Posts filed under 'reviews'

How Should We Review Translations? Part II

Above all, the translated poem allows us into its world—which exists somewhere between a language we don’t know and a language that we do.

In this second installment of our forum on reviewing translations, Lauren Albin and Sue Hyon Bae, two of the translators of Kim Hyesoon’s A Drink of Red Mirror, reflect on their engagements with both the poet’s work and the culture in which it was produced. They highlight the dangers of adopting the role of an interrogator and emphasize the need for good faith in any encounter with a translated work. Today we also feature a contribution from Matt Reeck, who takes the opportunity to reflect on the ways that reviews might take into account contexts of reception and underscores how the idea of world literature can restrict our ability to understand local specificity as it attempts to develop a global framework. If you missed the first installment of this forum, be sure to check it out here, and stay tuned for tomorrow’s contributions from Katherine Hedeen and Johannes Göransson.

I want to point out this sentence in Matt Reeck’s review of Kim Hyesoon’s A Drink of Red Mirror, which becomes the foregrounding reason for his question of whether Korean poetry should be made more Korean in translation: “Kim’s poems are not confessional (which might make them indicative of the writer’s life and culture), nor are they written in a style that’s reflective of a social reality.” The reviewer’s desire for the poet’s confession quickly brings to mind one of the seminal poems of Kim’s collection—“Cultural Revolution in My Dream”—where Ms. Photon, a symbol of the bright light used by an interrogator to extract confessions, uploads a confessional software to the poet’s body. What I mean to say in drawing this comparison is that, Reeck got it wrong. Kim’s poems are confessional, but perhaps, they are not the confession that the reviewer wishes to hear—a situation that recalls Ms. Photon, who keeps on interrogating the poet even after there are no real crimes left but only a continuously generated confession. Therefore, the reviewer rejects Kim’s poems and along with them he rejects Kim’s social reality and Kim’s Korea, asking for translations that are more Korean than the originals and pressing for a false confession. 

Moving away from Reeck’s review, when the reviewer of translated work plays at interrogator, the perspective of the translated poet is immediately endangered. The interrogator is a figure employed by repressive regimes to reconstruct narratives, to revise the truth, to rewrite what actually happened, and to reconstruct history. Interrogators often already know what story they wish to tell and work to illuminate only that reality. An interrogator is also someone who has inherent power over another. While Ms. Photon extracts false confessions, the sun, in Kim’s “Lady Yuhwa,” “streaming like a searchlight / pursues and violates the woman” of the poem. A reviewer who steps into the role of interrogator assumes power over the poem and violates it intentionally or unintentionally by forcing it to conform to their own ideas about what it should be; silencing the poem, instead of allowing the work to speak in its own language of idea, even when that language seems to push at the boundaries of our minds.  READ MORE…

How Should We Review Translations? Part I

A review is seriously lacking if it ignores a book’s translated nature.

Today marks the start of our forum on the question of how we should review translations. Along with a general introduction by Criticism Editor Ellen Jones, this first installment contains contributions from Bilal Hashmi and Sophie Lewis. Drawing our attention to what something as simple as a question mark might signal, Hashmi alerts us to the importance of openness when engaging with translated texts, and Lewis helps us envision what the potential participants and platforms in a healthy reviewing ecology would look like. You’ll find more reflections, recommendations, and reconsiderations here on Wednesday and Thursday.

In July of this year Asymptote published a review of Kim Hyesoon’s A Drink of Red Mirror, translated from the Korean by Jiwon Shin, Lauren Albin, and Sue Hyon Bae, with contributions from Rebecca Teague, Dakota Hale, Kevin Salter, Sierra Hamel, and Nicole Lindell (Action Books, 2019). The review, written by translator Matt Reeck, sparked some heated discussion on Twitter on account of the questions it asked about the poems’ “Koreanness” and the visibility of that “Koreanness” in translation. A conversation began about the need for more reviewers of colour, and about the usefulness of concepts like “world literature” and “national literatures” in reviews of this kind. A factual mistake was pointed out and subsequently corrected, but it remained clear that some disapproved of the review’s tone and perspective. In writing about Kim’s poetry, Reeck attempts to interrogate his own position as a US-based reader and all the assumptions he therefore brings to a work translated from Korean; nevertheless, the review was seen to perpetuate and privilege those narrow assumptions.

A couple of months down the line, we want to make sure that those who criticised Reeck’s review know that they have been heard, and that as a result of those conversations, Asymptote has a renewed commitment to considering the political and ethical implications of the articles it publishes. As part of that commitment, we want to provide a more formal space to continue discussing the important questions raised in responses to the review. We have therefore invited a series of writers to contribute to a forum on reviewing translations, including Reeck himself, two of Kim Hyesoon’s translators (Sue Hyon Bae and Lauren Albin), two editors at Action Books (Katherine Hedeen and Johannes Göransson), and others who have elsewhere written incisively on this very topic (Sophie Lewis and Bilal Hashmi). These contributions will be featured here on the blog over the coming days as part of the journal’s ongoing dedication not just to the exchange of literature through translation but also to the circulation of ideas about translation.

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What’s New in Translation: March 2018

Looking for your next read? You're in the right place.

Whether this March the leaves are falling or only starting to grow, new books in translation continue to push through borders and languages. This month, our editors review new translations from Germany and Lebanon, whose stories span diverse regions and explore complex notions of belonging.
Pearls-new-cover

Pearls on a Branch by Najla Jraissaty Khoury, translated from the Arabic by Inea Bushnaq, Archipelago Books

Reviewed by Anaka Allen, Social Media Manager

It happened or maybe no.
If it did, it was long ago
If not, it could still be so.

For twenty years, in the midst of Lebanon’s civil war that lasted from 1975 until 1990, the traveling theater company Sandouk el Fergeh (the Box of Wonders) traversed the Levant searching for inspiration for their live shows. The actors and their marionettes would travel from shelters to refugee camps, villages to towns, performing the oral tales painstakingly collected by their founder Najla Jraissaty Khoury. It was no small feat trying to find and record stories during wartime when suspicion and fear were particularly acute, not to mention the difficulty in assembling complete narratives from a depleting cache of collective cultural memory.

Oral tales are one of the most fragile cultural legacies, and too often die with their storytellers. So, what happens to the oral history of a region suffering through war and displacement? That’s what Khoury hoped to find out, and the question is what inspired her to embark on a rescue mission in search of these unwritten remnants of Lebanese, Syrian, and Palestinian culture. She collected dozens of folktales, writing them down exactly as they were told (repetitive phrases and all), culled one hundred from that catalog, and published them in Arabic. English speakers now have the opportunity to read a selection of thirty stories in Pearls on a Branch.

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In Review: The Blind Man

That is, beyond the words themselves, the textuality of the work does justice to the playfully serious attitude of the original.

The Blind Man: 100th Anniversary Facsimile Edition edited by Marcel Duchamp, Henri-Pierre Roché, and Beatrice Wood (Ugly Duckling Press, 2017). Translated from the French by Elizabeth Zuba. 

With all of the uncertainties of the current geopolitical climate, it is fitting that in the beginning of 2018 we turn our attention to the past for historical context and a better sense of the wider context of recent events. In Sophie Seita’s insightful essay that accompanies Ugly Duckling Presse’s one hundredth anniversary facsimile collection of Dadaist zines and ephemera associated with The Blind Man (referred to in Hyperallergic as “a trove of Dadaist fun”), the critic encourages readers to understand Ugly Duckling’s reissue of these magazines precisely within their broader context, with “a facsimile reprint like ours attempt[ing] to recreate the original print context and…forg[ing] new dialogues with contemporary literary and artistic communities today.” Of course, in 1917, Europe was in the throes of World War I, and the artistic movement which the The Blind Man is most closely associated, Dada, is frequently held up as “an artistic revolt and protest against traditional beliefs of a pro-war society.” Rather than simply the considerable achievement of reproducing a one hundred-year-old, self-consciously cheeky avant-garde magazine in a beautiful collector’s edition, I’m keenly interested in the dialogues Seita claims the re-edition seeks to cultivate, meditating as much on what The Blind Man tells us about the present as it tells us about the past. In my view, Ugly Duckling more than delivers.

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What’s New In Translation: October 2017

Looking for your next novel? Here are three of the most exciting new releases from around the world.

Every month, batches of books arrive fresh on the shelves of bookstores around the world. Our team has handpicked three exciting new reads to help you make up your minds on what to sink your teeth into, including novels from Italy, Brazil and Norway. 

Dust-MC

Dust by Adrian Bravi, translated from the Italian by Patience Haggin, Dalkey Archive Press.

Reviewed by Lara Norgaard, Editor-at-Large, Brazil.

“‘How long will I have to flail about, drowning in the world of the microscopic?’”

This is one of the many questions that the narrator, Anselmo, of Adrian Bravi’s novel Dust anxiously asks himself while coping with his total phobia of dust. The depth of his internal interrogation hinges on the word “microscopic”: Anselmo faces not the literal question of clean living, but instead the concept of infinite accumulation and infinite loss—of seconds and minutes, of words and ideas, of skin and hair and other shavings of the physical self.

To read Patience Haggin’s forthcoming English translation of Dust (Dalkey Archive Press, October 2017) is to slowly sink into an ocean of everyday minutiae. The book centers on Anselmo, a librarian living with his wife Elena in the fictional city of Catinari, Italy, and his daily routine of cataloguing books, obsessively dusting surfaces, and frequently writing letters that invariably never reach their destination.

What gives this novel its power is not the literal subject matter of the book, which often threatens to overtake the prose in its tedium, but instead the artful language that invites us to meditate conceptually on the simple life represented. Anselmo, at one point, compares his monotonous work cataloguing books to that of a “simple mortician sorting bodies for burial according to their profession”; at another moment, his wife Elena says that reading newly published books is akin to, “‘studying smoke your whole life when you’ve never seen fire.’” These metaphors broaden a seemingly narrow scope, bringing us closer to fully imagining humanity’s constant and immense decay.

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What’s New in Translation? June 2016

This month's hottest titles—in translation

The Clouds by Juan José Saer, tr. Hillary Vaughn Dobel, Open Letter Books. Review: Hannah Berk, Digital Editor

Clouds-front-frame_large

The Clouds begins with the destruction of a mental asylum and ends with an arrival at its threshold. Its central journey takes place across a vast expanse of flatlands, every horizon so much the same that progressing and doubling back lose their distinction. This is a novel of contingent geometries. In some respects, it is linear: there is a journey in which a doctor leads a crew of five mental patients, two escort soldiers, and a guide across a desert to a mental hospital. At the same time, it carves layer upon layer into itself. The manuscript we read is a file on a floppy disk being read by one Pinchón Garay in a Paris apartment, haphazardly annotated by the man into whose hands the thing haphazardly fell.

Our narrator is Dr. Real, who works under a psychologist renowned for experimental treatment methods that mostly seem to entail allowing the mad live their lives just like anyone else. He is tasked with leading a group of patients on a long journey to a mental health facility in 1804 Argentina. His charges include a delusional narcissist, a nun convinced that the only way to approach consummate divinity is by consummating as many earthly relationships as possible, two brothers as incapable of communication as they are of silence, and a distraught philosophy student unable to unfurl his fists. Dr. Real promises a scientific account of their ailments at the outset, but the moment their journey begins, we are forced to question whether their responses are so outlandish for their circumstances, or, at their core, much different from our own.

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In Review: Costume en Face: A Primer Of , choreographed by Tatsumi Hijikata

Why read choreography? Why read choreography—in translation?

This stunning translation of Tatsumi Hijikata’s Costume en Face Butoh choreography notations (transcribed by Moe Yamamoto) is the collaborative work of series editor (Yelena Gluzman, UDP), Hijikata scholars at Keio University (Takashi Morishita), the translator (Sawako Nakayasu), and the book designer (Steven Chodoriwsky). Although of course deeply relevant to scholarship on Butoh dance for English-speaking scholars, this book is a marvel of poetic elision and evocative design.

Nakayasu’s gifted compressions of Moe Yamamoto’s notes read as stage directions for a metaphysical revelation, textured by archetypal figures (from angels to Nazis), modernist paintings, and mythological figures. Her choice to include and briefly gloss specifically Japanese figures in brackets is clever and creates for a seamless experience that exposes the seams of audience. READ MORE…

What’s New in Translation? January 2016

So many new translations this month!—Here's what you've got to know, from Asymptote's own.

Carlos Velázquez, The Cowboy Bible (Restless Books, January 2016). Translated by Achy Obejas—review by Selina Aragón, Spanish Social Media Manager

The Cowboy Bible (La Biblia Vaquera) is Carlos Velazquez’ second book, which contains two fictional and three nonfictional stories, plus two neither-fiction-nor-nonfiction texts and two epilogues. They are all set in the land of PopSTock!, for which there is a map at the beginning of the book.

The Cowboy Bible is also a character that metamorphoses into other characters (The Western Bible, The Cowgirl Bible, etc.) who live and act in different times and spaces but share the same talent for entering the dark alleyways of life. Despite their morally questionable actions, wrestlers, drunkards, DJs, street-food sellers, whose “legendary” deeds go from writing songs about drug dealers to crowning a Queen of Piracy in reality shows, become underground heroes equivalent to Mexican popular culture icons:

“I went dressed as a Cartesian seminarist. As soon as the guy in charge of composing the soundtrack to reflect the wrestling audience’s passions saw me take a step forward the ring, he put on a song by the great Sonora Dinamita.”

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What’s New in Translation? November 2015

So many new translations this month! Here's what you've got to know—from Asymptote's own

War, So Much War by Mercè Rodreda, tr. Maruxa Relaño & Martha Tennent (Open Letter Books)—reviewed by Sam Carter, assistant managing editor

war

“The sleep of reason produces monsters,” reads one of the epigraphs to Mercè Rodoreda’s Quanta, quanta guerra, now available in English as War, So Much War from Open Letter Press. Drawn from the title of a famous Goya etching, it is a fitting prelude to a work that explores the ravages of war from a pseudo-picaresque perspective in which we find ourselves face-to-face with a narrator coming to terms with the unnerving and unending monstrosity of war, rather than encountering a delinquent carefully crafting a tale of struggle and self-justification. Even if this conflict initially resembles the Spanish Civil War, in his narration, protagonist Adrià Guinart insists on an ambiguity permeating all levels of the work and suggesting the plausibility of less localized interpretations.

In sparse prose, crisply translated by both Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent, Adrià recounts his interactions with the figures he meets throughout a journey that begins with an enthusiasm for the escapist possibilities of war and yet ends on entirely different note. His own narrative “I” proves elusive as it frequently disappears into a chorus of other voices that dominate the task of depicting a war-torn landscape. Describing the novel’s structure with another of its epigraphs—“A great ravel of flights from nothing to nothing,” from D. H. Lawrence—is ultimately too tempting to pass up, for it is precisely in its itinerant quality, in the way it moves from one episode to another without the need to establish definitive links, that the novel finds its strength. READ MORE…

Asymptote Blog Wants YOU!

We're on the hunt for new contributors!

It’s that time of year again, dear readers—we at Asymptote blog are on the hunt for the freshest, funniest, most clever and on-the-pulse writing you’ve got, related to literature, translation, and the way words shape our world.

Like our journal, we are committed to publishing creative, original, and knife-sharp pieces in conversation with world literature, translation, and global culture—which means we love to read and publish original pieces and translations by writers, thinkers, and artists like you. So if you have something to say, read on—and get in touch!

Asymptote blog looks for voice, depth, and topicality in its postings. We welcome regular and one-time contributors, and publish essays, dispatches from literary events, interviews, book reviews, in-depth examinations of the world-at-literature and the world-at-large, as well as weekly new translations of poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and drama!

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Highlights from the blog’s recent past include:

Nina Sparling takes an up-close look at food, translation, and literature—how do we read “terroir,” Emile Zola’s Les Halles, and Colette’s kicked fish? 

Florian Duijsens’s “Pop Around the World” column examines House of the Rising Sun,” well, around the world. 

In The Tiff, a new recurring column, leading translators debate some of the field’s most pressing current issues. 

Matthew Spencer’s on-the-edge column The Orbital Library teases out the intersections of the sci-fi genre and translation.

A conversation between two legends of Russian-to-English literary translation is uncovered—picking bones over a Russian restaurant menu, of all things.

Josh Billings discusses the often-fascinating histories behind the wheeling-and-dealing ghosts of world literature—its translators!

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If you’d like to contribute, but don’t quite know where to start, here are a few simple ways you can join the list of blog contributors:

1. We’re looking for reviewers to write about new translated or translation-related books. In your e-mail, talk about a few works you would like to review and why.

2. We’re also looking for translations, published every Tuesday in an ongoing series (predictably dubbed Translation Tuesday). In your e-mail, let us know your translation ideas, as well as your connections with authors or specific works. Permission and rights are necessary prior to publishing.

3. We’re looking for general musings related to translation, poetics, writing, the industry, current events, politics, visual arts, film—whatever fits your fancy! We’re amenable to all sorts of different writing

Variety is our bread-and-butter, so if you have something new you’re itching to say, we might just be the platform for you! Please send us a proposal with some information about you, how you’d like to contribute, and a writing or translation sample at blog@asymptotejournal.com. Rolling deadline.

Be a Part of Asymptote Blog!

Our first-ever call for blog contributors.

Like the quarterly journal (now open for submissions), Asymptote blog is devoted to publishing creative and critical pieces related to world literature, culture, and translation—which means we love to read and publish original pieces and translations by writers like you. So if you have something to say, read on and get in touch!

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