Place: Croatia

Spring 2018: The Dogged Chase of the Actual After the Ideal

Confronting the most immediate limits on human experience while resisting the arbitrary, narrow scope imposed by the commercial book market.

On 19 February 2018, responding to a pitch from Alessandro Raveggi—editor of Italy’s first bilingual literary magazine, The Florentine Literary Review—I arrange for Newsletter Editor Maxx Hillery to run in our Fortnightly Airmail the first of Raveggi’s two-part conversation with John Freeman on the occasion of Freeman’s Italian debut. “I do not feel American literary journals are doing a very good job of curating the best of our present moment,” the former editor of Granta says. “I think an American or American-based literary journal faces two ethical challenges right now, both of them related to aesthetics: 1) to try to redefine the cultural world as not being American-centric, and 2) to reveal America for what it is and has always been, but is just more apparently so now. Attacking these challenges means catching up with the best writers from around the world.” This brings me back thirteen years to the moment I stood up and posed a question to a panel of New York editors: “I am a Singaporean writing about Singapore; would my work be of interest to American publishers?” The immediate response: “Have your characters come to the US.” I end up submitting a story about Chinese diaspora in New York to a literary journal; the rejection letter that comes back reads: “Too much very culturally-specific backstory…that western readers would find compelling.” I remember a third encounter, this time with a literary agent who has read my work before our one-on-one meeting; she articulates very memorably why my fiction won’t be a hit: “A writer expresses his intelligence through plot.” But I like T. S. Eliot’s quote better: “Plot is the bone you throw the dog while you go in and rob the house.” Sometimes, in founding Asymptote, I wonder whether I was in fact revolting against all these things that all these well-meaning people have tried to tell me. But if the magazine isn’t a hit, at least I’ll have one fan in John Freeman: he very coincidentally writes me just as I’m composing this preface to say “how important what it is you do there has been for me and for a lot of us who itch to read away from the mundane.” Here to introduce our Spring 2018 issue and the Korean Fiction Feature I edited is Interviews Editor Henry Knight.

The Spring 2018 issue is one of Asymptote’s most asymptotic. Its pages are bound together by the familiar themes of futility and compromise and populated by people running up against the invisible but all too real limits imposed on them by the mysterious contours of the self, the precarious obligations of kinship, and the arbitrary structures of power undergirding society. Orphans, émigrés, postwar castaways, and second-generation immigrants all struggle to make sense of asymptotes of personal relationship (how close can we get to one another?), teleology (to fulfilling our desires?), epistemology (to knowing ourselves?), language (to legibility?), and narrative (to completion?). The issue, if it is about anything, is about how people situate themselves in the lacunae that shrink and expand as one approaches only for the other to recede. READ MORE…

Section Editors’ Highlights: Summer 2018

Our Section Editors pick their favorite pieces from the Summer 2018 issue!

The brand new Summer 2018 edition of Asymptote is almost one week old and we are still enjoying the diverse offerings from 31 countries gathered therein. Today, our section editors share highlights from their respective sections: 

2501 Migrants by Alejandro Santiago” is a powerful meditation on the US-Mexico border, compellingly written by Cristina Rivera Garza, and beautifully translated by Sarah Booker. Rivera Garza writes gracefully about sculptures made by Oaxacan artist Alejandro Santiago and his team. Each of these clay vessels contains the spirit of a migrant who, having tried their luck at crossing the border, now stands in mute testimony to the absences and deaths that striate both America and Mexico. In this essay, Rivera Garza explores the multi-faceted meanings of these sculptures and uses them to explore the intricacies of the border-condition—the nostalgia of those who leave Mexico, and the melancholy of those who remain. At this juncture in American history, I can think of no more valuable essay to read today than this one.

—Joshua Craze, Nonfiction Editor

The King of Insomnia, who first appeared as graffiti on the streets of Rio de Janeiro, has now become a central character in the fictional world of the Insomnia people, a creation of artist Tomaz Viana—known as Toz. Life-size three-dimensional Insomnia figures, with a history and traditions drawn from Brazilian and African sources, inhabited the Chácara do Cée Museum and its grounds in 2017. Lara Norgaard, Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large in Brazil, introduces the imaginary culture of Insomnia and interviews the artist who discusses his influences, including the Afro-Brazilian religion candomblé, and explains the evolution of these “fictional people with connections to the night, to the big city, but also to the jungle and the forest.”

—Eva Heisler, Visual Editor

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Announcing the Summer 2018 Issue of Asymptote

Introducing our thirtieth issue, which gathers never-before-published work from 31 countries!

We interrupt our regular programming to announce the launch of Asymptote’s Summer 2018 issue!

Step into our bountiful Summer edition to “look for [yourself] in places [you] don’t recognize” (Antonin Artaud). Hailing from thirty-one countries and speaking twenty-nine languages, this season’s rich pickings blend the familiar with the foreign: Sarah Manguso and Jennifer Croft (co-winner, with Olga Tokarczuk, of this year’s Man Booker International Prize) join us for our thirtieth issue alongside Anita Raja, Duo Duo, and Intizar Husain, and our first work from the Igbo in the return of our Multilingual Writing Feature.

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Translation Tuesday: “The End of Summer” by Zoran Pilić

Goodbye, Lucky, goodbye, my dear friend, I told myself, I’ll avenge you, sooner or later.

Today’s translation continues the theme of childhood we’ve had for several Tuesdays now. Zoran Pilić’s story depicts a young man struggling with how to emulate masculinity: admiring the great male chess champions, trying to build the biggest biceps, competing for the affections of a woman. And the memory of a beloved pig, a sacrificial animal whose fate echoes tragically in the conclusion. For more stories that explore the conflicts of childhood, check out the fiction from the Spring 2018 issue of Asymptote.

I loved that pig. Unlike all other pigs that I’ve seen until and since then, Lucky had that something—personality. In the late, late fall of 1975, Misho and I were chopping pumpkins, and Lucky watched us from his pigsty, grunting with satisfaction.

I know that’s for me, as if he wanted to say, there’s no one else here, oink-oink-oink!

“What are you doing?” my old man asked as he walked by distributing tobacco on his rolling paper.

“Chopping pumpkins,” I said. “For Lucky’s breakfast.”

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Translation Tuesday: The Judgement of Richard Richter by Igor Štiks

An excerpt from acclaimed writer Igor Štiks' soon-to-be-published novel, in translation.

Igor Štiks is no stranger to Asymptote. As his April 2012 interview with us states, he was born in Bosnia, wrote his books in Croatia, and now divides his time between Edinburgh and Belgrade. The title character of Štiks’ soon-to-be-published novel, The Judgement of Richard Richter, is a Viennese writer and journalist who retreats from Paris and a painful divorce to his childhood home of Vienna just as he’s turning fifty, in 1992. In the midst of remodeling the apartment where he’d been raised by his aunt Ingrid, he stumbles on a letter written by his late mother, hidden in a blue notebook, tucked behind a bookcase in a wall he’d been demolishing.

From the unsent letter, he learns that his father was a man Richard had never heard of—someone called Jakob Schneider, a leftist Jewish antiwar activist from Sarajevo. Just then, in April of 1992, the war is breaking out in Bosnia. Moved by this unexpected information about his parentage and the mounting hostilities in Bosnia, Richter decides to go to Sarajevo to report from there as a war correspondent and, while he’s there, to search for more information about his father.

Once he arrives he is quickly caught up in the reality of the war and, at first, he sets aside his search for his father. Instead he finds a student, Ivor, to serve as his guide and translator, and he and Ivor decide to shoot a film about a play which is being rehearsed, amid the terrifying conditions of the siege, by a Sarajevo theater, based on a script adapted from the novel, Homo Faber, by Max Frisch. While working on the play he falls in love with Alma, the play’s leading actress. It is from this love affair and the outcome of the search for his father that he flees with such shame and horror, as described in the opening sentences of the excerpt, which we’re thrilled to present to you today in contributing editor Ellen Elias-Bursac’s excellent translation.

When the United Nations transport aircraft took off from Sarajevo on the morning of July 7, I was convinced that shame would strike me dead right there if I looked back once more at the city. I stayed in the seat I’d been assigned and fended off the desire to gaze one last time through the window at Sarajevo as I fled. I held my face in my hands, dropped my head to my knees, and didn’t even rise to lift a hand and wave to the besieged city I’d arrived in as a journalist in mid-May—only to desert it that day like a coward running from my own personal catastrophe, which had intertwined so strangely with the city’s calamity. Coward-like, I repeat, with no word of farewell. Or better, like a beggar in disguise, because there was nothing left of the old Richard Richter but, perhaps, the name on the accreditation ID that allowed him to board the aircraft as simply and painlessly as if hailing a cab to whisk him away from a war he had no tie to whatsoever.

And the tears that dripped onto the grimy iron deck of the aircraft, finding their way through his tightly squeezed fingers, might be perceived as nothing more than a perfectly reasonable human response to what he’d been through, a reaction to the stress that is invariably a part of the work of a journalist, a release of emotions now that the danger had finally passed, after our famous writer, valiant correspondent, and shrewd analyst of this tragic European war at the century’s end had chosen to withdraw. Perhaps to write a fat new book about his experiences and the bravery it took to be there, on the spot, before anybody else could, to open the eyes of Europe—as long as the honorarium was generous enough. No one knew that the man they took pains to extract from the plane that hot day in Split when the plane had landed was no longer the man listed on the ID attached to his shirt. No longer did he answer to that name.

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Meet the Publisher: Phoneme Media’s David Shook on Translations from Underrepresented Languages

I do think we’re living in a very good time for publishing translations.

Phoneme Media is a nonprofit company that produces books in translation into English and literary films. Based in Los Angeles, the company was founded by Brian Hewes and David Shook in 2013, though it wasn’t until 2015 that the press began publishing on a seasonal calendar. To date, Phoneme Media has put out over twenty titles of fiction and poetry, and is particularly interested in publishing works from languages and places that don’t often appear in English. Many of their books are accompanied by short films that take on different formats, from video poems to book trailers, and have been shot around the world. Asymptote’s Editor-at-Large for Argentina, Sarah Moses, spoke to David Shook over Skype about publishing translations from underrepresented languages and some of the titles he’s excited about.

Sarah Moses (SM): How did Phoneme Media start?

David Shook (DS): It came about basically because of my own work as a poet and translator. In my own travels—when I was working in community-based development, mostly in East Central Africa and Latin America—through relationships, through friendships with writers, in places like Burundi and Equatorial Guinea, and writers working in indigenous languages in southern Mexico, for example, I was just encountering all of these writers that I felt deserved to be read in English, that would contribute something important to our literary dialogue and that couldn’t find homes in terms of publishers here in the United States and in the UK, too, for a couple of reasons. The first being the lack of translators working in those languages and familiar with those regions, and the second was the fact that these books were somewhat outside the purview of even the publishers who specialized in translation—some great publishers. I think of Open Letter, for example, which has largely focused on literature from European languages, which I also think is incredibly important, but something like a book of poetry from Isthmus Zapotec, or the first translation from the Lingala—a novel we’re preparing to publish later this year would definitely be a bit outside their wheel house.

SM: How do you find translators for languages like the ones you’ve mentioned?

DS: Well I think our reputation is such that, despite having been around a comparatively short time, we’re often approached by translators working in more unusual languages. Our translation from the Uyghur, for example, by Jeffrey Yang, and the author is Ahmatjan Osman, who was exiled in Canada, was exactly that situation. Jeffrey brought the translation to us because he knew of our editorial interests. In other cases, like our book of Mongolian poetry, I was alerted to its existence because the translator won a PEN/Heim grant. And I do read widely, both in search of writers and of translators, who I think are important. For example, a place like Asymptote, which I read regularly with an eye toward acquisitions. I mean when we acquired, for example, this novel from the Lingala, the translation was a huge issue because there are very few, if any, literary translators from the Lingala, so I actually auditioned a few Congolese translators before finding this husband-and-wife team, Sara and Bienvenu Sene, who did a really great job. They’re really literary translators, whereas most of the translators I’d auditioned were technical translators or interpreters. And it’s pretty spectacular, considering I think English is their fourth language. I think a big part of my work is scouting out these translators and also encouraging a new generation of translators to go out into the world and find interesting books. I’m very proud that we’ve published many first-time translators on Phoneme Media.

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November News from the Asymptote team

From erotica in translation to magazine launches, no rest for world literature!

Spanish Social Media Manager Arthur Dixon has helped to found Latin American Literature Today, a new online literary journal, with support from World Literature Today! He will serve as its Managing Editor when it launches on January 31, 2017.

Contributing Editor Ellen Elias-Bursać will be part of an evening of readings in translation at Berl’s Brooklyn Poetry Shop on December 17, 2016, presented by Harlequin Creature. Her translation of Dubravka Ugrešić’s brilliant address on receiving the Neustadt International Prize for Literature 2016 has been published on LitHub.

Slovakia Editor-at-Large Julia Sherwood‘s co-translation (with Peter Sherwood) of Uršuľa Kovalyk’s short story “Julia” was published in the latest issue of SAND, Berlin’s English literary journal.

Romania & Moldova Editor-at-Large, Chris Tanasescu, aka MARGENTO, will be launching an anthology of contemporary Romanian erotic poetry in New York together with past Asymptote contributor Martin Woodside.  Another contributor to the project is Ruxandra Cesereanu, the primary editor of Moods & Women & Men & Once Again Moods.

Editor-at-Large for India Poorna Swami‘s poetry reading in Bangalore was featured by The Hindu, Metro Plus. Her poem “River Letters” was published in Prelude, Volume 3. She also wrote a blog piece on the politics of social media friendship for The Huffington Post, India. She has been long-listed for the 2017 Toto Awards for Creative Writing (English).

English Social Media Manager Thea Hawlin‘s ‘five-point guide’ to avant-garde artist Yves Klein was published in AnOther magazine.

Chief Executive Assistant Theophilus Kwek  placed Second in the Stephen Spender Prize 2016 for poetry in translation, and his translation of Wong Yoon Wah’s poem, ‘Shadow Puppets’, was featured in The Guardian‘s Translation Tuesday series in collaboration with Asymptote. He was also part of recent poetry readings at the Woodstock Poetry Festival and the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.

Indonesia Editor-at-Large Tiffany Tsao has had two translations and a short story published in BooksActually’s Gold Standard 2016—a “best of” anthology of short fiction by cult writers from East and Southeast Asia that aims to counter the tokenistic way Asian writing is often curated in the West.

*****

More Dispatches from the Asymptote Team:

Poligon Literary Festival: A Dispatch by Ivan Šunjić

"This year's Poligon boasts three prize winners: Krivokapić, Kaplan, and Pajević."

The first incarnation of the literary festival Poligon was held in Mostar on September 25-27, 2015 at several different venues in the city. The decentralization of the festival and the “occupation” of Mostar’s cultural hotspots by poets and writers helped revive the city’s dormant literary scene. The festival was imagined as a space for dialogue between authors from the former Yugoslavia, an opportunity for strategic planning and strengthening of interregional literary exchange. In the words of Mirko Božić, the initiator and co-organizer of Poligon, the festival hopes to put Mostar on the region’s literary map by providing a multi-medial platform for literature, but also visual arts and music. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Four Poems by Anita Pajević

"technically speaking, you’ll clasp her to your knees. / you’ll clean her fish ponds / to make her laugh."

houpačka

 

it morned. godded.

thin soup enspooned on the stove.

an emotion to match. an H on the access tabulations,

in lukewarm plates. like H, like morn.

i didn’t go to the Hraveyard with dad.

not even when things prayered down on him. READ MORE…

The Festival that Won by Knockout

A dispatch from the Festival of the European Short Story in Zagreb and Šibenik, Croatia

Zagreb’s vibrant cultural scene was home to the Festival of the European Short Story last week: an appropriate end to what has certainly been a great season of culture, music, and activism in Croatia’s small (yet exciting!) capital.

This was the festival’s thirteenth year running, and the festival featured Brazil as its partner country. The festival was delightfully lively and action-packed, featuring not only readings and discussion panels, but also a charitable football game, an introduction to Brazilian fiction, a Portuguese translation workshop, and a cook-off (?). Some of the festival took place in Šibenik, a town on the Croatian coast (a sound decision, as the Croatian culture scene is becoming notoriously monocentric, with virtually all of the events and manifestations happening in Zagreb).

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The Croatian Theatre Showcase

An interview with Matko Botić

This year’s Croatian Theatre Showcase, held from November 28 to December 1 in Zagreb, was the first such revue since Croatia joined the European Union last July.  The plays represented in the showcase were not simply the most popular or highest-grossing shows of the year; they all shared a certain attitude, a social awareness, a desire to, as the organizers stated, “speak out about the time and place in which they were created.“ Fine Dead Girls (directed by Dalibor Matanić) deals with the issue of our society’s attitude towards homosexuality, Hermaphrodites of the Soul (choreographed by Žak Valenta) and A Barren Woman (directed by Magdalena Lupi Alvir), each in its own way, tackle the problem of gender roles, while Yellow Line (directed by Ivica Buljan) speaks out about our uncertainties and misgivings about the European community we recently joined. Coupled with the fact that all of the shows were translated and subtitled in English, it  could be said that the aim of the Showcase was to represent not only Croatian theatre, but the current state of Croatian society in general, to foreign viewers. Intrigued by this concept, I sat down with theatrologist and dramaturge Matko Botić, one of the organizers of this event, to chat about the Showcase, the idea behind it, the issues arising from translating theatrical texts, and the state of Croatian theatre in general.

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