Posts filed under 'Interview'

Summer 2013: What a Tentative, Unruly Enterprise Language Is

How miraculous it is when a translator is able to express someone else’s thoughts—it is already so difficult to express your own.

We have organized four IndieGoGo campaigns in all our eight years now, and each of the last three times, it’s sucked so much life force from us that we have, on one occasion, even had to skip an issue (there is no Spring 2015 edition) to recover from it. For some reason, however, it does not take long at all after our first campaign to hit our stride again. A sampling of what we were up to immediately after April 2013, apart from sending ‘thank you’s and perks to 231 supporters: We (1) launched our first-ever translation contest; (2) organized a massive translation project that saw translations into eighteen additional languages of Jonas Hassen Khemiri’s brilliant send-up of racial profiling; (3) revamped our website to include a map (thus allowing readers to access our content by geographical region); (4) nominated ourselves for a TED Prize (albeit in vain) and, last but not certainly not least; (5) held our largest recruitment drive ever. The rapid expansion takes a toll: my inbox is invaded daily by check-ins. Fortunately, around this time, we migrate to Trello for issue production work. To give you a sense of how much back and forths are required for just one article (say, Can Xue’s interview conducted by Dylan Suher and Joan Hua, as recounted by Dylan below): Trello records 84 comments by 12 team members spanning the period of May 28 to July 15. Here is Robyn Creswell of The Paris Review on the Summer 2013 issue: “It’s hard to read in a heat wave, but the July issue of Asymptote is so absorbing I hardly notice my sweat drops hitting the keyboard. Even more impressive than the diversity of things translated—book reviews in Urdu, fiction in Bengali, poetry in Faroese—is their quality.

The Summer 2013 issue of Asymptote is a fine illustration of the principle that translation is just a special subset of the general problem of communication: the problem of trying to relate your experience to someone else, of trying to put something “in other words,” of trying to put something into words in the first place. This principle comes across most clearly in Naoki Higashida’s attempts to relate his experience as an autistic person, and in the visual section’s pieces on asemic writing and Ghada Amer’s use of Arabic script. All three remind us what a tentative, unruly enterprise language is. The shapes shackled into service by the Phoenicians millennia ago long to return to the wilds of visuality; when tasked with expressing the plentitude of the autistic mind, simple words seem as crude a tool as a chert axe.

The problem of referentiality epitomized by these pieces runs throughout this entire issue. The way Banaphool’s “Nawab Sahib” (translated by Arunava Sinha) seems to exist just outside the bounds of reality, its repetitive structure, and its surprising twists all suggest a fable (or a joke), but the moral to which it points remains sublimely hazy. E.C. Belli, translating Pierre Peuchmaurd, repeats the word “glimmer” again and again in a mantra of irreducible images: “The glimmers of lakes, of iron, of girls”; “The glimmers of otters inside their prey.” The insistence of the repetition pounds significance into a non-entity of a word. READ MORE…

One Author, Many Selves: Murathan Mungan in conversation with Filip Noubel

On how many pages have I appeared and disappeared?

Murathan Mungan likes to describe himself as a polygamous writer: not only does he write plays performed across Turkey and Europe, including his widely acclaimed trilogy, The Mesopotamian Trilogy; he also writes essays, song lyrics, poetry, and novels that have brought him national recognition as one of the most inventive Turkish authors for the use he makes of the Turkish language. Being himself of mixed origins (Arabic, Turkish, Kurdish and Bosnian), he is very sensitive to the life of underrepresented groups such as women, Kurds, the LGBTQI+ community, and explores taboo themes in his creative writing. I interviewed Mungan in the Czech Republic in the Month of Authors’ Reading Festival where the guest country was Turkey. His latest works include a novel called The Poet’s Novel and a play, The Kitchen. He is currently working on a novel describing the urban aloofness of Berlin.

Filip Noubel (FN): Murathan, you embody a plurality of personal origins, and seem to favor characters from various minorities. Why is diversity essential in your life and in your work? And how is it perceived in Turkey? 

Murathan Mungan (MM): Many people live inside of me. I come from the city of Mardin, in the southeast of Turkey, a city close to Syria and not too far from Iraq. Mardin mirrored the diversity of my own family: my father’s ancestors came to Turkey in the 17th century from Syria, my paternal grandmother’s mother came from the Kurdish regions; my mother’s side is from Sarajevo, which is in Bosnia today. Though I was born in Istanbul, I grew up in Mardin and within a mix of cultures and religions, mingling with people who are Turks and Kurds, but also Assyrians, Alawites, Yezidis, and Armenians.

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In Conversation: Adam Morris

History is not entirely objective; it is what posterity makes of conflicting memories.

“Talk… speak… voice”: each word appears dozens of times in I Didn’t Talk, our July Asymptote Book Club selection. Beatriz Bracher’s novel blends together a chorus of voices, orchestrated by retiring professor Gustavo, to explore one of the darkest periods of Brazil’s history.

In conversation with Asymptote’s Jacob Silkstone, translator Adam Morris outlines how the novel came to be translated into English, why it resonates with a contemporary audience, and why the central question of whether or not Gustavo talked is perhaps best left unanswered.

Jacob Silkstone (JS): What led to you translating I Didn’t Talk? It’s the first of Beatriz Bracher’s four full-length novels to appear in English: do you have a sense of how it compares to Bracher’s other work?

Adam Morris (AM): I proposed I Didn’t Talk for Bracher’s English debut because its thematic concerns, although universal, seemed to possess fresh urgency in the context of ongoing political upheaval in Brazil. Censorship and various forms of state repression have re-emerged, and so has openly expressed nostalgia for a law-and-order society like the one the dictatorships professed to uphold. The crisis of democracy in Brazil is so severe that occasional murmurs of a return to military rule must be taken as a serious threat.

Of course, in the time since I first proposed the translation in 2016, authoritarianism has been on the march all across the world. I did not foresee that happening, but it makes the novel that much more timely—some fourteen years after its publication and nearly half a century since 1970, a pivotal year in Gustavo’s story.

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From the Headbanger, the Metalhead, All the Way to the Failed Hip-Hopper: An Interview with Wingston González

For me, poetry is the metadata of life.

If I were to describe Wingston González as a poet, I’d say he’s an unusual poet. Scratch that. To be more precise, the fractured aesthetics, the cadence, the triplets, the vertiginous narrative found in Wingston’s poetry, can only be summoned by the unusual artistic upbringing he had. Born in Livingston, brought up on Garífuna culture, traditional Guatemalan education, classical literature, and hip-hop music, Wingston stands as an undeniably original and musical wordsmith—utterly unique within the tradition of Guatemalan literature.

He is also an entrancing performer and a fascinating poet that keeps changing and augmenting his cultural and intellectual heritage.

Early July, Wingston and I got together at Casa Cervantes in downtown Guatemala City to talk about his creative process. Of course, we effortlessly drifted towards other topics. We ended up talking about music—like we often do—and ignoring the mathematical structure on which language is based. Wingston’s poetry, I might argue, has almost an allergic reaction to the formulaic configuration of Spanish. And it is thanks to that free will and unhindered flow that his verses explode and reach out with utter casualness.  

Wingston argued that as time passes, he is less worried about fulfilling what is expected of him as a poet. The narrative fabric of his poetry is often based on everyday life and he admits he thrives on capturing that everydayness, either through the plot, though mostly through the words.

During the translation process of the Four Poems, featured in Asymptote’s Summer 2018 issue, he repeatedly confessed that while writing them he was concerned people might not understand what he was trying to say.

“I wanted to play with the language, but I was unsure if it made any sense,” he insisted, and months later, in Casa Cervantes, he repeated that line.

The result—and his poetry in general—though intellectual and highly literary, is also tinged with elements of the quotidian plus the type of slang and idiolects found in Livingston, in Guatemala. From references to Garífuna culture, musical narrative, unorthodox rhythmic pattern, ritualistic cadence, inventive spelling, stutters, theatrical delivery, and—as he calls them—a set of useless facts, these Four Poems show many of the poet’s tricks, antics, and cultural inheritance. His unrestrained flow truly showcases the vitality he wants to impregnate in his poetry.

José García Escobar (JGE): Your poems featured in Asymptote’s July issue, I think, are a perfect example of the type of aesthetics you used at the beginning of your career. In them, there is a lot of experimentation, musicality, unusual rhythm and unorthodox narration—things you rarely use now. How has your approach towards poetry changed over the years?

Wingston González (WG): I don’t know if my approach has changed, but the process definitely has. Naturally, when you start writing, you’re not entirely aware of what you’re doing. The act of writing becomes automatic. That happened to me. But right now I’m not as worried as I was in the past with the limitations of language. I’m more concerned with the limitations of human nature. I think that with my poetry I’m getting closer to how I speak every day. That is my intention now, to use everyday language. Even if these poems, the ones featured in Asymptote’s Summer 2018 issue, are pretty experimental, I remember I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to communicate what I was trying to say. I thought, “What am I doing with my ax!” I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to reach the reader. Now I’m not as concerned about this.

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In Conversation: Ketty Valêncio, Founder of Livraria Africanidades

Teaching someone that she can be anything she wants to be is revolutionary, and that’s why what I do is activism.

Selling books can be a form of political activism. That’s according to Ketty Valêncio, who founded the initiative Livraria Africanidades, a unique bookstore in São Paulo that only sells books that focus on and valorize black women.

Africanidades Bookstore began online in 2014 and opened its physical location in December 2017. The walls of its new home have murals created by black women artists and its bookshelves are lined with fiction, poetry, feminist theory, nonfiction, and even cookbooks, the vast majority of which are written by black authors from Brazil’s peripheries. The space carries the fruitful results and future promise of selling books by authors who reside on the margins of the Brazilian publishing scene—or who are excluded entirely from the traditional literary market.

Here, Ketty Valêncio tells Asymptote Editor-at-Large in Brazil, Lara Norgaard, some of the challenges for women of color in Brazilian publishing and the power of increasing visibility for writers of color, both in Portuguese and in translation. 

Lara Norgaard (LN): How did you come up with the idea for the Africanidades Bookstore?

Ketty Valêncio (KV): The bookstore came about because of my struggle to understand myself as a black woman. I never felt that I fit in anywhere. And then I came across Afro-Brazilian literature, texts that have black characters as protagonists. I understood my blackness through literature, through these books written by black authors and also by a few white authors who place value on black characters. I came across these narratives and thought, wow, there are people writing about me, about who came before me, about my ancestors and my memories.

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Asymptote Podcast: Favorite Readings of 2017

Start out 2018 right by taking a listen to our favorite readings published over the last year.

One of the most unique features of Asymptote is that, with almost every piece published, a reading in the original language is published along with it. So start out 2018 right by taking a listen to our favorite readings published over the last year. Hear work read by Swedish author Ida Börjel, leading Uyghur poet Tahir Hamut, rising French author Maryam Madjidi, and Syrian poet Omar Youssef Souleimane. Podcast Editor Dominick Boyle puts each piece in context, including a special interview with Hamut’s translator, Joshua Freeman.

 

Music used under a Creative Commons License from the Free Music Archive.

On Editing an English Literary Journal as a Person Of Color

The matter-of-fact, even slightly cheerful, answer: "Have your characters come to the US!"

Hello! (Taps mic…) Our regular blog editors Madeline, Hanna and Nina are on leave today, so I’ll be guest-blogging to continue our daily programming. My name is Yew Leong (yes, that’s two words for my first name) and I’m the Singaporean editor working behind the scenes of the magazine since 2010. I’m thirty-nine this year (the photo of me, above, was taken in a yakisoba restaurant when I was thirty-six).

Some details of how I came to found the journal are mentioned in the interview I share below, so I won’t get into that here. What I will say to preface my breaking the fourth wall is this: After July 2011, I stopped signing the quarterly issues’ editor’s notes at least partly because, as the only full-time member at Asymptote, I didn’t want to overshadow the team’s collective efforts (for the same reason, I also declined to be videoed for our first-ever Indiegogo campaign). For several years thereafter, all editor’s notes were simply ascribed to “The Editors.”

In July 2016, I decided to sign my name after the editor’s note again: Prior to that, I’d seen Asymptote being written off as a mere “platform” by a prominent translator, but specifically in the derogatory sense of “editor X used the platform Asymptote to do Y” (Y being a massive translation project, requiring coordination across the different roles), as if all I had done was create a free-for-all Facebook or Twitter-like interface for providers of world literature. That could not be further from the truth: there is someone leading the magazine (although hopefully not off a cliff!), someone with a vision to boot, not merely a loose collective of editors, contributing whatever they’d like to contribute.

Secondly, I’d started wondering if, by not putting myself out there a little more, I had become complicit in, let’s just say, a certain racial oppression. This year, after six years of editing the magazine, I was happy to be invited to my first London Book Fair panel (actually any event not organized by Asymptote, although, as its editor-in-chief, I have played varying roles toward making 34 world literature events happen in four continents), and I remain eternally grateful to the Translators’ Association of the Society of Authors in the UK for subsidizing my trip there (as I could not afford the flight ticket otherwise).

But, few know that, in 2014, about five years into helming the magazine, and surviving those five years by wearing many different hats to keep the journal going, an invitation was received by someone on the team to represent Asymptote at an international conference, with the offer to be flown in from wherever. The invitation was sent to a part-time White Assistant Managing Editor who’d been on board less than seven months, who actually lived further away from the conference than me, based on her current city at that time. I’d left the US many years ago to avoid being an invisibilized person of color, specifically in a literary environment (Junot Díaz and Ken Chen talk about this issue very eloquently), and suddenly there I was being overlooked again.

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A Fractured Peace: Artist Schandra Singh speaks with designer Shaill Jhaveri

It is over-stimulating, heartbreaking and beautiful. It's like falling in love and having your heart broken every day.

Although considered one of the fastest-growing markets in the world, the Indian art market is still very much in its infancy. Painting dominates it. Artists are broadly divided into the “moderns”: the more mature “legacy” artists whom collectors feel more secure in buying, and the younger, more current “contemporary” artists, who push the boundaries of Indian art. There was not much of a market till the 1990s, when a more vibrant art scene emerged for established and younger artists alike. Since then, despite economic ups and downs, Indian artists and artists of Indian origin have been making their presence felt across the globe. And the world is paying attention, not just to India, but to artists from throughout South and Southeast Asia.

Growing up in India, I was initially attracted to the Indian portrait painters, especially the sumptuous portraits of a royal India, with the Maharajahs showing off their impossible jewels. Later, I was drawn to the more accessible colored photographs, hand colored over black-and-white prints, stiff but theatrical, with the textiles and jewels jumping off the images. There are the overwhelmingly opulent paintings of the 19th c. Raja Ravi Varma from the princely state of Travancore, who fused European academic art into Indian traditions. Then, there are the haunting self-portraits of a half-Indian, half-Hungarian Amrita Sher-Gil. Of the younger artists, the portraits by Surendran Nair, precursors to his more stylized flat narrative paintings, are so very powerful, as is the realism of Abir Karmakar. The digital portraits of Mahatma Gandhi by Aditya Pande push Indian portraiture into another arena entirely.

Today, a lot of the geographical and cultural boundaries have blurred. A young Pakistani artist Salman Toor lives between Lahore and New York City, and finds that he paints himself in a lot of the figures of his poetic canvases. 

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In Conversation with Lulu Norman and Ros Schwartz

Our editor-in-chief talks with the co-translators of Tahar Ben Jelloun's About My Mother

Lee Yew Leong: First of all, how would you classify this new book from Tahar Ben Jelloun? The story opens with an autobiographical narrator (Ben Jelloun himself) talking about his ailing mother, but then changes mode with italicized passages, where we get stories about his mother’s past recreated from her perspective.

Ros Schwartz: Do we have to classify it? I think there’s a problem with trying to categorize books by non-Western writers which often don’t follow a linear narrative arc according to traditional European classifications. I appreciate that doing so makes life easier for publishersand is essential when entering books for prizes and applying for subsidiesand for booksellers, but my experience of translating Francophone writers such as Ben Jelloun and Dominique Eddé (Lebanese author who writes in French) is that their books defy categorisation. So while this book is strongly autobiographical, recounting the demise of Ben Jelloun’s mother, it also has a strong fictional element where he imagines what might be going on in his mother’s Alzheimer’s-raddled mind.

Lulu Norman: Yes and also into the past, when he imagines her life as a girl and what it must have been like for her in the Fez of the 1940s; there’s a more obviously ‘fictional’ feel in those passages. The narrator, who is called Tahar, pieces together the story of her life, constructing a narrative out of what he knows and what he imagines. Ben Jelloun calls the book a novel, in order I suppose to give himself the fullest leeway and perhaps avoid any ruction in life, since everyone’s memory is so subjective.

LYL: Could you share with our readers what went on behind the scenes of this project? How both of you got attached to this translation, for example? How did English PEN play a part in the materialization of the book, and how long did you take to complete the manuscript?

RS
: This project is very dear to my heart. I’ve wanted to translate Ben Jelloun ever since I read L’enfant de sable in 1985. A couple of years ago I’d just finished translating Escape by Dominique Manotti for Gary Pulsifer at Arcadia and he mentioned that he’d just acquired Sur ma mère. Gary, this one’s for me, please. It’s funny because as a translator you can get typecast. Gary had me down as doing crime fiction. Anyway, he immediately said yes, and wrote to Tahar to make sure he was OK with my doing the translation. In the meantime, there was a radical change of management and direction at Arcadia, and the project was dropped. I was devastated and wrote to Anne-Solange Noble, rights director at Gallimard, to ask if I could seek another publisher. I took the book to Lynn Gaspard at Saqi who snapped it up. Sadly Gary passed away before the book was published, which is why we have dedicated our translation to him. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 27 May 2016: Scrabble Champs

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Happy Friday, Asymptote readers! Nearly a year ago, the Asymptote blog published an interview with book artist Katie Holten, who “translated books into trees” with her Broken Dimanche Press book, About Trees Now that very same book is in its second printing—a feat that is seriously nothing to sniff at in independent, artist-book publishing! And famed translator-slash-friend-of-Asymptote-anniversaries Edith Grossman is featured in the Los Angeles Review of Books‘ “Multilingual Wordsmiths” series, in an interview by Liesl SchillingerREAD MORE…

In Conversation with Yumiko Tsumura

"...she values the translation of her poetry into English, as well as into other languages, to plant her poetry on the globe."

Yumiko Tsumura’s translations of poems by Kazuko Shiraishi, also known as “the Allen Ginsberg of Japan,” appeared in our Winter 2016 issue. Recently Tsumura corresponded via e-mail with Interview Features Editor Ryan Mihaly.

Your first book of translations of Kazuko Shiraishi’s poems dates back to 2002. When did you first meet Kazuko, and how did you begin working with her?

I met Kazuko Shiraishi on September 30, 2000 in Tokyo. My co-translator, Samuel Grolmes, my late husband, and I had been working on a translation of Ryuichi Tamura’s poetry, ever since he was the first guest to the International Writing Program (IWP) at the University of Iowa established by Paul Engle. I was working on my MFA in poetry and translation and Sam was an assistant director to Paul Engle, and we started translating Tamura’s poetry during his stay at the IWP.

Tamura’s “The World Without Words” was published [in] New Directions Annual 22. When our book Tamura Ryuichi Poems: 1946-1998 was published early September 2000, Shichosha, the publisher of modern poetry, held a symposium in Tokyo called “How to Surpass Tamura” on September 30, 2000. Kazuko Shiraishi was a great admirer of Tamura’s poetry and one of the panelists. During that meeting she came to ask Sam and me to translate her poetry. READ MORE…

Ask a Translator with Daniel Hahn

...Get a contract. Make sure it’s unambiguous. Make sure it’s comprehensive. Make sure you understand it.

Our literary translator on the street, award-winning writer and editor Daniel Hahn, is back with another installment of “Ask a Translator,” the monthly column responding to readers’ deepest questions about the day-to-day practice of literary translation. This time around, Asymptote reader Marius Surleac asked the following:​

Have you experienced troubles with any publisher and if so, what’s your advice for a novice?

Have I ever experienced any troubles with a publisher? Yes!

(Finally, a nice, easy one to answer.)

Because honestly, I’ve published close to fifty books so far, with publishers of all kinds, in various countries, so it would be surprising if every experience had been equally, perfectly smooth. Yes, of course there’s trouble, sometimes. And that trouble, naturally, can take several forms.

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Translator Questionnaire: Ilan Stavans

"To me, inspiration feels like a downpour."

Ilan Stavans is Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College and the publisher of Restless Books. His most recent translations are Mariano Azuela’s The Underdogs (Norton, 2015, with Anna More), and Lazarillo of Tormes (Norton, 2016). A recent conversation with him on translation, with Charles Hatfield, is “Silence Is Meaningful,” Buenos Aires Review, July 15, 2015.

What is the best translated book you’ve read recently?

I am in the middle of a strange yet fulfilling experiment: I am rereading Madame Bovary in various translations at once (Eleanor Marx-Aveling, Geoffrey Wall, Lydia Davis, Adam Thorpe), along with the French original and a Spanish translation. I first read Flaubert’s novel in my teens, while still in Mexico. Coming back to it in all these dress-ups is, at times, an embarrassment of riches. Marx-Aveling was the daughter of Karl Marx. Wall wrote a biography of Flaubert. Davis is Davis. And Thorpe talks about the task as “the Everest of translation.” Unfortunately, the Spanish version (not the same one I encountered when young), in its title page, refers to the author as Gustavo Flaubert and to the novel as Madame Bovery. The rest, one might say, is indeed like climbing the Everest. READ MORE…

Interviewing Alexander Beecroft, author of An Ecology of World Literature

"The idea seems to be that globalization isn’t one simple story, but neither is it a collection of unrelated stories—it’s a tangle of narratives."

Alexander Beecroft is Associate Professor in Classics and Comparative Literature at the University of South Carolina. He teaches courses in Greek and Latin language and literature, ancient civilizations, both ancient and modern literary theory, and theories and practices of world literature. His key fields of research specialization focus on the literatures of Ancient Greece and Rome, and pre-Tang (before AD 600) Chinese literature, in addition to contemporary discussions regarding world literature. His second book, An Ecology of World Literature: From Antiquity to the Present Day, was published by Verso in January. In it, he argues for the benefits of an ecological, rather than the conventional economical, framework in the discussion of global literatures, shedding light on the difficulties involved in ascertaining, defining, and assimilating multifarious linguistic forms.

I spoke to Professor Beecroft through email about the intersections between world literature, politics, geography, and the advantages and disadvantages that literary translation can have on upholding minority languages.

Rosie Clarke: Could you begin by briefly outlining your academic background, and explaining what brought you to write An Ecology of World Literature?

AB: My earliest training, as an undergraduate, was in Classics, and from there I moved into an interest in early China. As I entered graduate school, I knew I wanted to combine those interests, but struggled for some time to figure out how. As I worked on my dissertation, I began to realize that, while many things about archaic and classical Greece and early (pre-220 BC) China were different, they did have an intriguing similarity. Both were politically fragmented regions within which circulated some sense of a shared culture. That first book explored that particular connection, but led me to think about how those kinds of structural similarities between literatures might be discussed in a more general way.

RC: Can you explain why you chose to structure the investigation here with an ecological framework?

AB: We’re very used to thinking about modes of cultural production, circulation, and exchange in terms of economic metaphors. Those metaphors have a real value: cultural recognition, like just about everything else, is in scarce supply, and so the language of markets and economic efficiency has much to teach us about culture.

I thought it might be helpful, however, to consider ecological models as an alternative. Ecology, like economics, deals in how scarce resources get distributed in a given context—but where economic models tend to suggest a single winner, and a single winning strategy, ecology suggests that there can be multiple strategies for surviving in different niches.

I think this is a particularly important point in today’s world. The power of English and of the English-language publishing industry worldwide makes translation, especially into English, into the most lucrative form of literary success—but in fact writers can and do thrive through other strategies, including by writing work designed for their own local context. Further, we need to recognize that the ecologies within which literatures operated in the past were different, operating for example under court patronage or with other kinds of relationships to the political and social order.

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