Posts filed under 'Germany'

Fascism and Fairy Tales: Ulrike Almut Sandig’s Grimm in Review

A significant project: to rethink the world within a time of political and economic crisis, wherein the female body is particularly precarious.

Grimm by Ulrike Almut Sandig, translated from the German by Karen Leeder, Hurst Street Press

“Is someone shaking the stories”, asks the narrator in the penultimate poem from Grimm, the new collection by the German poet and performance artist Ulrike Almut Sandig, translated by the German scholar Karen Leeder and published by the Oxford-based Hurst Street Press. The collection’s slant retelling of the Grimm tales, considered integral to the German psyche, belies a significant project: to rethink the world within a time of political and economic crisis, wherein the female body is particularly precarious.

Myth, legend, and folklore provide frameworks to writers and readers across all languages and cultures within which they can understand and contextualise crises, serving also as survival strategies for everyday existence and persistence. Grimm focuses on concerns that are central, yet which are by no means exclusive, to Germany, including, the rise of the far-right, misogyny and patriarchy, and the refugee crisis. The collection’s success is that by presenting itself as a poetic cycle, and by its use of language, it suggests that all these phenomena are related. Moreover, if the Grimm tales represent the collective German imagination (indeed, according to the critic Jack Zipes, the Brothers Grimm collected their tales in order to uncover the linguistic “truths” that formed the German people), Sandig reveals its violent, misogynistic, and patriarchal dark side, connecting the tales to the fascism, patriarchy, and racism of the German present and past. If, as Leeder notes, the collection directs a “rage” at this collective consciousness and the injustices it undergirds (‘Grimm’ also means ‘rage’), this rage is inscribed within the broken language of the women to whom Sandig’s retellings give voice.

We can see this at work in the poem “Fitcher’s Bird”, taken from the tale of the same name where a young girl is kidnapped by a man who wants to marry her against her will. During her confinement, the girl discovers the mutilated bodies of her sisters who had previously disappeared from the village. She brings them back to life, escapes disguised as a bird, and then musters the village to exact vengeance on her kidnapper. In the poem, the girl is multiply alienated from herself. Not only does her confinement alienate her from her body and the outside world, so does her disguise as her friends no longer recognise her: “I am an odd/ bird, nobody/ knows me, I/ scarcely know/ myself.” Crucially, this alienation is rendered linguistically. Her imprisonment and her kidnapper’s mutilation of her sisters confine her voice in short, staccato lines, of which the protagonist is well aware: “a globe is/ stuck in my throat/ that I can’t get down […] the beautiful bodies/ of my sisters are/ piled inside.” At the poem’s end, the girl resolves to “make/ all those anew, all those/ who were butchered overnight”, intimating how Grimm in its entirety interrogates the conservative, sexist didacticism inherent in the Grimm tales by exclusively representing female characters that resist patriarchy and sexism.

The collection’s opening poem, ‘Grimm’, connects the girl’s linguistic crisis with a political crisis. Two characters write messages on eggs which smash due to the urgency of their communication, their need to express their concerns. Then, most unnervingly, they “raised [their] sticky arms/ in salute and waved in greeting. then/ lowered [their] heads to a well-nigh limitless/ supply of fragments and rage most grim.” Their rage at the status quo, their political impotence, has broken their language, their selves, and their world-view. In the poem, the girls’ rage, their inability to express their needs or have their voices democratically represented has been misdirected to support the far-right, half-concealed here in the Nazi salute. All they are left within this tragedy are the broken eggshells of their words and a right-wing anger that, thanks to Leeder’s wordplay, is ‘grim’: both evil and implicated within the German cultural consciousness synecdochically represented by the Grimm tales.

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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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Announcing Our June Book Club Selection: The Tidings of the Trees by Wolfgang Hilbig

In just under a hundred pages, the protagonist traces a redemptive arc from artistic defeat to political defiance.

In its first seven months, the Asymptote Book Club has brought subscribers brand new translations from seven languages: Spanish, Bengali, Norwegian, Italian, Catalan, Chinese, and now German.

Our magnificent seventh selection will be Wolfgang Hilbig’s The Tidings of the Trees, translated by Isabel Fargo Cole and published by Two Lines Press. Writing for an Asymptote feature in memory of Hilbig, Ingo Schulze said that, “It is difficult to talk about Wolfgang Hilbig in terms of a magnum opus. His early or late poems, his early short prose, his novels, his stories—with him, everything is good.”

If you’re already a Book Club member and would like to join our discussion on the writer Krasznahorkai described as “an artist of immense stature”, head to our online discussion page now. If you’re not yet a member, find out how to become part of our community here.

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Weekly Dispatches from the Frontlines of World Literature

International literary news for an international audience.

Another week has flown by and we’re back again with the most exciting news in world literature! This time our editors focus on Central America, Germany, and Spain. 

José García Escobar, Editor-at-Large, reporting from Central America: 

Sadly, Centroamérica has been officially put on hold this year. After five years of unflagging work, the festival Centroamérica Cuenta, hosted each year across Nicaragua, has become the most significant and important literary gathering of the region, annually welcoming writers, journalists, filmmakers, editors, and translators from over thirty countries around the world. This year’s CC was scheduled to unfold May 21-25. However, since Nicaragua’s tense political situation that has taken the lives of so many civilians shows no signs of slowing down, the Centroamérica Cuenta committee has decided to suspend the festival until further notice.

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Translation Tuesday: Excerpts from Tempodrome by Simona Popescu

"You have as many countries as the languages you speak."

Today’s Translation Tuesday is brought to you by MARGENTO, Asymptote Editor-at-Large for Romania and Moldova. The lyrical excerpts from Romanian essayist and poet Simona Popescu’s writing explore a mood—memories of the nineties related as if at a remove, stating plainly what the narrator saw, while encapsulating the myriad complications simmering beneath the still surface of the narration. 

“I confess I do not believe in time. I like
to fold my magic carpet, after use,
in such a way as to superimpose one part
of the pattern upon another.”
—Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory

“Then everything regroups as if in a hot fog
where things recover among the obscure
plantations of the accidental.”
—Gellu Naum, The Blue Riverbank

“I have no idea of time, and I don’t wish to have”
—Wislawa Szymborska, On the Tower of Babel

In the house of my childhood, somewhere in my parents’ mixed up bookcase, leaning on a couple of books stood a black teddy bear in a white sash ribbon with some red lettering on it saying Grüsse aus Berlin. On other shelves there were other “souvenirs” from Abroad. For instance, a wooden cylinder with a lid in the shape of a Russian church dome, with a rose and the word “Bulgaria” burnt onto it. Inside was a vial of Bulgarian rose perfume. My folks never traveled Abroad. In fact, nobody in our little town ever traveled Abroad. Not even the Saxons and the Hungarians who, judging by the language they spoke, had to have another country somewhere, if push came to shove, right? You have as many countries as the languages you speak, the saying went. The Hungarians and the Saxons were therefore half foreign. But even so, even they never got Abroad—it was only the old people that sometimes went, but they always returned. Nobody needed them and they didn’t need anybody or anything except a quiet life in their homes. Only old people returned. They and the migrating birds.

It was me who had brought the rose perfume home. I was 12 when I went, without my parents, on a trip—well, yes—Abroad. I don’t recall much. It was I think in spring, there was I think a crisp sun, I was on a terrace I think by the sea, somewhere on a cliff, there were breakers I think in front of me, not very close though, I think I never went down the stairs to dip my toes in the sea. In the “vision” conjured by the word “Bulgaria” in which I’m a child a milky light and a bluish expanse approach me. And I’m all alone there, for a second, my back turned on everybody else. And I can hear a roaring wind. (I am back there anytime I want. I’m 12 and then—as I keep adding now—44. I hold an invisible butterfly net in my hand and collect images with it.) READ MORE…

What’s New in Translation: September 2017

Looking for reading recommendations? Here are three releases—a book-length essay about translation, a German novel, and an experimental anthology.

Summer is drawing to a close and our bookshelves are groaning with the weight of new releases. Asymptote team members review three very different books—a genre-bending meditation on the practice of translation, a German bestseller about African refugees in Berlin, and an anthology of monologues that were once performed on the streets of Quebec City. There is much to delve into. 

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This Little Art by Kate Briggs, Fitzcarraldo Editions.

Reviewed by Theophilus Kwek, Editor-at-Large, Singapore.

It is in 1977, as he begins lecturing as Professor of Literary Semiology at the Collège de France, that Roland Barthes realizes he is no longer young: an “old and untimely body,” on a “new public stage.” But to speak to the students gathered—with their “new concerns, new urgencies, new desires”—he will have to “fling [himself] into the illusion that [he is] contemporary with the young bodies present before [him]”; he must, in Kate Briggs’s memorable words, forget the distances of age and time, and be “carried forward by the force of forgetting, which is the forward-tilting force of all living life.”

Briggs’s new book-length essay on translation, published this month by Fitzcarraldo (who surely must produce some of the most elegant books around) joins the ranks of treatises that ponder how we, as practitioners, should “properly register what’s going on with this—with [our]—work.” It’s an important question, she argues, not only because translation is a little understood (and hence undervalued) enterprise, but also because the process of translation itself sheds light on what it takes to make meaning, and art. Her answer, pursued over seven interlocking chapters, runs parallel to Barthes’s realization. Just as the old professor must “be born again,” translation is the work of making new: of bridging time and language to “make [literature] contemporary with [our] own present moment.” READ MORE…

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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Begging Pardon in Berlin

Punctuality is the highest German virtue, and with each passing minute, I felt my chances of making a good impression dribble away.

Berlin seemed like the obvious choice. I had taken German classes for three years, and had been incubating visions of myself as an artistic, experimental person. Based on breathless reports from friends, the city seemed a stand-in for New York in the 70’s and 80’s. Cheap rent, temporary galleries, nightclubs that never closed—I pictured a city covered in the graffiti Giuliani had scrubbed away, yet cleansed of students from NYU—and paved with black leather catsuits and crushed bottles of pilsner.

To justify the trip, I had taken time off from school and secured an internship with a local arts magazine, called BPIGs, which somehow stood for Berlin Independents Guide. After a jet-lagged night in a hostel, I planned to wake up, drop off my giant backpack across town in my sublet room and then head to the magazine’s office. Without a smart phone, or even a cell phone that worked in Germany, I relied on print-out directions from Google. By the time I arrived at my sublet apartment on Weichselstraße, I realized I would soon be late for what was supposed to be my first official meeting. I threw my bag by my bed and ran out the apartment door, back to the U-bahn.

When I emerged from the station an hour later, I found myself on the gray banks of the Spree, in a neighborhood that seemed oddly starchy for an underground arts magazine. I ran up and down the empty street, tucking my chin against the January cold, scanning the building’s blank facades for the address, but none of them were quite right. It was now 3:00 in the afternoon, and I hadn’t managed to find the place. More than honesty or integrity, punctuality is the highest German virtue, and with each passing minute, I felt my chances of making a good impression dribble away. This internship was my only ostensible reason for being in the city, and it seemed I was going to squander it. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “Barefoot Through the Temple” by Albert Ostermaier

a sticky pressure / on my soles crusted / animal blood ash red blossoms / charred at the edges

nice shoes he pointed to
my shoes i took them
off i know you he smiled
you’re a movie star i
smiled back camera
switched on he rolled his
eyes you can take a
picture of me i counted
the money out he put the
notes in his breast pocket
bowed briefly &
took me by the hand
where do you come from
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Translation Tuesday: (More) Poems from “Dickicht,” by Ulrike Almut Sandig

had he just heard that said or / read it in the books of his friends? / what had gone wrong? had it gone wrong?

noon

 

outside the shadows are dwindling

but we are so tired again.

 

above us the sun stands at midday

around us the thicket of high

 

buildings: inside couples lie close

and barely know one another.

 

we are there too, you and me too

on the floor. my skin cools against

 

yours, outside as always the heat

but I am as always too cold. are you

 

asleep, my friend? one clock hand stopped

dead on top of the other and someone

 

shouts NO and then again NO and

the shadows between us start to grow

 ***

‘write down what we had.’ we had

one or two poems, three or four weeks

 

the city towers as our primeval forest

and burrowed inside we two in the

 

yellow light of a streetlamp, between

the tree trunks cast of metal and glass.

 

there was no sun, for the time I was with

you, for that time the rain held us at bay

 

for that time everything drifted away: all

your money, my shoes, the time and my

 

dream of animals in a totally rain-swept zoo:

 

a unicorn out for the count, motionless bears

a dripping-wet peacock. high above us flew

 

a swarm of foxes, we hardly heard them at all.

for, whatever you say, there were two of us,

and everyone else was lost without trace.

***

first she took him by the hands

then she left him by the ferns

 

in the furthest part of the forest

alone. time passed in an instant

 

between the birches the heat flared

then night fell hard one more time

 

birds swivelled their heads to face him

slowly two-hundred and seventy degrees

 

but he had not marked his way back

to the glittering cities of central Europe

 

with a single crumb of bread.

mushrooms sprouting round his feet

 

the feel of fur brushing past him

out of nowhere, front and behind

 

shadows, above him trees creaked

the southern sky kept on turning

 

and kept on turning in circles or

had he just heard that said or

 

read it in the books of his friends?

what had gone wrong? had it gone wrong?

***

Read the poems in their original German here, and listen to the author read her work here.

***

Ulrike Almut Sandig was born in 1979 in Großenhain, Saxony, and now lives in Berlin. In 2005 she completed a degree in theology and modern indology and in 2010 she graduated from the German Literary Institute in Leipzig. Alongside various editorial activities, she has published three volumes of poetry—Zunder (2005/2009), Streumen (2007), and Dickicht (2011)—and Flamingos (2010), a collection of short stories, as well as radio plays. She has been granted residencies in Helsinki and Sydney and won numerous prizes, including the prestigious Leonce-und-Lena Prize (2009) and, most recently, the Droste Award for Emerging Talent (2012). 

Karen Leeder is an academic and writer. Her translations of German poetry have appeared in a variety of journals including Poetry Review, PN Review, Domus (Italy) and MPT. Her volume of Evelyn Schlag’s Selected Poems with Carcanet in 2004 won the Schlegel-Tieck Prize in 2005, and her translations of Durs Grünbein’s “Childhood in the Diorama” won the Times Stephen Spender prize in 2013. Her translations of Sandig poems have appeared in MPT (UK) and SPORT (New Zealand) and she received a Deutsche Übersetzerfonds award in 2014. She will translate Sandig’s Flamingos for Liverpool University Press in 2015. 

Published with permission from: Ulrike Almut Sandig, Dickicht. Gedichte. © Schöffling & Co. Verlagsbuchhandlung GmbH, Frankfurt am Main 2011.

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Translation Tuesday: Short Prose by Oleg Yuriev

"Suddenly, the cow moaned like a door."

A sunny winter in Florence. 

Early morning—blue and gold, and

the black Florentine air—eeny meeny miney moe—has completely vanished from the city: and is now wrapping up and flowing down the hills that are more orbital than surrounding.

Above the hills—the still-white night sky slowly turns blue. And between the hills, red Tuscan brushwood burns, which will soon become gold…

The conjoined sky.

The mooing hills.

The well-defined valleys.

The cypresses are like folded umbrellas,

and the stone pines—unfolded.

Under the stone pines and cypresses, Italians brushed the drips from their gray hair in the rear-view mirrors of their own and others’ motor scooters and sang sweetly with voices as hoarse as though they had an Italian three-day stubble.

 

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