Place: Switzerland

Asymptote Podcast: Language and Dance (Part I)

Discover Eurythmy, a form of dance created in the 1920s by philosopher Rudolph Steiner, in our latest podcast!

In this first installment of a two-parter about language and dance, Podcast Editor Dominick Boyle speaks with Switzerland-based dancer and choreographer Kincsö Szabó, who trained in Eurythmy, a form of dance created in the 1920s by philosopher Rudolph Steiner. In Eurythmy, aspects of language are taken as direct impulses for movement in a codified way—certain letters have certain sounds, and these sounds have movements associated with them. Szabó says that this process helps dancers to understand abstract concepts in a more natural and embodied way. Take a listen to the podcast now!
Music used under a Creative Commons License from the Free Music Archive.

Translation Tuesday: “The Results” by Bernard Comment

"Jealousy is always a weakness, an uncertainty, a lack of confidence, every other person is a competitor, a threat."

On a check-up at a health clinic, a father and husband’s interactions with doctors are punctuated by reminiscences of love and lust for his wife. Gradually, we learn of a chilling act of violence, which leads the protagonist to a twisted reckoning with his mental and physical condition. 

It’s cold. A cold that bores into you, that hasn’t let up for days, despite the big woollen jumper I never take off, even at night. Carlo tells me I should take it off for sleeping, and wrap myself up well in the blankets, so that when I get up I would add a garment to make up for the change in temperature, but one evening I tried this and my teeth chattered all night. The other men I see at lunchtime don’t seem to suffer, there’s even a guy who always walks around in a T-shirt, but admittedly he’s a burly fellow, well-padded against the cold.

The doctor made ​me go back to him this morning, after fasting, he wanted to do further tests, two whole syringes filled with blood, I asked to lie down because I’m always afraid of turning to look, and it’s much worse if you get to see it. The nurse smiled, although I couldn’t tell if it was from pity, sympathy, or scorn. She had difficulty finding the veins, it’s always the same, I begin to tense up, to sweat at the temples, I become dizzy and pale; when I was a teenager I passed out each time, and once I fell backwards and hit my head on a sink, was sent straight to hospital for a battery of tests, a lumbar puncture, and an idiot teacher spread it around that I’d taken an overdose, me who’s never touched the tiniest amount of an illegal substance, for fear of my reaction, and my scrupulous respect for the law.

When I had the first tests, eight months ago, the lady in the laboratory was very considerate, settling me into an armchair and telling me to look away, and to think of something pleasant; so I thought about the film I’d watched the night before, with Julie, her warm body, her breasts in my hands, her smell after making love. Then it was finished, and already I had a piece of cotton wool and then a sticking-plaster on top, whereas here everything is rougher, more brutal. I’ve been waiting for twenty minutes, standing in front of the grey door. They came to get me around six o’clock. Immediate appointment. Everything moved fast, then the iron door in the corridor clanged shut behind me, with a heavy ringing sound, and since then, nothing. The doctor must be on the telephone, I hear his voice at times, a powerful, raucous voice, but I don’t understand what he’s saying, the rooms are well insulated. I’d love to smoke a cigarette, it’s what I’ve been brooding about for a full five minutes, it’d do me good, would relax me, smoking a cigarette.

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Section Editors’ Highlights: Winter 2018

Our editors choose their favorites from the Winter 2018 Issue.

Asymptote’s new Winter 2018 issue is replete with spectacular writing. See what our section editors have to say about the pieces closest to their hearts: 

It’s a struggle to pick ​just one poet to highlight from this momentous issue of our journal, but perhaps I will mention the Infrarealist Mexican poet José Vicente Anaya ​whose work Heriberto Yépez described as “revelation, a sacred practice against brainwashing and lobotomy” (source: translator​’s​ note). Much as each poet in this issue and ​the set of circumstances in which they write are distinct, I read all their works as sacred, necessary attempts to counter the forces of obliteration and oblivion against which they—and ​we—strive. In Anaya’s case, a core element of the ritual is híkuri (​”peyote” in ​the ​indigenous language of​ Rarámuri), the ingestion of which makes the speaker spiral, psychedelically, inward and outward​,​ so that nothing is quite separate from everything else. The revelation is this: we’ve overbuilt the world and left ourselves broken. Joshua ​Pollock’s translation recreates the visionary​ spirit​ of the hyperlingual source text to bring us the ferocity of lines such as these:

On Superhighways we hallucinate
in order to carry on living, Victor,
let’s build an anti-neutron bomb
that leaves life standing
demolishing suffocating buildings /
new machines working for everyone
so that time raises us
from joy
to Art
to joy / and
HUMANity governs without government

—Aditi Machado, Poetry Editor

“[there are also] a number of young writers who are emerging, for instance, in the Gambia, who are also catering a lot to the local market. They are to come.” — Tijan M. Sallah at an interview at the Library of Congress, Washington DC, 2012

It is impossible to think of Gambian literature without thinking of the poetry, short stories, and essays of Tijan M. Sallah. Sallah is The Gambia’s most renowned and prolific literary figure, but what makes him most remarkable is his generosity. Sallah, like many of the great Gambian writers before him, balanced his “day job” while continuing his tireless support of other writers and The Gambia’s burgeoning literary scene. For writers such as Lenrie Peters, it was being a medical doctor, while holding literary workshops for aspiring young Gambian writers; for Tijan M. Sallah, it was a successful career as an economist at the World Bank, while continuing to foster community among the Gambian diaspora’s literary voices, his early contributions to the Timbooktoo Bookstore, or even—lucky for us at Asymptote—his willingness to write this essay on some of The Gambia’s emerging poets. Sallah’s essay is both a tribute to the previous wave of Gambian writers and a passing on of the baton to the next generation of poets. In this essay, he spotlights three of the exciting new voices in the Gambian literary landscape today. It’s a must-read from this issue.

—Ah-reum Han, Writers on Writers Editor

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Asymptote Podcast: Our First Interactions with New Languages

Discover funny stories about linguistic misunderstandings in our latest podcast episode!

Before we translate with a language, we have to pick it up. In this episode of the Asymptote Podcast, learn about people’s first interactions with new languages. Discover the funny stories about linguistic misunderstandings unearthed by Podcast Editor Dominick Boyle as he stands on a bridge between two countries. Plus, hear what’s in store for the podcast this fall.

Podcast Editor and Host: Dominick Boyle

Music by Podington Bear, used under a Creative Commons License from the Free Music Archive.

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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Asymptote Podcast: In Conversation with Suchitra Ramachandran

Dominick Boyle talks to the winner of our 2017 Close Approximations contest (fiction category)!

In this episode of the Asymptote Podcast we feature an interview with translator Suchitra Ramachandran. Her translation of the short story, Periyamma’s Words by B. Jeyamohan, won Asymptote‘s 2017 Close Approximations Prize in Fiction. Ramachandran and Podcast Editor Dominick Boyle delve into the rich world of language that the two main characters of Periyamma’s Words find themselves in, which is filled with symbolism that reaches epic proportions. Ramachandran says that this creates a text both incredibly challenging to translate, but also incredibly rewarding.

They also discuss her own journey of linguistic discovery, which motivated her to become a translator. Frustrated by the inadequacy of Indian literature written in English to speak to her own experience, Ramachandran turned to literature in Tamil. Now, she hopes that translation can bring it to a wider audience. She says that translations of Tamil literature, surprisingly, are helping other Indians, and even native Tamil speakers, to discover the tremendous wealth of stories available in their own backyard.

Podcast Editor and Host: Dominick Boyle

Music is “Divider” by Chris Zabriskie and “El Tranva” by Jenifer Avila. Used under a Creative Commons License from the Free Music Archive.

(Editor’s Note: Ramachandran would like to add that it is incorrect when she says in the podcast that students of English read translations of Mulk Raj Anand—Anand was an Indian author who wrote in English.)

What’s New in Translation? July 2017

We review three new books from France, Turkey, and Switzerland that are available in English for the first time.

 

myhearthemmedin

My Heart Hemmed In by Marie NDiaye, translated by Jordan Stump, Two Lines Press

Reviewed by Ah-reum Han, Writers on Writers Editor

Think: Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper meets Han Kang’s The Vegetarian meets Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge; then for good measure, throw in a bit of Na Hong-jin’s The Wailing. Marie NDiaye’s My Heart Hemmed In defies categorization. And yet, the novel’s crux lies in the unspoken categorization of its main characters—the schoolteacher couple, Nadia and Ange—who the townspeople have inexplicably (and violently) turned against. Not long after the reader arrives in this novel, Ange sustains a critical injury and Nadia must find a way to live in this new, hostile world. Told entirely from Nadia’s limited perspective, this forced intimacy between reader and paranoid narrator leaves us feeling curious, suffocated, and unsettled.

French literary star, NDiaye, has been my writer crush ever since Ladivine, which was longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker International Prize. She published her first novel when she was just eighteen years old and has since received the Prix Femina and the prestigious Prix Goncourt. Written in NDiaye’s distinctive, phantasmagorical style, My Heart Hemmed In is an unrelenting look inward in a world where the psychological manifests itself externally. Whether it’s the food Nadia devours or Ange’s mysterious, gaping wound, we are confronted with things that are consumed and the things they are consumed by; the things left for dead, and the things they birth. NDiaye’s details are so seductive and unforgiving, lavish and grotesque, it leaves you reeling.

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Asymptote Podcast: The World of Mundartliteratur, Part 2

Language with fewer boundaries.

In this episode of the Asymptote Podcast we return to the world of Mundartliteratur in Switzerland in an exclusive interview with Pedro Lenz, one of the best known Swiss authors who writes in dialect. His engaging and immediate works of prose and poetry present life in modern Switzerland as it really is: a far cry from the idealized herders of Heidi. His 2010 novel Der Goalie bin ig has been translated out of the Bernese Swiss-German into 8 languages, including Glaswegian English, and adapted as a film.
Podcast Editor Dominick Boyle talks with Lenz about the relationship between language, sound, and story. Lenz believes that the highly deliberate but ultimately artificial way he constructs his texts paradoxically allows a work to connect to its audience with fewer boundaries. We also speak about how his work was given a new life and context when translated into Glaswegian.

All sound recorded and produced by Dominick Boyle, or available in public domain.

Translation Tuesday: “The Emergency Brake” by Hermann Burger

Everyone has a red handle over his head. All that’s required is the courage to pull down.

Fresh from releasing our massive quarterly edition gathering new work from 30 countries (a sixth of which make up our Special Feature on Literatures from Banned Countries), we’re thrilled to present one of the issue’s many amazing highlights: a new story by Hermann Burger, “one of the truly great authors of the German language: a writer of consummate control and range, with a singular and haunting worldview.” German critic Uwe Schütte goes on to lament: “Yet it is not surprising that he fell into obscurity after his death, from an overdose of barbiturates at age forty-six. He shares this fate with many of the most august names from the peripheries of German-language literature who, never managing to escape from the ghetto of Austrian or Swiss publishing, either gave up in exhaustion, or went on writing and were forgotten nonetheless.” When you’re finished with this brilliant story, don’t forget to check out Schütte’s accompanying critical introduction in our free portal for world literature.

I sit in the dining car in my customary place. On the table stands a plaque: Réservé. I have the table to myself, although at this hour, the dining car is always rather full. I’m free to invite someone over, as I often do, to have someone to talk to during the long journey. The express train left punctually from the station concourse with its frosted glass, brown platforms, hurried people, plastic voices in the loudspeakers, and races now through the industrial quarter past the roadworks, apartment blocks, refineries, and silos. As always, a certain comfortable feeling of movement; the rhythm of the track joints is soft. A park with bright yellow building machines, which always look to me like giant dinosaurs from a vanished era, stretches out in the blinding midday light. Backhoes, fangs raised skyward, heavy dump trucks with ribs on their laterals, graders and excavators, a tranquil family, all together. I love how the landscape whizzes past in the train, this fleeing joy from a picture book. A bridge, a brief, hollow sound—and already, the river with the birches returns.

Punctual as ever, the service has begun, the waiter takes the place settings from my table. “Monsieur?” he says, as I close the menu. I nod in agreement with the menu of the day, and order a bottle of Dôle to accompany it. “Monsieur,” the waiter says again, after bringing me the soup, a consommé finished with white wine, sloshing slightly from the shuddering of the train car. Bon appétit, I wish myself, breaking my bread and giving the server a sideways bow. He knows he has a good tip coming, and is right to give a conspicuous smile. Monsieur, Monsieur, one hears from the other tables. It is an elegant proceeding. The waiters in their khaki coats speak fluent French and broken German. This team in particular serves quickly and with grace. One simply must see with what precision my waiters lay the spinach on the plate, how they post on one leg and balance the meat platter with its perilously whipped-up sauce through a curve, or how they pour the wine without spilling a drop. That is service! The guests, business travelers in dark suits, mostly, take pains to spoon their soup as soundlessly as possible. The chef de service greets the newcomers with the question: “zum Essen, pour manger?” When they refuse, they are dismissed with a shrug of the shoulders. I understand the head waiter’s verdict. There are always travelers who think one can sit in the middle of the dining car and order a peppermint tea or a plate of terrine. In fact, we, the regulars and staff, have no desire for our established ceremony to be spoiled over a bit of terrine. I always say: after all, it’s called the dining car, not the picnic wagon. By the way the other guests pour, I see whether they have dining car experience or not. The neophytes let the glass stand on the table, so that, naturally, the beverage spills over and leaves spots behind on the blinding white tablecloth. The old hands hold the glass in front of the bottle’s neck, but without bracing their elbow. I, and I say this not without pride, am an old hand.

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Zsuzanna Gahse’s Europe: Like Her New Book, It’s a Collection

Translations are more or less a doubling of life, or rather, a translation is the doubling of a book’s life.

Zsuzanna Gahse’s strange and eloquent meditation on the question of what, or rather, who “Europe” is has only become more relevant over the course of the past year in politics. Gahse’s Europe is the continent that shares her name with a princess abducted by Zeus. “Europe consists of its disintegration,” she writes. Gahse’s writing is all the more relevant for not being “topical”: these prescient thoughts on Europe’s disintegration date from 2004, the year of the EU’s most ambitious expansion. Her Europe is composed of a collection of accents, languages, and landscapes, “a collection of mountain ridges wrinkling the earth.” It’s an Europe for travellers, migrants, and lovers.

Her first book to be published in English comes out this month with Dalkey Archive in Chenxin Jiang’s translation. The translator and writer spoke shortly before the book’s release.

Chenxin Jiang (CJ): The Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote of you a few days ago: “As a master of short prose, she has become a truly European author.” Is the short prose form central to your being a European author?

Zsuzanna Ghase (ZG): Short compact narratives and even individual sentences can be memorable and indeed arresting. Whether in prose, poetry, or drama, these types of writing have a remarkable role to play in the modern world, and the endless (serious and unserious) ways of playing on them constitute an experimental challenge. As for being a European author, I certainly am one, in that I don’t focus on any one country (or my so-called “own” country) in my books, but am interested in many different countries.

CJ: In what sense are the pieces in Volatile Texts part of what the first piece would call “a collection”?

ZG: The word “collection” only applies to the first piece in the book and the pictures of Europe it presents. Europe can be described as a collection of various customs and histories, different languages, climates, political arrangements and so on; a collection that is both well- and less-than-well-developed. You could spend a long time surveying the cuisines alone. All that taken together is Europe: in other words, a collection.

But the individual pieces in Volatile Texts are carefully composed. As such, they do not constitute an arbitrarily assembled collection—hence the subtext of Europe that runs throughout. The fact that a Hamburger can become a Roman and a woman from France an American in one of the Volatile Texts speaks to the porousness of identity, to the existence of a collection of identities.

CJ: In Volatile Texts, you write that “languages [are] shaped by landscape, by topography.” How has your own attentiveness to language and your writing been shaped by living in Switzerland?

ZG: In the mountains, in order to make yourself understood between the cliffs, you need a different voice from the voice you’d use on the plains. It must be true in the Rockies too, that voices have to prevail against the mountains. Conditions are different on the tranquil plains: for instance, in windswept northern Germany, I’ve observed that people talk with a distinct singsong, so that the wind doesn’t take all their syllables and sounds with it. The striking number of phonological shifts in Swiss German, which might have to do with the topography of the landscape, has always interested me—not to mention the fact that Switzerland has four languages. Because of these linguistic boundaries and the different regions within Switzerland, I began playing with the idea of depicting Switzerland, of all places, as Europe—since, as you know, Switzerland is part of the continent but not part of the EU.

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