Posts filed under 'Roland Barthes'

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. 


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…

Translating Longing : A Novice Translator’s First Transgressions

"In the text the girl sings: This earth cell is old—I am full of longing. She is under the oak. There is ambiguity. "

I’m translating “The Wife’s Lament,” from the Anglo-Saxon (among other poems), and—though I am in the habit of calling my drafts “transgressions”—there is a palpable sense of longing breaking through which I think may be possible to understand. What I mean by “even now,” has to do with the ideas of immediacy prevalent (one could say saturated) in the current collective consciousness.

I just read an article eulogizing the long email. And who even talks on the phone anymore. We interact in quick bursts, with no breaks. Both of these things being, of course, enemies of longing. We do not allow ourselves the luxury of longing. For to long, literally, takes “length.” Long stretches of absence and time—for which nobody has time for anymore.

The girl I’m trying to write (the wife lamenting) gets left to long by herself under an oak tree. This oak tree intrigues me. There is so much symbolism here. Pagans had their sacred groves. Druids had oak knowledge. I have also read about the linguistic link between the Celtic word for oak and the Sanskrit word for door—the connection between knowledge and doors apparently reaches pretty far back, but the other thing has to do with the oak as a portal, a door to another world. In the text the girl sings: This earth cell is oldI am full of longing. She is under the oak. There is ambiguity. Is she even alive?