With our February selection, the Asymptote Book Club is taking subscribers back to school. Fortunately, Zsófia Bán’s Night School is a school unlike any other—populated by a cast of literary and cultural figures ranging from Frida Kahlo (and her double) to Laika the space dog. Each chapter of Bán’s textbook primer is filled with ‘defiant irreverence’ and the perfect combination of wit and profundity.
We’re delighted to be sending our subscribers one of the year’s most coruscatingly original short story collections, in Jim Tucker’s superb English translation. If you’d like to join us in time for next month’s Book Club pick, you’ll find all the information you need on our web page. Once you’ve joined, head to our Facebook group to meet other Book Club members and contribute to the discussion. We look forward to seeing you there!
Night School: A Reader for Grownups by Zsófia Bán, translated from the Hungarian by Jim Tucker, Open Letter, 2019
Reviewed by Jacob Silkstone, Assistant Managing Editor
Let’s begin with a simple biographical detail: Zsófia Bán has spent much of her life in academia, and her first novel (originally published in Hungarian in 2007) is a textbook. It seems barely necessary to add that Night School is a textbook like no other.
Looking at the work of Andrea Modica, professor of photography at Drexel University and recent recipient of the 2015 Knight Purchase Award for Photographic Media, is a bit like reading a poem for the first time in translation. Engaging with her images, I am struck by the knowledge that I carry my own culture alongside my language, and that my language brings me to my experience of Modica’s photography.
This is to say that what results is a harmonious coexistence of estrangement and intimacy with the image. It’s widely understood that you can never really read the same poem in translation. Many believe visual art (and specifically photography) is different from language, that it is somehow less culturally contingent, or even a container for a sort of singular, “universal” meaning.
But Modica’s work is particularly poetic in that it boldly questions such oversimplifications, drawing attention to the language systems that inform our diverse understandings of images. In one black-and-white photograph, a distinctive silhouette emerges from behind a long, pale curtain, both defined and obscured by its paper or canvas-like veiling. To the viewer, the semiotics of this shadow, with its distinct black and white contours, constitutes a horse. READ MORE…
As the guest artist for Asymptote’s summer issue, Singaporean visual artist Robert Zhao Renhui contributed our cover image and illustrated 15 texts in the Fiction, Nonfiction, Drama, and Latin American Fiction Feature sections. I interview him about this experience, as well as the relationship between image and text in his art practice.
I’ve been following your trajectory for quite a few years, but it’s safe to say that the Asymptote summer issue is presenting your work to an audience that is largely unfamiliar with your practice. How would you explain your art, and the Institute of Critical Zoologists, to our readers?
I am interested in both photography and nature, so in my work, I use photography to investigate our dialogue with nature. The Institute of Critical Zoologists (ICZ) is an umbrella concept under which I create and present my work. The meaning of the ICZ takes shape with each of my projects and exhibitions, which create different realities and fictions.
Could you describe the process of creating/selecting images for this issue?
There was a tension between choosing images that were too literal a representation of the text, and pictures that encapsulated a very personal connection to the text that regular readers may not get. My guiding principle was that my images should be in a jazz-like dialogue with the text, and occasionally surprise the viewer. I submitted a few pictures for each essay, leaving it up to the journal to do the final selection. In some cases, I didn’t know what was chosen until the issue was published. READ MORE…