Posts filed under 'france'

Announcing Our August Book Club Selection: Revenge of the Translator by Brice Matthieussent

A novel in which a translator escapes from the confines of the translator’s note to enter and interact with the text he is translating.

At first glance, the plot of our August Asymptote Book Club selection is simple enough: we’re following the footnotes of an imaginary novel called Translator’s Revenge.

Translator’s Revenge is itself the story of a novel-in-translation, and our knowledge of the text is filtered through our narrator, Trad—a translator who feels that Translator’s Revenge is wholly inadequate and actively attempts to distort the original version. Add together those complex plot layers and you have Vengeance du traducteur, Brice Matthieussent’s perplexingly brilliant reconfiguration of translation theory. Add one further act of prestidigitation and you arrive at Emma Ramadan’s Revenge of the Translator, the English translation of Matthieussent’s prize-winning novel.

Our latest selection, then, comprises at least four books in one. If you’d like to join us in unraveling the threads of the plot, read Mallory Truckenmiller’s review below and then head to our dedicated online discussion page. If you’re not yet an Asymptote Book Club subscriber, there’s still time to sign up for our September selection: all the information you need is available on our official Book Club site.

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What’s New in Translation: August 2018

Find respite from the heat with these new reads.

From Icelandic landscapes to art history, August brings with it an exciting new selection of books. Whether you’re looking for a book to pass the hot summer days, or are in the market for inspired poetry, the Asymptote team has something for you in this new edition of What’s New in Translation. And if that’s not enough, head over to the Asymptote Book Club for fresh reads, delivered to your doorstep every month!

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Öræfi: The Wastelands by Ófeigur Sigurðsson, translated from the Icelandic by Lytton Smith, Deep Vellum, 2018

Reviewed by Jacob Silkstone, Assistant Managing Editor

One of the many epic stories retold in Ófeigur Sigurðsson’s Öræfi: The Wastelands (“that punctuation mark… both pushes words (and worlds) away from one another and means they’re roped together,” according to translator Lytton Smith) is the story of Öræfi itself. Formerly known as Hérað, the Province, a place in which “butter drips from every blade of grass,” it was devastated by the most destructive volcanic eruption in Iceland’s recorded history:

The chronicles record that one morning in 1362 Knappafjells glacier exploded and spewed over the Lómagnúpur sands and carried everything off into the sea, thirty fathoms deep… The Province was destroyed, all its people and creatures annihilated; no sheep or cattle survived, no creatures left alive anywhere… the corpses of people and animals washed up on beaches far and wide… the bodies were cooked and tender and the flesh so loose on the bones it fell apart.

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Translation Tuesday: Three Poems by Landa wo

What to do with these hands and these orphan caresses

This week we are proud to feature three poems by the Angolan-French poet Landa wo, in which he blends enquiries into human nature with nature itself, and transforms the silence and stillness of the world into the qualities of song. We hope you enjoy it, and don’t miss next week’s Translation Tuesday! 

Words

Let words burn
While saying the truth
For I, the poet,
I would not keep her on a leash.
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Translation Tuesday: “The Despair of Roses” by Frédérique Martin

I sold my mother the other day.

If Camus’ Meursault once shocked us with his emotional alienation, opening his novel with “Today, mother died,” Frédérique Martin’s unsentimental narrator takes it one step further in “The Despair of the Roses”: “I sold my mother the other day.”  This Translation Tuesday, we present the brilliant fiction leading off our New Voices in French Literature Special Feature showcase in our latest issue. If you are a French reader, hop over to this article page for the French original and translator Hilary McGrath’s note, and consider following us at our newly launched French Facebook page!

—Lee Yew Leong, Editor-in-Chief

I sold my mother the other day. At the market in Saints-Sauveurs, the one that’s open to the public twice a year like in many large towns. I wanted to take care of the sale myself rather than handing her over to one of the merchants. They may know all the right things to say but they don’t always keep their word. Don’t think that I don’t love my mother. I said to her—I love you, Mum. Don’t ever forget that—but the day comes when you have to move on from your parents and let go of the apron strings. My father has been dead for some time so this question never arose with regard to him.

She was gone by around three in the afternoon. You could hardly say they had to tear us apart. She’s not even that old and is still in excellent health. She wasn’t a burden on me either. It was more a question of weighing things up and finding a balance; when one stage in life comes to an end you need to move on. To leave your childhood behind you, selling your mother becomes a necessary step. I’m not the only one who believes this to be true but I know what some people think about it; they consider it a little too . . . radical. For the most part, they are hypocrites who end up putting their elderly relatives into retirement homes where death awaits them. Some keep them at home but reduce their living space little by little and send them to bed earlier and earlier, knowing that the deadly boredom of the interminable days will grind them down. Some people probably still love them enough to relinquish a space for them, some corner, over there. And wait it out.

I don’t want all that palaver in my house. My mother is affectionate and very active. That’s the memory I’ll always have of her. However, she did weave an invisible, sticky web around me that prevented me from growing up, my heartbeat stuck in a groove that wasn’t my own.
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“2817 Perec”: The Celestial Eccentricity of Georges Perec’s Writing

A profile of the extraordinary French writer that explores how he used experimentation and imagination to understand the horrors of reality.

This article by the prodigious French writer Marie Darrieussecq appeared in Le Monde des Livres on May 11, 2017. The occasion was the publication of the two-volume La Pléiade edition of the Complete Works of Georges Perec, who died thirty-five years ago, in 1982. It is a huge honor for a writer’s work to be published (usually posthumously) in the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade, which is a critical edition, with annotations, notes, manuscript and editorial variations, and accompanying documents. The books are pocket format, leather bound, with gold lettering on the spine and printed on bible paper. The series was begun in 1931 by the editor Jacques Schiffrin and was brought into the Gallimard publishing company in 1936 by André Gide.

—Penny Hueston

Georges Perec is now part of the Pléiade series. The novelty of the list of his titles being collected in this edition might have brought a smile to his face. He used to say, “Nothing in the world is unique enough not to be able to be part of a list.”

But Perec is unique. More than anyone else’s, his collected works resemble a UFO. He is a successor to Jules Verne and Herman Melville, to Stendhal and Queneau, to Poe and Borges, to Rabelais and Mallarmé…And yet Perec stands alone, bearded, playful, coiffed with a cat in his hair, like an icon in our popular imagination. And, although a dizzying number of references are woven through his work, his way of writing is freakily inventive.

His books were only intermittently successful in his lifetime, but after his premature death at the age of forty-six in 1982, his reputation grew exponentially. Perec quickly became the most recent of our classics. “A contemporary classic,” as the editor of this Pléiade edition of his Complete Works, Christelle Reggiani, writes in her preface, but an odd classic, both amusing and melancholic, whose humour shaped his despair.

His lipograms, constrained writing (the speciality of Oulipo, of which he was without doubt the most famous member), play around an absent centre, a missing letter, or an alphabetical prison house. His novel, A Void (1969), written without the letter “e,” is therefore written without them: without his father, who was killed in the war, without his mother, who was murdered in Auschwitz.

What seems to be Perec’s pleasant game with words is his way of saying the unsayable, of giving shape to absence, of proclaiming the abomination of the death of his mother and of the destruction of the Jews of Europe. He had what it takes to write that. READ MORE…

In Review: Bye Bye Blondie by Virginie Despentes

It is imbued with the passionate discontent of the punk movement, thought to be dead, but clearly still bubbling under our collective surface.

‘Volatile’ isn’t a strong enough adjective for Gloria, the protagonist of Virginie Despentes’ novel, Bye Bye Blondie. This post-punk love story shocks and devastates with its disquieting exploration of personhood, womanhood, and human connection through Gloria’s manic gaze.

We meet Gloria in her middle age, newly homeless after the latest in a string of exes becomes fed up with her bottomless capacity for anger and violent outbursts. She begins making her way to the local bar. She’d smashed her phone against a wall in her final fight with her ex, but even if she had some change to call a friend for help, she realizes there are very few left willing to put up with her. But even in these first pages of the novel, her despair doesn’t quite seem isolated. She wanders her dreary town, passing by posters for vapid films and the sterile bubblegum storefronts of international chains. Her ferocity takes on the flavor of rebellion in the context of the anaesthetized materialism of her surroundings.

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Weekly News Roundup, 26th February 2016: Digi-Musee

This week's literary highlights from around the world

Happy Friday, Asymptote. We missed it last week, but here it is: friend of the blog (and source of a great deal of the roundup’s news), Michael A. Orthofer (of the Complete Review) is finally recognized as the meticulous literary heavyweight he is.

Is the future now (or never)? Here’s what robots might learn from literature, according to the Guardian (harumph). And in Paris, France, the City of Light (and Egregious Museums) is set to open a “museum of digital reading” (harumph, indeed).

In Iran, forty different media outlets have (allegedly) pooled money for British author Salman Rushdie’s fatwa, adding over six hundred thousand (!) pounds to the already-hefty sum. Meanwhile, here’s Rushdie on literature and politics—in his own words. The “Free the Word!” event at PEN International might be worth a gander for all this censorship. (Meanwhile, at the Eurovision song contest: is the Ukraine‘s submission an attack on Russia?).

Every once in a while, the non-translation media makes a revelation we knew all along. This time, it’s what we can learn by comparing translations of the Bible (via an interview with Aviya Kushner, author of the absolutely awesome translation memoir, The Grammar of God). Speaking of non-translation (but translation-friendly) texts: Lispector translator Idra Novey’s first novel, Ways to Disappear, features a “disappearing translation superhero.” And the Armenian Weekly emphasizes the point: here’s why it’s important to translate (and re-translate!) the country’s most foundational texts.

In India, there are so, so many literary festivals—about 100! The New York Times argues that these fests are more than strictly literary affairs, but occasions in which “India talks to itself.”

You may have caught the blog’s recent graphic novel in translation—here’s another kind of translation, namely that of culture shock and pictograms, by Chinese visual artist Yang Liu living in Berlin, Germany. 

A*** And I: In Conversation With Emma Ramadan

"...it shouldn’t be that hard to write a genderless novel in English in the first person, but it’s really hard to translate one from French."

“If Garréta’s composition of Sphinx was a high-wire act, then Emma Ramadan’s task in carrying it over into a language with at least one crucially important constitutional difference is, near as I can figure it, akin to one tightrope walker mimicking the high-wire act of a second walker on a steeply diverging tightrope, while also doing a handstand.” —Daniel Levin Becker

If DJs are “the new rock stars” (Forbes, 2012), and if Emma Ramadan is correct—there did not exist, until now (2015), a genderless love story written in English—how can we trust in our vision as a supposedly contemporary, world-changing literary public after discovering that Anne Garréta’s debut novel was published thirty years ago?

Sphinx (1986) is a love story that is simultaneously hijacked and elevated by its own language. Originally guided by a Jesuit priest cloaked as Dante’s Virgil, the novel’s nameless and genderless narrator descends from the aristocratic literati into Paris’s crepuscular underworld, arriving at the gates of the discothèque Apocryphe to become DJ royale and a devotee of the beautiful, also genderless, A*** (in whose tragic character we may find our Beatrice). The Apocryphe is the abyssal incubator of their folie à deux. To say that Sphinx is “ahead of its time” sounds stale, but stale-sounding things are often true. (In 2002, Garréta won France’s prestigious Prix Médicis, which is awarded each year to an author whose “fame does not yet match their talent.”)

Garréta’s method and style allow her to pillage the French language generously, often playfully, and she makes it clear that society, self-prescriptive by nature, is begging to see itself outside of binary gender distinctions. Ramadan’s translation has also given us the first full-length work by a female member of the Oulipo. The experimental French literary group is renowned for its exclusions—whole novels don’t include the letter “e,” extended texts employ only one vowel, poetry is written to be sliced up and reshuffled. It must be remembered, however, that Sphinx’s publication preceded Garréta’s invitation to join the Oulipo by more than a decade. Now, what does it mean to read the first English translation of such a novel, which teases out all our assumptions about identity, love, desire, relationships, with almost sacramental intensity?

We can, at least, trust in the simple counsel of the novel’s translator, who (after Garréta) made our reading possible in the first place: “If our pre-conceived notions about all of these things are defied by this text, what does that say about our pre-conceived notions? Reading Sphinx is one way to think about these questions, to question our ways of thinking.” Whether in spite of or due to its preciousness, Sphinx serves to remind us that it is us who are still woefully behind the times.

***

MB: First, I want to enquire about the context that instigated an English translation of Garréta’s novel now. Sphinx was published in 1986—when Garréta was only 23 years old. What made the impetus for this translation—nearly thirty years later—so urgent?

ER: Well, when I first found out about Sphinx, I heard about it in the context of Daniel Levin Becker. He wrote a book about Oulipians, and he briefly mentions Sphinx, and I assumed that it had already been translated. And then I went looking for the translation and I couldn’t find it, and when I realised it hadn’t been translated yet it just sort of seemed wild to me, you know, that no one had tried to translate this book. It was pretty wild to me that, despite the past, however many years going by since this book was published, it still feels very relevant, maybe more so now than then, because people are more interested in talking about gender and the way gender influences our lives, and influences our identities, the ways it kind of constricts us, and I feel now more so than in 1984—at least in the States.

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The Afrofuture for the Time/Being: Traveling Black to the Future

"Of course, Black(s) to the Future isn’t about achieving Black supremacy—but every bit about counteracting the pigeonholing of Black art."

In 1941, Moïse Yehouessi was called to war. A young man from Benin, he’d studied at William Ponty, a military school housed in a old fortress about twenty miles east of Dakar, in Senegal. Yehouessi fought on France’s side against the Axis powers in World War II. After the war, he immigrated to France, swayed by the propaganda promise of affirmative reception within France.

Three decades later, in December 2015, I sat talking to his granddaughter over Skype. “He was treated like shit,” said Mawena suddenly, from her Paris apartment. France did indeed see a rise in immigration after WWII, from all over Africa. Take, for instance, the thousands of Algerian pieds noirs who fled to France at the end of the Algerian War. It didn’t take long for internal tensions to emerge in France between the nation’s French-Algerians and the larger French populace. In James Markham’s 1988 New York Times article, “For Pieds-Noirs, the Anger Ensues,” former French prime minister Jacques Chirac is reported as saying, “To reconcile France with its colonial past is to reconcile France with itself. […] As a lieutenant in Algeria, I did my duty. I shared your hopes and your agonies, and understood your élan.” The last word, élan, struck me as glib. READ MORE…

Spectacle Shopping

"They will wear the product and talk about it (and to it) incessantly. They will buy another one next year."

Black Friday is not only a chaotic holiday for shoppers, but it is also an extremely exciting time for those in the media to represent the spectacle of this chaos to the public. The public then consumes this content at face-value, continuing the chaos online and in their homes. In light of Black Friday’s “festivities,” Guy Debord’s Society of Spectacle shone out to me as a great way to explain it. It’s not really a phenomenon, but an obsession in a society that perhaps values the commodity more than other areas. This personal essay explores the parallels I have seen between Black Friday and Guy Debord’s writing.

All citations are from Guy Debord in his work La Société du spectacle (Paris: Buchet-Chastel, 1967). Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith (New York: Zone Books, 1994).

***

“The world the spectacle holds up to view is at once here and elsewhere; it is the world of the commodity ruling over all lived experience. The commodity world is thus shown as it really is, for its logic is one with men’s estrangement from one another and from the sum total of what they produce.”

I’m a Search Engine Optimization Specialist in French and in English for a marketing company in Detroit. I like to say that I fix the Internet for a living, while getting to implement my French Literature degree. The reality is that I put the right words in the right places, and if the search engine algorithms take kindly to them, these words will rank better on Google. I describe it to my college advisor as, “writing French and English prose poems about the Chevrolet Silverado.”

I celebrate my anniversary at the company in November. My manager congratulates me. She was worried I wouldn’t make it this long, away from my family and friends in New York, in a field that isn’t as creative as one might hope. (Conversations with my manager include, “No Allegra, you can’t say that the Chevrolet Malibu is ‘making waves in Ottawa.’ I don’t think Canadians even know what Malibu Beach is.”) READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “Chairs and Sentences” by Anna Weidenholzer

"Ferdinand only likes the thin straws, and he likes it when a straw bobs back up after being submerged in a beer bottle."

A brown leather sofa, on it a man, below it a Lurch. A Lurch is a bundle of dirt made of dust, fluff and hair. A Lurch is what I call a Wollmaus. Because the chairs are never cleared away I have a lot to do, the man says. Because the chairs are never cleared away I get angry. But because the chairs are never cleared away I have a job to do. It’s better to have a job than not having a job. Because what would I do if I didn’t have a job. I would just sit at home, sitting at home is nothing, what do you do when you don’t have a job. It’s better to work even if I get the same money I would get if I didn’t work.

The man takes his left hand from his stomach, lays it behind his head, moves his thumb back and forth. Ferdinand watches the man move his left thumb back and forth. Ferdinand watches TV. It’s after ten pm, Ferdinand prefers serious programmes, he appreciates their seriousness and while watching he frequently looks past the television. Is there a hole in the air? A student asked him once; no, a lake, Ferdinand had answered.

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Au Comptoir, Au Terroir: Eric Rohmer’s Nadja à Paris

Nina Sparling's latest essay on foreignness, film, and fluidity between private and public spaces.

Eric Rohmer’s 1964 film, Nadja à Paris, follows a Nadja Tesich through the city. Tesich is an exchange student at the Sorbonne, living at the Cité Universitaire at the southern edge of the city. The film is short—just ten minutes. There is no plot; Nadja leads Rohmer, he in observation of her movement through the city. Nadja narrates the film in a voice-over. The film treats Nadja’s position as a habitual stranger, a regular foreigner. She is not French, nor does she desire to be. She learns the habits and patterns of the city and participates in them as she is: a Yugoslavian-American studying in a city that is not her own. The habits she adopts fixate on two spaces, le terrace and le comptoir. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 12th June 2015: What’s Pure Prose & Poetry?

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Happy Friday, Asymptote friends!

Big congratulations to the new poet laureate of the United States, Juan Felipe Herrera! Herrera attended the University of Iowa and his current gig is a direct update from his last one (he spent the past two years as poet laureate of the state of California, where he’s from).

Meanwhile, recommended reading abounds. The Millions reviews French-Algerian writer Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation, big winner of the Prix Goncourt and only recently appearing in John Cullen’s English translation (would have been nice to know this from the review—but, alas). In the Paris Review Daily, former blog contributor and all-around translator/thinker/writer extraordinaire Damion Searls argues for a lesser-known (stateside, at least) Norwegian writer: Jon Fosse. According to Searls: in the Beatles band of Norwegian lit, Fosse is George, “the quiet one, mystical.” Hmm. If Fosse is a pure/prose/poet, it’s important to remember the dutiful audacity of prose-at-large: how should we remember what and how prose writing accomplishes what it does? (I’d like to wager that translation plays a vital role in revealing the mechanics of language. But that’s just me). READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: Poems by Boris Vian

Translated by Jeremy Page

THE SPIDERS 

To Odette Bost

 

Into the houses where children die

Go some very old people.

They sit down in the antechamber

Their sticks between their black knees.

They listen, nod their heads.

 

Every time the child coughs

Their hands clutch their hearts

And make big yellow spiders

And the cough, rising through the furnishings,

Is shredded, listless as a pale butterfly.

 

They have vague smiles

And the child’s cough stops

And the big yellow spiders

Rest, shaking,

On the polished boxwood handles

Of the sticks, between their hard knees.

 

And then, when the child is dead

They get up, and go elsewhere…

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