the events is a tribute to Iranian New Wave poet Yadollah Royaï (born 1932). Currently based in Paris, Royaï is one of the founders of “espacementalisme,” a poetry style influenced by Husserl’s phenomenology. The event will include scholars Farzaneh Milani and Khatereh Sheibani, editor and journalist Hassan Zerehi, Tirgan CEO Mehrdad Ariannejad, and Yadollah Royaï himself.

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“The Mistakes of the Healthy”: Lindy Falk van Rooyen on Translating Maria Gerhardt’s Transfer Window

I don’t see the book as a vision of the future so much as an alternative perspective of the present.

Maria Gerhardt died of breast cancer soon after writing Transfer Window, a dark and futuristic novel informed by her own experience with terminal illness. In today’s interview, Asymptotes Jacob Silkstone talks with Lindy Falk van Rooyen about the experience of translating Maria Gerhardt’s Transfer Window, chosen as this month’s Asymptote Book Club selection, from Danish into English. Read on to learn how Falk van Rooyen discovered Transfer Window and how she navigated the challenges of translating a semi-autobiographical novel that defies categorization.

Jacob Silkstone (JS): When did you first read Transfer Window, and what initially drew you to the book? How aware were you of Maria Gerhardt’s previous work?

Lindy Falk van Rooyen (LFvR): I wasn’t aware of Maria Gerhardt or her previous work until Transfervindue was published in March 2017. I remember quite vividly that I was sitting on the top level of a red London bus on my way to a translator’s dinner during the London Book Fair when a colleague working for The Danish Arts Council told me how much the book had moved him, and shortly after my return from London, I requested a copy of the original from the Danish publisher. I think what drew me in during the first reading was Maria Gerhardt’s unadulterated honesty.

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The Opening Is Where the Light Comes In

Within [this publication], we celebrate the immense, wondrous heights of the Chinese language.

Spittoon is a literary and arts collective born in Beijing, China, with the aim of bringing together Chinese and foreign writers, artists, and creators. Consisting of monthly events, poetry-music intersections, and literary and artistic publications, Spittoon has set down roots in Beijing, Chengdu, and Gothenburg, Sweden. In June 2019, Spittoon Literary Magazine Issue 5, a bilingual publication that translates and publishes China’s best contemporary voices, was published. Xiao Yue Shan, Managing Editor of the magazine and Assistant Blog Editor at Asymptote, writes from Beijing about the days leading up to the launch. 

Drivers here love talking politics, my aunt says to me after my hour-long ride into Xiaotangshan, the oddly idyllic suburban town in northwest Beijing. Really? I reply. They’ve been telling me the stories of their lives

Beijing is brimming to burst with stories, occasionally startling, occasionally brilliant, told in voices bred by an immense variousness, from the sandy waters of the Yellow River to the steaming skies of Hunan, the stillness of Heilongjiang winters to glittering Kunming greens. It is a city that collects and bounds the language of its citizens, between circling highways and sky-bound apartments. So it is that one is never beyond the reach of a story, told as regularly as the hour tells the clock.

The literature of contemporary China is represented in the contours of Beijing—a place you must visit a great number of times, an ongoing landscape impossible to traverse by foot alone, wayward beginnings which speak nothing of ending. Any attempt to define it would be a disservice, as it openly resists definition; one is only able to catch at its hems, glancing, in search of openings that allow light to come in, any small light that would lend sense to the vastness. So it is with this knowledge that we, at Spittoon Literary Magazine, set out to compile a selection of China’s most engaging and original literatures, carving a door by which one can visit again and again. This publication is an entryway toward something lasting, a portrait of a national body that refuses to stay still. Within it, we celebrate the immense, wondrous heights of the Chinese language.

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Translation Tuesday: “Untitled” by Song Lin

your evening battles with a certain angel / until stars become bones

This week’s Translation Tuesday proffers a poem by Chinese poet Song Lin. This poem, “Untitled,” translated with a certain sublimity by Dong Li, offers a haunting vision that places the reader into a fleeting and gilded world, where the symbols of poetry invert and exhaust themselves upon being observed. Within this short poem, a whole lifetime quivers under the strain of thought and composition. “A belated meeting beckons” to the readers of the poem who become themselves the poetic voice, simultaneously offered and denied the splendor of traditional lyric. Dong Li’s translation captures the sparsity of language and the depth of tableau expected of traditional Chinese lyric poetry, while also capturing a sense of alienation from these stereotypical themes and imagery. The language of this poem leaves a lasting impression as it ignites and etches feelings and impressions. We are glad to be able to feature this innovative and compelling translation. 

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Blog Editors’ Highlights: Summer 2019

Our editors have you covered with a lovingly picked selection from the Asymptote Summer 2019 issue!

If you have yet to fully traverse the sensational depths of Asymptote‘s Summer 2019 issue: “Dreams and Reality,” you can step out on the roadmap written by our blog editors, who have refined their selections—with considerable difficulty—to a handful of their favourite pieces. Between an erudite Arabic mystery, non-fiction from Romania’s foremost feminist writer and theorist, and a tumultuous psychological short story which delves into our perception of sanity, this reading list is a doorway into the vast cartography of this issue, unfurling into the rich imagination and profundity of the heights in world literature.

Something about summertime makes me want to read detective fiction, so I was excited to learn that Asymptote’s Summer 2019 issue, released this past Thursday, features a murder mystery. I was even more intrigued when I learned that the story in question, “Culprit Unknown” by Naguib Mahfouz, was originally written in Arabic. Don’t get me wrong—I enjoy Swedish mysteries just as much as you do—but I think we can all agree that the Scandinavians have had a monopoly on detective fiction in translation for far too long.

“Culprit Unknown,” translated by Emily Drumsta, follows Detective Muhsin ʿAbd al-Bari as he tries to solve a series of grisly murders. Muhsin does everything he can, but each killing is a perfect crime: the murderer leaves not a single trace behind, and as the deaths pile up, the tension in the neighborhood becomes unbearable. Besides pacing the story perfectly, Mahfouz infuses “Culprit Unknown” with light humor and unexpected (but welcome) philosophical musings, as in the exchange below:

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Weekly Dispatches from the Front Lines of World Literature

This week, we’re talking about poetry in Transylvania, storytelling in Marrakech, and LGBT literature in Taipei.

It would be difficult for even the most hardened of cynics to bemoan the state of literature after having read the news coming from around the globe this week. Our editors report on a stunning international festival of poetry in Transylvania, the determined literary representation of an “unofficial” language in Morocco, and an abundance of musical, literary, and theatrical events taking place under the open skies of Taipei.

Xiao Yue Shan, Assistant Blog Editor, reporting from the Z9Festival in Sibiu, Romania

The forecast called for a 60 percent chance of rain, but the sun was still wispily gathered in the early evening, so rows were laid out in the courtyard and the fifth edition of Z9Festival, the young literature festival based in Sibiu, began.

Founded in 2015 and sponsored by the Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, the festival gathers poets from nine countries around the world to share their work with the Romanian public; the name can be read as either New Zone or Zone Nine, in an ode to both its focus on writers under forty and its international reach. So it is that in mid-July 2019, writers from the UK, Poland, The Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy, China, Russia, and Romania descended upon the picturesque landscape of Sibiu to join one another in a night celebrating poetry, and its inherent ability to dissipate borders.

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The Summer 2019 Issue Is Here!

Dive into new work from 30 countries!

Wake up where the clouds are far with Asymptote’s Summer 2019 edition—“Dreams and Reality” brings you stunning vistas from 30 countries, including new fiction from Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz, an exclusive interview with Edith Grossman, translator of Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, and never-before-published translations of Nicole Brossard, recent winner of Canada’s Lifetime Griffin Trust Award for Poetry. In our Special Feature on Yiddish writing, published with the generous support from the Yiddish Book Center, you’ll find everything from Isaac Berliner’s dreams of ancient South America to Yermiyahu Ahron Taub’s modern-day America.

In Leonardo Sanhueza’s retelling of intimate life before, during, and after Chile’s Civil War, each poem an unforgettable portrait of a colonist, dreams are harbingers of death. In “A Rainy Tuesday,” Bijan Najdi’s nonlinear journey of grief, on the other hand,  dreams are bulwarks against the almost certain demise of missing loved ones. When the veil breaks, the real returns. Internationally acclaimed Korean poet Kim Hyesoon tackles the reality of violence head-on in her latest collection, reviewed by Matt Reeck. For artist Jorge Wellesley, the emptiness of slogans lies exposed in images of rotting, blurred, or blank billboards. In a candid essay, Fausto Alzati Fernández confesses to the rituals of drug addiction, some of which attempt “to grab hold of reality and strip it.”

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“Thirst for a Deeper Understanding”: An Interview with the Founders of Absynt

Perhaps the fact that we were amateurs was an advantage: we were willing to take on the risk.

In 2015, two friends, a Pole and a Slovak, took a gamble and ventured into the overcrowded book market in Slovakia. And as if starting a new publishing house wasn’t risky enough, they chose to focus on literary reportage, a genre that was not well-known in Slovakia at the time. Since then, Absynt has published eighty titles and in late 2017 launched a Czech branch. At this year’s London Book Fair, the founders of Absynt, Filip Ostrowski and Juraj Koudela, shared their remarkable success story with Asymptote’s editor-at-large for Slovakia, Julia Sherwood.

Julia Sherwood (JS): Reportage is increasingly being recognized as a bona fide literary genre and gaining popularity around the world. What is it about reportage that attracts you and that distinguishes it from ordinary journalism? Why do you think it resonates with readers?

Filip Ostrowski (FO): There is this general thirst for a deeper understanding of events and their context. We get coverage of the whole world from the media and the internet, but what is missing is a detached view, a kind of more universal commentary. For such a text to emerge, some time has to elapse. We feel that online coverage doesn’t respond to this need, but literary reportage can.

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Translation Tuesday: Three Poems by Zackary Sholem Berger

The night sings in my arms. / It’s bedtime, flesh-and-blood.

The newest issue of Asymptote is coming out this Thursday, and in anticipation of our special Yiddish Poetry Feature, we bring you three poems from poet and translator Zackary Sholem Berger. Translated from the Yiddish, these poems are inventive and playful even as they explore serious and philosophical themes.

Guilty

This bird in town

Eyes me up and down:

My sin is known

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What’s New in Translation: July 2019

Four reviews of translations you won't want to miss this month!

From translations by heavyweights like Ann Goldstein and Jennifer Croft to novels by writers appearing for the first time in English, July brings a host of exciting new books in translation. Read on for coming-of-age stories set in Italy and Poland, a drama in rural Argentina, and the tale of a young man and his pet lizard in Japan. 

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A Girl Returned by Donatella Di Pietrantonio, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein, Europa Editions, 2019

Review by Lindsay Semel, Assistant Editor

In A Girl Returned, Donatella Di Pietrantonio’s award-winning novel, a nameless young woman retrospectively narrates the defining event of her adolescence—the year when the only family she has ever known returns her to her birth family. From the title, the reader can already sense the protagonist’s conundrum. A passive object of the act of being returned, her passivity in her own uprooting threatens to define her identity. Ann Goldstein’s searing translation from the Italian inspires the reader both to accompany the narrator as she wades through the tender memories of that time and to reflect on her or his own family relationships through a new lens.

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