This week’s Translation Tuesday features microfiction by Vassilis Alexakis. “The Hot-Air Balloon” begins and ends in an ambiguity, thickly described. The prose is structured around a choice without mooring, a choice that presents itself only to give way to the realization that a language system is something that only appears all-encompassing. By intellectualizing the feeling of infinite choice within a closed system and the eventual choice to leave it, Alexakis acutely describes a weightlessness only obtainable by those who walk between epistemologies. In the end, it is the feeling of the transcendence of the system, thematized as an air-balloon, that prevails. It is only through a meditation on words that we can unmoor ourselves from a system. This airy story depicts well the critical posture, especially of those with multiple languages to rely on.
I was asked to write a definition for a word without knowing which one. I had no hesitation. The more arduous a task, the more it fills me with joy. If I’d been given a word, I would’ve felt some pressure; I would’ve felt trapped. Now that I’ve briefly surveyed the entirety of the lexicon, I feel free as if I were being carried in a hot-air balloon.
Is it a masculine or feminine-gendered word? From my point of view, this question is of no concern. Besides, it’s not uncommon for a word’s synonyms to be of the opposite gender. READ MORE…
This week’s Translation Tuesday features the work of Régis Jauffret, a French writer working since the 1980s. “Basketball, Tennis, and Swimming” is a micro-fiction that takes a look into the lived experience of depression—specifically a depression borne under a lack of inspiration and connection. Deep colors, sweeping juxtapositions, and a certain simplicity of thought feed into a narrative that questions schedules, labor, and purpose. An anti-capitalist vision of work opposed to melancholic states gives purpose to the purposeless. Uplifting narratives do not always have to be grand, this story shows, and the structures of neoliberal life worlds and traditional values can be tweaked with the help of a proper and poetic angle (and some odd desires!).
The staff have access to basketball hoops, three tennis courts, and a big pool with a sunroof, allowing them to enjoy some fresh air over the summer. It matters to me that everyone’s happy. I didn’t create this company to earn money, but to let the hopeless reacquire a taste for life.
I myself have known periods when I’ve risen at five in the afternoon, only to immediately lie back down after drinking some orange juice and eating a slice of bread. Those were the only times I saw my children, when they weren’t with their soccer team or at school. I came in contact with my wife’s body whenever she’d happen to be in bed, but I spent whole weeks without seeing her face in broad daylight. Medications in every color were piled up on the bedside table. I swallowed them without counting, and recognized them by their shape or their taste. I had gray dreams, without peaks or valleys, without sea, snow, night, or sun. Dreams like landscapes so flat, so desolate, that to my eyes nothing like them exists on our planet. I didn’t even think about death, it was too desirable for me to think possible. I slowly sank into the mattress, which cradled me like a cockle shell cast around my imprint.
After Flavia Teoc took us to ancient Constantionople last week, I’m thrilled to present two microfictions by Turkish writer Muzzafer Kale. Deceptive in their outward simplicity, these perfectly poised stories hinge on the unsaid and work beautifully in English thanks to translator Ralph Hubbell’s precise language.
—Lee Yew Leong, Translation Tuesdays editor
I wasn’t from that mountain village.
What brought me there was work, and by work I mean looking at carpets and kilims. There were plenty of people from the village that I knew.
So we were sitting in the July heat, trying to cool ourselves off in the shade of a walnut tree—me, Ibrahim and Lazy-Eyed Salih.
That Salih, he was a cheerful one. He had a different way of looking at things. Leaping from one topic to the next, he talked of this, that and the other thing while we all laughed it up. These two friends of mine were good shots too. They were wagering who could hit a half-lira piece with a thirty-two caliber from forty meters away…
And then she appeared, with her donkeys, coming off the mountainside path. She’d loaded the animals piecemeal with some sagging goods, which swung all over the place.
Today we bring you three enigmatic pieces by “the father of the Japanese short story.” You probably know Ryūnosuke Akutagawa without realizing it—one of his short stories served as the basis for Akira Kurosawa’s classic film Rashōmon. Each of these tales brings a quick punch of emotion, leaving an impression on the reader not unlike that of microfiction.
There was once a sennin who worked as a jurist in O Town near Lake Biwa. His favorite pastime, more than anything else, was collecting gourds. Stored inside a giant closet on the upper floor of his rented home was his vast collection hanging from nails hammered into the posts and lintels.
Three years had gone by, when, one day, the sennin received a notice of transfer from the government. He was to relocate forthwith to his new post in H City. He made arrangements for all of his furniture and belongings except for his gourds, of which he had amassed over two hundred. He had no idea how to go about moving them, and he refused to part with a single one.
This week’s Translation Tuesday comes from the amazing Russian author Dmitry Danilov. For more microfiction, head over to the brand new Winter 2018 issue of Asymptote!
Sit at home, in the shadows, in the empty, shadowy flat. The empty, dark flat, things hung on the rail stir softly. Only in one corner of the empty, dark, shadowy flat does life smoulder with a red-yellowy glimmer. In the corner of the empty, dark flat nestles a human being, a calculating machine works. A lamp illuminates this space in the corner of the empty, shadowy flat; all the rest of the flat is empty and dark.
This piece comes from a published collection of mostly short prose. Many of the stories draw on themes of childhood, memory, unrequited love, and inner conflict, often using strong imagery of hunger and smells. As a translator, what drew me to the stories was the author’s ability to take ordinary and daily experiences and display them in a way that is surreal or fantastical, with a focus on the physicality of our bodies and the objects around us—and to do it all in very short stories (100-150 words each). In this format the subtle differences in syntax and grammar between Greek and English become particularly pronounced. Foskolou often uses longer sentences with one or more dependent clauses, in a way that is not unusual in Greek but would sound awkward or wrong in English. Similarly, the author uses the Greek past imperfect tense to evoke a sense of time and events, and the emotions that surround these events, that is incomplete, deferred, imperfect. English does not have a past imperfect tense, forcing the translator to use other linguistic devices to create a similar effect.
Playing with food imagery and writing in a jazzy rhythm, this metafictional musing on the economic reality of being a writer gives the reader a glimpse at the rationale behind microfiction. The sprinkling of French terms places us in a specific context, but the endeavor feels universal as the narrator works to eat. For more microfiction, head over to the brand new Winter 2018 issue of Asymptote!
Business is much too slack these days to imagine treating oneself to a simple sherbet dip after a day spent scribbling in the light of the desk lamp, and going off, just like that, to lick the liquorice stick while daydreaming under the moonlight. It’s drummed into me from all sides that one must breathe frugally and through clenched lips, measure my steps parsimoniously, mind the tallow on the end of the candle and above all cut down on my extravagances. Times are for cutting the kipper in quarters, you see, my wife said to me just yesterday and as we sat down to eat, and I won’t even go into how much your ciggies are costing us. I blushed slightly. Soon we’ll have to go up the stairs two by two to protect the steps, I thought in petto, not wanting to be outdone.
To celebrate our seventh birthday here at Asymptote, the blog editors have chosen some of our favorite pieces from the Winter 2018 issue to showcase. This issue truly shines with a diversity of voices and literary styles, including a special feature on micro fiction, and it was such a pleasure for us to read through it. With work from thirty different countries, this issue has been gathered under the theme of “A Different Light.” Enjoy these highlights!
I’ve always admired Asymptote‘s advocacy for literatures that not only are underrepresented, but that take chances, resist easy reduction or interpretation by the reader. Poems that dare to be “the awkward spectacle of the untried move, not grace” (to borrow a phrase from American poet Don Byrd). Poets like Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine. The poems from Arachnid Sun shock me with their bold imagery, impelling me to read again and again. I latch on to certain repeated images: insect, illusion, blood. And definitely a noticeable theme of authoritarian rulers: “spider-eggs perfuming the silence the dictator” and “harpoon the king-shark who flees the riverbeds of polar scrubland.”