Posts filed under 'literature'

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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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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Stephen Henighan on Globalization, Translation, and The Avant-garde

Translation started not as a way of nourishing the avant-garde—it started as a way of bolstering national identity.

This interview marks the launch of a new series here at the Asymptote blog: “Meet the Publisher.” Every month, we will bring you an insider’s look at the world via in-depth, intimate conversations with publishers of literature in translation from around the globe. This week, contributor Sarah Moses brings us an interview with editor Stephen Henighan of Biblioasis in Ontario, Canada, on the process, politics, and passion of publishing translations.

Sarah Moses says: “Biblioasis started out as a bookshop in Windsor, Ontario in the late 1990s. In 2003, founder and owner Daniel Wells took an interest in publishing and, alongside editor John Metcalf, began to acquire, edit, and launch the press’s first titles. Biblioasis now publishes between twenty-two and twenty-five books a year divided between new literary fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, alongside reprints and regional-interest books. Biblioasis’s head office still includes a bookstore, and the press also runs a quarterly magazine, Canadian Notes & Queries. The Biblioasis International Translation Series, which accounts for four titles a year, includes works from French Canada and around the world, as well as books written in Canada in languages other than French or English. I sat down with series editor Stephen Henighan to chat about the press and literary translation in Canada.”                                                                                                                                    

Sarah Moses (SM): I’d like to begin by asking you about literary translation in Canada. How would you say it differs from other countries?

 Stephen Henighan (SH): In other cultures—and Buenos Aires, where you’ve just come from, is a good example, if you think back to Jorge Luis Borges and his friends in the early part of their careers, but also in New York or London or Paris—translation was an avant-garde activity. It was an activity that might nourish national literary debate, but above all it was there to give you aesthetic relief from the national context.

I think what happened in Canada is that, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, the literary elite was nationalist and therefore wasn’t all that interested in translation. There had been odd translations from French-Canadian literature to English-Canadian literature, mainly in the 1940s and 1950s, but the real translation culture begins in the late 1960s in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, where in the village of North Hatley writers of English and French were living side by side. That’s where Sheila Fischman, who has gone on to translate more than one hundred and fifty books, got her start.

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Inter-Lingual Translation as Pedagogy: Arabic Text Simplification

My ultimate objective is to bring different manifestations of Arab culture closer to learners, to keep them interested in the language.

This interview marks the beginning of an ongoing conversation led by Asymptote’s new educational branch about the role of translation in the classroom. In addition to its Educator’s Guide released every quarter, Asymptote for Educators will soon host its own blog where readers and educators can find more classroom resources, lesson plans, contextualizing materials, and articles discussing the benefits and challenges of integrating global literature in diverse classrooms. Stay tuned! And if you’d like to participate in this new project, or tell us about your experience teaching literature in translation, do get in touch!

Claire Pershan (Asymptote for Educators) met Laila Familiar at NYU Abu Dhabi, where Laila was Claire’s Arabic language instructor. Among her many projects and accomplishments, this interview focuses on Laila’s innovative work as editor of abridged contemporary Arabic novels for Arabic language learners: Hoda Barakat’s Sayyidi wa Habibi: The Authorized Abridged Edition for Students of Arabic (Georgetown University Press – 2013). Sayyidi wa Habibi [My Master and My Love], by celebrated Lebanese novelist Hoda Barakat takes place during the Lebanese Civil War, tells the story of Wadie and his wife Samia and their flight to Cyprus. Laila’s adaptation provides introductory materials and exercises that develop linguistic and cultural competencies. (Free audio files of the author reading from her work as well as a recorded interview are available on the press website.) Additionally, she is project manager of Khallina, an open source website dedicated to the teaching and learning of Arab cultures through audiovisuals. The topics of Khallina’s cultural modules range from calligraphy to the Lebanese rock band Mashrou’ Leila. Check it out!

The interview below is from their email correspondence.

Claire Pershan (CP): What do you call this practice of adapting novels into language learning resources? Do you consider it a form of translation or editing?

Laila Familiar (LF): The practice of adapting novels into language learning resources dates back to the 1930s. There is evidence in the scientific literature that this was done to help learners of French advance their language skills. Some call these works “adapted” texts, but they are also named “abridged” or “simplified” versions. There are differences in the meaning and connotations of each term, but I would not call it “translation” because the new version is in the same language as the original and the plot is usually the same. When a series of texts is adapted within the various proficiency levels of language learners, we call these Graded Readers. It is definitely a kind of editing.

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In Conversation with Gazmend Kapllani

The desire to speak other languages invaded my mind. I, too, wanted to look strange, mysterious and attractive...

Gazmend Kapllani is an Albanian-born author, journalist, and scholar. He lived in Athens for over twenty years. He received his PhD in political science and history from Panteion University in Athens, with a dissertation on the image of Albanians in the Greek press and of Greeks in the Albanian press. In addition, he was a columnist for Greece’s leading daily newspapers. Kapllani has written his first three novels in Greek, which is not his native language. His work centers on themes of migration, borders, totalitarianism, and how Balkan history has shaped public and private narratives.

Kapllani’s first novel A Short Border Handbook (Livanis, 2006) has become a best-seller and has been translated into Danish, English, French, Polish and Italian. His second novel, My Name is Europe (Livanis, 2010), has been published into French. The Last Page (Livanis, 2012) his most recent novel, has been translated into French and was short-listed for The Cezam Prix Litteraire Inter CE 2016. Since 2012 he has been living in the US, where he was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, Visiting Scholar at Brown University and Writer in Residence at Wellesley College. Kapllani currently lives in Boston and teaches Creative Writing and European History at Emerson College.  

Gigi Papoulias has a chance to sit down and talk to Kapllani on his work, language, and borders.

Gigi Papoulias (GP): You seem to have a passion for languages. You are fluent in five languages. Were you born into a multilingual family?

Gazmend Kapllani (GK): Actually I was born in a shack. My father’s family was persecuted by the communist regime and was driven out of their house in the countryside and punished—sent to live in a shack on the outskirts of my hometown Lushnje. They were considered “enemies of the regime” because they were wealthy landowners. Stalin did the same with the so-called “kulaks” in the Soviet Union.

I grew up surrounded by a large group of monolingual relatives whose discussions always led to the glory days of their aristocratic past. I grew up surrounded by joyful uncles and aunts—all of them impressively good looking. I’m amazed today that in my memories that miserable place comes as a place of joy and love. I remember the flowers that were planted all around. My grandmother was an extraordinary woman—she had lost three brothers in the war against the Nazis in Albania—she did everything possible to make life in the shack seem normal. What has remained with me is the extraordinary love that I was given in that shack. I also learned what resilience and human dignity mean. But I refused the rest: living with the glory of the past. I understood though that when people are denied a present and a future they take refuge in the past.

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“Literary Controversies” by Alberto Chimal

“Barroom squabbles,” some (writers) have called them. One must ask, however, the reason for such indifference.

In recent days there have been not one, not two, but three controversies among Mexican writers, in which some very serious issues have been raised, even beyond questions of aesthetics: the use of public resources, class discrimination, corruption, racism. However, the news of the day has been dominated by Mexico’s national soccer team’s defeat in a match against Chile (the score: 7-0). Or perhaps the Father’s Day holiday. Or, for those who follow such things, the death of Anton Yelchin, a young Hollywood actor.

Not even the brutal repression of dissident teachers at the hands of armed federal forces in Nochixtlán, Oaxaca, seems to merit as much debate, despite the seriousness of the event (to the point that the official communiqués either distort or minimize it, and important aspects of it are appearing first online or outside Mexico). But amid these news items, and those to emerge in the coming days, the three literary debates that I mentioned will soon be forgotten: they are but more filler in the news cycles on social media and the few other media outlets that have reported them.

What is certain is that these conflicts matter to almost no one: they do not resonate with anyone more than with the colleagues of those implicated, who jump in to defend a polemicist, to attack another, to complain about the general state of national literature (or the discussions of national literature); however, they barely manage to make themselves noticed beyond their own circles of friends.

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Weekly News Roundup, 10 June 2016: It’s Always Prize Season

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Happy Friday, Asymptote pals! This week may not be “prize season” per se, but literary prizes abound this and every week, as usual. The United Kingdom‘s former Orange Prize for Fiction—then the Bailey’s Prize—and now titled the “Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction”—has been awarded to The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney. In France, the Prix du Livre Inter has been awarded to Tristan Garcia for his 500-page novel, 7 (fitting: the shortlist was seven titles long). And the British Commonwealth Short Story Prize (judged by Man-Booker-award-winner Marlon James) was awarded to Indian writer Parashar Kulkani, for the short story “Cow and Company.” Finally,  Akhil Sharma beat out 160 other contenders to win the International Dublin Literary Award for his novel, A Family Life READ MORE…

Three Must-Reads from the Spring 2016 Issue

The blog recommends three more must-reads from Asymptote's April Issue—

Hi there, Asymptote readers! When Asymptote’s April Issue came out (nearly two whole months ago!), we recommended five slick pieces to start off your reading. The issue’s still fresh, featuring dozens of articles, poems, interviews, stories, histories, and visual art definitely worth your perusal. These’ll work to stave off translation cravings until you can get your keyboard on to the July issue—which is slated to come out in a little over a month. Let’s get started (in no particular order, of course):

  1. An Interview with Ha Jin, by Henry Ace Knightrecommended by Allegra Rosenbaum, blog editor

    When I first read Ha Jin in high school, by no means did I appreciate his writing. It wasn’t until I was applying to university that I really started to feel the effect that Waiting had made on my life. Part of the application process in the United States is a personal essay. I wrote the first draft and felt fairly confident about it. I told my mother when she got home. She had just seen Ha Jin talk at her job. READ MORE…

Twenty Promenades: Mouth Eats Color in Review

"...translations can never be approached as though they were original texts—even though this is so often the case."

Translation is often asked to be a silent art, an art so subtle that the reader never even sees a ripple in the translator’s wake. The translator is asked to tread softly, to follow an arbitrary measure of “accuracy” or “faithfulness.” This is precisely why Sawako Nakayasu’s Mouth: Eats Color: Sagawa Chika Translations, Anti-translations, & Originals is so brilliant. Within these pages, Nakayasu is at once invisible and intensely present, creating not a translation that masquerades as a stand-in for the original, but rather a translation that works to create new and exciting pieces that coexist alongside the original poetry. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 29th April 2016: 400 Years Without Cervantespeare

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Hey, happy Friday, Asymptote! This week marks two extra-special, European four-hundred-year anniversaries: it’s the week of Spanish literary icon Miguel de Cervantes’ death, and there’s all sorts of commemoration: Spain celebrated the Don Quixote author with national celebrations and literary awards, but if you’re unable to make it in person, take a virtual trip to La Mancha. And English poet/thespian/legend William Shakespeare, too, died four hundred years ago (1616 was a killer year, huh?), so the commemorations are similarly virtual and literal (in case you’re curious, here’s a Proust Questionnaire with the Bard). And lest you forget (as much of Shakespeare and Cervantes can be found in the open domain) April 23 was also the UNESCO’s world book copyright day.

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April 2016 New Issue Highlights!

Superstars from the star-studded sky of this April's issue

Asymptote‘s latest issue hit the digital shelves on Friday, and there’s so much to read: in addition to featuring poems by the late Tomaž Šalamun and brand-new verse from Aase Berg’s Hackers, (translated from the Swedish by Johannes Göransson), you can read interviews with Ferrante/Levi translator Ann Goldstein and literary heavyweight/literary “improbability” Ha Jin. But it doesn’t end there: at long last, this issue features the winners of our Close Approximations contest, but among so many other “regular” journal offerings, it’s hard to know where to start. In true blog tradition, we’ve picked favorites from the latest release. The list, we insist, is by no means exhaustive; you really can’t go wrong at all—dig in! READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 15th April 2015: So. Many. Shortlists.

This week's highlights from across the world

Happy Friday, Asymptoters! This Friday’s an especially good one, because if we’ve timed the post correctly, because it means a new issue is totally live! There are so, so many gems in this issue, (as per usual). But this one also features the winners of our Close Approximations contest—be sure to check out the fiction, nonfiction, and poetry winners (and runners-up)!

This week, our very own Megan Bradshaw reported from the (frightening) field at the 2016 London Book Fair. Other notes from the (not-so) Fair: translators champion books in underrepresented languages and literatures. And the Book Fair announces its International Excellence Award winners: Words Without Borders is this year’s winner of the Publishers Weekly Literary Translation Initiative Award—the very same prize we won last year!—big congrats, WWB!

Speaking of prizes: the Man Booker International Prize has announced its shortlist, which includes Italian anonymon Elena Ferrante, South Korean trendsetter Han Kang (for The Vegetarian, translated by Deborah Smith), among others. The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction has similarly announced its shortlist. And yet another shortlist, this time for the 100,000-pound International Dublin Literary Award: featuring Jenny Erpenbeck, Marilynne Robinson, and many others. And shortly after the American PEN awarded its prizes this week, English PEN reflects on the notion of “reputation” with regard to non-Anglophone writers.

Also,  at the Rumpus, a look behind-the-scenes: here’s an interview with writer and translator (from the Korean) Minsoo Kang, translator most recently of The Story of Hong Gildong. If you’re interested in what goes on in one of the biggest (or perhaps *the* biggest, full stop) powerhouse publications, read this interview with the editor of the New York Times Book Review, Pamela Paul.  And if you’re still thinking about the Close Approximations prizewinners—don’t worry, we won’t judge you—read about our poetry judge, Michael Hofmann, here portrayed as a kind of literary daredevil of sorts.

Weekly News Roundup, 18th March 2016: We Verb Hard

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Happy Friday, Asymptote! Did you miss the roundup last week? The podcast went up instead, and if you missed it, take a listen (especially recommended for traffic jams and spring cleaning sessions). This episode features highlights from our fifth-anniversary New York event—FOMO, begone. READ MORE…

Graphic Novel in Translation: Karim Zaimović’s “The Invisible Man from Sarajevo,” Part V

Part V in Asymptote blog's first-ever graphic novel in translation

invisibleMan_pg 28-min READ MORE…